The very first thing you think of when someone mentions essay is that you have to make an argument, find evidence, and write it in a somewhat philosophical manner. But, it doesn’t always have to be like that. Did you know you can tell a story through essay? I’m talking about narrative essays, a unique style of writing that combines the best of both worlds: storytelling and essay composing. The chances are high you’ll have to compose this type of paper sooner or later, and when the time comes this post will come handy. Throughout this article, I’m going to show you how to create an outline for a narrative essay and make your professor or client happy with the quality of your work.
What is a narrative essay?
A narrative essay is defined as a type of writing wherein the author narrates or tells the story. The story is non-fictional and usually, deals with the writer’s personal development. Unlike in other essay forms, using the first person is acceptable in these papers. Narrative essays can also be anecdotal, experiential thus allowing writers to express themselves in a creative and more personal manner.
Despite the fact you’re telling the story through the narrative essay, you must not identify it with a short story. How? Short stories are usually fictional and allow essay writers to change the plot, add different characters or rewrite the ending in a bid to better fit the narrative. On the other hand, with these essays, the author is required to pull a cohesive narrative arc from memory and events that, actually, happened. Just like other forms of essays, this style of writing needs a thesis statement. In fact, the entire narrative in your essay aims to support the thesis you wrote in the introduction. As you already know, short stories don’t require thesis statement and you’re not required to prove anything.
Narrative essay structure
If you’ve never written a narrative essay before and you need help essay online at this moment you’re thinking how complicated it seems. The beauty of this writing style is the ability to get your point across through a story and it’s not that difficult when you know how to structure it correctly.
Just like with other types of essays, a functional outline is essential. That way you know what to include in different parts of the paper and everything it entails. I have created diagram below to help you out.
An intro isn’t just a small paragraph that you have to write in order to get to the “real stuff”. If an entrance of some amusement park isn’t interesting, you’d feel reluctant to go in. If the first chapter of the book is boring, you’re less likely to ditch it. Essays aren’t exceptions here, the beginning or starting point is essential. Introductions attract reader’s attention, makes him/her wonder about what you’re going to write next.
The introduction of the narrative essay is written either in the first or third person. It’s recommended to start off your work with a hook including some strong statement or a quote. The sole purpose of the hook is to immediately intrigue your professor, client, audience, and so on. As seen in the diagram above, after the hook you have to write a sentence or two about the importance of the topic to both you and the reader. Basically, this part has to be written in a manner that readers of the paper can relate to. You want them to think “I feel that way”, “I’ve been through that” etc.
The last sentence (or two) of your paper account for the thesis statement, the vital part of your essay. The reason is simple, the thesis informs readers about the direction you’re going to take. It allows the audience to tune into author’s mind. Since the primary purpose of every essay is to prove some point and your story is going to be told for a reason, the thesis cements your overall attitude and approach throughout the paper.
The introduction should be:
Now that your introduction is complete, you get to proceed to write body paragraphs. This is where all the magic happens, it’s the part wherein you start, develop, and end the narration. The number of paragraphs in this section depends on the type of narration or event you want to write about and the plot itself.
This segment starts with the setting or background of the event to allow readers to understand relevant details and other necessary info. Every great story starts with the background, a part where you introduce the reader to the subject. Make sure you enter precise details because that way the readers are more involved in the story.
Besides important details about the subject and event you’re going to describe through the narrative essay, it’s highly practical to introduce characters or people that are involved in some particular situation. Describe their physical and personality characteristics. However, ensure that characteristics you include are relevant to the essay itself. This is yet another point where narrative essay differs from the short story. When writing a short story, you get to include all sorts of personality traits to develop your character. Here, you only mention those that are important for your thesis and narrative. Instead of listing characters one after another, introduce them through the story. The best way to do so depends on the type of the subject or event you’re going to write about, different kinds of topic require a different approach. Regardless of the approach, you opt for to introduce characters, always stick to the “relevant characteristics” rule.
Short anecdote or foreshadowing, basically, refers to details establishing conflict or the stakes for people regarding some specific situation. This part is a sort of precursor to the onset of the event. Use these paragraphs to explain:
- How things started to happen
- What people involved (characters) did to reach the point where the event of your story was imminent i.e. point of no return
- Detailed description of the situation
- How you felt about everything
TIP: Bear in mind that this doesn’t, necessarily, have to refer to some unfortunate event with tragic consequences. You can use the same approach to writing about other kinds of situations that lead to a more optimistic outcome.
Logically, the event has to reach its climax, a breaking point of the story, which requires detailed description. Don’t forget to include emotions, how it made you (or someone else) feel. The climax should be accurate, don’t exaggerate and stray from the truth just to make it more interesting. Instead, make this part more vivid, include powerful words and adjectives to make readers feel the tension and emotions you experienced.
After every climax, there comes the resolution good or bad. This is the part where you write how everything resolved. Without this segment, the narrative would seem incomplete and your hard work would be ruined.
So, body paragraphs should contain the following qualities:
- Detailed descriptions
- Relevant details
- Accurate information
- Powerful adjectives to truly depict the situation
You finished the narrative and before you’re done with the writing part of the essay, it’s time to conclude it. Just like the intro, this paragraph also bears a major importance. The conclusion should provide moral of the story, reflection or analysis of the significance of the event to you and the reader. This is yet another opportunity to make readers relate to your paper. Use this segment to describe what lesson you learned, how did this event affect/change your life, and so on. Depending on the subject, you could also include call-to-action to raise awareness of some growing issue in the society.
Dos and don’ts
- DO start your essay with a question, fact, definition, quote, anything that you deem interesting, relevant, and catchy at the same time
- DON’T focus only on the sense of sight when writing narrative essay, use all five senses, add details about what you heard or felt
- DO use formal language
- DO use vivid details
- DO use dialogue if necessary
- DON’T use the same structure of sentences, vary them to make the writing more interesting
- DO describe events chronologically (it’s the easiest way to tell the story)
- DO use transition words to make it clear what happened first, next, and last
Tips to remember
- The goal of narrative essay is to make a point, the event or story you’re going to tell needs some purpose
- Use clear and concise language
- Every word or detail you write needs to contribute to the overall meaning of the narrative
- Record yourself talking about the event to easily organize different details
- Don’t complicate the story; imagine you’re writing the narrative for a child. Would he/she understand the narrative? That always helps to simplify text
- Revise, modify, edit, and proofread
Narrative essays help you get some point across through storytelling, but you shouldn’t mistake them for “regular” short stories. I explained how to structure your work, differentiate it from short stories, and how you can easily develop your narration. Following the outline will help you write a high-quality essay and diagram from this article can serve as a visual clue you can use to compose your work. Start practicing today and write a narrative essay about some major event in your life. You can do it!
Image courtesy of Amra Serdarevich
In a narrative essay you tell a story, often about a personal experience, but you also make a point. So, the purpose is not only to tell an entertaining tale but also show the reason for the story and the importance of the experience.
Narrative Essays: To Tell a Story
There are four types of essays:
- Exposition - gives factual information about various topics to the reader.
- Description - describes in colorful detail the characteristics and traits of a person, place, or thing.
- Argument - convinces the reader by demonstrating the truth or falsity of a topic.
- Narrative - tells a vivid story, usually from one person’s viewpoint.
A narrative essay uses all the story elements - a beginning, middle and ending, plot, characters, setting and climax - all coming together to complete the story.
Essential Elements of Narrative Essays
The focus of a narrative essay is the plot, which is told using enough details to build to a climax. Here's how:
- It is usually told chronologically.
- It has a purpose, which is usually stated in the opening sentence.
- It may use dialogue.
- It is written with sensory details and bright descriptions to involve the reader. All these details relate in some way to the main point the writer is making.
All of these elements need to seamlessly combine. A few examples of narrative essays follow. Narrative essays can be quite long, so here only the beginnings of essays are included:
Learning Can Be Scary
This excerpt about learning new things and new situations is an example of a personal narrative essay that describes learning to swim.
“Learning something new can be a scary experience. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was learn how to swim. I was always afraid of the water, but I decided that swimming was an important skill that I should learn. I also thought it would be good exercise and help me to become physically stronger. What I didn't realize was that learning to swim would also make me a more confident person.
New situations always make me a bit nervous, and my first swimming lesson was no exception. After I changed into my bathing suit in the locker room, I stood timidly by the side of the pool waiting for the teacher and other students to show up. After a couple of minutes the teacher came over. She smiled and introduced herself, and two more students joined us. Although they were both older than me, they didn't seem to be embarrassed about not knowing how to swim. I began to feel more at ease.”
The Manager. The Leader.
The following excerpt is a narrative essay about a manager who was a great leader. Notice the intriguing first sentence that captures your attention right away.
“Jerry was the kind of guy you love to hate. He was always in a good mood and always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, 'If I were any better, I would be twins!' He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant. The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.”
This excerpt from The Climb also captures your attention right away by creating a sense of mystery. The reader announces that he or she has "this fear" and you want to read on to see what that fear is.
“I have this fear. It causes my legs to shake. I break out in a cold sweat. I start jabbering to anyone who is nearby. As thoughts of certain death run through my mind, the world appears a precious, treasured place. I imagine my own funeral, then shrink back at the implications of where my thoughts are taking me. My stomach feels strange. My palms are clammy. I am terrified of heights. Of course, it’s not really a fear of being in a high place. Rather, it is the view of a long way to fall, of rocks far below me and no firm wall between me and the edge. My sense of security is screamingly absent. There are no guardrails, flimsy though I picture them, or other safety devices. I can rely only on my own surefootedness—or lack thereof.”
The following narrative essay involves a parent reflecting on taking his kids to Disneyland for the first time.
“It was a hot, sunny day, when I finally took my kids to the Disneyland. My son Matthew and my daughter Audra endlessly asked me to show them the dreamland of many children, with Mickey Mouse and Snow White walking by and arousing a huge portion of emotions. Somehow these fairy-tale creatures can make children happy without such 'small' presents as $100 Lego or a Barbie house with six rooms and garden furniture. Therefore, I thought that Disneyland was a good invention for loving parents.”
The Sacred Grove of Oshogbo by Jeffrey Tayler
The following essay contains descriptive language that helps to paint a vivid picture for the reader of an interesting encounter.
“As I passed through the gates I heard a squeaky voice. A diminutive middle-aged man came out from behind the trees — the caretaker. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick around in his mouth, digging into the crevices between algae'd stubs of teeth. He was barefoot; he wore a blue batik shirt known as a buba, baggy purple trousers, and an embroidered skullcap. I asked him if he would show me around the shrine. Motioning me to follow, he spat out the results of his stick work and set off down the trail.”
This excerpt from “Playground Memory” has very good sensory details.
“Looking back on a childhood filled with events and memories, I find it rather difficult to pick on that leaves me with the fabled “warm and fuzzy feelings.” As the daughter of an Air Force Major, I had the pleasure of traveling across America in many moving trips. I have visited the monstrous trees of the Sequoia National Forest, stood on the edge of the Grande Canyon and have jumped on the beds at Caesar’s Palace in Lake Tahoe. However, I have discovered that when reflecting on my childhood, it is not the trips that come to mind, instead there are details from everyday doings; a deck of cards, a silver bank or an ice cream flavor. One memory that comes to mind belongs to a day of no particular importance. It was late in the fall in Merced, California on the playground of my old elementary school; an overcast day with the wind blowing strong. I stood on the blacktop, pulling my hoodie over my ears. The wind was causing miniature tornados; we called them “dirt devils”, to swarm around me.”
This excerpt from “Christmas Cookies” makes good use of descriptive language.
“Although I have grown up to be entirely inept at the art of cooking, as to make even the most wretched chef ridicule my sad baking attempts, my childhood would have indicated otherwise; I was always on the countertop next to my mother’s cooking bowl, adding and mixing ingredients that would doubtlessly create a delicious food. When I was younger, cooking came intrinsically with the holiday season, which made that time of year the prime occasion for me to unite with ounces and ounces of satin dark chocolate, various other messy and gooey ingredients, numerous cooking utensils, and the assistance of my mother to cook what would soon be an edible masterpiece. The most memorable of the holiday works of art were our Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which my mother and I first made when I was about six and are now made annually.”
Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay
When writing a narrative essay, remember that you are sharing sensory and emotional details with the reader.
- Your words need to be vivid and colorful to help the reader feel the same feelings that you felt.
- Elements of the story need to support the point you are making and you need to remember to make reference to that point in the first sentence.
- You should make use of conflict and sequence like in any story.
- You may use flashbacks and flash forwards to help the story build to a climax.
- It is usually written in the first person, but third person may also be used.
Remember, a well-written narrative essay tells a story and also makes a point.