How to Write a Narrative Essay

You will likely be requested to write a narrative essay at some point in your life (or several points). A narrative essay has many similarities with traditional essays, but there are several important differences as well. To make sure you know what you are doing and impress the reader, follow this simple guide to narrative essay writing!

What is a narrative essay?

A narrative essay normally presents an argument or teaches a lesson through a recount of a personal event or experience. Thus, narrative essays are a form of non-fiction and autobiographical writing. They can be written in more of a creative style than traditional essays but utilize fact-based language. Narrative essays may be required as part of high school coursework or when applying for college.

What is the purpose of a narrative essay?

The purpose of a narrative essay is to assess a person’s ability to provide a complete recount of an event in a clear but interesting or compelling way. The use of the first person is permitted, as is suspense, figurative language, and dialogues.

How long should it be?

The required length of a narrative essay will depend upon which institution you are writing it for but as general guide on length, see below:

  • High school essays are usually requested to be around 300–1000 words and you will often be able to choose a topic.
  • College admission essays are often much shorter and around 200–650 words. The essay will normally be a personal narrative essay relating to interests and motivations.
  • Graduate school admission essays are generally expected to be around 500–1000 words and are a long personal narrative essay that include academic related achievements and motivations.

What is narrative essay structure?

A good narrative essay will usually consist of around three sections (introduction, main body, and conclusion). The expected narrative essay format is as follows:

  1. Introduction, first paragraph(s): The introduction should begin with a ‘hook’/interesting sentence/s to engage the reader, provide a setting, outline the story without giving too much away, and provide a thesis statement. This section should ideally be around 10% of the total word count.
  2. Main Body, 3 – 5 paragraphs: The main body paragraphs normally follow the structure of topic sentence, example, explanation, and concluding sentence. The last main body paragraph can be where the climax is and you ‘wrap up’ the story/recount. There are usually 3-5 points/arguments made in the average essay (each in a new paragraph). The main body should account for approximately 75-80% of the total word count.
  3. Conclusion, last paragraph(s): As with all essays a conclusion is essential! There may be a moral to the story or the relevance of the event is explained. A narrative essay conclusion should end with a broad/wide statement about the topic in general or a ‘call to action’ e.g., “I invite you to travel to a country with a completely different culture and experience how your mind opens”. The conclusion is normally expected to be around 10-15% of the total word count.

Narrative Essay Topic Ideas

Here are a few topics that may help figure out how to start a narrative essay. Why not write a rough outline/brainstorm your ideas based on one of the following suggestions?

  • Overcoming an obstacle or fear.
  • A major life event that changed you.
  • Development of a useful skill/talent.
  • A difficult relationship that taught you a lesson.
  • A trip/vacation that opened your mind.
  • A childhood experience that was of importance to you.
  • A funny/sad/entertaining event.
  • Discovering a secret.
  • A person who inspires you.
  • A moral dilemma that you faced.

Example Outline:

Here’s a rough outline of my own personal narrative essay!

Title: Life Lesson Learned from a Difficult Relationship with a Partner.

Introduction: Relationships/the positive and negative effects of new relationships/relationships as a learning experience.

Main Body:

Paragraph 1
Description with examples of my previous personality, before meeting a new partner.

Paragraph 2
Description with examples of the change in my personality with a new partner.

Paragraph 3
Realization of the negative effects of the new partner on my personality and my subsequent ending of the relationship.

Conclusion: If a partner changes your personality in negative ways, they are not right for you.

Final words

It can be difficult to begin writing a narrative essay, as the scope can be so wide and vague, however, narrative essays can be a chance for you to write more freely and creatively than traditional essays, so enjoy it! And if you ever have trouble, you can always buy narrative essay.

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