How To Write A Narrative Essay

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What is a narrative essay

A narrative essay is a storytelling type of academic writing often written from a particular point of view.

A narrative essay tells a story, usually about a personal experience the writer had. You, the writer, comes up with the plot of the story, and then write it in vivid terms. Unlike many other forms of academic writing, a narrative essay relies heavily on imagination than on reason. The structure of a narrative essay allows the writer to get personal and creative.

How a narrative essay differs from a short story

Though a narrative involves story telling, it is different from a short story due to the structure of the story telling.

  • A narrative essay revolves around a motif or focal point pre-set by the writer, whilst a short story does not revolve around a pre-set motif.
  • A short story usually leaves readers at a climax point, with the desire to find out more. However, a narrative essay ends with a resolution that leaves all the readers fully satisfied.

The concept of narrative writing

The central core of the narrative essay is the story, which is told in a compelling way to the reader. No matter how twisted or simple your story is, how you tell it is what matters. Failure to tell your story well results in a dull and boring essay.

Types of narrative writing

There are many ways to write a narrative and these include:

1. Linear narrative

A linear narrative is a type of narrative in which the events are laid out in chronological order.

In a linear narrative, there can be time gaps between the events but they still follow a chronological order.

2. Nonlinear narrative

A nonlinear narrative is a type of narrative in which events are presented in a nonchronological order.


3. Viewpoint narrative

A viewpoint narrative is a type of narrative that focuses on the narrator’s perspective of the events.

A viewpoint narrative is generally more character driven than plot driven.

4. Descriptive narrative

A descriptive narrative is a type of narrative writing that focuses on how the story’s setting, characters, and objects look and feel.

Elements of a Narrative Essay

A narrative essay should contain the following basic elements of storytelling:

  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Character
  • Conflict
  • Theme
  • Dialogue

Plot

In a narrative essay, the plot is the series of events that are being narrated. A plot can be simple, or it can be complex, twisted and multi-layered.


Setting

This is the location where the events are happening. It can be your house, your school, or any other place.

Character

A narrative essay can have one character. In some narrative writings, such as autobiographical narratives, the only character present might be writer of the story. However, a narrative essay can also have a huge cast of characters.

Narratives usually need to have a protagonist, also known as the main character. The protagonist is the character whose story is being told.

Besides a protagonist, a narrative can have an antagonist. Though not necessarily the “bad guy”, the antagonist is the character that force imposing obstacles for the protagonist to overcome. The antagonist doesn’t necessarily has to be a person, but can be a force of nature or even a society.

Conflict

This is the obstacle faced by the characters during the events of the narrative. Each moment of tension in the plot is considered a conflict that needs to be resolved. Conflicts are created by the narrative’s antagonist.

Theme or Motif

A narrative essay revolves around a central focal point called a theme or a motif.

Dialogue

Dialogue is used to layout the the conversation between characters in direct speech. Without dialog, the characters lose their worth and liveliness.

Outline of a narrative essay

The first thing you need to do before writing a narrative is to understand the narrative essay outline. An narrative essay is divided into three parts:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

1. Introduction

The introduction introduces the plot of the story and grab the attention of the reader.

2. Body Paragraphs

There usually is more than one body paragraph. Once you have grabbed the attention of the reader in the introduction, you can then gradually unfold the events of your story.

The following points are helpful when writing the body of the narrative essay:

  • discuss one idea per paragraph
  • unfold your story in a logical pattern or chronological order to make the reader easily understand the storyline

3. Conclusion

Conclude your essay with a powerful ending, either a happy or sad ending, depending on the plot. Summarize the key points of the plot. Remind the readers about the moral of the story.

Writing the essay

A narrative essay is very personal, so you should provide the information in first-person view, such as using “I” statements without switching perspective in favor of another person.

Even though a it is not a descriptive essay, try to include vivid details of crucial events, objects and people who affected the outcome of the plot. Personalities of important characters should be described as comprehensively as possible.

When dealing with locations, include descriptive background information about the surrounding in a way that influences the reader’s attitude towards the characters and the plot.

Spice up the plot with an unpredictable twist and an embarrassing or funny ending.

Editing the essay

After drafting the essay, revise it thoroughly and smoothen up the rough spots. Here are some tips for the successful editing a narrative essay:

  • Don’t start editing soon after finishing the essay or you might miss most of the mistake. Have a rest to make sure the flow of the essay is out of your mind and then edit it with a fresh mind.
  • Replace twisted and complicated sentences with simple compelling ones.
  • Replace ambiguous terms with straight forward terms.
  • Remove duplicate ideas or arguments.
  • Proofread for misspellings and grammar errors.

Example of narrative writing

Example 1

I found her in a deep conversation with my manager. The manager was slightly bowed and he was religious nodding his head as if taking in some sacred instructions. For a moment, I stood there paralysed and unable to cross the threshold into the manager’s office. Was she really telling him what I had done the previous night? Was it the reason why I had been called into the office? Was I going to be punished for such a private issue?

Still appearing entranced, Mr Moyo motioned me to enter. That is when she looked up and saw me. She blurted out something that sounded like an apology.

“That’s right,” I whispered sheepishly even though I didn’t hear what she was apologising for. When I am nervous, blood rushes to my ears, affecting my ability to hear properly.

Mr Moyo looked at me expectantly, then at my wife, then back at me again with a horrified look this time.

“I’m sorry, what?” I exclaimed as I realised that they were all waiting for me to say something. Then I realised that I must have missed the most important part of what she said. It seemed to have dawned to her too at that same moment. She threw herself into my arms and sobbed uncontrollably.

Final thoughts

Writing a narrative essay is not complicated at all. In fact, a narrative essay is one of the easiest forms of academic writing you will ever come across. Just switch on your imagination and let the essay come out of you.

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Juliet Muturuki

Quantity Surveyor and Freelance Writer.

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