Writing a narrative essay is an essential talent for field research. Rather than summing things up for your reader, it presents your experience and allows them to draw their own conclusions. The narrative essay makes it point by subtly guiding the reader, rather than battering them the way a rhetorical essay would.
By observing these basic ideas, you can improve your narrative essay.
Complex words and syntax are a hindrance to clarity and should be avoided. Ideas should be clearly distributed between sentences and paragraphs.
Example: Although I have never been to the races before, I was very excited to behold them, yet also somewhat nervous, because of the type of people who go there.
Improved: I’d never been to a horse race. I was excited to go, but also a little nervous, since I wasn’t sure about the people at the track.
2. Don’t describe each and every one of your own movements
Example: As I went in the door, I turned and saw a TV. I looked around and saw posters on the wall. As I went further in I noticed everyone was watching M*A*S*H.
Improved: I immediately noticed the posters on the wall, though everyone else’s eyes were focused on a TV playing M*A*S*H.
3. Avoid the second-person narrative
An important part of the narrative essay is the fact that the writer experienced the events described.
Example: As you go in the door, you will turn and see a TV. You look around and see posters on the wall. As you go further in you notice everyone is watching M*A*S*H.
Writing in the present tense is okay, however.
4. To interest the reader, dynamic word choice is key
Avoid sounding too clinical. Use the same slang, idiom, and turns of phrase you would use in speech. Avoid passive constructions.
Example: I am presented an array of unpleasant photos in which many casualties are shown after automobile accidents.
Improved: They showed me a book stuffed with gruesome pictures of people who’d been in car wrecks.
5. Limit references
MLA format recommends including citations in the text, but in a narrative essay this is disruptive. If a work was helpful, cite it in a ‘Works Consulted’ list after the essay. Explain yourself as you go along, rather than trying to refer your reader back to a previous statement.
Example: When I first saw the comic book fans jumping up and down, I thought as they would, “Lord, what fools these mortals be” (Gaiman 1989.) I later learned why they do this.
Improved: The fans jump up and down. When I first saw this, I wondered what they were doing and my mind conjured a quote from Shakespeare that Neil Gaiman used in his “Sandman”: “Lord, what fools these mortals be.” However, I watched a bit longer and realized the company spokesmodels were throwing free merchandise. The fans wanted to get the most from their day at the convention.
The narrative essay is a keen rhetorical tool because it allows the readers to draw their own conclusions, but falling into the traps above deprive it of its effectiveness. By avoiding these errors, you can subtly guide your reader in your desired direction.
“Hey, you’ll never guess what happened to me last night!”
“Dude! You gotta hear this!”
If a friend approaches you with one of these lines, chances are she has a story to tell. And judging by the sounds of it, the story is a good one!
We all know those people who tell great stories about their lives. They choose just the right words, express just the right tone and emotion, and get you to feel that same emotion.
Your goal when writing a narrative essay is to be that friend: the one who tells the perfect story.
I know, it can be a lot easier to tell a story to your friends because you can stop, start, and rely on the feedback of someone else to know whether your story is a hit. In writing, once you’ve written your final draft, that’s essentially your only shot at getting the story right.
Wondering how you can get that story just right and write a compelling narrative? Here are two narrative essay examples that tell fascinating stories (after a quick review of what a narrative essay actually is, of course!).
The Narrative Essay
You’ve been writing the narrative essay for years. In elementary school, your teachers asked you to write about what you did during holiday breaks. In high school and college, you’re often asked to write about your experiences or life as a student.
Sometimes, though, a narrative isn’t about such basic topics. You might write about complex issues, such as struggles, goals, fears, or other life-changing events.
The key with any of these narratives is to engage your readers and make them feel. The narrative can be funny, serious, awe-inspiring, or tear-jerking, but as long as you’re telling your story and making your audience feel what you feel, you’re moving in the right direction.
For more help writing narrative essays, check out these posts:
2 Narrative Essay Examples That Tell Fascinating Stories
To help you see what a well-written narrative essay looks like, here are two examples.
I’ve added comments throughout each narrative essay example to point out key features of the narrative and to illustrate what the writer does well.
And of course, since no essay is perfect, I’ve also provided suggestions for improvement.
Narrative Essay Example #1: When My Mother Left Me
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Narrative Essay Example #2: The Importance of a Child’s Gift
(click images below to enlarge)
End of Story
As you can see by each narrative essay example, writing a narrative means that you have a purpose to your storytelling. If someone reads your narrative essay and asks, “So what’s the point?” it’s a clear sign you need to revise.
If you’ve already written a draft of your narrative essay and feel like your paper is lacking purpose, don’t leave readers asking “So what?” Let us help! Kibin editors are standing by to offer expert editing.