Well Written Narrative Essay

So, your professor just gave you a new assignment, and it looks like an interesting topic. The problem is you don’t know how to write a narrative essay.

Relax (but don’t procrastinate)! Narrative essays are actually pretty fun to write. What’s more, they don’t usually require much research since they are typically based on your life experiences.

All that said, there are some important rules to follow. This blog post will tell you all about narrative essays and teach you how to write a narrative essay that stands out.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

Narration is writing that tells a story. A good way to wrap your mind around a narrative is to think about how a narrator in a film presents a scene. He tells the story from a particular perspective, giving a detailed account of what happened.

Consider the narration in this clip from How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

So, how is the narrator’s recounting of the Grinch’s failure to steal Christmas related to learning how to write a narrative essay?

As the narrator in your essay, you set the scene and tell the story from your viewpoint, giving a detailed report of events.

Chances are, you narrate stories every day. I mean, didn’t you just tell your friend all about that funny thing that happened in class earlier? You know how to narrate. So, writing a narrative essay should be easy, right?

Well, hold on, it’s not that simple. One of the challenges with writing narrative essays is that you often have to distill a complex story into a limited (and to-the-point) number of words. At the same time, you have to garner enough interest to keep the reader engaged in your story.

Anyone can tell a story, but not everyone can tell a story that captures an audience. It’s important to keep some rules in mind as you learn how to write a narrative essay.

Sample Narrative Essay

The best way to learn how to write a narrative essay is to see an example. I’m going to pretend that I’m the character Rudy (from the 1993 film Rudy), and I’m going to write a narrative essay about something that happened in my (Rudy’s) life.

First, watch this clip from the film:

Now, I will write a sample narrative essay, as if this clip were based on my experience. Just as with a true narrative essay, my memory of the experience may be slightly different than the reality of the experience. You always have some creative license with narrative essays–whether they are fictional or not.

Read this sample essay first, and then I’ll break it down into its elements:

     A janitor changed my life. I was at a low point, ready to quit everything–even when I had it all. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. At 5 foot nothing, 100 and nothing pounds, I was hardly your typical football player. But, that didn’t stop me from believing that I could play for Notre Dame. It turns out, the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.

After two years of trying hard to prove that I was worthy of playing, I found out that I hadn’t made the dress list for our kickoff game.After fighting to be on the team and sweating through every practice, I was going to sit on the bench…again.

So, I decided to call it quits. Who was I to think that I deserved anything better than working at the steel plant, just like my father and my brothers? If that life was good enough for them, why wasn’t it good enough for me?

As I stood there in section five, staring out at the empty stadium, I thought of how proud my dad would have been to see me out there on the field playing for the team we both loved so much. I felt so stupid. I wasn’t a football player. I was a bench warmer… nothing more. That’s when the team janitor found me standing there.

“Hey,” he said. “Don’t you have to be at practice?”

“Not anymore,” I said, annoyed. “I quit.”

“Why’d you quit? You don’t seem like the quitting type.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t see the point anymore.”

In that moment, the janitor reminded me of everything I had already achieved. Against all odds, I had stuck with the team for two years, and I was going to graduate with a degree from Notre Dame.

What he said next drove his point home. He said, “In this lifetime, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody except yourself.”

He had a point. I had already proven myself to everyone except for me. If I didn’t believe in myself… who would ever believe in me? Thanks to the janitor’s wisdom, I eventually played my first–and only–game that season, and I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Okay, now let’s pick this thing apart. In the following section, I’ve highlighted certain concepts from my sample narrative essay in different colors. Their explanations follow.

First Paragraph:

A janitor changed my life.I was at a low point, ready to quit everything–even when I had it all. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. At 5 foot nothing, 100 and nothing pounds, I was hardly your typical football player. But, that didn’t stop me from believing that I could play for Notre Dame. It turns out, the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.

Let’s break it down.

  • Start with a strong hook. Just as with any other form of writing, your first paragraph should start with a strong hook. The sentence, “a janitor changed my life,” sets up the story with a bold statement meant to capture the attention of my readers. The goal is to make readers ask, “How did a janitor change your life? What happened?”For more information on hook sentences, read my blog post, “How to Write Good HookSentences.”
  • Set the scene. In this section of my first paragraph, I set the scene. I give the reader some context for my story (I was at a low point. I was a struggling football player for Notre Dame… etc.).
  • Define the purpose. Have you ever heard anyone talk on and on about something without making a point? This is a common trap for writers attempting a narrative essay. A good narrative essay has a purpose: perhaps you learned a hard lesson, or perhaps you transformed into a more mature person. Whatever the case, that purpose should be stated in the first paragraph. In the example narrative, my purpose is to make the point that “the most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.”

As you can see, the first paragraph is critical to setting up a good story. Now, let’s talk about what goes on in your body paragraphs.

Body Paragraphs:

After two years of trying hard to prove that I was worthy of playing, I found out that I hadn’t made the dress list for our kickoff game. After fighting to be on the team and sweating through every practice, I was going to sit on the bench…again. So, I decided to call it quits. Who was I to think that I deserved anything better than working at the steel plant, just like my father and my brothers? If that life was good enough for them, why wasn’t it good enough for me?
      As I stood there in section five, staring out at the empty stadium, I thought of how proud my dad would have been to see me out there on the field playing for the team we both loved so much. I felt so stupid. I wasn’t a football player. I was a bench warmer… nothing more. That’s when the team janitor found me standing there.
      “Hey,” he said. “Don’t you have to be at practice?”
      “Not anymore,” I said,annoyed. “I quit.”
“Why’d you quit? You don’t seem like the quitting type.”
      “I don’t know,” I said. “I just don’t see the point anymore.”
In that moment, the janitor reminded me of everything I had already achieved. Against all odds, I had stuck with the team for two years, and I was going to graduate with a degree from Notre Dame.
      What he said next drove his point home. He said, “In this lifetime, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody except yourself.”

Let’s break it down.

  • Use vivid and appropriate detail. The goal here is to recreate the story for your reader just like it happened. Make the story vivid and full of detail. Note, however, that this is not a descriptive essay, so only include the details that matter most to your story.
  • Use dialogue. Sometimes, a great story can’t be told without dialogue. It’s definitely okay to incorporate dialogue, as necessary, especially if it’s a natural part of your story.In my sample essay, the conversation with the janitor is critical to the story, so including the dialogue from this interaction is appropriate.
  • Write chronologically. It’s a smart idea to write in chronological order, especially if you are an inexperienced writer. What happened first, next, and last?This will help you to stay true to your story and not wander. In this sample, I focus on the sequence of events that led me to my moment of truth, how the janitor talked me into staying on the team, and how this changed my perspective on life.
  • Maintain consistency in narration. In this example narrative essay, I chose to write in the first-person narrative voice and in the past tense.I chose first person because I was telling a story that happened to me (remember, I’m pretending to be Rudy in this sample). I chose past tense because I’m telling a story that happened in the past.Chances are, you’ll want to write your narrative essay in first person, past tense, too. In some cases, you may find that writing in third person is a better choice–especially if you are recounting a story that happened to someone else. But, whatever you choose, keep it consistent throughout.

Okay! Let’s move on to the last paragraph.

Closing Paragraph:

He had a point. I had already proven myself to everyone except for me. If I didn’t believe in myself… who would ever believe in me? Thanks to the janitor’s wisdom, I eventually played my first–and only–game that season, and I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Let’s break it down.

  • Restate your purpose. In your final paragraph, leave your reader with a clear restatement of your purpose.Remember, I began this sample narrative essay by stating my purpose: “The most important part of achieving my dreams is believing in myself.” In the final paragraph, I closed with a restatement of this same point: “I proved to myself that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”

Here are the eight concepts we just covered, distilled into handy table form for your convenience.

Final Thoughts on How to Write a Narrative Essay

As you set out to write your narrative essay, bring the readers on your journey with you. Give them a reason to listen to your story.

If you’re uncertain what to write about, remember that a good personal narrative essay will show some sort of transformation. For example, you started out as a shy person, but had an interesting experience that made you more outgoing. Find a story of transformation, and then write about what happened.

If you need more ideas, check out these example narrative essays.

Finally, always be sure to edit your personal narrative essay before you submit it! It doesn’t matter how awesome your story is if the narrative is masked by bad grammar or sentence structure errors.

Good luck!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

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.”

The Climb

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.”

Disneyland

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.”

Playground Memory

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.”

Christmas Cookies

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.

Do you have a good example to share? Add your example here.

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Narrative Essay Examples

By YourDictionary

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.    

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