Developing the Narrative Essay

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Narrative essays are often one of the favorite writing assignments for students. We can write from our own experience and knowledge, sharing a pivotal moment from our lives. Still, many writers find it difficult to take jumbled thoughts and memories and compose a well-crafted essay. So where to begin?

A narrative essay should not only entertain, but also communicate a lesson or message that the writer has learned through that experience. Retelling an event from too large of a time period can lead to an overwhelming amount of information to narrate, so it’s best to choose a topic for a narrative that is a small moment in time, one pivotal event or experience.

Start from the Beginning

The introduction of your narrative should capture the readers’ attention. Introduce the “characters” and set the story in time and place. Incorporate a strong “hook” that will pull the reader into your story. The hook will create a sense of urgency, making the reader feel they have to keep reading to see what happens next.

Though a narrative essay and an argument essay have little similarity, they do have one thing in common: they both will have a thesis. Even though a narrative doesn’t argue a position, it still will present a main idea or a point that you hope to communicate to readers through your story. A thesis can be an overall theme or lesson learned, either stated plainly or implied through the events and outcome of the story.

Examples of a narrative essay thesis statement:

Death is an inevitable part of life.

Perseverance is more important to success than education level or work experience.

Life experiences leave lasting memories that money can’t buy.

It’s easy to envision a story that demonstrates each of the statements above. Do these statements bring an event to mind for you?

Organizing a Narrative Essay

After you’ve introduced the people in the story and set up the event with a strong hook, the body paragraphs come next. Body paragraphs should include descriptive detail as the narrative moves forward in chronological order. It’s essential in narratives to incorporate sensory detail, utilizing all five senses throughout the narrative. Descriptive detail should create a vivid image in the readers’ minds. Rather than say, “I was scared,” describe your actions instead. For example, “My stomach dropped like a lead weight and my heart felt as though it would pound out of my chest.”

Consider where dialogue can be included throughout the story. You’ve introduced your characters, so hopefully their personalities show through and now the dialogue will help to show their personalities even more.

Moving the narrative forward can be tricky. It’s important to use transitions throughout, and breaks in paragraphs will work to indicate a shift in time or place. As you incorporate dialogue in paragraph “scenes,” you’ll also break paragraphs to indicate a shift in speaker. Each new, indented line indicates a new speaker. Notice in the examples below how action is shown along with the dialogue:

“I’m not leaving without you,” Kirk said, holding out his hand.

Shelly hesitated as the bus rolled to a stop. “I can’t leave my brother. He’ll be lost without me.”

“He’s a grown man,” Kirk said, his voice rising. “He needs to grow up, and you can’t do it for him.”

When deciding when to incorporate dialogue, always make sure it’s working to move the narrative forward and show emotion of the characters. Leave out inconsequential dialogue that isn’t speaking anything meaningful or important, such as,

“Hi. How are you?”

“Fine. How are you?”


Concluding the Narrative

If you’ve told your narrative in chronological order, the concluding paragraphs will offer a resolution. Here, the reader should gain understanding of what the writer has learned or why the story is important. By the conclusion, the main point should be clear through the narrative story.

Narrative essays can be fun to write and read. Choose a small moment in time and re-create the event through descriptive detail, incorporating sensory details to show the reader what you experienced. The reader should finish a narrative essay and feel as if they were there in the moment with you, feeling the same excitement and emotion. If they do, you know you’ve done your job.