Narrative essays are a popular type of academic writing. Both high school and college students write loads of them. These essays show your creativity, character, and ability to tell a compelling story. Telling a great story could be a challenging task. That’s why EssayPro's qualified team have compiled a list of things you need to know before writing a personal narrative essay.
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Fear not, for we are all authors! Every person's life is a story. Who else could be the author besides the person experiencing it? Writing a short story is different than writing an essay about your entire life. They key here is to cut out a memory or experience that stands out for you and turn it into a great story.
What Is A Narrative Essay?
A simple narrative essay definition is a piece of academic writing that tells a story. As the author, your purpose is to create a lifelike experience for the reader. You must place them in the middle of the action and keep them engaged. You would normally tell this story from your point of view.
You need to use vivid and evocative detail to create an atmosphere for the reader. Moreover, you need to be very specific with the information you use. Use the type of vocabulary that sounds most realistic to your scenario. This will support the atmosphere you want to create.
There are several types of narrative essays:
Autobiographical Narrative Essay
This assignment prompts you to describe a memorable event that happened in your life. It's not an autobiography, contrary to what the title suggests. You must think of a specific event that matters to you and explore it. Focus on the story and its purpose, instead of details.
Descriptive Narrative Essay
The autobiographical essay would have you focus on the story without exaggerating details. In a descriptive narrative essay, you have more creative freedom. You must describe a situation, memory, or experience in vivid detail. Your goal is to paint a picture for the reader and tell a beautiful story.
A well-written descriptive narrative paper is usually straightforward. It takes a complicated story and narrows it down, allowing the reader to infer the rest. Great writers avoid over-exaggeration and stick to their purpose. There are always some limits to the amount of content you can provide to your readers. Keep this in mind when choosing what to describe in your work.
The tricky thing about the narrative essay is that there are always some limits to the amount of content you can provide your readers with. Ideally, a well-written narrative paper is one that takes a complex story and crunches it down into a limited number of words while always remaining relevant to the purpose. At the same time, keeping the attention of the audience is crucially important.
Good Narrative Essay Topics
When it comes to topics, there are several things you need to take into account.
Start by carefully reading the directions of your assignment. Teachers will often tell you what they are looking for in your narrative piece. Most narrative essays share a few common characteristics:
A Conflict/Challenge: An inciting incident that creates the tone and sets the story in motion.
A Protagonist: A relatable character that faces the conflict or challenge to overwhelming odds.
A Change or Growth: Overcoming the conflict or challenge sparks some change in the protagonist. A realization may have sparked this change. It could also be an after-effect of the characters development throughout the story.
These variables are the essentials of storytelling. You need to spend time brainstorming to connect all the dots and create great story ideas. Search your memories and experiences, and you’ll find something worth writing about!
Here are some narrative essay ideas to help you brainstorm:
- Overcoming Fear
- Facing a Challenge
- A New Experience or Discovery
- A Moment of Excitement
- Learning a Tough Lesson
- A Thrilling Moment of Adrenaline
- The Moment You Stood Up For Yourself
- Relationship Experience
- A Discovery That Changed Your Life
- A Rebellious Act
These are a few common examples that students tend to explore. Consider making a story based on your personal life experiences. The most vivid memories are usually the ones that tell a great story!
Narrative Essay Outline
Narratives have a standard format. This includes the Introduction, the Body, and the Conclusion. Some follow the 5 paragraph narrative essay outline. Composed of 3 body paragraphs, each contains a new idea.
- The Introduction must lay out the setting and ignite the movement of the story.
- The Body Paragraphs travel through the story. Describing it in vivid detail, they slowly untangle the puzzle that is the purpose.
- The conclusion unravels the purpose for the reader. You must ensure that the reader understands the essence of your story.
Now let’s break down some critical parts of each section of the paper!
The Introduction must accomplish 3 main goals:
- Each Narrative Essay should start out with a strong hook. It carries the reader through the introduction and gets them engaged in the story. To create a strong hook you can:
- Bring up a future scenario as an initial starting point.
- Offering a quote that will be relevant later in the essay.
- Place your reader in the middle of the action.
- Set the scene for the reader:
- As authors, we want to throw the reader’s boat into a chaotic storm and get them engaged.
- However, it doesn't hurt to give them a life jacket, in case they start sinking in confusion.
- Allow the reader to get an idea of what's going on. Don’t give it all away, and keep them thinking!
- Defining the purpose:
- Without giving away too much information, give insight into what the essay is all about.
- Don’t give away the lesson you’ve learned just yet. Give your reader merely a sneak peek of what’s about to come.
The Body Paragraphs Must Accomplish 4 Main Goals:
The body paragraphs will vary depending on the length of the essay. The range of the story should match its impact. If it’s a quick life lesson that many others have experienced, don’t stretch out the plot. Perhaps you need to put the reader in your shoes for the story to work. In this case, you have a fair reason to make it more prolonged and intense.
Vivid and relevant detail: The narrative essay is all about creating a scene as well as a mood to follow. Even best essay writers spend hours and are meticulous when it comes to details. Don’t spam your sentences with literary symbols. As long as each sentence serves a purpose, then you are good to go.
Dialogue: Throwing the reader into a spoken scene is an effective way to refresh their attention. Dialogue is a great way to give a story life and support the atmosphere. Still, you must use it constructively. For example, if you have two New Yorkers talking to each other, using London slang won’t be a great choice.
Write chronologically: It’s hard for the reader to understand the timeline unless the author is blunt. Keeping things sequential is the best way to keep your paper organized.
Avoid narration deviation: If you are talking about personal experience, the first-person voice would work best. If this a story you heard from a friend - using the third person would make more sense.
Your conclusion has the task of stating your purpose and offering a final comment. As the story wraps up, the reader must have lived through your experience. In the end, it would be good to leave them with something to think about.
Narrative Essay Example
The content of narratives essays can vary when it comes to different institutions. We have decided to provide you with examples in case you face a problem.
Example for College
College professors search for the following qualities in their students: the ability to adapt to different situations, the ability to solve problems creatively, and the ability to learn from mistakes. Your work must show these qualities. Regardless of whether your narrative is a college application essay or an assignment.
You want to demonstrate your character and creativity. Describe a situation where you have encountered a problem. Tell the story of how you came up with a unique approach to solving it. Connect it to your field of interest. The narrative can be exciting and informative if you present it in such fashion.
Example for High School
High school is all about showing that you can make mature choices. You accept the consequences of your actions, and retrieve valuable life lessons. Think of an event where you believe you have acted exemplary and made an adult choice. A personal narrative essay example as such will showcase the best of your abilities.
Finally, use outside sources to help you get the best result possible. Try searching for a sample narrative essay to see how others approached it.
Writing a narrative essay should be a positive experience. It doesn't restrict you to a linear format that doesn’t allow for variation. This is one of the most free-spirited and creative essays to write. That doesn’t mean that rebelling against all rules and writing something absurd is fair play.
If you are still struggling in deciding what to write about - think of your story as a coming of age tale. An event that transformed you into the person you are today.
Your primary goal is to take the reader on a journey. Have them share your experience and take something away from it. The best stories are always the ones that teleport the reader out of their comfort zone.
Essay Writing Tip From Our Professional Team
Prof. Marjorie Eckhart, from EssayPro
The practice of writing a narrative essay is your first step to creative writing. Something my English teacher always told me in high school and something that I want to pass on to you is: the more personal, the more universal. When we write stories about ourselves we are ultimately writing about everyone else in the world; humanity generally shares the same problems. There are two things that appear in all good narratives: it involves the readers and it presents importance. When a story is important and showcases change, then the reader will pay attention to it. If a story relates to the reader, they feel for it and develop a deeper emotional connection to it. As the article articulates quite well, the story also makes a point. Perhaps your custom essay does not have a flat out moral, but it has a beginning, a middle, and an end that has an impact. Make sure to select an event that feels important to you and write about it; make it real for the readers.
Looking to write a narrative essay?
Sometimes life catches us all off guard and we find ourselves in need of some academic assistance. Contact our custom essay writing service and find the perfect writer to help with your task.
In the past I have talked about technologies such as Inkle, Undum, Twine, and there are others I haven’t really mentioned: ChoiceScript, StoryNexus, and Varytale, which all use branching narrative with some world state variables as their form of interactive storytelling. Now, if you’ve read Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, you know what he thinks of branching narrative (AKA Choose-Your-Own-Adventure); and he’s right. Branching narrative is a bit too simplistic to be the holy grail of interactive storytelling, but it is the most common form of interactive storytelling today because of its accessibility. In this post, I will attempt to break down the process of designing and writing a branching narrative, and point out some ways to write more complex branching structures. I will also link to other blog posts or articles that I have found useful when researching this topic.
The Branching Narrative
The simplest nonlinear stories use a branching structure; you start at the beginning, are given several options, and those options lead to new choices, which each lead to new choices…this can go on forever, but there is a point where all of these branches become too expensive. If you are writing a branching narrative, similar to one of the old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, your story structure might look something like this:
This is called a branching tree, and as you might imagine, with each choice, the amount you have to write increases exponentially. If you were going to write a story with ten choices, two options at each choice, you would have to write 2^10 (which is 1024) branches. That’s a lot of writing. Add one more choice to the game, and you have to write double that: 2048.
To combat this complexity, you can create a foldback structure, where the player has choices, but these branches eventually all lead to the same place. This keeps the number of branches you have to write to a manageable number, but it cheats the player out of making meaningful decisions. What is the point of choosing one path over another, if they both eventually lead to the same conclusion?
So, how do we get the expressiveness of a fully branching narrative and the compactness of a foldback structure? One method that many systems use today is World State.
Tracking a world state allows the writer to create more advanced branching narratives, without writing thousands of nodes. A choice can set a variable (such as true/false, or increase by a factor of 1, etc.). Then, later on, when text is being printed by the computer, it can check that variable and print different text based on the value of that variable. This can limit the choices available to a player, or simply change whether the player character is described as a “he” or “she.”
For example, let’s say you have a story where a certain character can either die or be rescued in one scene near the beginning. This can be set as a variable: . Later on down the road, you write a scene where some of the main characters are sitting around a campfire talking about their tough times. If is , then one character might say, “I really miss Bob.” If is , then Bob might say something, and nobody will lament his death, because he’s not dead.
You can imagine it like this:
As you can see, earlier decisions affect later decisions because of variables. If the variable is a number that can be increased and decreased, then output can be varied even further. For some interesting results, you can use a number as a chance variable; the higher the variable, the higher your chance of succeeding. Be careful with using random chance, however; you can get some unintended and frustrating results.
Most branching narrative systems today allow variable tracking and conditionals, such as Undum, InkleWriter, ChoiceScript, and Twine.
Choosing the proper world state variables is a large part of creating a state-based branching narrative. If you use too many variables, they will get jumbled up into a big mathy mess that is confusing and difficult to work with. It is best to choose a small amount of variables where each variable has a known and defined use inside the branching narrative.
Some variable types:
- World state
- NPC variables
There are many other types of variables that can be used, but before you blindly start coding variables into your branching narrative, make sure that you know what they are going to be used for and how they are going to be used. Some variables can be simple boolean values, but some should be numbers or strings.
It is very easy to write too many variables into your story on the first draft, especially if you are making it up as you go. However, the more variables you write, the more you will have to remember, and if you have variables that are similar to each other, then they may conflict at some points in the story. For example, if you have a variable, and a variable, you can probably imagine how these variables overlap. A simpler solution would be to just replace with , and increase that variable each time the character pumps iron. Otherwise you might run into a situation where there is a strength check, and although the character has a high score, if their score is low, they will fail the test.
A good resource to read on this topic would be the chapter on Personality Models in Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, especially the second edition. He talks about creating variables with little overlap, while retaining the highest amount of utility. This is called orthogonality, so remember that when you’re googling.
Storylets are basically little snippets of narrative that the player can see, depending on a world-state. For example, if each storylet were a chapter, chapter one would always be visible, and choices inside chapter one would set some qualities that cause other chapters to be visible. Then, when the player returns to the contents, they can choose from the available chapters. So each storylet is a separate narrative, but it influences which other storylets are available and what happens inside them.
A good example of a story using storylets is Bee, by Emily Short. I would definitely recommend reading/playing through it, then reading the two articles linked to at the end of this section.
Two main systems that use storylets are Varytale and StoryNexus. You can probably simulate storylets in InkleWriter, Undum, and Twine, but they aren’t set up explicitly for that.
What choices you make available to the player will largely define how they percieve your story. The choices have to be broad and interesting, but they also have to be manageable from the writer’s perspective. I have played a lot of branching narratives that have pathetic choices; if you’re only giving the player one choice at the end of each story node, then you should ask yourself if you really need a choice there at all.
Choices need to have some effect on the story, otherwise there’s no point for them. They could change some relationship variables, start a new branch of the story, or give your character some advantage that will come in handy later in the story.
The player should also have some idea of how the choice will affect the story. If the player clicks an option, and something completely random happens and changes the story, the player will get frustrated. This is a very common problem; even many high-budget games struggle with this issue. Mass Effect is notorious for this; you may choose an option that seems like a simple question, but then Shepard goes crazy and starts violently interrogating someone. After several playthroughs, I have a pretty good idea of what the writers were thinking, but my experience doesn’t help any first-time players.
Planning with Graphs
Before you open up your branching narrative editor of choice, you should do a little planning. Hopefully you already know about your world, your characters, and some of the possibilities that can happen to them, (if you don’t, read this earlier post) but now you need to start designing the actual branches of your narrative.
The idea behind this is similar to that of The Snowflake Method for writing a novel; you start with the broad strokes, and you add detail later.
Step one: create a high-level storyline that connects all of your main scenes (or storylets, if you’re going that route). Overall, this high-level storyline should be fairly linear; it doesn’t have to be, of course, but adding a lot of branches at this point will mean that you will be writing a lot of content that must be connected to nodes inside of other scenes, and this adds more variables to keep track of…in short, if you want to confuse yourself, go right on ahead. Branching narratives are not easy to create; however, if you plan carefully before you start writing, you may save some headaches later on down the road.
The purpose behind this step is to come up with the overall plot of your story. Yes, branching narratives have a plot, but it branches. Figure out how your story will begin, what things can happen in the middle, and how it ends.
Step two: zoom into each node of the previous graph, and start adding some branches within that node. These nodes can have as many branches as you want, but they should all end up at the same place. Don’t worry; since you have world and character state variables, you can change the text depending on their values. This means two players who end up in the same place may have very different experiences when they get there.
This is where you can really start to add some complexity to your story; figure out the main choices the player can make, and how they affect the world state and future decisions. Write down a list of variables you think you might need, and cross off any that you find you don’t.
As you can see, to get from one main storyline to the next, there are a lot of little options that can branch amongst themselves, but they have to all come back together to one or two main locations.
After this, you can sit down and start writing. You may need to rethink your outlines as you write, if you find problems or decide to add more detail, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as you have a roadmap and know where you’re (generally) going.
Whew, that’s been a long one. I hope this brief (yeah, right) overview has helped you somewhat. My intent was not to cover the topic exhaustively, because there is a lot involved in not only planning a branching narrative, but writing prose in general. That is why I added so many links; if there are any subjects you would like more information on, they should help.