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How to Write a Narrative Essay

Published by at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On June 29, 2022

What is a Narrative Essay?

Definition: Narrative essays let the authors account for their personal experiences in the form of a story. Unlike most other essay types, you can let your creativity and ideas flow freely in a narrative essay, although it should still be factual.

They are a common assignment in high schools, colleges, and universities.

While you are certainly free to rely upon your imagination to express personal experiences in a narrative essay, it is equally important to follow the suitable narrative essay structure and format.

Here are some strategies to write a narrative essay that would surely hook your audience.

Why Should I Write a Narrative Essay?

When assigned a narrative essay, many students are unsure about why they have been asked to write a narrative essay and of the significance of storytelling in academic writing. While the topic of a narrative essay can range from the important to the most insignificant, it is not the topic but how you tell a story that will be evaluated.

This is partly because much of the writing discipline will be in containing what could be a detailed or complex story within a tight word limit.

You will achieve a higher grade in your narrative essay assignment if you follow a logical structure and tell your story in a clear and intriguing way. Decide where your story must start and end and how you can get your thoughts across to the readers smoothly without losing the plot.

This writing style is very different from other forms of academic writing. Narrative essay writing involves the use of suspense, conversation, metaphorical language, and the use of first-person (’I’). It is possible to write about what happened to someone else, in which case you would use the third-person point of view (using ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘they’).

How to Choose a Topic for Your Narrative Essay

You could receive extensive, moderate, or even very little guidance about the topic for your narrative essay assignment. If you get very little, then you will be required to find a topic to work with.

The topic you are assigned will be either specific or open-ended.

Examples of a specific topic

  • Write a story about your most notable achievement at college.
  • Write about your interactive experiences on your final day at university.

Examples of an open-ended topic

  • Reflect upon an experience where you learned from your mistake.
  • Write about a professional achievement you are proud of. How did it help you excel in your career?

Think about the story you want to tell. It is best to use a story that encompasses a surprise, a lesson, or a particular theme, so you can keep the readers interested throughout the essay.

For example, if you talk about an achievement that encompasses a twist or a challenge that you had to overcome, it will be far more engaging than a story where everything went according to plan. Narrate an experience that would end in a lesson for the readers.

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Writing a Narrative Essay for a College Application

Most colleges require candidates to submit a narrative essay describing their achievements or ambitions, along with their admission application.

College Application Topic Example

Please submit a one-page, single-spaced essay that describes why you have chosen to apply to Oxford University.

For a narrative essay for college application, think about a story or an experience that would enable you to express the qualities and achievements desired by the college you are applying to. For example, you could talk about your proven ability to learn from your mistakes, your calculated approach, and your love for the subject you wish to study.

Narrative Essay Structure

A narrative essay should follow an appropriate academic structure, even though it will be based on an experience from your life. Like other essay types, a narrative essay comprises an introduction paragraph, the main body, and a conclusion paragraph.

Narrative Essay Introduction

The introduction paragraph should start with the background statement to explain why the topic is essential to you. The last sentence of the paragraph introduces the theme of the essay.

Narrative Essay Main Body

The main body is where you tell the story, develop the plot, and provide facts and details of the experience you are talking about. Make sure to include all the points in a clear and exciting way. When did it happen? Who was involved? What was at stake? Staying true to your feelings and using appropriate transition words is the key to telling an interesting story.

Four points you should consider following in the narrative main body:

  1. Include lifelike and relevant detail: In the narrative essay, you present a scene and aim to share the experience with the reader. Include plenty of detail where necessary but do not waste your word count. Each sentence must advance or enhance the story.
  2. Use dialogue: The use of direct speech, that which is in quotation marks, makes events more real. Use it where most effective; if you use it too much, or include long monologues, it will lose its effect.
  3. Apply chronological order: Tell the story as it happened. This aids clarity and ease of understanding. It is better if your readers read it twice because they enjoyed it, not because they could not understand it.
  4. Focus on the story only: Keep checking as you write that everything you say relates to the story. It is easy to deviate, and doing so also takes away the reader’s attention.

It is important to note what is not included in the narrative essay main body; you will not be making any arguments, criticising, or trying to persuade your readers in any way. It is also unlikely that you will be required to quote other works and cite them.

Narrative Essay Conclusion

The concluding paragraph should link back to the background statement and the main theme of your essay, you can also restate some important points mentioned in the body here. The conclusion should emphasise how your experience helped you or others involved to attain an improved overall understanding of the situation.

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Example of a Narrative Essay

Here is an example of a narrative essay that explains “why you have chosen to apply to Oxford University.”

Narrative Essay Example

Both Oxford University and I have a shared vision to explore nature’s limits by exceeding expectations. I have always favoured subjects like science and maths over the humanities. I consider some subjects more valuable, important, and handy than other subjects, such as English. But, while in the past, science was just one of my favourite pastimes, my recent experience with the World Science Festival Series has taught me that I am more interested in science than I ever was before. Thanks to this experience, I now know for sure that the Oxford University Student Science Training Programme is my future. I had never heard about the World Science Festival until one of my friends recommended it to me. At first, I thought of it as another one of those boring lectures that fails to keep the audience engaged and talks about ideas, theoretical works, and interactive explorations no one cares about. I imagined the use of PowerPoint, which is one of the main contributors to students‘ boredom. But to my happy surprise, Professor Brian Greene explained the string theory’s absurd concepts in the most engaging and exciting science talk. My friend, Mr. Robert Bruce – “but you can call me Bob” – and I were left with an overwhelming feeling of reverence and admiration because the talk was like nothing we had ever experienced before. Rather than explaining complex scientific theories and concepts, the speaker engaged us on our level. He explained superstring theory, the idea that minuscule strands of energy vibrating in eleven dimensions create every particle and force in the universe. And he did it in a way that novices could understand, so my friend and I started to imagine the different forces at work around us. By the time the talk ended, I was certain that I had more passion for pursuing science than any other subject. At the Department of Physics at Oxford University, I will be able to do just that. In a department that is well known for its high-quality research facilities and world-class faculty, I can continue the path towards achieving scientific excellence. While I am just at the beginning of my career in science, I am sure that the Oxford University Student Science Training Programme will help me make the most of my technological potential.

Narrative Essay Checklist

A descriptive essay provides an extensive description of a particular place, object, topic, or idea. On the other hand, a narrative essay is used to tell a complete story of a personal experience. However, both narrative and descriptive essays allow the authors to use their creativity and personal reflections. Other types of essays do not permit this style of writing.

Narrative essays are generally 800-1000 words long. The length of your narrative essay depends on who you are writing the essay for. For example, the high school narrative essay will be shorter than a college application narrative essay.

Narrative essays are assigned to students to evaluate their creative storytelling skills in high schools, colleges, and universities. They may also form part of a college application. When you are asked to reflect upon your personal experiences in the form of a story, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

If you have not been given direction on what the topic of your narrative essay should be, think about the scope and background of the task. Choose to tell a story that is relevant to the audience. A story that includes a lesson, a surprise, or a particular theme is the best kind of story for a narrative essay. You can build your story around any experience that made you a better person or taught you a valuable lesson.

About Grace Graffin

"Grace has a bachelor's and a master's degree from Loughborough University, so she's an expert at writing a flawless essay. She has worked as a professional writer and editor, helping students of at all academic levels to improve their academic writing skills."