Writing a Narrative Essay from Scratch

Whether it’s a college assignment, a high school assignment or part of a personal statement, writing a narrative essay should be taken as seriously as any other assignment. If you don’t know where to begin with your narrative essay or how to structure it, this article will make all this clear as you progress.

What is a narrative essay?

A narrative essay is a write-up where the author is expected to construct a story with characters, conflict, and a setting. It is not an essay used to advance arguments or give evidence and support opinions, rather it shares an experience. You can choose to use a personal and real experience from your own life or develop a scenario in your mind and imagine the experience. These two functions of a narrative essay make up the fictional and nonfictional aspects. Your narrative essay needs to have a central point where your whole story revolves around. It uses the same format for every other essay but it’s different because it includes characters and dialogues. Some examples of prompts that might be used to assign you a narrative essay include;

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  • Write about some of the achievements you have accomplished in your life so far
  • Write a story describing what you’d want your future to be like
  • Write about the time you got your first pet
  • Write a story about your last school trip

Types of narrative essays

If you don’t know what you want to talk about or the approach you want to use, writing a narrative essay can be a difficult task. This is why it is important to know all the types of narrative essays so that you can consider the type of essay you want to use and how you will approach it. Some of the types of narrative essays include;

Non-fictional essays

A non-fictional essay can also be divided into an autobiographical or biographical narrative essay. Such essays normally talk about actual events that happened in real life to actual people. If you write about something that happened to you personally, it becomes an autobiography. If you write about something that happened to someone else in your life or a famous person, that is considered a biography. Such essays focus on one specific event and the whole essay is built around it. Your main focus should be in the story and how you develop it and not so much in the details.

Fictional narrative essays

These are narrative stories based on the author’s imagination, ideas, thoughts, and feelings. They are based on a series of many events leading up to the main occurrence. Examples of fictional narrative essays include novels, short stories, and plays.  With fictional narrative essays, you have the freedom to imagine and write about anything but you need to remember that your essay should be realistic. Such essays are frequently used for entertainment and as an escape from the real world into one that exists only in the mind.

Descriptive narrative essays

This is the most creative form of narrative essays and the main goal behind it is to describe a memory or experience as vividly as possible. You need to be able to immerse your audience into the story to a point where they feel like they have lived through it. As an author, your goal is to appeal to the different senses of your audience and paint a clear picture for them. Descriptive narrative essays take a complicated story and narrow it down as the writer portrays an image. You need to avoid over-exaggeration and stick to the purpose of your essay.


Poetry as a narrative essay can be both fictional and non-fictional. You can choose to talk about your expressions and feelings based on a real situation or one that you come up with. In poetry, your expression of the event gives your ideas a certain level of intensity based on the distinctive style and rhythm you choose. Some examples of poetry include sonnets and epics.

Narrative writing is also divided into 4 common types which are;

  • Linear narratives present the story in the same order of events that it happened and can be narrated in first, second, or third person
  • Non-linear narratives give the story in a different order than it occurred. This means that you can use writing techniques such as flashbacks and other literary resources that bring a shift in the order of events
  • Viewpoint narratives express the point of view of a main character or fictional character in our story. This means that the story is told based on subjective experiences and might be different when narrated by another character from the same story.
  • A quest narrative presents a story where the focal point is a protagonist who works towards a goal throughout the story and faces several challenges in their pursuit. The story becomes interesting when you observe the main character navigating these challenges and finding solutions

Characteristics of a good narrative essay

  • They are mostly written from the author’s point of view
  • Events, situations, and occurrences are arranged in a chronological order
  • The attempt to inform the reader about an event or happening instead of arguing or teaching them
  • Uses basic writing structure to incorporate all elements of a story into the essay
  • Uses a lot of descriptive language to paint the image of a person, scene, or event
  • Uses different paragraphs to separate different periods and events in the story
  • A writer may use dialogue to immerse their audience in the moment and memory
  • All the details somehow relate to the main point or center of their story
  • The essay normally has a purpose that is stated in the thesis statement or introduction

Elements of a narrative essay

A typical five-paragraph narrative essay is made unique based on the elements used to convey the message. While it follows the basic format of introduction, 3 paragraphs, and one conclusion paragraph, a narrative essay is far from regular essays. The main elements used when writing a story include;

A plot

The plot is described as the sequence of events that occur in your story leading up to the incident that you intended to share.

The setting

The setting is the location where the events occur. You can choose your school, the playground, the library, your home, the hospital or any other place as the main location where your story will be based.


A good narrative essay includes problems and moments of tension which the characters face and need to resolve in order for the goal to be achieved. These issues are known as conflicts and they make up the climax of the story.


The characters are the people involved in your story. You need to include every person, whether they are the main character or a side character as long as they influence or shape the narrative. Even autobiographies include people who behave or act in ways that influence the development of the story.


The theme or thesis statement elaborates the overall purpose of your story. It shows your readers the reason why you chose to write about this topic and what they can expect at the end.


Dialogue is used to capture a conversation between characters. It is an important element of a narrative essay because the writer can directly show the influence other characters had in the development of the event.

Narrative essay format

The format of a narrative essay is standard. Unless advised otherwise by your administrator, your narrative paper should be made of five paragraphs, that is; one introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph. While in other essays the body paragraphs are used to support the thesis statement, every paragraph in a narrative essay plays a specific role to satisfy a unique purpose. For instance;

  • The introduction paragraph states the purpose of the story and presents an engaging hook to capture the audience
  • The first paragraph of the body is used to present the rising action which shows how the story builds up
  • The second paragraph of the body is for the climax where the story is at its peak and the characters face a challenge and overcome it
  • The third paragraph is for the falling action which brings the story to a definitive and satisfactory close
  • The conclusion paragraph tells the audience the lessons learned from the story and the main takeaway from the whole narration

The outline for writing a narrative essay

If you want to write a good and well-structured narrative essay, it is important to develop an outline that will guide you as your story develops. The outline acts as a roadmap to the rest of your essay and gives you a platform to organize your ideas before you begin writing. Here are some steps to work on before you create an outline for your essay;

  • Brainstorm several ideas to ensure that you pick the most realistic yet intriguing story for your audience
  • Choose a topic based on your research, brainstorm, and passion so that you are interested in what you are writing about
  • Define the purpose of your writing to help you structure the story from the beginning to the end
  • Plan your story from the rising action, climax, to the falling action, and then deduce a logical conclusion
  • Create an outline for a narrative essay that will allow you to organize all your ideas into paragraphs and make the writing process easier for you

Following these steps and creating a detailed outline will make your writing process less stressful and quicker. You will not have to spend time after each paragraph thinking about what the next one should address.

How to start a narrative essay

You should start your essay in a way that will pique your audience’s interest and engage their sensory details. Your introduction should grab your reader’s attention so that they can continue reading your story. The best way to do this is using an exciting hook statement that can be presented in different forms such as;

  • A quote related to your story from a famous person
  • A mystery that your story will uncover
  • A rhetorical question that will make your writing feel more personal and direct
  • An interesting or funny anecdote
  • A shocking statistic that will make your readers curious

Your introduction should also set the scene and give your readers a vague idea of what is happening. Don’t give away your entire story yet, leave your readers wanting to know more.

Lastly, you need to define the purpose of your writing. Shed some light on what the story is all about and what lessons your audience should expect to learn from the story. This can be done using a thesis statement which should appear at the end of your introductory paragraph and later restated in your conclusion for emphasis. Your thesis statement is your main argument which presents the problem or conflict that drives your characters and story.

A good narrative essay thesis statement should not be a fact or a known truth, instead it should be a suggestion or recommendation that can be contested or disagreed with. This will make your essay more interesting because your audience will want to see how you defend your thesis statement until the end.

The main body

This is considered the most important part of the essay because this is where your story develops as you share details and facts about the event. Your body paragraphs depend on the length stipulated by your administrator or institution, or the word count given. The four most important things to consider in your body paragraphs include;

Use relevant and vivid descriptions to set a mood and paint a picture for your audience. Do not over-exaggerate as this might distract your audience from your main goal and caused them to lose faith in your narration skills. Make sure each sentence serves a specific purpose.

Present the event in chronological order whenever possible. Don’t make it hard for your readers to follow your story by mixing up the timeline unless you are using narrative essay literary resources such as a flashback or a flash-forward. Maintaining a sequence is the best way to ensure that even your youngest audience can follow your story.

To help you avoid narration deviation use the first-person voice to describe your personal experiences. If you’re telling a story based on someone else’s experiences or one you heard from a friend, use the third person voice to narrate.

Concluding paragraph

Your conclusion should include some final remarks about your story and highlight the lessons you have learned. Restate some of your key details and ideas including the thesis statement for emphasis. You can finish with a rhetorical question or a call to action to leave your readers with something to think about.

Closing remarks

Writing a narrative essay should be a fun activity because you do not need extensive research or facts and intricate details. All you need is an imaginative mind and the ability to convince an audience that your story is interesting enough to learn from. However if you’re having a hard time developing a narrative essay, feel free to contact us for further assistance and clarification.

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