Looking for Help with Narrative Writing?

Narrative writing reveals a series of events, usually in chronological order. In other words, it tells a story. But not just for the sake of it. A narrative essay uses a story to make a point. In fact, you can use narration in any kind of essay to support the point you want to make.

Samples of narrative writing

Say you're writing an essay on how poor your school╒s food service is. You might use narration to make your point by telling the story of a typical lunch. You would start from the moment you arrived at the cafeteria and had to wait in line just to get in the door. Then you would describe waiting in the lunch line, the food choices, the service, etc. You would walk readers through the process of your lunch, keeping the events in order.

TIP: Narrative essay writing depends heavily on good descriptive writing.

Another example would be: suppose you want to persuade your school's administration that more parking is needed on campus. You could tell the story of a particular morning when you were late to class because (in spite of having allowed plenty of time to get there) you were forced to park six blocks from campus and walk. Providing lots of vivid detail of your experience would help readers connect with that experience and take in your point.

Successful Narrative Essay Writing

1. Choose a topic

Good topics for narrative writing often involve highly emotional events. Turning points in life, like graduations, a birth, a death, an accomplishment or a disappointment make good material for narrative writing.

2. Identify the point you want to make.

What meaning or significance do you want your reader to take away from this story? What lesson did you learn as a result of this experience that you want to share with readers? One way to think of this question is: of all the stories in your life, why are you writing this particular one?

3. Choose an effective starting point.

You'll want to present events basically in the order they happened, but you don't necessarily have to begin at the beginning. And, while some background may be needed for readers to understand your story, it isn't usually a good idea to open the essay with background. A good rule of thumb is: start the story later than you think you should. Begin in the middle of some action. Make readers wonder what's going on.

CAUTION: Don't take this too far. We want to be intrigued, not completely baffled.

Once you've established the essay's conflict, you can add background or even use a flashback to show previous events.

4. Include only details that contribute to your point.

In any real-life experience, lots of things are going on at once. For instance, in our example of the essay on your school╒s poor food service, you may have had a really interesting conversation with a friend while you waited in line. But including the topic of the conversation wouldn't advance your point. You could, however, include how long the two of you talked to support your point that the wait was long. You need to filter the details in order to keep the reader╒s focus on the point you want to make.

5. Order the flow of events.

Narrative essays usually don't use traditional topic sentences like other forms of writing. Typically, you start a new paragraph when you begin to describe a new event or a new aspect of an event. If you play a musical instrument, you could think of each new paragraph like a chord change. Use transition words at the start of your paragraphs to help readers follow the sequence of events. Spend more time on events that contribute more to the point you're making and less on those that are just necessary to telling the story.

How Can I Improve My Narrative Writing?

• vivid sensory details: one of the things that gives narration its power is the feeling readers have that they're right there in your story. They can see the scene and experience the action. This happens through specific sensory detail. See descriptive writing for more help with this.

• active sentences: that means strong action verbs. Put the subject up front in your sentence and use a one-word verb to describe what's happening.

• strategic verb tense: the present tense can be effective for telling a story with events that happen over a relatively short time span. For longer time spans, use past tense. Whichever tense you choose, don't change tenses without good reason.

• consistent point of view: you are allowed to use "I" in narrative writing. In fact, in personal narrative, you almost have to.

• careful word choices: the "voice" of narrative writing is important. You want the words you choose to help convey your point. "Mom" and "mother" both mean the same thing, but which one you call that person says a lot about your relationship with her, doesn't it? Choose words that fit with the impression you want the essay to make for readers.

• dialogue: if appropriate to your essay, let us hear exactly what people said. Instead of writing: Carol then told me to leave her room, it's much more vivid to write: Carol yelled, "If you don't get out, I'm going to shove you through the door!"

Go to top of narrative writing.


If you need help with other forms of writing, follow the links on the Academic Writing page. This is just one area covered by Writing with Confidence. For help with related topics, like creative writing and journal writing, go back to our home page.

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