narrative essay

The assignment Click for more options

In this essay assignment, you will use the act of narration to tell a story. A narrative essay recounts someone’s true personal experience, either past or present. This could be something that happened to someone you know, though most students choose to speak from direct personal experience. The narrative should help the reader gain some insight or learn a lesson by experiencing the event(s) along with the author. Remember that the information you present is the only information your reader will have, so think of all the seemingly small details you will need to include in order to effectively portray the event and its importance.

  • Write a 500-750 word essay using narration as the chief method of development.
  • The purpose should be to inform, persuade, entertain, and/or evoke an emotional response from your reader.

The act of narration should:

  • involve description, including sensory details, figurative language, and/or contextual details
  • maintain an awareness of how your tone is influencing the reader’s impression of your story
  • exercise your creativity
  • have a clear sense of organization, i.e. a story arc or plot
  • be written from a clear point of view

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Many students choose to write about the event that led them to join the military. Many students choose to write about hardships or adversities they have overcome. Some students focus on positive life events, such as the birth of a child or meeting their significant others, while others prefer to recount lessons learned from more difficult experiences, such as losses sustained in war, deaths of parents or other loved ones, or traumatic events that strengthened them in some way.

Take a look at these common prompts:

  • A lesson learned
  • A goal achieved
  • A significant success or failure
  • A life event that changed your perspective
  • An epiphany

Think of what led up to the moment the lesson was learned or your perspective changed. That’s your story.

If you are having a hard time thinking of a narrative topic, see the list at the end of “Chapter 4: Narration” in The Longman Reader (p. 195).

Developing Click for more options

  1. Define the Basic Elements of Story:
    • Define these five elements of story specific to your narrative:
      1. setting – the location, time, and weather, which together create a mood or impression
      2. characters – the people and/or animals involved in the story
      3. plot – the sequence of events
      4. point of view – the focus of the narrator (1st person uses “I,” whereas 3rd person uses an outside perspective)
      5. theme – the overarching meaning or message, such as “the inexperience of youth” or “man versus nature” or “the cost of experience”
    • Begin to brainstorm how to describe and/or organize these elements using the skills honed by the descriptive essay.
      • Consider how and/or when in the narrative to develop each element.
      • Think of what should be revealed up front in the introduction and what should be slowly drawn out throughout or later in the story.
    • Determine your conflict, however small and lighthearted or heavy, and whether or not you want to lead up to a resolution or leave the reader hanging.
  2. Organize:
    • Consider how best to organize. Generally, most narratives work chronologically, starting at the beginning of the story and working forward in time.
      • For effect, some writers jump back and forth between a present perspective and flashbacks to the action of the narrative. There are other ways to organize, but be purposeful.
    • Put together some sort of outline. You are required to turn one in with each essay.
    • Think about the function of the introduction and conclusion paragraphs:
      • Introduction: Start with some sort of “hook” to grab your reader’s attention. You want your reader to be left asking, “How so?” or “Why?” or “What happened?” You could begin with a dramatic statement, such as “When I was twelve, my entire world was upended.” You could bait a reader with a purposefully ambiguous admission or set things up for an unexpected turn later. Draw your reader in. Make him or her want to invest the time in your story. You might also use the introduction to establish your setting, define your character(s), and/or introduce the conflict. Or you might drop your reader directly into the action, then develop the context and/or significance throughout the episode and/or in your conclusion.
      • Thesis Statement: Though less cleanly defined than in other essays, there should be some sort of purpose conveyed in your introduction through a statement that hints at the implications of your narrative.
      • Conclusion: Here is where you close out the action by either resolving or abruptly ending the narrative’s event(s). Here you should also reflect on the “implications” or significance of your narrative. What does it all lead up to? What can be learned, achieved, or known based on the event(s)?
  3. Draft:
    • Use vivid language and varied sentence structure, but be clear, concise, and particular in your word choice.
    • Use first person (“I” and “My” or “We” and “Our”), if desired.
    • Use figurative language, when appropriate, but be original and purposeful:
      • If you have heard it before (“his smooth skin was the color of mocha”), please don’t recycle it. Be original.
    • Avoid “announcing,” such as, “I am going to tell you the story about how I found God” or “This event was important to me because it changed how I viewed pit bulls.”
      • In creative writing speak, “Show, don’t tell.”
      • Use tone and word choice to guide the reader toward a desired effect or a way of seeing things.
    • Continue to rely on descriptive adjectives and concrete language to help “flesh out” the scene(s).
      • Expand beyond vague words and phrases (like “good” or “bad,” “great,” “beautiful,” or “interesting”).
      • Push past overused expressions (such as “you only live once,” “when it rains it pours,” or “everything happens for a reason”).
      • Use a thesaurus to find new ways of phrasing, such as “buoyant” instead of “happy” or “verdant” instead of “green.”
    • Rather than telling your readers what happened, recreate the experience(s) for him or her by striking a balance between:
      • Detailed description (cue Joyce: “He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight.”)
      • Sensory details (“the cold breath of winter left my skin numb”)
      • Contextual details (“It was late December of my freshman year in high school.”)
      • Dialogue, if appropriate
    • Keep your point of view consistent!
      • Don’t begin in first person (speaking firsthand using the pronoun “I”) and flip to third person, as if you are removed from the events.
    • Keep your verb tense consistent!
      • Don’t flip between past tense (“I walked toward the rustling leaves”) and present tense (“I am surprised to find a wounded deer breathing cold, rapid breaths.”)
    • Be mindful of transitions. Each new paragraph should mark some sort of change in the action or a move from action to reflection.
  4. Revise and Edit:
    • As you read, ask yourself: could I be more specific here? Think about each sentence or passage and whether the reader’s understanding or response could be enhanced by more information.
    • Read the essay out loud. Whenever you stumble or notice anything awkward or unclear, this is usually an indication of a problem. Highlight it to return to later and address the issue.
    • Get a second opinion. Have another set of eyes (a peer, a trusted friend, or a Writing Lab tutor) provide some feedback.
    • Review formatting rules (listed in detail on the “Course Policies” page) and polish up the final draft.

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