How to Write a Narrative Essay

Of all the types of essays, a narrative paper tends to be the most personal and emotionally packed. The purpose of a narrative paper is to delve into a story, develop it, and divulge a personal experience. This helps the audience better understand the importance of such an event and its morals. If you are assigned the task, this article provides practical steps to writing a narrative essay. 

What is a Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay is a type of paper that tells a story from a writer’s point of view. Such narrative essays are predominant in high school. In narrative essay writing, high school or college students should provide the necessary details, such as characters, incidents, and other attributes that help writers better express themselves. They also strive to get the audience involved and make the readers feel as though they are direct participants in a particular situation. 

Note: We have a separate article about the definition and main elements of this paper: What is a narrative essay?

In some sense, such narration is akin to a descriptive paper because it also touches upon specific sensory details. Yet, a narrative essay is different, as it must include a straightforward plot, setting, and characters.

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Steps to Writing a Narrative Essay

A good narrative essay requires following a specific writing process. For instance, before you start a narrative essay, you should brainstorm ideas and do some research. Once you do that, you can dive into essay writing and create a thesis and introduction, body part, and conclusion. 

Every piece of writing holds a particular aim and strives to reveal the topic, including information that might be valuable to the reader. The same goes for a narrative essay. It must creatively tell a story to (usually) entertain the audience or reveal a moral lesson. Therefore, to write a good narrative, the writer has to come up with a suitable topic and develop it nicely. 

Of course, writing a distinguished narrative isn’t effortless. You should consider a host of elements to make up a good story. In this instance, brainstorming will come in handy.

Note:Check our ultimate guide on the essay writing process in general: How to write an essay (step-by-step).

#1: Brainstorming

Brainstorming is an efficient approach to developing a relevant topic and essential points to include in your narrative. Numerous ways of brainstorming exist, but the most efficient ones are:

  • Rapid ideation
  • Listing
  • Mind-mapping
  • Clustering
  • Freewriting

These are all idiosyncratic methods. Every technique requires a different approach from a writer. For example, rapid ideation helps produce an abundance of ideas quickly; listing focuses on enumerating concepts in a list; mind-mapping rests upon visual aspects to help the writer develop ideas; clustering breaks down ideas and sub-points into various circles; freewriting dwells upon a matter and tries to come up with exclusive concepts. Using these techniques will make your brainstorming session productive and fruitful. 

#2: Researching 

Researching a story is an integral part of successful essay writing. It helps you write a strong, cohesive, and transparent story. When researching, you go through your memories and past experiences and clearly organize your thoughts. 

Apart from that, research fills the gaps you might have after the brainstorming session. This allows you to include the five vital following elements and build a remarkable story:

  • Plot: The sequence of events that create a full-fledged and logical story. Every narrative contains the plot to help the reader observe all the changes in a scene. 
  • Theme: An underlying idea of the story. Oftentimes, a theme touches upon common topics in our life, like love, power, impact, courage, and success. 
  • Setting: A physical location of a story. Can be several points within the narrative essay.
  • Characters: Characters are individuals in the story. They are essential participants impacting a scene at a specific time.
  • Mood: The mood is the overall feeling of a situation. Using adjectives, the writer can set the atmosphere, jazzing up the story or making it scary, on the contrary. 

#3: Building a thesis statement

Although a thesis is the last sentence of an introduction, it is reasonable to write it first. It is wise to form your thesis beforehand to know what direction to follow. A written thesis will let you compose an attention-getting introduction and increase your chances of keeping the readers engaged. Keep in mind that you might need to modify your thesis later, adjusting it to the entire paper and thus writing a good narrative essay. 

Every essay should have a thesis statement with a clear claim and accurate supporting details. Such a statement is usually neither general nor too detailed; it provides information just enough to realize what the writer will further delve into. In a narrative essay, though, a thesis statement is slightly different because it already kicks off a narrative, giving just a glance of what your story will look like.

Look at this narrative essay thesis statement example:

Although my brother and I have always been thick as thieves, we often couldn’t share the same standpoints on some things, which tore us apart every time we talked about them.

#4: Outlining the work

Although optional, an outline serves as an effective assistant for writing great narrative essays. An outline is a structure of a soon-to-be-written document. It provides critical and compressed information to help you stick to the plan and avoid unnecessary details that might confuse the reader.

Note: To learn more about outlining in academic writing, check out our guide: How to write an outline for an essay (with examples).

Take a look at the following narrative essay outline example:

Topic: My brother and I


  • Opening: I love my brother very much, but sometimes I can’t stop thinking about punching him in the face.
  • Background: Prior to our mom’s birthday party, we hung out with friends in a summer house; we had various talks about studies, work, success, etc.
  • Thesis statement: Although we have always been as thick as thieves, we couldn’t share the same standpoints on certain aspects, which tore us apart every time we talked about them.


Paragraph 1

  • Topic sentence: The first discussion we had was about studying remotely.
  • We disagreed on its efficiency.
  • My point of view was that it was granting plenty of free time.
  • He claimed it was tiresome.
  • Transition: This talk caused a debate, and that was only a warm-up before a total verbal disaster.

Paragraph 2

  • Topic sentence: Once our friend started talking about money, polemics became in full swing.
  • I said the money was overblown.
  • My brother yelled at me, trying to prove money is extremely important.
  • Transition: I had to step back and let my brother win this conversation because I knew what was coming next.

Paragraph 3

  • Topic sentence: When he said a few words about productivity, I started developing the topic.
  • He claimed productivity couldn’t be maintained.
  • I interrupted him, saying it very much could, providing natural boosters and specific techniques.
  • Transition: Now he stepped back, but I didn’t consider it a win from my side. 


  • Close of the action and thesis reiteration: It gave me some more things to reconsider: our relationship, closeness, and life priorities. Even though we’re brothers and have spent plenty of time together, we are very different.
  • Recap: The mentioned topics about distance learning, money, and productivity demonstrate our mindsets.
  • Final sentence: I have long been observing this difference between us. I don’t find it strange; rather mesmerizing and somewhat spooky, as I’m afraid it might make us too detached in the future.

#5: Starting with an introduction

So how do you actually start off your narrative essay?

A narrative paper has a standard introduction structure. It begins the story and comprises the three main components: an opening sentence, background information, and a thesis statement. Since we have covered the thesis, let’s cast some light on the opening and background points. 

The opening sentence, also known as a hook, begins the story with the main purpose in mind: to spark the reader’s attention and make them ask the “W” questions. Hooks can manifest in the form of a shocking statement, anecdote, fact, or misconception. 

In turn, the background provides any details necessary to understand the story and its setting, plot, characters, mood, and theme. 

Note: We have a separate guide on essay introductions in general: How to start an essay.

#6: Creating the central part

The idea behind body paragraphs is to develop the plot and include supporting information to make the entire piece coherent and understandable. Depending on your story and the number of topics you touch upon, you can glue together the central part in two different ways: chronological periods or subjects. 

In a narrative essay that follows a chronological order, the first section describes the first event, the second section describes the following event, and so forth. 

A narrative essay that breaks down a body part into topics doesn’t necessarily need to focus on time. Still, you have to sort out the matters by their importance. 

Also, every body section also has a certain structure and comprises a topic and a transitional sentence. The former announces supporting details you will present in a paragraph. The latter ends the paragraph and connects it with the next one. Both a topic sentence and a transition are critical. They introduce the readers to the action and make a smooth transition from one point or scene to another. 

#7: Concluding a narrative essay

A conclusion always wraps up the entire narrative essay. When writing the conclusion, you should rephrase your thesis statement, provide key information from the main part, and include some revelation to leave the reader with food for thought. Ensure restating the thesis statement and writing about principal points made within your essay narrative. 

Note:To learn more about writing conclusion in essays in general, read our guide: How to end an essay.

To finish off the paper, you can write the last sentence in the format of a:

  • Moral: Highlighting the lesson you’ve learned from the story.
  • Prediction: Guessing what might happen in the future as a result of the story.
  • Revelation: Disclosing facts that have been unknown to others.
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Since a narrative paper isn’t a typical academic assignment for a lot of students, the question of how to write a narrative essay and many other may arise. Here are some of the prevalent questions with answers to help you tell a story.

Can a narrative essay be fiction?

A narrative essay can be fiction. You can write a narrative essay while relying on your personal experience solely, but you can also make stuff up. People frequently spice up their narratives by writing about events that haven’t occurred in real life. Besides, including fictional elements can speed up your writing session and improve the quality of your narrative essay, making your stories more interesting and vivid.

Can I end my narrative essay with reflection?

It is better to end your narrative essay with a moral, prediction, or revelation. Of course, you can include reflection in the conclusion. Your review is not only pivotal to you in a narrative essay, but it is also valuable to the audience in that it helps deliver the moral of the entire story. You can also combine a reflection and a moral lesson.

Can you use “I” in a narrative essay?

You can use first-person pronouns, such as I, me, my, mine, when telling a story. Even though narrative essays fall into academic writing—which often forbids using first-person pronouns—you often have to write a personal narrative, too.  

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