What is a Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay is a common academic task that is liked more because of the creative freedom you can unleash when writing it. A chance to take a breather from all the analytical, persuading, and argumentative papers. This article is for you if you want to better understand what a narrative essay is and what its core components are.

The Definition of a Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is a written academic assignment in which a student has to narrate (tell) a short story (in most cases nonfiction). But the main purpose here is to focus on one particular point that you want to get across to the reader. If planned correctly, a story can be used as an effective tool that can either entertain someone, argue your point, or explain a concept.

One of the dictionary definitions of the word “narrative” describes it as “an account, report, or story, as of events and experiences.”

In some cases, it can even be a fictional story. But it might be difficult and rather time-consuming to come up with something really good if writing fiction is not your thing. And, telling something that genuinely happened with you can help you establish a better connection with the reader.

A narrative essay can be roughly divided into several types: fictional story, personal narrative, and general narrative. The last one is exactly what we will talk about in the following parts.

Note: You can learn more about essays and their features in general in this guide: What is an essay?

What’s a Personal Narrative?

A personal narrative essay is a paper that tells about something that is related to your personality. It focuses on your life events and experiences and your progression in life. This essay is generally narrated in the first-person (using “I”) and is often required as part of college admissions and various contests.

Main Characteristics of a Narrative Essay

Most academic essays are standardized, meaning they should be written and formatted in a certain way, following a set of rules. So make sure to check the formatting and citation style you have to use (usually MLA or APA) and check the step-by-step writing guide we linked to below.

Note: To learn out more about the writing stages for this paper, please consider reading the following article: How to write a narrative essay.

  • Purpose: Emotionally engage your audience.
  • Style: Descriptive first-person narration.
  • Focus: One central point that you want to convey.
  • Order: Chronological order of events.
  • Dialog: You are allowed to use dialogs.
  • Language: Clear and concise, only what matters.
  • Level: Can be assigned in elementary, middle, high school, and college.

Now that you understand what a narrative essay is and what its types and features are, we will discuss the seven main elements a narrative is comprised of.

Seven Major Elements of a Narrative

Any seemingly complex machine can become simplistic once its disassembled and all its parts are thoroughly studied. Even the most complicated contraption can be simplified if broken into fundamental parts. Similarly, we will try our best to take a narrative essay apart and study its every major component in depth.

1. Plot (Storyline)

Any story is based on a plot that determines how the narrative begins, progresses, and ends. This is where you plan how events unfold and develop from one to another. It is important to think through the order in which you tell about events even if you are writing nonfiction.

Because narrative essays are much shorted than your regular stories or novels, you can’t afford to make the plot too complicated. So make sure to think about how you would engage the readers emotionally and define the main point that you want to highlight.

2. Setting (Backdrop)

The setting of a story tells us when and where the narrative takes place. It is the time, the geographic location, and the cultural circumstances.

When writing a narrative essay, describe the sounds, visuals, smells, and tastes to paint a vivid picture in the head of the reader and help them immerse in the story.

3. Characters

Everybody who’s in your story is a character, even animals if they play a significant role. Obviously, when writing a personal narrative essay, you are the main character. Side characters are also important, as they can be a good way to progress the story.

4. Motif

A motif is something that recurs in a narrative and helps you stitch the parts of your essay together. It can be some kind of idea, object, word, image, or thought that supports your main point.

For instance, in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee, the mockingbird is one of the main motifs of the story. It is a symbol of innocence, as the thought of killing it is viewed as a sin by both Miss Maudie and Atticus because it’s just a harmless bird singing songs.

Another good example is the motif of “doublethink” in the novel 1984 by George Orwell. Doublethink is this idea or reality distortion and control that manifests in the ability to fit two opposing thoughts in someone’s head and (what’s even scarier) accept the fake reality.

5. Mood

A mood in a narrative essay is a certain atmosphere you set for the story. By using various descriptive words and mysterious

A mood is the emotions you want the reader to experience when reading your narrative essay. If set up well, it will only compliment the main message of your story.

Moods can be created using a combination of methods:

  1. Setting. Let’s say you want the mood to be more peaceful and calm. You can use the weather and mention how still it is, without even a single gust of wind or a cloud, and how blue the sky is, with its seamingly endless vastness.
  2. Tone. When writing from the first person, you can express your opinions about the subject and change the mood accordingly. 
  3. Diction. One word can have many “shades” that can convey certain moods. For instance, if you aim to set an eerie mood, you can use adjectives that evoke more fear, such as “pungent,” “fetid,” “foul,” “trembling,” etc. 

6. Dialogue

Dialogue can surely be used in a narrative essay. Just make sure you really need to use it and that it is clear who’s talking and why.

Another thing to keep in mind is the dialog formatting: there’s a certain way you must write it.

All these points deserve a separate big guide, so until we have prepared our own, here are some of the articles we can It is a pretty huge topic to discuss, so here are a couple of guides that can help you if you want to use a dialog in your essay:

7. Purpose

The purpose answers the “Why?” question. Why are you writing the essay? What’s the main idea you want to get across?

In most essays, the thesis statement is the “carrier” of this purpose. However, in narrative papers, a thesis usually serves as a transition to the paragraph that follows your introduction.

Remember that you will show this purpose only at the end of your narrative—in its conclusion.

There are a couple of ways you can approach this part:

I. Teach a Moral Lesson

You can base your essay on a valuable lesson and use your narrative as a way to teach, ending your writing with it.

Example 1: “And that day, I finally understood that friendship was far more important than all the money in the world.”

Example 2: “After that adventure, she realized that being honest with yourself was a key to her happiness.”

II. Make a Prediction

As another way to end your narrative essay, you can predict what can happen because of what you described in the story.

Example 1: “I just wish that someday I will be able to do the same for someone going through a similar crisis.”

Example 2: “And if my sister wants to take on such a huge project ever again, she will undoubtedly ask for help.”

III. Present a Revelation

A revelation tells how the events impacted the main character and changed or taught them.

Example 1: “Now I understand how much bravery, resolve, and dedication it takes to be a firefighter.”

Example 2: “Since that fateful day, my sister and I visit the memorial every month to honor the selfless act that saved our lives”

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