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Narrative Essay Examples and Key Elements
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In a narrative essay , you tell a story, often about a personal experience, but you also make a point. So, the purpose is not only to tell an entertaining tale, but also to expound on the importance of the experience. In the narrative essay examples below, see if you can pull out the moral or theme . When it’s your time to draft a similar type of essay, hopefully, you can stir the heart of the reader.
Sample Narrative Essays
Below, you’ll find two narrative essay samples. One has a sad little twist and the other is a personal narrative essay that details the importance of hope. Note that they tell a story, while emphasizing an integral moral or theme.
He Left So I Could Learn
In this first essay example, we explore a lesson on dying:
It was my second day on the job. I was sitting in my seemingly gilded cubicle, overlooking Manhattan, and pinching my right arm to make sure it was real. I landed an internship at Condé Nast Traveler. Every aspiring writer I’ve ever known secretly dreamt of an Anthony Bourdain lifestyle. Travel the world and write about its most colorful pockets. When my phone rang, and it was Mom telling me Dad had a heart attack. He didn’t make it. I felt as though the perfectly carpeted floors had dropped out from under me. Now that I’ve come out the other side, I realize Dad left me with a hefty stack of teachings. Here are three ideals I know he would’ve liked for me to embrace. First, you have to stand on your own two feet. As much as our parents love and support us, they can’t go to our school and confess to the principal that we stole a candy bar from Sara. We have to do that. Neither can they walk into the Condé Nast office and nail a job interview for us. At some point, we have to put on our “big girl pants” and be brave, even if we’re not. Also, there’s a difference between love and co-dependence. Being grateful to have someone to turn to for love and support is not the same as needing someone to turn to for love and support. With the loss of my father, I’ve also lost my sounding board. All I can glean from that is it’s time to look within myself and make proper assessments. If I can’t make sound decisions with the tools already in my kit, then I risk falling for anything. Finally, memories are, perhaps, the only item that cannot be taken away from us. Will I miss my father? Every single day. What can I do in those times? I can open up our suitcase of memories, pick out my favorite one, and dream about it, talk about it, or write about it. Maybe I can’t pick up the phone and call him anymore, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone. Next week, I’m off to Istanbul to explore their art scene. As soon as I read the email from my editor, I picked up my phone to call Dad. Then, I realized he’ll never answer my calls again. I fought back the tears, got up to make a cup of peppermint tea, and added a new note to my iPhone titled, “Istanbul Packing List.” In the end, life goes on. I’m not sure why he had to leave during the single most poignant chapter in my life. So, I won’t dwell on that. Instead, I’ll hold tightly to these three ideals and write about Karaköy in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. Dad will be with me every step of the way.
A Teeny, Tiny Treasure Box
The next short narrative essay takes a different approach. Instead of living in a comfortably loving home, the writer had to deal with the uncertainty of the foster system. Here’s a short lesson on hope:
She took me by the hand and walked me into the lobby like a five-year old child. Didn’t she know I was pushing 15? This was the third home Nancy was placing me in - in a span of eight months. I guess she felt a little sorry for me. The bright fluorescent lights threatened to burn my skin as I walked towards a bouncy-looking lady with curly hair and a sweetly-smiling man. They called themselves Allie and Alex. Cute, I thought. After they exchanged the usual reams of paperwork, it was off in their Chevy Suburban to get situated into another new home. This time, there were no other foster children and no other biological children. Anything could happen. Over the next few weeks, Allie, Alex, and I fell into quite a nice routine. She’d make pancakes for breakfast, or he’d fry up some sausage and eggs. They sang a lot, even danced as they cooked. They must have just bought the house because, most weekends, we were painting a living room butter yellow or staining a coffee table mocha brown. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. When would they start threatening a loss of pancakes if I didn’t mow the lawn? When would the sausage and eggs be replaced with unidentifiable slosh because he didn’t feel like cooking in the morning? But, it never happened. They kept cooking, singing, and dancing like a couple of happy fools. It was a Saturday afternoon when Allie decided it was time to paint the brick fireplace white. As we crawled closer to the dirty old firepit, we pulled out the petrified wood and noticed a teeny, tiny treasure box. We looked at each other in wonder and excitement. She actually said, “I wonder if the leprechauns left it!” While judging her for being such a silly woman, I couldn’t help but laugh and lean into her a little. Together, we reached for the box and pulled it out. Inside was a shimmering solitaire ring. Folded underneath was a short piece of paper that read: “My darling, my heart. Only 80 days have passed since I first held your hand. I simply cannot imagine my next 80 years without you in them. Will you take this ring, take my heart, and build a life with me? This tiny little solitaire is my offering to you. Will you be my bride?” As I stared up at Allie, she asked me a question. “Do you know what today is?” I shook my head. “It’s May 20th. That’s 80 days since Nancy passed your hand into mine and we took you home.” It turns out, love comes in all shapes and sizes, even a teeny, tiny treasure box from a wonderfully silly lady who believes in leprechauns.
Essential Elements of Narrative Essays
Let’s go back to basics first. Generally speaking, there are four types of essays: argumentative essays , descriptive essays , expository essays , and narrative essays .
Narrative essays tell a vivid story, usually from one person's viewpoint. A narrative essay uses all the story elements — a beginning, middle and ending, as well as plot, characters, setting and climax — bringing them together to complete the story. The focus of a narrative essay is the plot, which is told with enough detail to build to a climax. Here's how:
- It’s usually told chronologically.
- It always has a purpose. Often, this is stated in your thesis statement in the introductory paragraph.
- It may use dialogue. For more on that, here are the ins and outs on how to punctuate dialogue correcctly .
- It’s written with sensory details and bright descriptions that involve the reader. All these details relate in some way to the main point the writer is making.
Quick Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay
When writing a narrative essay, remember that you are sharing sensory and emotional details with the reader.
- Your words need to be vivid and colorful to help the reader feel the same feelings that you felt.
- Elements of the story need to support the point you are making. And, you need to remember to make reference to that point in the first sentence.
- You should make use of conflict and sequence like in any story.
- You may use flashbacks and flash forwards to help the story build toward a climax.
- It is usually written in the first person , but the third-person perspective may also be used.
Tell Your Story
Use your next narrative essay to tell your story. It’s possible to focus on yourself, while offering the reader some sort of lesson or truth. Encourage them to move past terrible loss or maintain hope in a seemingly bleak foster system.
Narrative essays are close cousins to short stories. If you feel compelled to share another story, fiction or nonfiction, with the world, check out Get Creative: How to Write a Short Story . Who knows how many lives you’ll brighten and shape with your words. Remember, there’s great power in them.
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5 Examples of Narrative Writing
Learn exactly what narrative writing is, as well as examples of different types of narrative writing.
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Let’s talk about how to take your next writing project from good to great—whether you’re working on a personal narrative essay, a poem, or something entirely different.
What Is a Narrative?
Before you start working on different elements of narrative writing, it’s helpful to understand what exactly a narrative is.
Taking the most literal meaning, the narrative definition is really just another word for story; it’s the way in which a story is crafted through joining together different events, experiences, or details to make a complete tale.
You may have heard the word “narrative” in a number of different contexts and have questions about the specifics. What is a personal narrative compared to an essay? What is a narrative poem and how is this a different narrative form to other fictional writing?
It’s important to remember when considering the narrative meaning that, ultimately, your work can take on any form that you like, be it a song or play, a long-form essay, or even a game . If it tells a story, it’s a narrative.
The narrative form can be either spoken or written and fiction or nonfiction, depending on what fits the story best. Narration, for example, is the process by which a story is audibly told and is what gives a story narrator their title–they are the guide through which the story is being revealed to us. Throughout history, narration has been an important form of communication, along with being vital in human development. It helps children to process what they learn in their day-to-day life and commit this information to memory through retelling what they understand about a situation.
Storytelling, in particular oral storytelling, has also led to the development of language throughout the centuries and across cultures. Narratives in all forms have been the foundation upon which our traditions and values have been built on, and continue to be an important part of our daily lives.
Learn How to Creatively Tell Your Story!
Creative Nonfiction: How to Craft a Personal Narrative
What About Narrative Essays?
When we start to think about “what is a personal narrative?”, the first place that we usually go to is nonfiction and narrative essays . But what is a narrative essay?
Often referred to under the umbrella of creative nonfiction when it comes to narrative definitions, personal essays are typically based around a real experience that you’ve had and, like descriptive essays, allow you to develop your ideas more creatively than other long-form writing methods such as academic papers or journalistic articles. They’re usually written from a first-person perspective and draw on poignant moments and experiences from the life of the writer.
It’s likely that you’ve written a personal narrative essay at some point, possibly without even realizing. College applications commonly use narrative prompts to encourage you to think creatively about a topic while demonstrating your skills in framing a story from beginning to end, your use of language, and how to engage a reader.
For good narrative essay examples, these application prompts are a great place to start. Take a look at some of the suggestions and try writing your own. They usually keep them open-ended so that any student can use them—something like “recall a time when you faced a struggle or challenge, how you were impacted by this, and what you did to overcome it” is typical for this type of narrative prompt.
Another popular form of personal essay is the literacy narrative. You may be asking yourself “what is a literacy narrative?” The clue is really in the name! These stories are focused on writers discovering their relationship with words, whether that be reading, writing, or speaking. Many of the world’s most notable writers have coined literacy narratives for magazines and journals, detailing their earliest memories of reading and writing, or reflecting on their process as a novelist, poet, journalist, or screenwriter.
5 Examples of Narrative Essays
1. “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion
Included in Slouching Towards Bethlehem , a collection of Didion’s essays, this piece delves into the emotions evoked by Didion’s leaving New York City, and her journey of self-awareness.
“I was in love with New York. I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.”
2. “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson was known for his exceptional personal narratives, delivered in both written and spoken form. His work is one of the best narrative essay examples of the 19th century.
“My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady.”
3. “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin
Reflecting on his life as a Black man in early- to mid-twentieth-century America, James Baldwin’s narrative essays are frequently referenced to this day.
“Harlem, physically at least, has changed very little in my parents’ lifetime or in mine. Now as then the buildings are old and in desperate need of repair, the streets are crowded and dirty, there are too many human beings per square block.”
4. “My Life as an Heiress” by Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron may be known for her romantic comedy screenplays like You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally , but she began her career as a writer and found widespread success with her personal essays.
“I never knew why my mother wasn’t close to her brother, Hal. I can guess. It’s possible that he didn’t help out financially with their parents. It’s possible that she didn’t like his wife, Eleanor. It’s possible that she resented forever the fact that her parents had found the money to send him to Columbia but made her go to a public college. Who knows? The secret is dead and buried.”
5. “Joy” by Zadie Smith
British essayist Zadie Smith has won numerous awards for her work and is a global best-selling novelist.
“Perhaps the first thing to say is that I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I wonder if this is more than the usual amount? It was the same even in childhood when most people are miserable. I don’t think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me but rather that the small things go a long way.”
Other Types of Narratives
What is a narrative poem? It can be difficult to tell the difference between this and any other kinds of poetry, but the heart of this type of work is in the story itself.
Most narrative poems are written in metered verse and make the voice of both the narrator and characters clear throughout. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge are two of the world’s most famous narrative poems.
Scripts and Screenplays
Narratives told via film or television have added complexities. Action, or screen direction, is written into the script to help the actors know cues and behaviors that they should portray, but none of this is available to the end viewer. Where a traditional narrative is based on descriptive language for these moments, scripts and screenplays must rely strictly on character dialogue and setting to convey the story.
Folk tales are one of the oldest forms of storytelling. Although entirely fictional, the narrative of a folk story is based around cultural identity and values that can be passed on to each subsequent generation. They often include oral elements like proverbs, jokes, songs, common expressions, and sayings that are specific to that group or subculture.
Myths and Fables
Part of the family known as prose narratives, myths and fables are similar to folk stories in age and purpose. Myths are typically more imagination-driven, often used to explain the mysteries of life and nature. Fables, on the other hand, usually have a moral message and frequently use animals who behave in humanlike ways to convey this lesson.
Novels are usually the narrative form that most people are familiar with. They’re typically longer works that are written in prose and published as books. The earliest novel is thought to have been written in the 11th century and there is much debate over the standard length for this type of narrative, with novellas falling somewhere between novels and short stories.
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Short Narrative Essay
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Model short narrative essays leave a comment.
A Death in the Family
I have cried bitterly only twice in my life: once when my old girlfriend left me and once when my cat died. Mop was very special to me. Her death taught me not to delay getting proper care for loved ones.
Mop came into my life as a kitten. Her mother died when she was very small, so I raised her all by myself. I took her to work every day and gave her milk every hour for two or three weeks until she was big enough to stay home. When Mop was two or three years old, I took in a stray Tom cat and Mop soon got pregnant. Mop got sick shortly after she had kittens. Her kittens all died and she got weaker and weaker. She ate and drank very little and spent most of her time lying on the floor and staring into space. I thought about taking her to the vet, but I did not want to spend all that money and I hoped that she would eventually just get well on her own. Finally, she looked so sick and unhappy that I gave in and took her to the vet. He said she was too far gone and would soon die. I took her home and watched her carefully. A day or two later, she died in my arms. As I held her thin body in my hands, I remembered all the fun we had and the times I was mean to her. I felt my heart breaking and I cried hard for ten minutes. Then I wrapped her in a plastic bag and took her to Monkey Mountain, where I buried her in an unmarked grave beside a trail.
I felt bad about waiting so long to take Mop to the vet and I decided that if any of my pets or family members got sick, I would not wait to take them to the doctor. If I had acted sooner, Mop might still be alive, or at least she would not have suffered so much for so long. (346)
My Friend, My Enemy
Sometimes your best friend becomes your worst enemy. This happened to me in grade seven. When a good friendship turned bad, I began to feel like I could not trust people very far.
I do not remember how Gordy and I became friends, but I do remember that we spent a lot of time together after school. Sometimes I even want to his house for lunch. I never met his parents. His father was a fisherman and I guess his mother had a job, too. We climbed trees, wrestled, rode on bicycles and talked. But one day, Gordy suddenly changed. He started being mean to me. He would not talk to me or play with me anymore. Worse, he began to bully me. He would get me in a headlock or pin me on the ground or punch me. I still do not know why. He did not even have a new friend to take my place. He just suddenly became my worst enemy.
I did not cry about losing Gordy as a friend, but he taught me that people can very quickly change a lot. Ever since then, I have worried that people I trust and rely on might someday turn and hurt me. (205)
Last week there was an earthquake while we were in school. At that time we were in our classroom on the fifth floor, so we felt it quite strongly. Earthquakes are common in Taiwan, but not everyone reacts to them in the same way.
When the earthquake hit, the doors, lights, curtains, bookshelves and television monitor started to sway. We all felt a wave going through us. Some people just looked around and said, “Oh. An earthquake.” It did not bother them at all. But other people were not so calm. One girl screamed and fainted in her seat. Two boys jumped up and ran for the door. The teacher fell on her knees and started praying. A few people called their parents or grandparents to tell them they loved them.
I did not think the earthquake was such a big deal, but it was obviously very frightening for some people. I have to admit I thought they were very silly to get so excited about it, but now I see that not everyone is like me. (177)
Trouble with Customs (short essay: narrative, 20090102 Tanina Hsia’s class)
In today’s climate of fear, even completely innocent people can have difficulties with law enforcement officers. I had such an incident three years ago at Vancouver International Airport. It gave me a very negative impression of the people charged with protecting the public and enforcing the law.
I was sitting near the departure gate. My two oldest boys, aged four and three, were coloring on the floor. I was reading. My wife was coming back from a walk with my youngest boy, aged two. My wife is Taiwanese and does not know a lot of English. Big, burly customs officers had begun talking to people, asking to see their documents and even taking them into a side room for questioning and searching. One of them walked up to my wife as she was coming back from her walk. She pointed to where I was sitting and I motioned for her and the customs officer to come over to my seat. When they arrived, the customs officers asked me whether the three children were ours, where we were going and how much money we were carrying. I had no trouble with the first two questions. The children were ours and we were returning to Taiwan. The third question was a lot trickier. I knew from previous travel experience that most countries do not like people to take large sums of local currency out of the country. We had given most of our left over Canadian money to my parents, so I told the customs officers we had very little, only a few dollars. His reaction alarmed me. He asked what we were going to use for money in Taiwan and when I said we had quite a few New Taiwanese Dollars on us, he very sternly said that he was an authorized customs agent and we had better be truthful with him. I explained that I had thought he meant Canadian money. He rather rudely replied that he had only said money, never Canadian money. I told him how much we had and he went off to question someone else.
In the same airport, only a couple of weeks after this incident, a Polish man who had begun throwing things around because he was not getting help was Tasered by police and died as a result. Sometimes law enforcement officers are neither intelligent enough nor well-trained enough to distinguish between real threats such as terrorists and people who are just upset or who misinterpret a question. (415)
The death of a child is always a tragedy. One of my sisters lost her first two babies, twins, only an hour or two after they were born. The way different members of my family dealt with this experience taught me that even members of the same family, raised with the same set of beliefs and values, can see the world in very different ways.
My sister was born premature. She came a month earlier than she should have, so it was no surprise to us to learn that her first pregnancy would not go to term. It distressed us, however, that the babies would be coming two months early instead of just one. The chances of survival were not great, so we had little hope that they would live long. I lived several hundred kilometers away, so my involvement in the situation was very limited, but I worried and grieved along with everyone else, yet the full depth of the sorrow for my sister and the rest of my family did not hit me until a couple of years later, when I saw my sister at a family reunion. That was when I got a greater sense of the anticipation, disappointment and bereavement that the very short lives of those two little girls had brought to us. That was when I really felt sorry for myself and truly felt sorry for my sister.
Around the same time, I noticed that we were not all thinking of the event in the same way. In fact, there was a kind of polarization, with my mother at one extreme and me at the other. My mother and I are both devout Mormons. We both believe in God, that we all lived with God before coming to Earth, that God has a plan for our salvation, and that if we live properly, we can go back to be with God. We also believe in foreordination, which is the idea that God calls certain people to certain work on Earth. But while my mother firmly believed that the babies’ death had been foreordained, that is, planned because these babies only needed to get bodies, not to grow up in them, I firmly believed that it was all a matter of chance and inheritance. The babies were born prematurely because they inherited a stronger possibility of premature birth form their mother, not because God wanted to call their spirits home before they could even go home with their parents.
Eventually it occurred to me that our differences lay in what I call system orientation. We are both religious, but my mother is only religious, whereas I am both religious and scientific. In her system, religion, control of everything, especially the death of a baby, is the only logical and consistent explanation. In my system, religion and science, God can exist, but he need not control everything and many things, such as the deaths of babies, happen within his plan without being specifically called for by it. Seeing it this way helps me to understand and respect my mother’s views as well as to understand and feel better about my own. (525)
Everyone needs a break from their normal routine. Workers, students, housewives—people in any role feel better and enjoy life more if they can occasionally get away from daily life. Allowing myself to follow my internal clock is one of the best ways I know to get refreshed for another round of work.
I have just come back from a Chinese New Year break that lasted nearly a week. During that time, I stayed up late most nights, slept in most mornings and some afternoons, and did not even go to bed at all one night. I read when I wanted to read, exercised when I wanted to exercise, and spent two days and a night focused on one project.
Following my natural rhythm for a week relieved almost all the stress of schedules and deadlines I experience most of the time. Now I feel refreshed and ready to go back to my workaday existence for a while. (156)
When I was in elementary school, I had some strange ideas. One of the strangest of all came to me as I was thinking about what to do for the grade-six science fair. It taught me that imagination can be dangerous.
Most of my classmates were planning on very ordinary projects about animals, the environment and basic laws of physics. As a reader and writer of science-fiction and fantasy, I wanted to do something a little more daring and original. My parents had bought me a rock collection a few months before. In the rock collection was a piece of pumice. I knew that pumice came from lava. I also knew that through the process of electrolysis, electricity could cause the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water to separate into separate gases. I thought I might be able to use electrolysis to turn pumice back into lava, so I filled a jar with water, dropped in the piece of pumice, stuck the two bare ends of an electrical cord in the water as well, and plugged the cable into a wall socket. When my father, electrical engineer, came into the room to we what had made all the power go out, he said, “You should be dead.”
Since then, I have had several unpleasant experiences with imaginative ideas, all of which have reinforced the lesson that imagination and the human body do not always mix well. However, the most effective lesson in the dangers of making my ideas reality came in the words of my father the day I nearly killed myself in the name of elementary school science. (269)
Getting What You Want
Very often if you ask people directly for things you want, they will refuse. This is certainly the case with my wife. But as I learned in the second year of our marriage, thinking about what you want from the other person’s point of view can make a huge difference in their attitude.
I bought my first computer in 1997. It was a used desktop PC. It came with a modem which enabled a dialup connection to the Internet. It was noisy and slow. Eventually, I learned how to shut off the sound, but I could do nothing about the speed. By 2001, ADSL was becoming commonplace, but when I talked to my wife about getting the faster connection, she refused to agree with the idea, because it was more expensive than a dialup connection. I continued to live with the dialup for months. Then one evening I told my wife that I was downloading an important file that would take half an hour. I remarked how a friend of mine had found and downloaded a bigger file in just a few seconds using ADSL. My wife said, “So get ADSL.” A week later, we had the very things I had been denied when I asked for it directly.
Naturally, I puzzled over what had made the difference. I eventually realized that in telling my wife how much time the dialup was costing compared with ADSL, I had hit on something that mattered to her: time away from the computer to spend with her. Since then, I have generally tried to talk about what I want in terms of what other people want. Very often, I get what I want. (280)
My dad once said he was surprised I lived to be twenty. Fortunately for him, he does not know half of the crazy things I did as a kid. The good side of all that dangerous experimentation was that I learned a lot of important lessons early in life.
When I was about fifteen, I decided to make a gondola between the cedar and the fir in our front yard. Each tree was around one hundred feet tall and took three kids to hug at the base. I strung a quarter-inch nylon rope about twenty feet up between the trees, which were about fifteen feet apart. I planned to use my mother’s clothesline stabilizer as the wheel and grip. Unfortunately, one of my brothers smashed it against the fir tree while I was stringing the rope between trees, so I only had half of the stabilizer to work with. The stabilizer fits over top and bottom lines of the clothesline from the side, which means that if you break the frame in half, any weight you hang from it will hang from the side, not the middle. That, of course, means that the wheel will tip—and that, as I found out when I attempted to ride from the cedar to the fir, meant a twenty-foot drop when the wheel twisted right off the rope.
I landed more or less like a cat and walked away uninjured, but wiser, too. I learned never to use broken equipment and to test any equipment closer to the ground. I have applied that lesson to other areas of life as well, because there are many way to fall. (275)
I think most people who know me consider me very rational, patient and gentle. I see myself that way most of the time, but an incident that happened two or three years ago showed me that I need to work harder at staying under control.
I was riding my scooter to work in the late afternoon. People were going home from work and school, so traffic was quite heavy and I as keeping a close eye on the vehicles and pedestrians around me. At one point, I was passing just inches from a parked car on the right when a car on the left suddenly accelerated past me from behind, also just inches away. If I had moved even a little to the right, I would have hit him. The night before I had seen a taxi driver do a sudden U-turn on a crosswalk, narrowly missing a young woman who was crossing the street. Nearly getting hit myself was the last straw. I fixed my eyes on the car that came so close to me and pulled up beside it at the next red light. I pounded on the driver’s window with my fist. The driver rolled down his window and asked angrily why I was hitting his car. I told him I did not appreciate his reckless driving. He said he did not know what I was talking about and that I should not go around accusing people of things without cause. Then he got out of the car and attacked me. I fought him off and said that if I had gotten the wrong car, I apologized. He said that was all right and patted me on the shoulder. Then we both drove off.
When I had calmed down, I realized that I could in fact have made a mistake. Worse, the driver could have been an armed criminal. I could have gotten into very serious trouble. I decided that in future I would handled that type of situation more calmly. (334)
Fathers and Sons
Fathers are very busy people. They have to work hard to get money for their families. However, sometimes they need to give up a little money to spend time with their children.
My oldest son is seven. His school anniversary was coming and there was going to be a sports day one Saturday morning. I work six days a week, including Saturday, and on Saturday morning I have three hours of classes that only I can teach. I thought my students would be very unhappy if I took the morning off. When I told my son I could not go to his sports day to see him run, he was very sad. He cried. When I saw how disappointed he was, I decided that being with him on his big day was more important than the money I could make, so I took that Saturday morning off. When I got to his school for the sports day, he was very happy and gave me a big hug.
I am glad I decided to spend that morning with my son instead of going to work. Now it is my rule to take time off for my children’s activities. (197)
Another Late Night
Sometimes I stay up late to do something I think is important. I always think it will only take a few minutes or a couple of hours, but I am usually wrong. Last night, I did it again and now I regret it.
About four years ago, my computer broke down. The hard drive stopped working. I bought a new computer, but I kept the old one, because there were a lot of important pictures on the old hard drive. I hoped that one day I would be able to make the hard drive work and get those pictures. Last week, I fixed the hard drive, but it still did not work. Last night, I took the hard disc out and put it in a new hard drive. This was difficult and took a long time. I didn’t finish until five o’clock this morning. Even then it did not work. In fact, I now have two hard drives that do not work and this morning I was so tired that I feel asleep while getting out of bed and my computer problem is even worse.
I should not have started a job like that so late in the evening. I should have gone to bed. (204)
The Shoulder Check
There is more to good driving than just making the car go where you want it to go. Good driving means getting there safely by avoiding accidents. A near miss on Highway 3 reminded me how important it is to do a shoulder check before changing lanes.
I was driving my family back to Kaohsiung from a week-long vacation in Taipei and Sun Moon Lake. We were about an hour from home. As usual on Taiwan’s highways, slower drivers were occupying the middle and left lanes instead of the far right lane where they belong. I got stuck behind a car in the middle lane. The left lane had too much traffic in it for me to pass efficiently, but the right lane was empty in front, as I could see through the windshield, and behind, as I could see through my side- and rearview mirrors. I turned on my right turn indicator and began to change lanes. As I glided the car toward the right lane, I glanced casually over my shoulder just in time to see another car moving right beside me. I swerved sharply back into the middle lane, avoiding a collision and startling my wife and children. When the car on the right moved forward out of the way, I safely changed lanes and drove the rest of the way home without incident.
To this day, I am not sure whether I failed to see the car beside me because it was in a blind spot between the two mirrors or because it had been behind me until the driver saw me preparing to switch lanes and had decided to switch lanes first and pass me before I changed lanes. In any case, I should have performed a shoulder check before even beginning to change lanes and I have been sure to do so ever since. (310)
Sometimes people have hunches or premonitions about things. Hunches and premonitions are two types of insight that come from somewhere other than conscious thought. I learned last week to pay attention to these mysterious promptings.
Eight years ago, my wife and I decided to buy an apartment. It took a long time to find one we both liked and that we could get a loan for. Finally, my wife took me to see one that had everything we wanted: a good neighborhood close to my wife’s parents’ place, lots of room for children to play in, lots of natural light, a good view and indoor parking. Oddly, when I went with my wife to see the place, I had a very bad feeling about it, even though it was exactly what we wanted. After we left, I kept thinking about it and soon decided my feeling was simply that—a feeling and nothing more. A few weeks later, we had bought and moved into the apartment. Everything was fine until last week, when new neighbors moved in across the hall. They party loudly all night, do drugs and look like they could be gangsters. Everyone in the building is afraid of them and there is no way we can move, because no one wants to buy our apartment.
I should have let my instinct guide me when deciding whether or not to buy the apartment. Now my family is in danger and I cannot do anything about it. (248)
Posted February 23, 2012 by markpenny
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Narrative Essay Samples
This is one of the only essays where you can get personal and tell a story. See our narrative essay samples to learn how to express your own story in words.
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10 Personal Narrative Examples to Inspire Your Writing
Personal narratives are short pieces of creative nonfiction that recount a story from someone’s own experiences. They can be a memoir, a thinkpiece, or even a polemic — so long as the piece is grounded in the writer's beliefs and experiences, it can be considered a personal narrative.
Despite the nonfiction element, there’s no single way to approach this topic, and you can be as creative as you would be writing fiction. To inspire your writing and reveal the sheer diversity of this type of essay, here are ten great examples personal narratives from recent years:
1. “Only Disconnect” by Gary Shteyngart
Personal narratives don’t have to be long to be effective, as this thousand-word gem from the NYT book review proves. Published in 2010, just as smartphones were becoming a ubiquitous part of modern life, this piece echoes many of our fears surrounding technology and how it often distances us from reality.
In this narrative, Shteyngart navigates Manhattan using his new iPhone—or more accurately, is led by his iPhone, completely oblivious to the world around him. He’s completely lost to the magical happenstance of the city as he “follow[s] the arrow taco-ward”. But once he leaves for the country, and abandons the convenience of a cell phone connection, the real world comes rushing back in and he remembers what he’s been missing out on.
The downfalls of technology is hardly a new topic, but Shteyngart’s story remains evergreen because of how our culture has only spiraled further down the rabbit hole of technology addiction in the intervening years.
What can you learn from this piece?
Just because a piece of writing is technically nonfiction, that doesn’t mean that the narrative needs to be literal. Shteyngart imagines a Manhattan that physically changes around him when he’s using his iPhone, becoming an almost unrecognizable world. From this, we can see how a certain amount of dramatization can increase the impact of your message—even if that wasn’t exactly the way something happened.
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2. “Why I Hate Mother's Day” by Anne Lamott
The author of the classic writing text Bird by Bird digs into her views on motherhood in this piece from Salon. At once a personal narrative and a cultural commentary, Lamott explores the harmful effects that Mother’s Day may have on society —how its blind reverence to the concept of motherhood erases women’s agency and freedom to be flawed human beings.
Lamott points out that not all mothers are good, not everyone has a living mother to celebrate, and some mothers have lost their children, so have no one to celebrate with them. More importantly, she notes how this Hallmark holiday erases all the people who helped raise a woman, a long chain of mothers and fathers, friends and found family, who enable her to become a mother. While it isn’t anchored to a single story or event (like many classic personal narratives), Lamott’s exploration of her opinions creates a story about a culture that puts mothers on an impossible pedestal.
In a personal narrative essay, lived experience can be almost as valid as peer-reviewed research—so long as you avoid making unfounded assumptions. While some might point out that this is merely an opinion piece, Lamott cannily starts the essay by grounding it in the personal, revealing how she did not raise her son to celebrate Mother’s Day. This detail, however small, invites the reader into her private life and frames this essay as a story about her —and not just an exercise in being contrary.
3. “The Crane Wife” by CJ Hauser
Days after breaking off her engagement with her fiance, CJ Hauser joins a scientific expedition on the Texas coast r esearching whooping cranes . In this new environment, she reflects on the toxic relationship she left and how she found herself in this situation. She pulls together many seemingly disparate threads, using the expedition and the Japanese myth of the crane wife as a metaphor for her struggles.
Hauser’s interactions with the other volunteer researchers expand the scope of the narrative from her own mind, reminding her of the compassion she lacked in her relationship. In her attempts to make herself smaller, less needy, to please her fiance, she lost sight of herself and almost signed up to live someone else’s life, but among the whooping cranes of Texas, she takes the first step in reconnecting with herself.
With short personal narratives, there isn’t as much room to develop characters as you might have in a memoir so the details you do provide need to be clear and specific. Each of the volunteer researchers on Hauser’s expedition are distinct and recognizable though Hauser is economical in her descriptions.
For example, Hauser describes one researcher as “an eighty-four-year-old bachelor from Minnesota. He could not do most of the physical activities required by the trip, but had been on ninety-five Earthwatch expeditions, including this one once before. Warren liked birds okay. What Warren really loved was cocktail hour.”
In a few sentences, we get a clear picture of Warren's fun-loving, gregarious personality and how he fits in with the rest of the group.
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4. “The Trash Heap Has Spoken” by Carmen Maria Machado
The films and TV shows of the 80s and 90s—cultural touchstones that practically raised a generation—hardly ever featured larger women on screen. And if they did, it was either as a villain or a literal trash heap. Carmen Maria Machado grew up watching these cartoons, and the absence of fat women didn’t faze her. Not until puberty hit and she went from a skinny kid to a fuller-figured teen. Suddenly uncomfortable in her skin, she struggled to find any positive representation in her favorite media.
As she gets older and more comfortable in her own body, Machado finds inspiration in Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock and Ursula, everyone’s favorite sea witch from The Little Mermaid —characters with endless power in the unapologetic ways they inhabit their bodies. As Machado considers her own body through the years, it’s these characters she returns to as she faces society’s unkind, dismissive attitudes towards fat women.
Stories shape the world, even if they’re fictional. Some writers strive for realism, reflecting the world back on itself in all its ugliness, but Carmen Maria Machado makes a different point. There is power in being imaginative and writing the world as it could be, imagining something bigger, better, and more beautiful. So, write the story you want to see, change the narrative, look at it sideways, and show your readers how the world could look.
5. “Am I Disabled?” by Joanne Limburg
The titular question frames the narrative of Joanne Limburg’s essay as she considers the implications of disclosing her autism. What to some might seem a mundane occurrence—ticking ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘prefer not to say’ on a bureaucratic form—elicits both philosophical and practical questions for Limburg about what it means to be disabled and how disability is viewed by the majority of society.
Is the labor of disclosing her autism worth the insensitive questions she has to answer? What definition are people seeking, exactly? Will anyone believe her if she says yes? As she dissects the question of what disability is, she explores the very real personal effects this has on her life and those of other disabled people.
Limburg’s essay is written in a style known as the hermit crab essay , when an author uses an existing document form to contain their story. You can format your writing as a recipe, a job application, a resume, an email, or a to-do list – the possibilities are as endless as your creativity. The format you choose is important, though. It should connect in some way to the story you’re telling and add something to the reader’s experience as well as your overall theme.
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6. “Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard
While out on a walk in the woods behind her house, Annie Dillard encounters a wild weasel. In the short moment when they make eye contact, Dillard takes an imaginary journey through the weasel’s mind and wonders if the weasel’s approach to life is better than her own.
The weasel, as Dillard sees it, is a wild creature with jaws so powerful that when it clamps on to something, it won’t let go, even into death. Necessity drives it to be like this, and humanity, obsessed with choice, might think this kind of life is limiting, but the writer believes otherwise. The weasel’s necessity is the ultimate freedom, as long as you can find the right sort, the kind that will have you holding on for dear life and refusing to let go.
Make yourself the National Geographic explorer of your backyard or neighborhood and see what you can learn about yourself from what you discover. Annie Dillard, queen of the natural personal essay, discovers a lot about herself and her beliefs when meeting a weasel.
What insight can you glean from a blade of grass, for example? Does it remind you that despite how similar people might be, we are all unique? Do the flights of migrating birds give you perspective on the changes in your own life? Nature is a potent and never-ending spring of inspiration if you only think to look.
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7. “Love In Our Seventies” by Ellery Akers
“ And sometimes, when I lift the gray hair at the back of your neck and kiss your shoulder, I think, This is it.”
In under 400 words, poet Ellery Akers captures the joy she has found in discovering romance as a 75-year-old . The language is romantic, but her imagery is far from saccharine as she describes their daily life and the various states in which they’ve seen each other: in their pajamas, after cataract surgeries, while meditating. In each singular moment, Akers sees something she loves, underscoring an oft-forgotten truth. Love is most potent in its smallest gestures.
Personal narrative isn’t a defined genre with rigid rules, so your essay doesn’t have to be an essay. It can be a poem, as Akers’ is. The limitations of this form can lead to greater creativity as you’re trying to find a short yet evocative way to tell a story. It allows you to focus deeply on the emotions behind an idea and create an intimate connection with your reader.
8. “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” by Mariama Lockington
Mariama Lockington was adopted by her white parents in the early 80s, long before it was “trendy” for white people to adopt black children. Starting with a family photograph, the writer explores her complex feelings about her upbringing , the many ways her parents ignored her race for their own comfort, and how she came to feel like an outsider in her own home. In describing her childhood snapshots, she takes the reader from infancy to adulthood as she navigates trying to live as a black woman in a white family.
Lockington takes us on a journey through her life through a series of vignettes. These small, important moments serve as a framing device, intertwining to create a larger narrative about race, family, and belonging.
With this framing device, it’s easy to imagine Lockington poring over a photo album, each picture conjuring a different memory and infusing her story with equal parts sadness, regret, and nostalgia. You can create a similar effect by separating your narrative into different songs to create an album or episodes in a TV show. A unique structure can add an extra layer to your narrative and enhance the overall story.
9. “Drinking Chai to Savannah” by Anjali Enjeti
On a trip to Savannah with her friends, Anjali Enjeti is reminded of a racist incident she experienced as a teenager . The memory is prompted by her discomfort of traveling in Georgia as a South Asian woman and her friends’ seeming obliviousness to how others view them. As she recalls the tense and traumatic encounter she had in line at a Wendy’s and the worry she experiences in Savannah, Enjeti reflects on her understanding of otherness and race in America.
Enjeti paints the scene in Wendy’s with a deft hand. Using descriptive language, she invokes the five senses to capture the stress and fear she felt when the men in line behind her were hurling racist sentiments.
She writes, “He moves closer. His shadow eclipses mine. His hot, tobacco-tinged breath seeps over the collar of my dress.” The strong, evocative language she uses brings the reader into the scene and has them experience the same anxiety she does, understanding why this incident deeply impacted her.
10. “Siri Tells A Joke” by Debra Gwartney
One day, Debra Gwartney asks Siri—her iPhone’s digital assistant—to tell her a joke. In reply, Siri recites a joke with a familiar setup about three men stuck on a desert island. When the punchline comes, Gwartney reacts not with laughter, but with a memory of her husband , who had died less than six months prior.
In a short period, Gwartney goes through a series of losses—first, her house and her husband’s writing archives to a wildfire, and only a month after, her husband. As she reflects on death and the grief of those left behind in the wake of it, she recounts the months leading up to her husband’s passing and the interminable stretch after as she tries to find a way to live without him even as she longs for him.
A joke about three men on a deserted island seems like an odd setup for an essay about grief. However, Gwartney uses it to great effect, coming back to it later in the story and giving it greater meaning. By the end of her piece, she recontextualizes the joke, the original punchline suddenly becoming deeply sad. In taking something seemingly unrelated and calling back to it later, the essay’s message about grief and love becomes even more powerful.
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Narrative Essay Examples
Narrative Essay Examples: Free Examples to Help You Learn
Published on: Jun 23, 2018
Last updated on: Feb 27, 2023
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Narrative essay examples are great to help you understand how to write high-quality and effective narrative essay. This blog has included several narrative essay examples that will help you understand how to write A-worthy narrative essay.
A narrative essay is a form of storytelling where you have to provide sensory details of your personal experience. However, when writing a narrative essay , you will have to follow a set pattern and the guidelines closely.
Besides learning these basics, skimming through essay examples is also a great way of learning. In this blog, we will explain the basics to write a narrative essay with the help of narrative essay examples.
The examples given here will help you understand how to explain the plot, characters, setting, and the entire theme effectively.
Before writing your essay, make sure you go through a sufficient number of narrative essay examples. These examples will help you in knowing the dos and don’ts of a good narrative essay.
It is always a better option to have some sense of direction before you start anything. Below, you can find important details and a bunch of narrative essay examples. These examples will also help you build your content according to the format.
Sample Narrative Essay
The examples inform the readers about the writing style and structure of the narration. The essay below will help you understand how to create a story and build this type of essay in no time.
The villagers had lost a few goats and poultry to a mystery. The mystery of the missing farm animals spread like a wildfire in the village. Many speculated there were thieves in the village while others suggested a wild beast was on the run. Despite several speculations, the mystery of the disappearances remained unsolved. The whole village was in a state of dismay when the tiger appeared and launched another attack on the village.
The prey was not any farm animal this time, it was a young child playing by the barn. The villagers had had enough, they had to put a stop to it once and for all. They organized a group of the bravest men from the village, armed them with shotguns and knives, and planned to attack the tiger. They also took a goat to lure to the tiger in our trap.
The plan was to trap the tiger and later kill him. I was amongst the members of the group who left for the jungle late at night. For hours we did not hear anything except the mosquitoes and crickets around us. Then we found paw prints on the muddy ground which assured us of the tiger’s usual trail. Thereupon, as the sun rose we set up a trap using a goat as bait. We were assured that this would catch the tiger immediately.
We had almost given up when suddenly around daybreak we heard the bushes rustle and the leaves crackle. All of us shivered to our spines and saw the mystery east coming towards us. We changed our guns and pointed it towards the wild beast. We steadied our guns towards the tiger as he jumped to grab the goat. He fell into the trap. One of the members shot the tiger dead and we rescued the goat safely back to our village.
The mission was accomplished. We had killed the wild beast and had emerged successful. It was an amazing hunting trip. One that would always remain in my memory for all time to come.
Narrative Essay Example For High School
The narrative essay example for high school will help you build your own essay in an easy to understand manner. They also help you achieve your aim of explaining the main idea with deep analysis and detail.
Narrative Essay Example For College
The transition from high school to college demands better essay writing skills, to analyze and narrate subjects.
Go through the following example and learn how to formulate your ideas and explain them in words.
Personal Narrative Essay Examples
Personal narrative essay samples given below will help you make a difference between the third and first-person accounts.
Literacy Narrative Essay Example
When we talk about essays related to literacy, these essays contemplate all kinds of issues. From simple daily life events to more complex social issues, they cover them all.
Descriptive Narrative Essay Example
In descriptive narrative essays, the writer explains everything with vivid details. This could be something visual also, like a photo or a painting and the writer narrates it.
3rd Person Narrative Essay Example
As seen in the above examples, a narrative essay is usually written to share a personal experience.
The 3rd person narrative essay example shows how these essays are written from a protagonist’s point of view.
Narrative Essay Example for 3rd Person
The Essentials of Narrative Essays
Let's start with the basics. The four types of essays are argumentative essays, descriptive essays, expository essays, and narrative essays.
The goal of a narrative essay is to tell a compelling tale from one person's perspective. A narrative essay incorporates all of the story components, such as a beginning, middle, and conclusion, as well as plot, characters, setting, and climax.
The narrative essay's goal is the plot, which should be detailed enough to reach a climax. Here's how it works:
- It's usually presented in chronological order.
- It has a function. This is typically evident in the thesis statement's opening paragraph.
- It may include speech.
- It's told with sensory details and vivid language, drawing the reader in. All of these elements are connected to the writer's major argument in some way.
How to Write a Narrative Essay in 10 Minutes or Less
Remember that you're giving the reader sensory and emotional information when crafting a narrative essay.
- Your writing should be vivid and colorful to help the reader put themselves in your shoes.
- The best way to do that is by using words and phrases from the story. You should also place a reference to it in the first sentence of your essay.
- You should utilize conflict and sequence, as you would in any other narrative.
- You can utilize flashbacks and flash-forwards to advance the plot toward its conclusion.
- It's generally written in the first person, but third-person is also acceptable.
Hire A Highly Qualified Narrative Essay Writer
Do you need help with your narrative essay? If so, our narrative essay writing service is the solution for all your ‘write my essay’ requests.
Narrative essay writers at MyPerfectWords.com are always here to help you with your essays. Our customer support is exceptional and we are available round the clock to answer all of your essay writing needs. With our essay writing service , you will get the best deals for the best essays!
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Caleb S. (Literature, Marketing)
Caleb S. has been providing writing services for over five years and has a Masters degree from Oxford University. He is an expert in his craft and takes great pride in helping students achieve their academic goals. Caleb is a dedicated professional who always puts his clients first.
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The Winners of Our Personal Narrative Essay Contest
We asked students to write about a meaningful life experience. Here are the eight winning essays, as well as runners-up and honorable mentions.
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By The Learning Network
Update: Join our live webinar on Oct. 8 about teaching with our Narrative Writing Contest.
In September, we challenged teenagers to write short, powerful stories about meaningful life experiences for our first-ever personal narrative essay contest .
This contest, like every new contest we start, was admittedly a bit of an experiment. Beyond a caution to write no more than 600 words, our rules were fairly open-ended, and we weren’t sure what we would get.
Well, we received over 8,000 entries from teenagers from around the world. We got stories about scoring the winning goal, losing a grandparent, learning to love one’s skin and dealing with mental illness. We got pieces that were moving, funny, introspective and honest. We got a snapshot of teenage life.
Judging a contest like this is, of course, subjective, especially with the range of content and styles of writing students submitted. But we based our criteria on the types of personal narrative essays The New York Times publishes in columns like Lives , Modern Love and Rites of Passage . We read many, many essays that were primarily reflective but, while these pieces might be well-suited for a college application, they weren’t exactly the short, powerful stories we were looking for in this contest.
The winning essays we selected were, though, and they all had a few things in common that set them apart:
They had a clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changed in some way. They artfully balanced the action of the story with reflection on what it meant to the writer. They took risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure and word choice to develop a strong voice. And, perhaps most important, they focused on a specific moment or theme — a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit — instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in 600 words.
Below, you’ll find these eight winning essays, published in full. Scroll to the bottom to see the names of all 35 finalists we’re honoring — eight winners, eight runners-up and 19 honorable mentions. Congratulations, and thank you to everyone who participated!
The Winning Essays
Nothing extraordinary, pants on fire, eggs and sausage, first impressions, cracks in the pavement, sorry, wrong number, the man box.
By Jeniffer Kim
It was a Saturday. Whether it was sunny or cloudy, hot or cold, I cannot remember, but I do remember it was a Saturday because the mall was packed with people.
I was with my mom.
Mom is short. Skinny. It is easy to overlook her in a crowd simply because she is nothing extraordinary to see.
On that day we strolled down the slippery-slick tiles with soft, inconspicuous steps, peeking at window boutiques in fleeting glances because we both knew we wouldn’t be buying much, like always.
I remember I was looking up at the people we passed as we walked — at first apathetically, but then more attentively.
Ladies wore five-inch heels that clicked importantly on the floor and bright, elaborate clothing. Men strode by smelling of sharp cologne, faces clear of wrinkles — wiped away with expensive creams.
An uneasy feeling started to settle in my chest. I tried to push it out, but once it took root it refused to be yanked up and tossed away. It got more unbearable with every second until I could deny it no longer; I was ashamed of my mother.
We were in a high-class neighborhood, I knew that. We lived in a small, overpriced apartment building that hung on to the edge of our county that Mom chose to move to because she knew the schools were good.
We were in a high-class neighborhood, but as I scrutinized the passers-by and then turned accusing eyes on Mom, I realized for the first time that we didn’t belong there.
I could see the heavy lines around Mom’s eyes and mouth, etched deep into her skin without luxurious lotions to ease them away. She wore cheap, ragged clothes with the seams torn, shoes with the soles worn down. Her eyes were tired from working long hours to make ends meet and her hair too gray for her age.
I looked at her, and I was ashamed.
My mom is nothing extraordinary, yet at that moment she stood out because she was just so plain.
Mumbling I’d meet her at the clothes outlet around the corner, I hurried away to the bathroom. I didn’t want to be seen with her, although there was no one important around to see me anyway.
When I finally made my way to the outlet with grudging steps, I found that Mom wasn’t there.
With no other options, I had to scour the other stores in the area for her. I was dreading returning to her side, already feeling the secondhand embarrassment that I’d recently discovered came with being with her.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Mom was standing in the middle of a high-end store, holding a sweater that looked much too expensive.
She said, “This will look good on you. Do you want it?”
It was much too expensive. And I almost agreed, carelessly, thoughtlessly.
Then I took a closer look at the small, weary woman with a big smile stretching across her narrow face and a sweater in her hands, happy to be giving me something so nice, and my words died in my throat.
I felt like I’d been dropped into a cold lake.
Her clothes were tattered and old because she spent her money buying me new ones. She looked so tired and ragged all the time because she was busy working to provide for me. She didn’t wear jewelry or scented perfumes because she was just content with me.
Suddenly, Mother was beautiful and extraordinarily wonderful in my eyes.
I was no longer ashamed of her, but of myself.
“Do you want it?” My mom repeated.
By Varya Kluev
I never kissed the boy I liked behind the schoolyard fence that one March morning. I never had dinner with Katy Perry or lived in Kiev for two months either, but I still told my entire fourth-grade class I did.
The words slipped through my teeth effortlessly. With one flick of my tongue, I was, for all anybody knew, twenty-third in line for the throne of Monaco. “Actually?” the girls on the swings beside me would ask, wide eyes blinking with a childlike naivety. I nodded as they whispered under their breath how incredible my fable was. So incredible they bought into it without a second thought.
I lied purely for the ecstasy of it. It was narcotic. With my fabrications, I became the captain of the ship, not just a wistful passer-by, breath fogging the pane of glass that stood between me and the girls I venerated. No longer could I only see, not touch; a lie was a bullet, and the barrier shattered. My mere presence demanded attention — after all, I was the one who got a valentine from Jason, not them.
This way I became more than just the tomboyish band geek who finished her multiplication tables embarrassingly fast. My name tumbled out of their mouths and I manifested in the center of their linoleum lunch table. I became, at least temporarily, the fulcrum their world revolved around.
Not only did I lie religiously and unabashedly — I was good at it. The tedium of my everyday life vanished; I instead marched through the gates of my alcazar, strode up the steps of my concepts, and resided in my throne of deceit. I believed if I took off my fraudulent robe, I would become plebeian. The same aristocracy that finally held me in high regard would boot me out of my palace. To strip naked and exclaim, “Here’s the real me, take a look!” would lead my new circle to redraw their lines — they would take back their compliments, sit at the table with six seats instead of eight, giggle in the back of the class when I asked a question. I therefore adjusted my counterfeit diadem and continued to praise a Broadway show I had never seen.
Yet finally lounging in a lavender bedroom one long-sought-after day, after absently digesting chatter about shows I didn’t watch and boys I didn’t know, I started processing the floating conversations. One girl, who I had idolized for always having her heavy hair perfectly curled, casually shared how her parents couldn’t afford to go on their yearly trip the coming summer. I drew in an expectant breath, but nobody scoffed. Nobody exchanged a secret criticizing glance. Instead, another girl took her spoon of vanilla frosting out of her cheek and with the same air of indifference revealed how her family wasn’t traveling either. Promptly, my spun stories about swimming in crystal pools under Moroccan sun seemed to be in vain.
The following Monday, the girls on the bus to school still shared handfuls of chocolate-coated sunflower seeds with her. At lunch, she wasn’t shunned, wasn’t compelled to sit at a forgotten corner table. For that hour, instead of weaving incessant fantasies, I listened. I listened to the girls nonchalantly talk about yesterday’s soccer game where they couldn’t score a single goal. Listened about their parent’s layoff they couldn’t yet understand the significance of. I listened and I watched them listen, accepting and uncritical of one another no matter how relatively vapid their story. I then too began to talk, beginning by admitting that I wasn’t actually related to Britney Spears.
By Ryan Young Kim
When first I sat down in the small, pathetic excuse of a cafeteria the hospital had, I took a moment to reflect. I had been admitted the night before, rolled in on a stretcher like I had some sort of ailment that prevented me from walking.
But the nurses in the ward were nice to me, especially when they saw that I wasn’t going to be one of the violent ones. They started telling me something, but I paid no attention; I was trying to take in my surroundings. The tables were rounded, chairs were essentially plastic boxes with weight inside, and there was no real glass to be seen.
After they filled out the paperwork, the nurses escorted me to my room. There was someone already in there, but he was dead asleep. The two beds were plain and simple, with a cheap mattress on top of an equally cheap wooden frame. One nurse stuck around to hand me my bedsheets and a gown that I had to wear until my parents dropped off clothes.
The day had been exhausting, waiting for the psychiatric ward to tell us that there was a bed open for me and the doctors to fill out the mountains of paperwork that come with a suicide attempt.
Actually, there had been one good thing about that day. My parents had brought me Korean food for lunch — sullungtang , a fatty stew made from ox-bone broth. God, even when I was falling asleep I could still taste some of the rice kernels that had been mixed into the soup lingering around in my mouth.
For the first time, I felt genuine hunger. My mind had always been racked with a different kind of hunger — a pining for attention or just an escape from the toil of waking up and not feeling anything. But I always had everything I needed — that is, I always had food on my plate, maybe even a little too much. Now, after I had tried so hard to wrench myself away from this world, my basic human instinct was guiding me toward something that would keep me alive.
The irony was lost on me then. All I knew was that if I slept earlier, that meant less time awake being hungry. So I did exactly that. Waking up the next day, I was dismayed to see that the pangs of hunger still rumbled through my stomach. I slid off my covers and shuffled out of my room. The cafeteria door was already open, and I looked inside. There was a cart of Styrofoam containers in the middle of the room, and a couple people were eating quietly. I made my way in and stared.
I scanned the tops of the containers — they were all marked with names: Jonathan, Nathan, Kristen — and as soon as I spotted my name, my mouth began to water.
My dad would sometimes tell me about his childhood in a rural Korean village. The hardships he faced, the hunger that would come if the village harvest floundered, and how he worked so hard to get out — I never listened. But in that moment, between when I saw my container and I sat down at a seat to open it, I understood.
The eggs inside were watery, and their heat had condensated water all over, dripping onto everything and making the sausages soggy. The amount of ketchup was pitiful.
But if I hadn’t been given plastic utensils, I think I would have just shoved it all into my mouth, handful by handful.
By Isabel Hui
When I woke up on August 4, 2016, there was only one thing on my mind: what to wear. A billion thoughts raced through my brain as wooden hangers shuffled back and forth in the cramped hotel closet. I didn’t want to come off as a try-hard, but I also didn’t want to be seen as a slob. Not only was it my first day of high school, but it was my first day of school in a new state; first impressions are everything, and it was imperative for me to impress the people who I would spend the next four years with. For the first time in my life, I thought about how convenient it would be to wear the horrendous matching plaid skirts that private schools enforce.
It wasn’t insecurity driving me to madness; I was actually quite confident for a teenage girl. It was the fact that this was my third time being the new kid. Moving so many times does something to a child’s development … I struggled finding friends that I could trust would be there for me if I picked up and left again. But this time was different because my dad’s company ensured that I would start and finish high school in the same place. This meant no instant do-overs when I pick up and leave again. This time mattered, and that made me nervous.
After meticulously raiding my closet, I emerged proudly in a patterned dress from Target. The soft cotton was comfortable, and the ruffle shoulders added a hint of fun. Yes, this outfit was the one. An hour later, I felt just as powerful as I stepped off the bus and headed toward room 1136. But as I turned the corner into my first class, my jaw dropped to the floor.
Sitting at her desk was Mrs. Hutfilz, my English teacher, sporting the exact same dress as I. I kept my head down and tiptoed to my seat, but the first day meant introductions in front of the whole class, and soon enough it was my turn. I made it through my minute speech unscathed, until Mrs. Hutfilz stood up, jokingly adding that she liked my style. Although this was the moment I had been dreading from the moment I walked in, all the anxiety that had accumulated throughout the morning surprisingly melted away; the students who had previously been staring at their phones raised their heads to pay attention as I shared my story. My smile grew as I giggled with my peers, ending my speech with “and I am very stylish, much like my first period teacher.” After class, I stayed behind and talked to Mrs. Hutfilz, sharing my previous apprehension about coming into a new school and state. I was relieved to make a humorous and genuine connection with my first teacher, one that would continue for the remainder of the year.
This incident reminded me that it’s only high school; these are the times to have fun, work hard, and make memories, not stress about the trivial details. Looking back four years later, the ten minutes I spent dreading my speech were really not worth it. While my first period of high school may not have gone exactly the way I thought it would, it certainly made the day unforgettable in the best way, and taught me that Mrs. Hutfilz has an awesome sense of style!
By Adam Bernard Sanders
It was my third time sitting there on the middle school auditorium stage. The upper chain of braces was caught in my lip again, and my palms were sweating, and my glasses were sliding down my nose. The pencil quivered in my hands. All I had to do was answer whatever question Mrs. Crisafulli, the history teacher, was going to say into that microphone. I had answered 26 before that, and 25 of those correctly. And I was sitting in my chair, and I was tapping my foot, and the old polo shirt I was wearing was starting to constrict and choke me. I pulled pointlessly at the collar, but the air was still on the outside, only looking at the inside of my throat. I was going to die.
I could taste my tongue in my mouth shriveling up. I could feel each hard-pumping heartbeat of blood travel out of my chest, up through my neck and down my arms and legs, warming my already-perspiring forehead but leaving my ghost-white fingers cold and blue. My breathing was quick. My eyes were glassy. I hadn’t even heard the question yet.
Late-night readings of my parents’ anatomy textbooks had told me that a sense of impending doom was the hallmark of pulmonary embolism, a fact that often bubbled to the surface of my mind in times like these. Almost by instinct, I bent my ring and little fingers down, holding them with my thumb as the two remaining digits whipped to my right wrist and tried to take my pulse. Mr. Mendoza had taught us this last year in gym class. But I wasn’t in gym class that third period. I was just sitting on the metal folding chair, waiting for Mrs. Crisafulli to flip to the right page in her packet for the question.
Arabella had quizzed me in second-period French on the lakes of Latin America. Nicaragua. Atitlán. Yojoa. Lake Titicaca, that had made Raj, who sat in front of me, start giggling, and Shannon, who sat three desks up and one to the left, whip her head around and raise one fist to her lips, jab up her index finger, and silence us. Lakes were fed by rivers, the same rivers that lined the globe on my desk like the cracks in the pavement I liked to trace with my shoe on the walk home. Lake Nicaragua drains into the San Juan River, which snakes its way around the port of Granada to empty into the Caribbean Sea. I knew that.
At that moment I was only sure of those two things: the location of Lake Nicaragua and my own impending doom. And I was so busy counting my pulse and envisioning my demise that I missed Mrs. Crisafulli’s utterance of the awaited question into her microphone, as I had each year in the past as one of the two people left onstage.
“ … Coldest … on earth,” was all I heard. My pencil etched shaggy marks as my shaking hands attempted to write something in the 20 seconds remaining.
“Asia,” I scrawled.
So, for the third time in three years, I got it wrong, and for the third time, I didn’t die. I walked home that day, tracing the faults in the pavement and wondering what inside me was so cracked and broken. Something had to be fissured inside, like the ridges and rivers on my desk globe that I would throw out later that evening, but fish from the trash can when the sun rose the next day.
By Michelle Ahn
My phone buzzes. An unfamiliar number with a 512 area code — I later find out it’s from Texas. It’s a selfie of a 30-something man, smiling with his family, a strange picture to receive as I live halfway across the country.
For the past three years, I — a 14-year-old girl living in Virginia — have been getting texts meant for this man, Jared. Over the years, I’ve pieced together parts of who he is; middle-aged, Caucasian, and very popular according to the numerous messages I’ve received for him.
Throughout this time, I’ve also been discovering who I am. When I received the first text, I was a playful sixth grader, always finding sly ways to be subversive in school and with friends. With this new method of mischief in my hands, naturally, I engaged:
“My sweet momma just told me that BYU Texas Club is holding a Texas Roundup free BBQ dinner on October 10th! Thought y’all would enjoy,” came one of the texts.
After staring at the message for a while, I responded.
As time went on, the story of the mystery man deepened. I was halfway through sixth grade, for example, when I learned he was part of the “Elder’s Quorum,” a rather ominous-sounding group. Looking it up, I learned that it was not a cult, as I’d initially thought, but rather an elite inner circle within the Mormon Church.
This was around the same time my family had stopped going to church. I’d started to spend more time taking art classes and trying out various sports — tennis, basketball, even archery — and soon church fell to the side. Instead, I meddled in the Quorum’s group texts; when a message came about a member moving away, I excitedly responded, “Let me help y’all out, brother!”
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but after a while I started to feel guilty about this deception. I wondered if I’d somehow ruined Jared’s reputation, if his friends were turned off by my childish responses. I was also dealing with changes within my friend group at the time; the biggest change being letting go of a close but toxic friend; I realized that I needed friendships that were more mutually supportive.
Shortly after, I got a phone call from a strange woman. She started talking about the struggles in her life; her children, her job, even about how she wanted to leave Texas forever. In comparison, my own problems — the B minus I’d gotten, the stress of an upcoming archery tournament, the argument I had with my sister — all seemed superficial. I timidly informed her I wasn’t Jared, and her flustered response told me that I should have told her at the start of the call.
A while later, I got another text: “Congratulations on getting married!” It had never occurred to me how much Jared’s life had changed since I had received his number. But of course it did; over time, I’d outgrown my prankster middle school self, gained the confidence to build a solid friend group, and devoted myself to my primary loves of art and archery. Why wouldn’t Jared also be settling into his own life too?
Though I’ve since taken every opportunity to correct those who text Jared, it still happens every once in a while. Just last month, I got another random text; all it said was: “Endoscopy!” When I got it, I laughed, and then I wrote back.
“Hey, sorry, you have the wrong number. But I hope Jared’s doing well.”
By Maria Fernanda Benavides
“Mayfier? Marfir?” the tournament judge called squinting her eyes, trying to find the spelling error, although there was no error.
“It’s Mafer. It’s a nickname for my full name, Maria Fernanda.”
She stared at me blankly.
“My parents are creative,” I lied, and she laughed.
“O.K., Mahfeer, you’re up!”
I walk to the center and scanned the room before starting as instructed. I took a deep breath.
I reminded myself, “Use your voice.”
I spoke loudly at first, trying to hide the fact that I was overthinking every single word that came out of my mouth. As my performance continued, the artificial confidence became natural, and I started speaking from my heart as I told the story of my experience as an immigrant woman, and I described how much I missed my father who had to travel back and forth every weekend to see my mom and me, and how disconnected I felt from my family, and how I longed to have a place I could call home.
My performance came to an end, and I made my way back to my seat with newly found optimism as I reflected on how performing had consumed me.
I used my voice. Finally. I had found my home in the speech program.
Waiting for the speech tournament to post the names of the finalists was excruciating. I jumped off my seat every time a staff member passed by. I didn’t care about accumulating state points or individual recognition. I wanted the chance to speak again.
Finally, a girl walked up to the oratory postings with a paper on her hand, and the entire cafeteria surrounded her, impatiently waiting to see who the finalists were. Then, I saw it.
My name. Written in dense, black letters.
I smiled to myself.
This time, as I walked to the oratory final, I did so by myself, as I had finally acquired self-assurance needed to navigate the quiet hallways of the high school. I could only hear the heels of the two girls behind me.
“I heard that Saint Mary’s Hall freshman made it to oratory finals,” one of them said, obviously speaking about me. “She broke over me. I didn’t see her performance. Did you? Did you see her performance? What is her speech about?” she questioned the other one.
“It’s about being a Mexican immigrant.”
“Oh, so that’s why she broke.”
“It’s the same pity narrative, there’s nothing different about it.”
Suddenly, the confidence that I had acquired from the previous rounds vanished, and I found myself wishing that I had my older, more experienced teammates by my side to help me block the girls’ words. But no one was there.
I thought my narrative was what made my words matter, what made me matter.
But they didn’t matter. Not anymore. From that moment on, I knew I would be recognized around the circuit as the Mexican girl whose name no one knows how to pronounce. I didn’t even need to speak about my identity to be identified. Everyone would recognize me not for my achievement or my being, but by the peculiar way I pronounce words. I could speak about different topics, but it felt like it wouldn’t make a difference. It felt like my voice didn’t make a difference.
“Mafer, how did it feel?” my coach asked me after the round. “It felt amazing!” I lied.
I didn’t feel anything. Not anymore. Speech gave me a voice, but it also took it away.
By Gordon Lewis
We’re all average boys: hard working in school, spending every minute together in the summer, and doing our best to pretend we don’t have a worry in the world. The facts are no different as the sun is beginning to set on a warm July evening. Sam and I say goodbye to Ben, stepping out of our best friend’s house.
“My sister is going to pick me up while we’re walking, is that O.K.?” I ask.
“Actually, she can probably drive you home, too.”
“Sounds good,” says Sam, but lacking his usual upbeat, comedic energy. Neither of us says anything else, but I’m O.K. with it, we just keep walking. I look around, admiring the still, peaceful park as the warm summer breeze brushes across my face. The crickets are chirping and an owl sings along between the soft hum of cars rolling along nearby. It’s nature’s tune of serenity.
I almost forgot Sam was with me until he asked, “Can I ask you kind of a weird question?”
“Sure,” I say, expecting a joke in poor taste as per usual.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” he says before asking.
More hesitantly, I say, “O.K.”
“Do you have someone that you talk to about like deeper stuff … Like more emotional stuff?” Silence hits us like a brick wall: The crickets stop chirping, the owl stops hooting, even the cars stop driving by. It’s deafening. I’m only shocked at the question because it’s Sam, one of the happiest and funniest people I know.
I’m wondering. My disappointment takes over just as quickly as my hope fades as I fail to come up with a name. In the end, the closest thing I can think of is the book I occasionally write in when I’m feeling sad or stressed.
“Huh,” I say quietly, “I’ve never really thought about that, but I guess not.”
“Yeah, I didn’t either, but at camp we did activities and had talks that led to more emotional conversations.” I’m silently both jealous and proud of him, but it’s mostly jealousy.
“It’s funny,” I say, “in English we always joked about that TED Talk guy talking about the man box, but it’s actually so true. We shouldn’t feel like we can’t talk about deeper stuff like that.”
“Yeah,” laughed Sam. Silence drapes over us again, but this time it’s more comfortable. I’m lost in my thoughts trying to think of what to say next, but there’s too much. I’ve never had an opportunity like this before. However it’s not shocking or overwhelming, even though it’s with Sam of all people — instead it’s therapeutic.
The silence is broken once again by Sam:
“Like I never told you guys that my parents got divorced.”
“I’m-I’m sorry,” I say, “That really sucks.” I’m disappointed in myself for not saying more.
“It’s O.K.,” Sam says, but I know he’s lying. I can feel his sadness.
Drowning in my thoughts, I try to pick out something to say. But there’s too much to say. There are too many options after being silent for 16 years.
Headlights appear in front of us, and for a split second I’m relieved, but it rapidly turns into regret.
Knowing it’s Rose, I quickly tell sam, “If you ever want to talk again just let me know.”
I say hi to Rose, masking my solemn, thoughtful mood as tiredness. The warm breeze gives my cheek one final kiss; nature resumes her number, and the cars roll by again as Sam and I reluctantly step into the car.
In alphabetical order by the writer’s last name
“Sorry, Wrong Number” by Michelle Ahn
“Speechless” by Maria Fernanda Benavides
“First Impressions” by Isabel Hui
“Nothing Extraordinary” by Jeniffer Kim
“Eggs and Sausage" by Ryan Young Kim
“Pants on Fire” by Varya Kluev
“The Man Box” by Gordon Lewis
“Cracks in the Pavement” by Adam Bernard Sanders
“The First (and Last) Time Speedy Wasn’t Speedy Enough” by Maya Berg
“Searching for Air” by Sydney Do
“Fear on My Mind” by Daytona Gerhardy
“Under the Starry Sky” by Letian Li
“Chinatown Diptych” by Jeffrey Liao
“They” by Haven Low
“The Vigil” by Beda Lundstedt
“How My Brother Taught Me to Drive” by Sarah Shapiro
“The Six in Mid-August” by Liah Argiropoulos
“‘Those Aren’t Scratches Are They?’” by Casey Barwick
“Brown Is Beautiful” by Tiffany Borja
“I Am Ordinary, After All” by Rebecca Braxley
“Torn” by Melanie D.
“The Stupid Seven” by Madeline G.
“Speak No Evil” by Amita Goyal
“Building My Crown” by Ambar Guzman
“Me, Myself, and a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” by Zachary Hommel
“The Tomato” by Raymond Huang
“Out” by Michael H.
“Cold Noodles With a Side of Birdballs” by Audrey Koh
“Banya in Siberia” by Arshiya Sanghi
“Traffic” by Kecia Seo
“The Power of Ambiguity” by Marcus Shallow
“Land Mine” by Geneve Thomas-Palmer
“How to Fall Asleep With the Lights On” by Caroline Wei
“The Taste of Tofu” by Amy Zhou
“The Newcomer’s Journey” by Maria Z.
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- How to write a narrative essay | Example & tips
How to Write a Narrative Essay | Example & Tips
Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on December 6, 2021.
A narrative essay tells a story. In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay , along with the descriptive essay , allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing .
Table of contents
What is a narrative essay for, choosing a topic, interactive example of a narrative essay, frequently asked questions about narrative essays.
When assigned a narrative essay, you might find yourself wondering: Why does my teacher want to hear this story? Topics for narrative essays can range from the important to the trivial. Usually the point is not so much the story itself, but the way you tell it.
A narrative essay is a way of testing your ability to tell a story in a clear and interesting way. You’re expected to think about where your story begins and ends, and how to convey it with eye-catching language and a satisfying pace.
These skills are quite different from those needed for formal academic writing. For instance, in a narrative essay the use of the first person (“I”) is encouraged, as is the use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense.
Narrative essay assignments vary widely in the amount of direction you’re given about your topic. You may be assigned quite a specific topic or choice of topics to work with.
- Write a story about your first day of school.
- Write a story about your favorite holiday destination.
You may also be given prompts that leave you a much wider choice of topic.
- Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself.
- Write about an achievement you are proud of. What did you accomplish, and how?
In these cases, you might have to think harder to decide what story you want to tell. The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to talk about a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.
For example, a trip where everything went according to plan makes for a less interesting story than one where something unexpected happened that you then had to respond to. Choose an experience that might surprise the reader or teach them something.
Narrative essays in college applications
When applying for college , you might be asked to write a narrative essay that expresses something about your personal qualities.
For example, this application prompt from Common App requires you to respond with a narrative essay.
In this context, choose a story that is not only interesting but also expresses the qualities the prompt is looking for—here, resilience and the ability to learn from failure—and frame the story in a way that emphasizes these qualities.
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See an example
An example of a short narrative essay, responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” is shown below.
Hover over different parts of the text to see how the structure works.
Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.
Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.
A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.
The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.
If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?
The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.
Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.
Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.
When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.
The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.
Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.
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