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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:

Quick Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay

When writing a narrative essay, remember that you are sharing sensory and emotional details with the reader.

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.

8+ Short Narrative Essay Examples in PDF

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What is a Narrative Essay?

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Short Narrative Essay

write a short narrative essay

Short Narrative Essay On Phillips

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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.

You may also be given prompts that leave you a much wider choice of topic.

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

write a short narrative essay

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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5 Examples of Narrative Writing

Learn exactly what narrative writing is, as well as examples of different types of narrative writing.

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.

write a short narrative essay

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. 

Writer and editor Roxane Gay

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

write a short narrative essay

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

Narrative poetry.

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 Stories

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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How to write a narrative essay [Updated 2023]

How to write a narrative essay

A narrative essay is an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and craft a compelling story. In this blog post, we define what a narrative essay is and provide strategies and examples for writing one.

What is a narrative essay?

Similarly to a descriptive essay or a reflective essay, a narrative essay asks you to tell a story, rather than make an argument and present evidence. Most narrative essays describe a real, personal experience from your own life (for example, the story of your first big success).

Alternately, your narrative essay might focus on an imagined experience (for example, how your life would be if you had been born into different circumstances). While you don’t need to present a thesis statement or scholarly evidence, a narrative essay still needs to be well-structured and clearly organized so that the reader can follow your story.

When you might be asked to write a narrative essay

Although less popular than argumentative essays or expository essays, narrative essays are relatively common in high school and college writing classes.

The same techniques that you would use to write a college essay as part of a college or scholarship application are applicable to narrative essays, as well. In fact, the Common App that many students use to apply to multiple colleges asks you to submit a narrative essay.

How to choose a topic for a narrative essay

When you are asked to write a narrative essay, a topic may be assigned to you or you may be able to choose your own. With an assigned topic, the prompt will likely fall into one of two categories: specific or open-ended.

Examples of specific prompts:

Examples of open-ended prompts:

A narrative essay tells a story and all good stories are centered on a conflict of some sort. Experiences with unexpected obstacles, twists, or turns make for much more compelling essays and reveal more about your character and views on life.

If you’re writing a narrative essay as part of an admissions application, remember that the people reviewing your essay will be looking at it to gain a sense of not just your writing ability, but who you are as a person.

In these cases, it’s wise to choose a topic and experience from your life that demonstrates the qualities that the prompt is looking for, such as resilience, perseverance, the ability to stay calm under pressure, etc.

It’s also important to remember that your choice of topic is just a starting point. Many students find that they arrive at new ideas and insights as they write their first draft, so the final form of your essay may have a different focus than the one you started with.

How to outline and format a narrative essay

Even though you’re not advancing an argument or proving a point of view, a narrative essay still needs to have a coherent structure. Your reader has to be able to follow you as you tell the story and to figure out the larger point that you’re making.

You’ll be evaluated on is your handling of the topic and how you structure your essay. Even though a narrative essay doesn’t use the same structure as other essay types, you should still sketch out a loose outline so you can tell your story in a clear and compelling way.

To outline a narrative essay, you’ll want to determine:

In the vast majority of cases, a narrative essay should be written in the first-person, using “I.” Also, most narrative essays will follow typical formatting guidelines, so you should choose a readable font like Times New Roman in size 11 or 12. Double-space your paragraphs and use 1” margins.

To get your creative wheels turning, consider how your story compares to archetypes and famous historical and literary figures both past and present. Weave these comparisons into your essay to improve the quality of your writing and connect your personal experience to a larger context.

How to write a narrative essay

Writing a narrative essay can sometimes be a challenge for students who typically write argumentative essays or research papers in a formal, objective style. To give you a better sense of how you can write a narrative essay, here is a short example of an essay in response to the prompt, “Write about an experience that challenged your view of yourself.”

Narrative essay example

Even as a child, I always had what people might call a reserved personality. It was sometimes framed as a positive (“Sarah is a good listener”) and at other times it was put in less-than-admiring terms (“Sarah is withdrawn and not very talkative”). It was the latter kind of comments that caused me to see my introverted nature as a drawback and as something I should work to eliminate. That is, until I joined my high school’s student council.

The first paragraph, or introduction, sets up the context, establishing the situation and introducing the meaningful event upon which the essay will focus.

The other four students making up the council were very outspoken and enthusiastic. I enjoyed being around them, and I often agreed with their ideas. However, when it came to overhauling our school’s recycling plan, we butted heads. When I spoke up and offered a different point of view, one of my fellow student council members launched into a speech, advocating for her point of view. As her voice filled the room, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I wondered if I should try to match her tone, volume, and assertiveness as a way to be heard. But I just couldn’t do it—it’s not my way, and it never has been. For a fleeting moment, I felt defeated. But then, something in me shifted.

In this paragraph, the writer goes into greater depth about how her existing thinking brought her to this point.

I reminded myself that my view was valid and deserved to be heard. So I waited. I let my fellow council member speak her piece and when she was finished, I deliberately waited a few moments before calmly stating my case. I chose my words well, and I spoke them succinctly. Just because I’m not a big talker doesn’t mean I’m not a big thinker. I thought of the quotation “still waters run deep” and I tried to embody that. The effect on the room was palpable. People listened. And I hadn’t had to shout my point to be heard.

This paragraph demonstrates the turn in the story, the moment when everything changed. The use of the quotation “still waters run deep” imbues the story with a dash of poetry and emotion.

We eventually reached a compromise on the matter and concluded the student council meeting. Our council supervisor came to me afterward and said: “You handled that so well, with such grace and poise. I was very impressed.” Her words in that moment changed me. I realized that a bombastic nature isn't necessarily a powerful one. There is power in quiet, too. This experience taught me to view my reserved personality not as a character flaw, but as a strength.

The final paragraph, or conclusion, closes with a statement about the significance of this event and how it ended up changing the writer in a meaningful way.

Narrative essay writing tips

1. pick a meaningful story that has a conflict and a clear “moral.”.

If you’re able to choose your own topic, pick a story that has meaning and that reveals how you became the person your are today. In other words, write a narrative with a clear “moral” that you can connect with your main points.

2. Use an outline to arrange the structure of your story and organize your main points.

Although a narrative essay is different from argumentative essays, it’s still beneficial to construct an outline so that your story is well-structured and organized. Note how you want to start and end your story, and what points you want to make to tie everything together.

3. Be clear, concise, concrete, and correct in your writing.

You should use descriptive writing in your narrative essay, but don’t overdo it. Use clear, concise, and correct language and grammar throughout. Additionally, make concrete points that reinforce the main idea of your narrative.

4. Ask a friend or family member to proofread your essay.

No matter what kind of writing you’re doing, you should always plan to proofread and revise. To ensure that your narrative essay is coherent and interesting, ask a friend or family member to read over your paper. This is especially important if your essay is responding to a prompt. It helps to have another person check to make sure that you’ve fully responded to the prompt or question.

Frequently Asked Questions about narrative essays

A narrative essay, like any essay, has three main parts: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Structuring and outlining your essay before you start writing will help you write a clear story that your readers can follow.

The first paragraph of your essay, or introduction, sets up the context, establishing the situation and introducing the meaningful event upon which the essay will focus.

In the vast majority of cases, a narrative essay should be written in the first-person, using “I.”

The 4 main types of essays are the argumentative essay, narrative essay, exploratory essay, and expository essay. You may be asked to write different types of essays at different points in your education.

Most narrative essays will be around five paragraphs, or more, depending on the topic and requirements. Make sure to check in with your instructor about the guidelines for your essay. If you’re writing a narrative essay for a college application, pay close attention to word or page count requirements.

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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)

System Orientation

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)

Mad Scientist

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)

Near-Death Education

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)

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Posted February 23, 2012 by markpenny

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Purdue Online Writing Lab College of Liberal Arts

write a short narrative essay

Narrative Essays

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the widespread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

What is a narrative essay?

When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways.

Here are some guidelines for writing a narrative essay.

This means that you must include an introduction, plot, characters, setting, climax, and conclusion.

A good example of this is when an instructor asks a student to write a book report. Obviously, this would not necessarily follow the pattern of a story and would focus on providing an informative narrative for the reader.

Make a point! Think of this as the thesis of your story. If there is no point to what you are narrating, why narrate it at all?

It is quite common for narrative essays to be written from the standpoint of the author; however, this is not the sole perspective to be considered. Creativity in narrative essays oftentimes manifests itself in the form of authorial perspective.

Much like the descriptive essay, narrative essays are effective when the language is carefully, particularly, and artfully chosen. Use specific language to evoke specific emotions and senses in the reader.

Do not abuse this guideline! Though it is welcomed it is not necessary—nor should it be overused for lack of clearer diction.

Have a clear introduction that sets the tone for the remainder of the essay. Do not leave the reader guessing about the purpose of your narrative. Remember, you are in control of the essay, so guide it where you desire (just make sure your audience can follow your lead).


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