How to write a narrative essay

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A narrative essay takes the reader from one place to another place, figuratively speaking. It is similar to how a persuasive essay takes the reader from one opinion to another. With a narrative essay, you are supposed to follow a track. You lead your reader down the track on order to take them on a journey (again figuratively speaking). This is most easily done by using your own voice, writing in the first person, and taking people down a chronological narrative (as they are the easiest to understand).

Plan your essay from the very start

Just image that your narrative is a train track and you have to get the reader from where they are now to where the track ends. If you are struggling with their concept, then think about the moral or lesson in your story. If there isn’t one then think about the principle within your story. You now consider your moral/lesson/principle to be your end goal. Your starting point is the fact that the reader doesn’t know your moral/lesson/principle and your job is to lead them down the track so that they know it.

Choose an order for your essay such as chronological

Getting people to your moral/lesson/principle is more easily done if you connect things chronologically; this event happened, then this event happened, then this one, etc.

If you choose something other than chronological ordering, then you need to make sure each of your events connect. If they do not connect in some sort of order then you are not writing a narrative essay.

How do events/situations/people connect in your essay?

When you are planning, you should be figuring this out. It is not something you can leave until you have written most of your essay because the task becomes much more difficult.

The connection may be chronological, which means they are connected by a sequence relative to time. Even if this is the case, you must still show how your narrative builds towards your moral/lesson/principle. You can build towards your moral/lesson/principle with experience when you use time as your connector. In other words, I experienced this, then this happened and I experienced this.

Using experience only works if you are building towards your moral/lesson/principle. Half way through your narrative, you may explain how you experienced the best sex of your life, but if your narrative essay is about how you found your lost puppy, then the sex experience means nothing and is wasted word count. It may have happened, and it may have happened right in the middle of your lost puppy story, but if it doesn’t work towards the moral/lesson/principle then it need not be included.

Use your word count to judge how much detail you should add

A narrative essay is allowed to have slightly more descriptive wordage and you are allowed to be a little more creative, but it is all relative to how much word count you are allowed. If your essay has to have a five-paragraph structure, or is limited to 500 words, then you may have to reel in your descriptive wordage and stick to the events, experiences, facts, moral, lesson and/or principle.

Quick tips for the busy essay writer

A narrative essay is one that allows for a first person perspective
It engages the reader and literally makes an essay more personal, which may also mean you can add your thoughts and feelings into the essay.

Do not gloss over details
You cannot assume prior knowledge if you are writing about an event in your life, but you may assume it if your essay is about a subject you are studying in class.

You can use vivid and creative descriptions if your word count allows it
In other words, if you have to write about your first horrific experience, then a 500-word count will allow less vivid descriptions than a 5000 word count–keep this in mind when writing your essay.

Use plot building techniques
When writing about academic subjects you can still use similar tools that a fiction writer uses, such as setting up scenes, giving a personal commentary and even adding elements of fiction if the situation allows.

Plan for a progression of events
You do not have to use a chronological order to set out your progression of events, but it is the easiest tool at your disposal.

Strike a balance between informative and descriptive
Your use of language should not be too far in one direction or another when you write a narrative essay.

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How to write a narrative essay
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