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How to Write a College Narrative Essay


The narrative essay involves telling a story from beginning to end in chronological order. The writer is encouraged to creatively recount an episode from personal experience using descriptive language and clear organizational strategies associated with good storytelling. The product is not a free flowing short story but a structured, purposeful essay with an introduction, body and conclusion. Narrative essays end with a point -- a moral or lesson -- that often inspires and enlightens the readers.

Brainstorm Ideas

Most professors assign specific topics that befit narrative essays. Some examples include a big family celebration or a funny childhood moment. Other instructors allow students to develop their own ideas. In this case, students need to contemplate their life experiences to find an event worth writing about that ends with a lesson learned or a new insight as a result of the occurrence. A terrible car accident could teach someone not to drink and drive. Working at a community shelter could change misperceptions of the homeless. The narrative topic typically supports this type of concluding insight.

Make an Outline

With so much information from which to choose, students must narrow their ideas. The narrative essay focuses on one situation, not several different incidents. Therefore, streamlining the events of the story keeps the essay from veering off topic. The informal outline resembles a list of activities chronicling what happened first, next and last in the overall story. The completed outline reveals whether to add or delete some of the content.

Write a Draft

Writing narrative essays is a challenge for most students, but drafting one section at a time simplifies the process. The introduction sets the background of the primary event. The thesis statement or the last line of the introduction creates suspense and alludes to the forthcoming action. For example, “When I left the house for work that morning, I had no idea my life would change forever.” The body of the essay relays the main action of the story and the conclusion proffers the lesson learned or the point of the essay.

Revise the Essay

Revisions or changes to the essay are easiest to make from a typed, printed copy of the paper. A checklist of elements to review includes the logical flow of events, the amount and quality of specific details and a clear sense of time and place. Additionally, writers must correct for sentence structure, punctuation, spelling and verb tense. Just like good movie editing, only the most important, compelling parts of the story should make the final version of the narrative essay.

About the Author

Ashan R. Hampton is an instructor, multimedia specialist, author and commercial radio broadcaster/producer. She has earned certificates in information technology multimedia and instructional design. Hampton also holds an M.A. in English and is completing a doctorate in higher education administration.

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