If you have a personal or emotional experience lodged in your memory, you have the beginnings of a narrative essay. A narrative essay tells a story, often from the author’s point of view. Although it can be fictional, it is often based on actual events: it’s the story of an episode that really happened or could have happened. The ingredients of your essay should work together in an integrated way to pull in and engage the reader.
Choose a topic that surprises your readers, makes them laugh or causes them to feel your sorrow, fear or joy. Perhaps you achieved a personal goal or want to share a special childhood memory. If you're writing a personal narrative, recreate a personal incident that has meaning to you and engages your audience. If you're writing a biographical or fictional narrative, highlight one idea to focus on. Your essay needs to make a point. Quality trumps quantity -- a longer essay is not necessarily better. Narrow the topic to cover a short time span or a specific event.
A narrative essay includes all the parts of a good story. The introduction sets the tone and purpose and grabs the reader’s attention. The setting tells where the narrative takes place. Is the story happening now or in the past? The plot builds through story events, and then reaches a climax or turning point. The conclusion ties all the information together. Tell the reader what you learned from the experience or how you felt in the end, or how things turned out.
The characters in your essay should come alive for the reader. Include traits such as personality, age and appearance. Remember that even though you might know the characters personally, your readers don’t. You need to create a visual image. Is your main character absent-minded, mischievous, outlandish or somber? Your readers should realize the characters’ strengths and weaknesses.
Present the ideas of your narrative essay in an logical manner that doesn’t confuse the reader. Telling your story orally to a friend before you attempt to write it on paper can help you include all the significant factors of your story in sequence. Develop a new paragraph for each string of events. Your readers want to know what will happen next. Transition words, such as “first,” “next,” “then” and “finally” can help your ideas flow smoothly from one idea to the next.
Include concrete, sensory details so readers can visualize your story in their minds. Don’t assume they know the particulars just because you do. Describe what you saw, heard and felt. Although the essay has a main point, the details explain, support and embellish the story to make it interesting. The details should all relate to the main point you are trying to make. Avoid the abstract. Rather than writing, “It was a cold day,” use concrete description: “Icicles hung from the rooftops, and I wondered if my hat and gloves could keep me warm.”
Carefully chosen words add color to your essay. Use language to tap the senses and evoke emotion in the reader. Your sentences shouldn’t bore your audience. Use verbs such as puttering, squawking, wheezing or sloshing to create an image and a specific picture. Your character isn’t just “nice,” she’s “personable and popular.” She isn’t necessarily “sad,” instead, maybe she’s “shaky and anxious.”