A narrative essay is a story about an event experienced by the narrator of the essay. In autobiographical narratives, the narrator is the author. Narrative essays typically focus on a significant event as well as the consequences or broader impact of the event. Providing a broader significance makes the essay relevant to more readers.
When planning a narrative essay, it is important to select an event of particular significance. The event must not only be significant to you but it must also contain a lesson or moral that would be relevant to a broad array of readers. Its message need not apply to everyone but it should at least apply to a broad segment of the population, for instance, teenagers. Events that impacted your subsequent development or worldview are particularly good topics for narratives.
Because narrative essays are like short stories, they should follow the literary conventions of plot structure. The main parts of the plot are: the introduction (which introduces the setting and characters), the development (in which characters are fleshed out), a climax (the most exciting part of the story) and a conclusion. Because the story should have a broader significance beyond the event itself, the conclusion portion of the essay should make the lesson clear.
One of the main determinants of whether a story will be engaging to its readers is the quality of detail provided by the author. Sensory detail is particularly effective at making the reader feel like he is experiencing the events first-hand. Sensory detail appeals to the reader's senses by providing visual, auditory, gustatory, olfactory and tactile details about the narrator's experience.
One of the elements that distinguishes narrative essays from other types of essays, such as opinion essays, is the narrative voice. The voice of narratives is somewhat more casual and personal than it is in academic writing. In fact, narrative essays often employ the first-person voice (such as "I" and "we"). In contrast, the first person is frowned upon in academic writing. The third-person voice ("he," "she" and "they") may also be used in narrative essays.