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 wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-07-30 01:39:00
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.
- If written as a story, the essay should include all the parts of a story.
This means that you must include an introduction, plot, characters, setting, climax, and conclusion.
- When would a narrative essay not be written as a story?
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.
- The essay should have a purpose.
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?
- The essay should be written from a clear point of view.
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 often times manifests itself in the form of authorial perspective.
- Use clear and concise language throughout the essay.
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.
- The use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ is welcomed.
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).
Storytelling – it’s what separates us from the animals!
And now your teacher wants you to show off your storytelling skills in a narrative essay, but where do you begin?
In this blog post, I’ll give you 20 narrative essay topics to explore along with advice for getting started and some examples from writers and students who’ve successfully tackled this style.
Getting Started: Narrative Components
Make sure you’re following any of your instructor’s guidelines for your narrative essay – you’ll want to meet their expectations, first and foremost. You should also have a solid understanding of how to write a narrative essay that stands out.
You’ll also want to make sure your narrative essay contains the following:
Telling What Happened
Don’t think you can tell a personal narrative story? Think again! You probably do this all the time. Even when you get home from a long day and tell your friends or parents, “You won’t believe what happened today,” you’re beginning a narrative.
But narratives should be more than a rant or a list of the day’s events. They should focus on a significant event or time in your life. Start by brainstorming and recalling memories from your past that are special to you. Some of these may be exciting or funny; others may be sorrowful or rough experiences.
Either way, jot the most interesting memories down in a notebook and consider which one you would most like to tell your audience (or professor, in this case).
4 Narrative Essay Topic Patterns
We tell narratives for a reason, and one of your main goals in writing a narrative essay is to make sure you have a clear purpose in writing about a specific event. Think, “Why am I writing this? Why is this event important, and what do I want my audience to get out of it?”
Here are some common narrative essay topic patterns that can help you focus on this goal:
The success story
This one is pretty easy to follow and used by many students. In this pattern, you can tell a narrative about a time when you overcame obstacles to reach a certain goal.
Resolving a conflict
Did you ever get into a fight or an argument with someone? Did you face some problem at school or work? Think about what steps you took to find a solution.
You’ve had many experiences, and some were pretty darn special. In this narrative pattern, you write about a powerful experience and how you changed and grew because of it.
Frodo took the One Ring to the fires of Mount Doom; I made friends with a hitchhiker in Nova Scotia. Big or small, think about a trip you took that still means something special to you today.
Let’s look at some narrative essay topics in each category to help you tell your own riveting story!
Narrative Essay Topics: The Success Story
1. The Interview
Describe a time when you interviewed for a job or position you really wanted and got it. Focus on the toughest parts of the interview and why you wanted so badly to get the job. What did you do to “wow” the interviewer, and what did you learn from the experience?
(Check out thisinterview narrative example to see how it’s done.)
2. Volunteer Work
Recall a time when you volunteered for a cause and succeeded in completing a specific project. What was your role in the project? What was the result of your success for the people you helped or situation you improved?
(Here is avolunteering essay worth reading.)
3. The Payoff
Did you ever work hard and save up money to buy something you really wanted? What was this item, what did you have to do to get it, and was it worth it?
(This essay aboutsaving and spending can help you get started.)
4. Jumping Hurdles
Write a narrative about a class you took in high school or college or an assignment you had that was so tough that you had to work your tail off just to pass. Describe the teacher, the work, your feelings at the time, and what strategies you used to overcome these obstacles. What happened in the end, and what do you have to say about the outcome?
(This student tackled his ownnarrative essay successfully by changing his attitude)
5. Striking Back
Write about a time when you failed at something but then set out to conquer it once and for all. What did it take to overcome this failure, and what events led to your eventual success?
(Check out this useful essay,“Running Towards Success”.)
Narrative Essay Topics: Resolving a Conflict
6. The Outsider
Write about a time when you felt like an outsider. Where and when did this happen? Did you actively pursue inclusion, or did anybody around you help make you feel like part of the group? What changed as a result of your experience?
(Read about oneoutsider’s experience here).
7. The Big Fight
Describe a time you got into a fight. What were your reasons for fighting, and how do you feel about that experience now that you’re older and wiser? Did you do the right thing, or do you regret resorting to violence?
(Look at this narrative essay example aboutfighting in school.)
8. Nothing to Fear
Write about a time you were afraid. What did you do to overcome this fear, and how do you look at the same problem now that you’ve tackled it, head on?
(Check out this essay aboutovercoming stage fright.)
9. Tough Times
Think about an ongoing experience you’ve had to endure, and write about your coping mechanisms. Do these mechanisms involve exercises or help from friends and family? What helps you get through the tough times, and why are they effective?
(This moving essay shows you how one personcopes with their troubles).
10. Snap Judgment
Write about a situation in which you had to react quickly to solve a problem. What was at stake, who was involved, and how did you beat the odds? What did you learn from the experience?
(Strap in for this exciting essay aboutsaving another person’s life.)
Narrative Essay Topics: Personal Growth
11. Liar, Liar
Tell about the first time you truly experienced dishonesty. Not a little white lie, but something that made you forever question your trust in others.
(See this essay about why you shouldnever let people you don’t know ride your bike.)
12. Stages of Grief
Describe when you experienced a difficult loss in your life. What events preceded the loss, and how do you remember that person today – how does their memory add significance to your own life?
(Read this powerful narrative abouta mother losing her child.)
13. First Love
Recall the first time you knew you were in love with someone. What happened between you two that led to this realization? Reflect on where this relationship went and what the experience taught you about this emotion
(This essay provides great detail about afirst love.)
14. Special Someone
Write about meeting someone new (in real life, via letters, or online), someone very different from yourself. Focus on how that person’s friendship changed your outlook on life.
(This superb example shows you howtwo people from Israel and Palestine formed a strong friendship).
Think about when you first experienced a new freedom, such as getting your driver’s license, living alone for the first time, etc. Was the experience everything you expected? Why or why not?
(Check out how this writer’sexperience led to freedom…and newfound responsibility.)
Narrative Essay Topics: The Journey
16. On Holiday
Discuss a pleasurable trip you took in which you gained new experiences, met interesting folks, or had your eyes opened to new ideas.
(See this essay about atrip to Europe)
17. Moving Away
Write about a time when you moved and left your old life behind to start a new one. What changes did you experience, and did the new environment help or hinder your transition?
(Check out this narrative aboutmoving out of Wisconsin.)
18. A Whole New World
Maybe you left your country to attend school in the U.S., or perhaps your family traveled to another country for work and a better life. Whatever the case, describe your journey to a new country and the issues you dealt with during the transition.
(Look at this example of one writer’semigration to America.)
19. On Your Own
Write about a time when you got ready to leave your home, family, and everything you knew for some great new adventure. What event from this time really stands out, and how did you deal with your anxieties or excitement then?
(See this example of astudent getting ready to leave for college.)
20. Away Game
Describe when you and your sports team were on the road, headed to a big game or competition. Why was the event important, and how did you become closer to your teammates during the trip?
(Check out an essay by acollege athlete on the road with his team.)
Time to Tell Your Story
Once you’ve chosen a narrative topic, you’re ready to start writing your essay!
Just be sure you’re following your instructor’s guidelines and know how to construct a narrative essay from beginning to end. Don’t forget to include the following:
- An interesting hook
- A narrative arc
- A first-person approach
And always proofread your work — better yet, let Kibin help you with that!
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