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10 Things I Now Know About Narrative Essay Writing

December 23, 2014 - Posted to Writing

Content 10 things you must know

I always thought I knew how to write a narrative essay. In high school, we wrote a few of them, and I always got good grades, I think, because my grammar and punctuation were excellent. Now I realize that my English teachers really were not grading on style or content and were doing me a dis-service! As an English/journalism major in college, I find the narrative more challenging than any other essay writing type, and many of my peers experience the same frustration. What follows are 10 solid tips that may make your narrative writing easier, and, more important, worthy of good grades.

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  • Read: Good writers are generally people who have made reading an important part of their lives from an early age. If you want to learn how to write a narrative essay that really “pops,” then you must read really great narratives, short stories, and novels. Ask yourself, “What makes these such great stories?” The “big” answer, of course, is that you cannot put the piece down. Perhaps it is the humor or the suspense. You need to identify the language, style, and tone, so that you can ultimately emulate it.
  • All Elements are Required: Think of a narrative essay as a really condensed short story. Remember all of those elements? Of course you do, and they must be included. You need an introduction, characters, setting, a plot development to a climax and then a conclusion.
  • Depending on the length requirement, remember that your piece is an anecdote, an experience, or an event – yours of someone else’s. It is just a piece of one’s life, so spending lots of time on personal background information is a waste. Only include personality traits or background that is absolutely essential to the story!
  • A Purpose: Everyone knows that academic essay and paper writing must have a thesis – that is what makes each piece of writing a “custom essay” – your unique perspective or point-of-view drives all that you write. It is easy to forget that a narrative must also have a purpose (or a point). When we study literature, we call these “themes.” If your narrative does not have a point, why are you writing it? Sometimes it helps to ask questions of yourself before you even decide on the story to tell. What experience or event changed my beliefs or values? What experience or event changed the course of my life? What experience or event was so humorous or embarrassing that it will remain with me forever? When you answer these questions, you have a purpose and the topic!
  • Be Clear and Concise: You don’t have space to “mess around” with superfluous words or irrelevant information! One of the toughest things about narrative essay writing is condensing the plot and still engaging the reader!
  • Use “I”: If your narrative is personal (not telling someone else’s story), this is the one time in academic writing that the use of “I” is welcome! But don’t over-do it! There are many ways to tell a story without starting every paragraph or piece of dialogue with the word “I.” And just like the “I,” you can use “my” and “mine” liberally as well!
  • Organization: You must organize the narrative essay just as you would any other essay type. Developing some type of graphic organizer will keep you on track and focused. Personally, I like the use of boxes and arrows – each part of the narrative can be placed in a box and sequentially point to the next plot element.
  • Use Active Voice: As much as possible, avoid the passive voice. If you read popular fiction, you will get this. The main character “acts;” s/he is not “acted upon.”
  • Avoid forms of the “to be” verb as much as possible. These are verbs that “tell” but don’t “show.” Example: “I was so sad when my dog died.” Replace with, “I felt the grief well up from the pit of my stomach and overtake my very being. With a broken heart, I succumbed to the sobbing and the overwhelming grief that followed. I had lost my best friend.”
  • Use Figurative Language: Similes and metaphors are powerful! They appeal to the senses of the reader and should be used liberally in descriptions. Again, you must “show,” not “tell!”

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One of the toughest parts of the narrative essay in the introduction. If you do not know how to start a narrative essay, skip that part for the time being. Write the story, absorb all that you have told, reflect upon the meaning (theme) of the tale, and save the introduction for last. Often, as your story takes shape, and you have the opportunity to think about what you have written, the theme will become far clearer. Once that happens, you have the basis for your introduction! Start the introduction with a short simple sentence that will grab the reader immediately. The remainder of the introduction can embellish on that theme, so that the reader knows what to expect.  


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