Purposes of a Narrative Essay
Before we go into the nuts and bolts of narrative essay writing in itself, it is probably best to take a moment to discuss what this type of essay entails. Briefly, a narrative essay is one which tells a story. These essays are naturally less formal than other styles of writing,* which can naturally lead to some very moving stories being told. There are many different types of narratives used in day to day life: medical histories are narratives; defence counsels use the narrative structure during their closing remarks in court; teachers in psychology courses often use narrative structures to lead their students through learning about different mental disorders and how they can manifest; and so on.
While at first glance it may seem as though narrative essays would be the easiest of all the academic styles of writing to master, they are often dreaded by people who have to write or compose them. It is understandable – the informal nature which characterises narrative essay writing lends itself to writing about personal events, and people can find it difficult to bare their souls when it comes to pieces which will be seen by others.
Encouraging informality in this form of writing can lead to essays which are very experiential in nature. Of course, while a narrative essay is slightly more informal, it is still a piece of academic work, and therefore should be held to the same standards as other pieces of work: the structure should be clear, and flow logically, the wording should be concise and to the point (as should the essay as a whole), and the narrative essay itself should be written from a logical point of view.
Choosing a Topic
Choosing a topic for a narrative essay can be difficult. Since the aim is to create a narrative, obviously this does narrow down the list of appropriate topics to ones which are conducive to a narrative format. When choosing a topic, choose one which fills you with emotion – you can’t convey emotion to the audience in its truest form unless you are feeling it yourself – and one which you feel confident about writing. The best topics are the ones which feel true, and which have a lot of depth to them, so bear all this in mind.
Some topics you could choose for a narrative essay are:
- Everybody gets afraid sometimes. If there were no fear, there would be no opportunity for bravery. Write about the scariest moment in your life.
- Some people avoid challenges. Others see them as opportunities to grow. Write about a time when you overcame a great challenge.
- One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Write about a time when you discovered something valuable that others had discarded or ignored.
- The golden rule states that you should treat others as you’d like to be treated. It’d be nice if everyone followed this rule, but its been broken more than once. Write about a time when you felt disrespected. How did you handle it and what did you learn?
- Everybody has a special talent. Write about the time when you discovered one of your talents.
- It’s no fun to be in pain, but it can be worse to watch someone you love suffer. Write about a time when one of your loved ones was hurt.
- The world can be a cold place, but a little bit of kindness can make it a lot warmer. Write about a time when you made the world a better place for someone by being kind.
- It’s a good thing that nobody’s perfect. Some of life’s greatest lessons are learned on accident. Write about a time when you learned an important lesson by making a mistake.
- It can be hard to see ourselves for who we really are at times. Write about a time when someone else taught you something about yourself.
- Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Write about a time when you got in trouble or made someone angry by doing what you thought was right.
Outline and Structure
The process of writing this type of essay is quite similar to the process of writing any other type of essay, despite the relative informality of the structure: narrative essays still have to make sense, so having a clear structure in place before you begin may help. The narrative essay structure should not only include the number and type of paragraphs which will be included in the essay, but should also include the main point of the essay, and the viewpoint which the essay will be written from. The structure does not need to be followed, but the author of the narrative essay may find it helpful in keeping his ultimate point in mind, as well as being able to keep track of where in the narrative he actually is.
A very rough outline for a narrative essay might look something like this:
Introduction: Topic: Laziness.
Hook: School’s Out! School’s Out! Summer vacation…
Thesis Statement: Procrastination “hides” in almost every aspect of our everyday life and it is so hard to overcome it. I do not think I would be able to realize that I had this problem and cope with it until one situation happened to me.
Body Paragraph: The situation.
Body paragraph: The aftermath.
Body Paragraph: What I learned.
Conclusion: Topic: Laziness
Reiteration of thesis statement.
Summation of topic, story.
Realisations, further work that I need to do, warnings for others, etc.
Writing a Narrative Essay
The narrative essay introduction should be written to be as compelling as possible, since the purpose of this type of essay is to tell a story. This can be done in many different ways, either through having an interesting point of view from which to write the story (such as an inanimate object, or a child), or a story which is unusual or out of the ordinary in and of itself. Introductions should not be over-long, instead just taking up enough space to introduce all the necessary elements, such as all the major points or players, a thesis statement (where the hook draws readers in, the thesis acts as the explanation for what is going on in the paper), and a summing up of what the paper is actually going to be about.
A thesis statement is normally around one to two sentences which describes the main topic of the essay – if the topic was procrastination and laziness, for example, then a good thesis statement would be as follows: Procrastination “hides” in almost every aspect of our everyday life and it is so hard to overcome it. I do not think I would be able to realize that I had this problem and cope with it until one situation happened to me.
Ten Hooks for a Narrative Essay Introduction
When we refer to an essay’s hook, what we are normally referring to is the first line or two of the essay which functions as the means of grabbing the reader’s attention and keeping it on what we have written. It should be something which stands out, and which will be memorable enough that whoever is reading the opening paragraph will feel compelled to read on, just to find out what happens next.
Below are ten hooks for narrative essays, with accompanying explanations:
You probably don’t want to hear about how I lost all my front teeth.
This hook speaks directly to the audience, and it promises upfront that the subject of the essay will be about the author losing their front teeth. So the hook has given us subject, viewpoint, and tone, all in one sentence.
Thanks to Thomas I’m alive to tell this tale.
This is a hook in the form of an alliterative phrase.
Pop! Pop! Pop! My brother was trying out our new popcorn machine.
This is what is known as an onomatopoeic hook, using (in this case) the noise of the popcorn popping as a way of drawing the reader in.
In the thick woods of northeast Maine, I learned the value of preparation.
This hook uses the setting of the woods in Maine as a means of drawing people in to the story.
Have you ever been to a cave? I have.
This hook uses a question as a way of interesting readers in what the narrative essay might hold.
Skiing is as easy as pie, my instructor told me.
This hook uses a figure of speech – an idiom, in this case – as a means of introducing the subject of the narrative essay.
A mall is a bunch of stores under a roof. I can tell you it’s more than that.
This is an example of using a definition as a means of beginning a narrative essay. This is an unusual way to handle the narrative essay introduction, because definitions are quite formal, where narrative essays are generally quite informal.
I have a hundred cousins.
This hook uses hyperbole as a hook – people are drawn in to read the ensuing story because of the interest it generates.
This hook uses words in capitals as a means of hooking people into reading the story. While this is another unusual form of introduction, it is quite attention-grabbing.
School’s Out! School’s Out! Summer vacation…
This hook uses an exclamation as a hook to grab the attention of readers.
*book reviews are one notable exception to this.