A Guide to Write Better Narrative Essays

Writing a narrative essay is one of the most common forms of academic writing.

The primary goal of the narrative style of writing is to tell a compelling story. It might not seem like a big deal at first but writing an engaging story that draws readers in can be challenging.

This post will get you on the right track to writing an effective narrative essay.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay is a type of academic writing that tells a personal or fictional story. It aims to create the right setting and a realistic experience for your readers.

Typically, this kind of essay is written in the first person. You must keep readers engaged by placing them at the center of the story. And to create the right atmosphere and setting, narrative essays make extensive use of vivid details, descriptive strategies, and more.

In a narrative essay, the length is always limited. Therefore, you need to narrow down a complex story to include its key points in a short essay. But make sure to provide enough detail to keep readers engaged.

What is the Purpose of a Narrative Essay?

The key purpose of narrative essays is to share stories. Writers need to tell readers about real-life experiences while making a point about why they’re narrating that story.

In a narrative essay, you don’t present arguments, offer criticism, or try to persuade readers. All you do is lead them through the story. You simply narrate a story and let the audience make their own inferences.

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Characteristics of Narrative Essays

Narrative essays are unlike other essays in that they offer a writer to deliver an experience. The experiences are meant to provoke an emotional response from the audience.

These essays have an inner narrative that the writer can use to introduce themselves, their opinion of the argument, or even the topic. The fundamental characteristics of this type of writing are as follows:

  • In non-fiction, it describes actual events that took place.
  • The essay is written from the first-person perspective of the author.
  • It contains components of a story yet is written using a standard format.
  • The information is presented in chronological order.
  • Explains a person, event, or setting in great detail.
  • It aims to inform readers rather than to argue, teach, or persuade.

Examples of Narrative Essays

In narrative essays, it is important that you tell a story that includes a personal experience, but you also need to make a point. Therefore, the purpose is not only to share an entertaining tale but also to highlight the significance of the experience.

Below are some snippets of narrative essays to help you understand the essence of this writing better.

Goodbye to All That — Joan Didion

‘Goodbye to All That’ is a part of the Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which is a collection of Didion’s essays. It explores the feelings that Didion experienced after leaving New York City.

Snippet of the essay:

I was in love with New York. I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.

Notes of a Native Son — James Baldwin

James Baldwin’s narrative essays, which look back on his experiences as a Black man in mid-20th century America, are still regularly cited today. James reveals his complex and distinctive relationship with his father in the essay “Notes of a Native Son.” It emphasizes the impacts of racial discrimination on the lives of both.

Snippet of the essay:

Harlem, physically at least, has changed very little in my parents’ lifetime or in mine. Now as then the buildings are old, and in desperate need of repair, the streets are crowded and dirty, there are too many human beings per square block.

Joy — Zadie Smith

British essayist Zadie Smith is a best-selling novelist with a long list of accolades to her name. In the essay “Joy,” the author explains that ‘pleasure’ is a temporary feeling to satisfy one for a short period of time. And ‘Joy’ can sometimes feel similar to pleasure, but it is more than a feeling.

Snippet of the essay:

Perhaps the first thing to say is that I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I wonder if this is more than the usual amount? It was the same even in childhood when most people are miserable. I don’t think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me but rather that the small things go a long way.


Writing narrative essays can be challenging, but with practice, you can write one without stress. Once you know the methods, markers, and characteristics, writing one should be a joyous experience.

This article provides a solid introduction to enhance your understanding of the traits of narrative essays.

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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