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).
Writing an engaging personal narrative essay requires you to focus on both the key points of information to be conveyed as well as the many details which make the narrative essay interesting.
Writing an Impactful Personal Narrative Essay
A personal narrative essay is about a personal experience, so it is usually written in the first person. To maximize its impact, the essay should:
- Be written to have an emotional impact on the reader
- Include a lot of references to sensory perceptions and emotions
- Use vivid details and imagery
Structure of the Essay
- The opening of the essay needs to let the reader know the essence of what you will be describing and your point of view.
- The body of the story needs to give the reader a very clear idea of what happened and how you (the author) feel about that. The story can be told chronologically or the facts may be grouped by importance or type.
- The final paragraph needs to wrap up and state the point of the story, whether it is a lesson, an idea, or just a learning experience.
Writing the Essay
Writing a good narrative essay requires you to include interesting information in an engaging way. Here are some tips:
- Record yourself telling the story. That will help your organize your story and make the writing flow.
- Include anecdotes and dialogue in the essay.
- Use transitory words to connect sentences like: therefore, however, or for example.
- Vary the structure of your sentences to make the writing more interesting. Try adding some compound, complex, or interrogative sentences.
- Make the words lively, descriptive, exciting, active, emotional, and precise.
Example of Narrative Writing
Here is an example of writing used in a personal narrative essay. Notice the tone and words that set the mood. You can almost feel the heat and humidity.
“It was the middle of springtime and across from my house where the incident took place. There was a lake there in which my brother and I loved to explore from time to time. The humidity and water drops where reminiscent of a fully functional sauna. The onslaught of heat and burning glow of the sun was relentless.”
Types of Essays
An essay is a short piece of writing which is either analytical or speculative. Most essays are written from the author’s point of view.
The word “essay” began to be used in 1588 when Michel de Montaigne published a book called Essais and the word represents a short work written on a particular subject.
There are many kinds of essays, and following is a short explanation of a few of them.
Persuasive or Argumentative Essay
The persuasive or argumentative essay picks a certain viewpoint and offers support of it with data, statistics, and other evidence. Its purpose is to make the reader agree with the proofs and conclusions. In other words, the reader should share the viewpoint of the writer.
Persuasive essays need to have logical and clear reasoning supported by facts and arguments.
A comparison essay will compare two things and point out their similarities and differences. The writer needs to find as many similarities and differences as possible so he will need to do some research.
It does not matter in what order the facts are presented, as long as they are easy to understand by the reader.
Descriptive essays answer the questions: how, what, why, when, and where. They can be written about any subject; a place, person, animal, event, thing, or memory. The writer will share with the reader what he feels and perceives.
The tone should be sensory in nature so the reader can almost see, smell, taste, hear, and feel what the author experienced.
A narrative essay tells a story that has a point to be made. The reader may receive an idea or a lesson from the essay. The story is told using sensory details and emotional language.
A narrative essay usually reflects something of a personal nature so many times it becomes a personal narrative essay.