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How to Write a Narrative Essay | Example & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A narrative essay tells a story. In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay , along with the descriptive essay , allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing .

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Table of contents

What is a narrative essay for, choosing a topic, interactive example of a narrative essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about narrative essays.

When assigned a narrative essay, you might find yourself wondering: Why does my teacher want to hear this story? Topics for narrative essays can range from the important to the trivial. Usually the point is not so much the story itself, but the way you tell it.

A narrative essay is a way of testing your ability to tell a story in a clear and interesting way. You’re expected to think about where your story begins and ends, and how to convey it with eye-catching language and a satisfying pace.

These skills are quite different from those needed for formal academic writing. For instance, in a narrative essay the use of the first person (“I”) is encouraged, as is the use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense.

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Narrative essay assignments vary widely in the amount of direction you’re given about your topic. You may be assigned quite a specific topic or choice of topics to work with.

  • Write a story about your first day of school.
  • Write a story about your favorite holiday destination.

You may also be given prompts that leave you a much wider choice of topic.

  • Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself.
  • Write about an achievement you are proud of. What did you accomplish, and how?

In these cases, you might have to think harder to decide what story you want to tell. The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to talk about a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

For example, a trip where everything went according to plan makes for a less interesting story than one where something unexpected happened that you then had to respond to. Choose an experience that might surprise the reader or teach them something.

Narrative essays in college applications

When applying for college , you might be asked to write a narrative essay that expresses something about your personal qualities.

For example, this application prompt from Common App requires you to respond with a narrative essay.

In this context, choose a story that is not only interesting but also expresses the qualities the prompt is looking for—here, resilience and the ability to learn from failure—and frame the story in a way that emphasizes these qualities.

An example of a short narrative essay, responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” is shown below.

Hover over different parts of the text to see how the structure works.

Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.

Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.

A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.

The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.

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If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?

The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.

Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.

When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

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Narrative Essay

Definition of narrative essay.

A narrative essay is a type of essay that has a single motif , or a central point, around which the whole narrative revolves. All incidents, happenings, and characters revolve around a single motif presented in the narrative. A narrative essay is similar to a simple five-paragraph essay, in that it has the same format. It is only different in that it is a narrative, having characters, incidents, and dialogues.

Difference Between a Narrative Essay and a Short Story

A narrative essay has a specific format, specific aspects to discover, and a specific motif. It revolves around that motif set by the writer prior to writing the essay. A short story , however, is different from a narrative essay in that it does not revolve around a pre-set motif, and that it does not have a specific format. Also, a short story always leaves readers at a critical juncture with the desire to discover more. In contrast , a narrative essay ends when the readers are fully satisfied. They do not wish to read anymore or do not want to discover anymore.

Elements of a Narrative Essay

A narrative essay has three required elements: character , theme , and dialogue :

Characters are an important part of a narrative essay. Even if the essay is autobiographical in nature, the person writing the essay is a character involving some other characters who act, behave, and do like all other characters presented in stories and novels .

Theme or Motif

A narrative essay revolves around a theme or a motif. This theme or motif is presented in its thesis statement, which breaks it down into three distinct pieces of evidence . These three distinct pieces of evidence are then further elaborated through characters in body paragraphs .

Dialogue is used to capture the conversation between characters. In a narrative essay, dialogue is the third important element, without which the characters lose their worth and liveliness.

How to Choose a Topic for Narrative Essay

There are four major steps to choosing the topic of a narrative essay:

  • Choose a theme or thematic strand around which to weave a story.
  • Outline the character, events, and happenings.
  • Think about the conversation of the characters and place them in a setting and plot
  • Synchronize the characters with the plot and the setting to see if they integrate with each other.

MLA and APA Formats in Narrative Essay

MLA and APA are used in all types of essays. However, APA is mostly used in social sciences, while MLA is used in humanities. Whereas the application of MLA in a narrative is concerned, it is used in the format, intext citation , and in the Works Cited page. The first page comprises the student’s name, class, tutor’s name, and date with the topic of the essay given after all of them. However, in APA, all this information appears on the cover page. Similarly, both MLA and APA differ in intext citation, with MLA having only the author’s name and page without any comma. In contrast, APA has the author’s name as well as page number with a comma and ‘p’ with a period before the number of the page, such as (Hardy, p. 45). Regarding the sources, MLA shows Works Cited page at the end, while APA shows Reference at the end.

Reflective Narrative Essay

As the name suggests, a reflection narrative is an essay that presents the reflections of a person who is writing that essay. He takes an incident from his life and gives it an organization on the pattern of an essay with a narrative having a beginning, middle, and an end. The essay may or may not have moral lessons, which does not make a lot of difference if the experiences carry the deeper meaning. What matters is that the writer reflects on his own life, taking out some significant moment to make it a storied essay or a narrative essay with a theme in it.

Examples of Narrative Essays in Literature

Example #1:  new directions (by maya angelou).

“Annie, over six feet tall, big-boned, decided that she would not go to work as a domestic and leave her “precious babes” to anyone else’s care. There was no possibility of being hired at the town’s cotton gin or lumber mill, but maybe there was a way to make the two factories work for her. In her words, “I looked up the road I was going and back the way I come, and since I wasn’t satisfied, I decided to step off the road and cut me a new path.” She told herself that she wasn’t a fancy cook but that she could “mix groceries well enough to scare hungry away and keep from starving a man.”

This paragraph is an example from a narrative essay of Maya Angelou. She has described how a girl looks, and how she behaves. She has also written direct dialogues to show that it is a narrative.

Example #2: Saturday Evening Post (by Russell Baker)

“When I burst in that afternoon she was in conference with an executive of the Curtis Publishing Company. She introduced me. He bent low from the waist and shook my hand. Was it true as my mother had told him, he asked, that I longed for the opportunity to conquer the world of business? My Mother replied that I was blessed with a rare determination to make something of myself. ‘That’s right,’ I whispered. ‘But have you got the grit, the character, the never-say-quit spirit it takes to succeed in business?’ My Mother said I certainly did.”

In this piece from a narrative essay by Russell Baker of the famed Saturday Evening Post , the author has fully described the efforts of his mother by her dialogue. Both character and dialogue are very clear.

Example #3: Only Daughter (by Sandra Cisneros)

“Once several years ago, when I was just starting out my writing career, I was asked to write my own contributor’s note for an anthology I was part of, I wrote: ‘ I am the only daughter in a family of six sons. That explains everything.’ “Well, I’ve thought about that ever since, and yes, it explains a lot to me, but for the reader’s sake I should have written: ‘I am the only daughter in a Mexican family of six sons.’ Or even: ‘I am the only daughter of a Mexican father and a Mexican-American mother.’ Or: ‘I am the only daughter of a working-class family of nine.’ All of these had everything to do with who I am today.”

In this essay, the author has given a full description of a daughter – how she looks and how she behaves.

Function of Narrative Essay

A narrative essay describes people, presents their conversations, and narrates their experiences to teach lessons to readers. In fact, it is like a story, but different in that it is weaved around a motif. A motif is given before the incidents of the essay. Readers become aware of this single theme, central idea, or motif once they go through the essay. Its major aim is to provide information about life experiences and lessons learned from those experiences.

Synonyms of Narrative Essay

Some of the words closely related to the narrative essay are reflective account, chronicle, chronology , and historical narrative. However, these words cannot be interchangeably used to replace this title.

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narrative essay on novels

Narrative Essay with Tips - a Detailed Guide

narrative essay on novels

Defining What Is a Narrative Essay

We can explain a narrative essay definition as a piece of writing that tells a story. It's like a window into someone's life or a page torn from a diary. Similarly to a descriptive essay, a narrative essay tells a story, rather than make a claim and use evidence. It can be about anything – a personal experience, a childhood memory, a moment of triumph or defeat – as long as it's told in a way that captures the reader's imagination.

You might ask - 'which sentence most likely comes from a narrative essay?'. Let's take this for example: 'I could hear the waves crashing against the shore, their rhythm a soothing lullaby that carried me off to sleep.' You could even use such an opening for your essay when wondering how to start a narrative essay.

To further define a narrative essay, consider it storytelling with a purpose. The purpose of a narrative essay is not just to entertain but also to convey a message or lesson in first person. It's a way to share your experiences and insights with others and connect with your audience. Whether you're writing about your first love, a harrowing adventure, or a life-changing moment, your goal is to take the reader on a journey that will leave them feeling moved, inspired, or enlightened.

So if you're looking for a way to express yourself creatively and connect with others through your writing, try your hand at a narrative essay. Who knows – you might just discover a hidden talent for storytelling that you never knew you had!

Meanwhile, let's delve into the article to better understand this type of paper through our narrative essay examples, topic ideas, and tips on constructing a perfect essay.

Types of Narrative Essays

If you were wondering, 'what is a personal narrative essay?', know that narrative essays come in different forms, each with a unique structure and purpose. Regardless of the type of narrative essay, each aims to transport the reader to a different time and place and to create an emotional connection between the reader and the author's experiences. So, let's discuss each type in more detail:

  • A personal narrative essay is based on one's unique experience or event. Personal narrative essay examples include a story about overcoming a fear or obstacle or reflecting on a particularly meaningful moment in one's life.
  • A fictional narrative is a made-up story that still follows the basic elements of storytelling. Fictional narratives can take many forms, from science fiction to romance to historical fiction.
  • A memoir is similar to personal narratives but focuses on a specific period or theme in a person's life. Memoirs might be centered around a particular relationship, a struggle with addiction, or a cultural identity. If you wish to describe your life in greater depth, you might look at how to write an autobiography .
  • A literacy narrative essay explores the writer's experiences with literacy and how it has influenced their life. The essay typically tells a personal story about a significant moment or series of moments that impacted the writer's relationship with reading, writing, or communication.

You might also be interested in discovering 'HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY'

Pros and Cons of Narrative Writing

Writing a narrative essay can be a powerful tool for self-expression and creative storytelling, but like any form of writing, it comes with its own set of pros and cons. Let's explore the pros and cons of narrative writing in more detail, helping you to decide whether it's the right writing style for your needs.

  • It can be a powerful way to convey personal experiences and emotions.
  • Allows for creative expression and unique voice
  • Engages the reader through storytelling and vivid details
  • It can be used to teach a lesson or convey a message.
  • Offers an opportunity for self-reflection and growth
  • It can be challenging to balance personal storytelling with the needs of the reader
  • It may not be as effective for conveying factual information or arguments
  • It may require vulnerability and sharing personal details that some writers may find uncomfortable
  • It can be subjective, as the reader's interpretation of the narrative may vary

If sharing your personal stories is not your cup of tea, you can buy essays online from our expert writers, who will customize the paper to your particular writing style and tone.

20 Excellent Narrative Essay Topics and How to Choose One

Choosing a good topic among many narrative essay ideas can be challenging, but some tips can help you make the right choice. Here are some original and helpful tips on how to choose a good narrative essay topic:

  • Consider your own experiences: One of the best sources of inspiration for a narrative essay is your own life experiences. Consider moments that have had a significant impact on you, whether they are positive or negative. For example, you could write about a memorable trip or a challenging experience you overcame.
  • Choose a topic relevant to your audience: Consider your audience and their interests when choosing a narrative essay topic. If you're writing for a class, consider what topics might be relevant to the course material. If you're writing for a broader audience, consider what topics might be interesting or informative to them.
  • Find inspiration in literature: Literature can be a great source of inspiration for a narrative essay. Consider the books or stories that have had an impact on you, and think about how you can incorporate elements of them into your own narrative. For example, you could start by using a title for narrative essay inspired by the themes of a favorite novel or short story.
  • Focus on a specific moment or event: Most narrative essays tell a story, so it's important to focus on a specific moment or event. For example, you could write a short narrative essay about a conversation you had with a friend or a moment of realization while traveling.
  • Experiment with different perspectives: Consider writing from different perspectives to add depth and complexity to your narrative. For example, you could write about the same event from multiple perspectives or explore the thoughts and feelings of a secondary character.
  • Use writing prompts: Writing prompts can be a great source of inspiration if you struggle to develop a topic. Consider using a prompt related to a specific theme, such as love, loss, or growth.
  • Choose a topic with rich sensory details: A good narrative essay should engage the senses and create a vivid picture in the reader's mind. Choose a topic with rich sensory details that you can use to create a vivid description. For example, you could write about a bustling city's sights, sounds, and smells.
  • Choose a topic meaningful to you: Ultimately, the best narrative essays are meaningful to the writer. Choose a topic that resonates with you and that you feel passionate about. For example, you could write about a personal goal you achieved or a struggle you overcame.

Here are some good narrative essay topics for inspiration from our experts:

  • A life-changing event that altered your perspective on the world
  • The story of a personal accomplishment or achievement
  • An experience that tested your resilience and strength
  • A time when you faced a difficult decision and how you handled it
  • A childhood memory that still holds meaning for you
  • The impact of a significant person in your life
  • A travel experience that taught you something new
  • A story about a mistake or failure that ultimately led to growth and learning
  • The first day of a new job or school
  • The story of a family tradition or ritual that is meaningful to you
  • A time when you had to confront a fear or phobia
  • A memorable concert or music festival experience
  • An experience that taught you the importance of communication or listening
  • A story about a time when you had to stand up for what you believed in
  • A time when you had to persevere through a challenging task or project
  • A story about a significant cultural or societal event that impacted your life
  • The impact of a book, movie, or other work of art on your life
  • A time when you had to let go of something or someone important to you
  • A memorable encounter with a stranger that left an impression on you
  • The story of a personal hobby or interest that has enriched your life

Narrative Format and Structure

The narrative essay format and structure are essential elements of any good story. A well-structured narrative can engage readers, evoke emotions, and create lasting memories. Whether you're writing a personal essay or a work of fiction, the following guidelines on how to write a narrative essay can help you create a compelling paper:

narrative essay

  • Introduction : The introduction sets the scene for your story and introduces your main characters and setting. It should also provide a hook to capture your reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. When unsure how to begin a narrative essay, describe the setting vividly or an intriguing question that draws the reader in.
  • Plot : The plot is the sequence of events that make up your story. It should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with each part building on the previous one. The plot should also have a clear conflict or problem the protagonist must overcome.
  • Characters : Characters are the people who drive the story. They should be well-developed and have distinct personalities and motivations. The protagonist should have a clear goal or desire, and the antagonist should provide a challenge or obstacle to overcome.
  • Setting : The setting is the time and place the story takes place. It should be well-described and help to create a mood or atmosphere that supports the story's themes.
  • Dialogue : Dialogue is the conversation between characters. It should be realistic and help to reveal the characters' personalities and motivations. It can also help to move the plot forward.
  • Climax : The climax is the highest tension or conflict point in the story. It should be the turning point that leads to resolving the conflict.
  • Resolution : The resolution is the end of the story. It should provide a satisfying conclusion to the conflict and tie up any loose ends.

Following these guidelines, you can create a narrative essay structure that engages readers and leaves a lasting impression. Remember, a well-structured story can take readers on a journey and make them feel part of the action.

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Narrative Essay Outline

Here is a detailed narrative essay outline from our custom term paper writing :

Introduction

A. Hook: Start with an attention-grabbing statement, question, or anecdote that introduces the topic and draws the reader in. Example: 'The sun beat down on my skin as I stepped onto the stage, my heart pounding with nervous excitement.'

B. Background information: Provide context for the story, such as the setting or the characters involved. Example: 'I had been preparing for this moment for weeks, rehearsing my lines and perfecting my performance for the school play.'

C. Thesis statement: State the essay's main point and preview the events to come. Example: 'This experience taught me that taking risks and stepping outside my comfort zone can lead to unexpected rewards and personal growth.'

Body Paragraphs

A. First event: Describe the first event in the story, including details about the setting, characters, and actions. Example: 'As I delivered my first lines on stage, I felt a rush of adrenaline and a sense of pride in my hard work paying off.'

B. Second event: Describe the second event in the story, including how it builds on the first event and moves the story forward. Example: 'As the play progressed, I became more comfortable in my role and connecting with the other actors on stage.'

C. Turning point: Describe the turning point in the story, when something unexpected or significant changes the course of events. Example: 'In the final act, my character faced a difficult decision that required me to improvise and trust my instincts.'

D. Climax: Describe the story's climax, the highest tension or conflict point. Example: 'As the play reached its climax, I delivered my final lines with confidence and emotion, feeling a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.'

A. Restate thesis: Summarize the essay's main point and how the events in the story support it. Example: 'Through this experience, I learned that taking risks and pushing past my comfort zone can lead to personal growth and unexpected rewards.'

B. Reflection: Reflect on the significance of the experience and what you learned from it. Example: 'Looking back, I realize that this experience not only taught me about acting and performance but also about the power of perseverance and self-belief.'

C. Call to action: if you're still wondering how to write an essay conclusion , consider ending it with a call to action or final thought that leaves the reader with something to consider or act on. Example: 'I encourage everyone to take risks and embrace new challenges because you never know what kind of amazing experiences and growth they may lead to.

You might also be interested in getting detailed info on 'HOW TO WRITE AN ESSAY CONCLUSION'

Narrative Essay Examples

Are you looking for inspiration for your next narrative essay? Look no further than our narrative essay example. Through vivid storytelling and personal reflections, this essay takes the reader on a journey of discovery and leaves them with a powerful lesson about the importance of compassion and empathy. Use this sample from our expert essay writer as a guide for crafting your own narrative essay, and let your unique voice and experiences shine through.

Narrative Essay Example for College

College professors search for the following qualities in their students:

  • the ability to adapt to different situations,
  • the ability to solve problems creatively,
  • and the ability to learn from mistakes.

Your work must demonstrate these qualities, regardless of whether your narrative paper is a college application essay or a class assignment. Additionally, you want to demonstrate your character and creativity. Describe a situation where you have encountered a problem, tell the story of how you came up with a unique approach to solving it, and connect it to your field of interest. The narrative can be exciting and informative if you present it in such fashion.

Narrative Essay Example for High School

High school is all about showing that you can make mature choices. You accept the consequences of your actions and retrieve valuable life lessons. Think of an event in which you believe your actions were exemplary and made an adult choice. A personal narrative essay example will showcase the best of your abilities. Finally, use other sources to help you get the best results possible. Try searching for a sample narrative essay to see how others have approached it.

Final Words

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A narrative essay is one of the most intimidating assignments you can be handed at any level of your education. Where you've previously written argumentative essays that make a point or analytic essays that dissect meaning, a narrative essay asks you to write what is effectively a story .

But unlike a simple work of creative fiction, your narrative essay must have a clear and concrete motif —a recurring theme or idea that you’ll explore throughout. Narrative essays are less rigid, more creative in expression, and therefore pretty different from most other essays you’ll be writing.

But not to fear—in this article, we’ll be covering what a narrative essay is, how to write a good one, and also analyzing some personal narrative essay examples to show you what a great one looks like.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

At first glance, a narrative essay might sound like you’re just writing a story. Like the stories you're used to reading, a narrative essay is generally (but not always) chronological, following a clear throughline from beginning to end.  Even if the story jumps around in time, all the details will come back to one specific theme, demonstrated through your choice in motifs.

Unlike many creative stories, however, your narrative essay should be based in fact. That doesn’t mean that every detail needs to be pure and untainted by imagination, but rather that you shouldn’t wholly invent the events of your narrative essay. There’s nothing wrong with inventing a person’s words if you can’t remember them exactly, but you shouldn’t say they said something they weren’t even close to saying.

Another big difference between narrative essays and creative fiction—as well as other kinds of essays—is that narrative essays are based on motifs. A motif is a dominant idea or theme, one that you establish before writing the essay. As you’re crafting the narrative, it’ll feed back into your motif to create a comprehensive picture of whatever that motif is.

For example, say you want to write a narrative essay about how your first day in high school helped you establish your identity. You might discuss events like trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria, having to describe yourself in five words as an icebreaker in your math class, or being unsure what to do during your lunch break because it’s no longer acceptable to go outside and play during lunch. All of those ideas feed back into the central motif of establishing your identity.

The important thing to remember is that while a narrative essay is typically told chronologically and intended to read like a story, it is not purely for entertainment value. A narrative essay delivers its theme by deliberately weaving the motifs through the events, scenes, and details. While a narrative essay may be entertaining, its primary purpose is to tell a complete story based on a central meaning.

Unlike other essay forms, it is totally okay—even expected—to use first-person narration in narrative essays. If you’re writing a story about yourself, it’s natural to refer to yourself within the essay. It’s also okay to use other perspectives, such as third- or even second-person, but that should only be done if it better serves your motif. Generally speaking, your narrative essay should be in first-person perspective.

Though your motif choices may feel at times like you’re making a point the way you would in an argumentative essay, a narrative essay’s goal is to tell a story, not convince the reader of anything. Your reader should be able to tell what your motif is from reading, but you don’t have to change their mind about anything. If they don’t understand the point you are making, you should consider strengthening the delivery of the events and descriptions that support your motif.

Narrative essays also share some features with analytical essays, in which you derive meaning from a book, film, or other media. But narrative essays work differently—you’re not trying to draw meaning from an existing text, but rather using an event you’ve experienced to convey meaning. In an analytical essay, you examine narrative, whereas in a narrative essay you create narrative.

The structure of a narrative essay is also a bit different than other essays. You’ll generally be getting your point across chronologically as opposed to grouping together specific arguments in paragraphs or sections. To return to the example of an essay discussing your first day of high school and how it impacted the shaping of your identity, it would be weird to put the events out of order, even if not knowing what to do after lunch feels like a stronger idea than choosing where to sit. Instead of organizing to deliver your information based on maximum impact, you’ll be telling your story as it happened, using concrete details to reinforce your theme.

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3 Great Narrative Essay Examples

One of the best ways to learn how to write a narrative essay is to look at a great narrative essay sample. Let’s take a look at some truly stellar narrative essay examples and dive into what exactly makes them work so well.

A Ticket to the Fair by David Foster Wallace

Today is Press Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and I’m supposed to be at the fairgrounds by 9:00 A.M. to get my credentials. I imagine credentials to be a small white card in the band of a fedora. I’ve never been considered press before. My real interest in credentials is getting into rides and shows for free. I’m fresh in from the East Coast, for an East Coast magazine. Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish. I think they asked me to do this because I grew up here, just a couple hours’ drive from downstate Springfield. I never did go to the state fair, though—I pretty much topped out at the county fair level. Actually, I haven’t been back to Illinois for a long time, and I can’t say I’ve missed it.

Throughout this essay, David Foster Wallace recounts his experience as press at the Illinois State Fair. But it’s clear from this opening that he’s not just reporting on the events exactly as they happened—though that’s also true— but rather making a point about how the East Coast, where he lives and works, thinks about the Midwest.

In his opening paragraph, Wallace states that outright: “Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish.”

Not every motif needs to be stated this clearly , but in an essay as long as Wallace’s, particularly since the audience for such a piece may feel similarly and forget that such a large portion of the country exists, it’s important to make that point clear.

But Wallace doesn’t just rest on introducing his motif and telling the events exactly as they occurred from there. It’s clear that he selects events that remind us of that idea of East Coast cynicism , such as when he realizes that the Help Me Grow tent is standing on top of fake grass that is killing the real grass beneath, when he realizes the hypocrisy of craving a corn dog when faced with a real, suffering pig, when he’s upset for his friend even though he’s not the one being sexually harassed, and when he witnesses another East Coast person doing something he wouldn’t dare to do.

Wallace is literally telling the audience exactly what happened, complete with dates and timestamps for when each event occurred. But he’s also choosing those events with a purpose—he doesn’t focus on details that don’t serve his motif. That’s why he discusses the experiences of people, how the smells are unappealing to him, and how all the people he meets, in cowboy hats, overalls, or “black spandex that looks like cheesecake leotards,” feel almost alien to him.

All of these details feed back into the throughline of East Coast thinking that Wallace introduces in the first paragraph. He also refers back to it in the essay’s final paragraph, stating:

At last, an overarching theory blooms inside my head: megalopolitan East Coasters’ summer treats and breaks and literally ‘getaways,’ flights-from—from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the stress of too many sensory choices….The East Coast existential treat is escape from confines and stimuli—quiet, rustic vistas that hold still, turn inward, turn away. Not so in the rural Midwest. Here you’re pretty much away all the time….Something in a Midwesterner sort of actuates , deep down, at a public event….The real spectacle that draws us here is us.

Throughout this journey, Wallace has tried to demonstrate how the East Coast thinks about the Midwest, ultimately concluding that they are captivated by the Midwest’s less stimuli-filled life, but that the real reason they are interested in events like the Illinois State Fair is that they are, in some ways, a means of looking at the East Coast in a new, estranging way.

The reason this works so well is that Wallace has carefully chosen his examples, outlined his motif and themes in the first paragraph, and eventually circled back to the original motif with a clearer understanding of his original point.

When outlining your own narrative essay, try to do the same. Start with a theme, build upon it with examples, and return to it in the end with an even deeper understanding of the original issue. You don’t need this much space to explore a theme, either—as we’ll see in the next example, a strong narrative essay can also be very short.

body_moth

Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window-pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

In this essay, Virginia Woolf explains her encounter with a dying moth. On surface level, this essay is just a recounting of an afternoon in which she watched a moth die—it’s even established in the title. But there’s more to it than that. Though Woolf does not begin her essay with as clear a motif as Wallace, it’s not hard to pick out the evidence she uses to support her point, which is that the experience of this moth is also the human experience.

In the title, Woolf tells us this essay is about death. But in the first paragraph, she seems to mostly be discussing life—the moth is “content with life,” people are working in the fields, and birds are flying. However, she mentions that it is mid-September and that the fields were being plowed. It’s autumn and it’s time for the harvest; the time of year in which many things die.

In this short essay, she chronicles the experience of watching a moth seemingly embody life, then die. Though this essay is literally about a moth, it’s also about a whole lot more than that. After all, moths aren’t the only things that die—Woolf is also reflecting on her own mortality, as well as the mortality of everything around her.

At its core, the essay discusses the push and pull of life and death, not in a way that’s necessarily sad, but in a way that is accepting of both. Woolf begins by setting up the transitional fall season, often associated with things coming to an end, and raises the ideas of pleasure, vitality, and pity.

At one point, Woolf tries to help the dying moth, but reconsiders, as it would interfere with the natural order of the world. The moth’s death is part of the natural order of the world, just like fall, just like her own eventual death.

All these themes are set up in the beginning and explored throughout the essay’s narrative. Though Woolf doesn’t directly state her theme, she reinforces it by choosing a small, isolated event—watching a moth die—and illustrating her point through details.

With this essay, we can see that you don’t need a big, weird, exciting event to discuss an important meaning. Woolf is able to explore complicated ideas in a short essay by being deliberate about what details she includes, just as you can be in your own essays.

body_baldwin

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

On the twenty-ninth of July, in 1943, my father died. On the same day, a few hours later, his last child was born. Over a month before this, while all our energies were concentrated in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. A few hours after my father’s funeral, while he lay in state in the undertaker’s chapel, a race riot broke out in Harlem. On the morning of the third of August, we drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass.

Like Woolf, Baldwin does not lay out his themes in concrete terms—unlike Wallace, there’s no clear sentence that explains what he’ll be talking about. However, you can see the motifs quite clearly: death, fatherhood, struggle, and race.

Throughout the narrative essay, Baldwin discusses the circumstances of his father’s death, including his complicated relationship with his father. By introducing those motifs in the first paragraph, the reader understands that everything discussed in the essay will come back to those core ideas. When Baldwin talks about his experience with a white teacher taking an interest in him and his father’s resistance to that, he is also talking about race and his father’s death. When he talks about his father’s death, he is also talking about his views on race. When he talks about his encounters with segregation and racism, he is talking, in part, about his father.

Because his father was a hard, uncompromising man, Baldwin struggles to reconcile the knowledge that his father was right about many things with his desire to not let that hardness consume him, as well.

Baldwin doesn’t explicitly state any of this, but his writing so often touches on the same motifs that it becomes clear he wants us to think about all these ideas in conversation with one another.

At the end of the essay, Baldwin makes it more clear:

This fight begins, however, in the heart and it had now been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.

Here, Baldwin ties together the themes and motifs into one clear statement: that he must continue to fight and recognize injustice, especially racial injustice, just as his father did. But unlike his father, he must do it beginning with himself—he must not let himself be closed off to the world as his father was. And yet, he still wishes he had his father for guidance, even as he establishes that he hopes to be a different man than his father.

In this essay, Baldwin loads the front of the essay with his motifs, and, through his narrative, weaves them together into a theme. In the end, he comes to a conclusion that connects all of those things together and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of completion—though the elements may have been initially disparate, in the end everything makes sense.

You can replicate this tactic of introducing seemingly unattached ideas and weaving them together in your own essays. By introducing those motifs, developing them throughout, and bringing them together in the end, you can demonstrate to your reader how all of them are related. However, it’s especially important to be sure that your motifs and clear and consistent throughout your essay so that the conclusion feels earned and consistent—if not, readers may feel mislead.

5 Key Tips for Writing Narrative Essays

Narrative essays can be a lot of fun to write since they’re so heavily based on creativity. But that can also feel intimidating—sometimes it’s easier to have strict guidelines than to have to make it all up yourself. Here are a few tips to keep your narrative essay feeling strong and fresh.

Develop Strong Motifs

Motifs are the foundation of a narrative essay . What are you trying to say? How can you say that using specific symbols or events? Those are your motifs.

In the same way that an argumentative essay’s body should support its thesis, the body of your narrative essay should include motifs that support your theme.

Try to avoid cliches, as these will feel tired to your readers. Instead of roses to symbolize love, try succulents. Instead of the ocean representing some vast, unknowable truth, try the depths of your brother’s bedroom. Keep your language and motifs fresh and your essay will be even stronger!

Use First-Person Perspective

In many essays, you’re expected to remove yourself so that your points stand on their own. Not so in a narrative essay—in this case, you want to make use of your own perspective.

Sometimes a different perspective can make your point even stronger. If you want someone to identify with your point of view, it may be tempting to choose a second-person perspective. However, be sure you really understand the function of second-person; it’s very easy to put a reader off if the narration isn’t expertly deployed.

If you want a little bit of distance, third-person perspective may be okay. But be careful—too much distance and your reader may feel like the narrative lacks truth.

That’s why first-person perspective is the standard. It keeps you, the writer, close to the narrative, reminding the reader that it really happened. And because you really know what happened and how, you’re free to inject your own opinion into the story without it detracting from your point, as it would in a different type of essay.

Stick to the Truth

Your essay should be true. However, this is a creative essay, and it’s okay to embellish a little. Rarely in life do we experience anything with a clear, concrete meaning the way somebody in a book might. If you flub the details a little, it’s okay—just don’t make them up entirely.

Also, nobody expects you to perfectly recall details that may have happened years ago. You may have to reconstruct dialog from your memory and your imagination. That’s okay, again, as long as you aren’t making it up entirely and assigning made-up statements to somebody.

Dialog is a powerful tool. A good conversation can add flavor and interest to a story, as we saw demonstrated in David Foster Wallace’s essay. As previously mentioned, it’s okay to flub it a little, especially because you’re likely writing about an experience you had without knowing that you’d be writing about it later.

However, don’t rely too much on it. Your narrative essay shouldn’t be told through people explaining things to one another; the motif comes through in the details. Dialog can be one of those details, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Use Sensory Descriptions

Because a narrative essay is a story, you can use sensory details to make your writing more interesting. If you’re describing a particular experience, you can go into detail about things like taste, smell, and hearing in a way that you probably wouldn’t do in any other essay style.

These details can tie into your overall motifs and further your point. Woolf describes in great detail what she sees while watching the moth, giving us the sense that we, too, are watching the moth. In Wallace’s essay, he discusses the sights, sounds, and smells of the Illinois State Fair to help emphasize his point about its strangeness. And in Baldwin’s essay, he describes shattered glass as a “wilderness,” and uses the feelings of his body to describe his mental state.

All these descriptions anchor us not only in the story, but in the motifs and themes as well. One of the tools of a writer is making the reader feel as you felt, and sensory details help you achieve that.

What’s Next?

Looking to brush up on your essay-writing capabilities before the ACT? This guide to ACT English will walk you through some of the best strategies and practice questions to get you prepared!

Part of practicing for the ACT is ensuring your word choice and diction are on point. Check out this guide to some of the most common errors on the ACT English section to be sure that you're not making these common mistakes!

A solid understanding of English principles will help you make an effective point in a narrative essay, and you can get that understanding through taking a rigorous assortment of high school English classes ! 

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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

Narrative essays are a type of storytelling in which writers weave a personal experience into words to create a fascinating and engaging narrative for readers. A narrative essay explains a story from the author’s point of view to share a lesson or memory with the reader. Narrative essays, like descriptive essays , employ figurative language to depict the subject in a vivid and creative manner to leave a lasting impact on the readers’ minds. In this article, we explore the definition of narrative essays, list the key elements to be included, and provide tips on how to craft a narrative that captivates your audience.

Table of Contents

What is a narrative essay, choosing narrative essay topics, key elements in a narrative essay, creating a narrative essay outline, types of narrative essays, the pre-writing stage, the writing stage, the editing stage, narrative essay example, frequently asked questions.

Narrative essays are often based on one’s personal experience which allows the author to express himself/herself in compelling ways for the reader. They employ storytelling elements to convey the plot and captivate the reader while disclosing the story’s theme or purpose. The author must always have a purpose or theme in mind when writing a narrative essay. These essays may be assigned to high school students to assess their ability to create captivating stories based on personal experiences, or they may be required as part of a college application to assess the applicant’s personal traits. Narrative essays might be based on true events with minor tweaks for dramatic purposes, or they can be adapted from a fictional scenario. Whatever the case maybe, the goal is to tell a story, a good story!

In narrative essays, the emphasis is not so much on the narrative itself as it is on how you explain it. Narrative essay topics cover a range of experiences, from noteworthy to mundane, but when storytelling elements are used well, even a simple account can have weight. Notably, the skills required for narrative writing differ significantly from those needed for formal academic essays, and we will delve deeper into this in the next section.

You can talk about any narrative, but consider whether it is fascinating enough, has enough twists and turns, or teaches a lesson (It’s a plus if the story contains an unexpected twist at the end). The potential topics for a narrative essay are limitless—a triumphant story, a brief moment of introspection, or a voyage of self-discovery. These essays provide writers with the opportunity to share a fragment of their lives with the audience, enriching both the writer’s and the reader’s experiences. Narrative essay examples could be a write-up on “What has been your biggest achievement in life so far and what did it teach you?” or “Describe your toughest experience and how you dealt with it?”.

narrative essay on novels

While narrative essays allow you to be creative with your ideas, language, and format, they must include some key components to convey the story clearly, create engaging content and build reader interest. Follow these guidelines when drafting your essay:   

  • Tell your story using the first person to engage users.
  • Use sufficient sensory information and figurative language.
  • Follow an organized framework so the story flows chronologically.
  • Include interesting plot components that add to the narrative.
  • Ensure clear language without grammar, spelling, or word choice errors.

Narrative essay outlines serve as the foundational structure for essay composition, acting as a framework to organize thoughts and ideas prior to the writing process. These outlines provide writers with a means to summarize the story, and help in formulating the introduction and conclusion sections and defining the narrative’s trajectory.

Unlike conventional essays that strictly adhere to the five-paragraph structure, narrative essays allow for more flexibility as the organization is dictated by the flow of the story. The outline typically encompasses general details about the events, granting writers the option to prioritize writing the body sections first while deferring the introduction until later stages of the writing process. This approach allows for a more organic and fluid writing process. If you’re wondering how to start writing a narrative essay outline, here is a sample designed to ensure a compelling and coherent narrative:

Introduction

  • Hook/Opening line: The introduction should have an opening/hook sentence that is a captivating quote, question, or anecdote that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • Background: Briefly introduce the setting, time, tone, and main characters.
  • Thesis statement: State clearly the main theme or lesson acquired from the experience.
  • Event 1 (according to occurrence): Describe the first major event in detail. Introduce the primary characters and set the story context; include sensory elements to enrich the narrative and give the characters depth and enthusiasm.
  • Event 2: Ensure a smooth transition from one event to the next. Continue with the second event in the narrative. For more oomph, use suspense or excitement, or leave the plot with cliffhanger endings. Concentrate on developing your characters and their relationships, using dialog to bring the story to life.
  • Event 3: If there was a twist and suspense, this episode should introduce the climax or resolve the story. Keep the narrative flowing by connecting events logically and conveying the feelings and reactions of the characters.
  • Summarize the plot: Provide a concise recap of the main events within the narrative essay. Highlight the key moments that contribute to the development of the storyline. Offer personal reflections on the significance of the experiences shared, emphasizing the lasting impact they had on the narrator. End the story with a clincher; a powerful and thought-provoking sentence that encapsulates the essence of the narrative. As a bonus, aim to leave the reader with a memorable statement or quote that enhances the overall impact of the narrative. This should linger in the reader’s mind, providing a satisfying and resonant conclusion to the essay.

There are several types of narrative essays, each with their own unique traits. Some narrative essay examples are presented in the table below.

How to write a narrative essay: Step-by-step guide

A narrative essay might be inspired by personal experiences, stories, or even imaginary scenarios that resonate with readers, immersing them in the imaginative world you have created with your words. Here’s an easy step-by-step guide on how to write a narrative essay.

  • Select the topic of your narrative

If no prompt is provided, the first step is to choose a topic to write about. Think about personal experiences that could be given an interesting twist. Readers are more likely to like a tale if it contains aspects of humor, surprising twists, and an out-of-the-box climax. Try to plan out such subjects and consider whether you have enough information on the topic and whether it meets the criteria of being funny/inspiring, with nice characters/plot lines, and an exciting climax. Also consider the tone as well as any stylistic features (such as metaphors or foreshadowing) to be used. While these stylistic choices can be changed later, sketching these ideas early on helps you give your essay a direction to start.

  • Create a framework for your essay

Once you have decided on your topic, create an outline for your narrative essay. An outline is a framework that guides your ideas while you write your narrative essay to keep you on track. It can help with smooth transitions between sections when you are stuck and don’t know how to continue the story. It provides you with an anchor to attach and return to, reminding you of why you started in the first place and why the story matters.

narrative essay on novels

  • Compile your first draft

A perfect story and outline do not work until you start writing the draft and breathe life into it with your words. Use your newly constructed outline to sketch out distinct sections of your narrative essay while applying numerous linguistic methods at your disposal. Unlike academic essays, narrative essays allow artistic freedom and leeway for originality so don’t stop yourself from expressing your thoughts. However, take care not to overuse linguistic devices, it’s best to maintain a healthy balance to ensure readability and flow.

  • Use a first-person point of view

One of the most appealing aspects of narrative essays is that traditional academic writing rules do not apply, and the narration is usually done in the first person. You can use first person pronouns such as I and me while narrating different scenarios. Be wary of overly using these as they can suggest lack of proper diction.

  • Use storytelling or creative language

You can employ storytelling tactics and linguistic tools used in fiction or creative writing, such as metaphors, similes, and foreshadowing, to communicate various themes. The use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense is encouraged in narrative essays.

  • Follow a format to stay organized

There’s no fixed format for narrative essays, but following a loose format when writing helps in organizing one’s thoughts. For example, in the introduction part, underline the importance of creating a narrative essay, and then reaffirm it in the concluding paragraph. Organize your story chronologically so that the reader can follow along and make sense of the story.

  • Reread, revise, and edit

Proofreading and editing are critical components of creating a narrative essay, but it can be easy to become weighed down by the details at this stage. Taking a break from your manuscript before diving into the editing process is a wise practice. Stepping away for a day or two, or even just a few hours, provides valuable time to enhance the plot and address any grammatical issues that may need correction. This period of distance allows for a fresh perspective, enabling you to approach the editing phase with renewed clarity and a more discerning eye.

One suggestion is to reconsider the goals you set out to cover when you started the topic. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a distinct beginning and end to your story?
  • Does your essay have a topic, a memory, or a lesson to teach?
  • Does the tone of the essay match the intended mood?

Now, while keeping these things in mind, modify and proofread your essay. You can use online grammar checkers and paraphrase tools such as Paperpal to smooth out any rough spots before submitting it for publication or submission.

It is recommended to edit your essay in the order it was written; here are some useful tips:

  • Revise the introduction

After crafting your narrative essay, review the introduction to ensure it harmonizes with the developed narrative. Confirm that it adeptly introduces the story and aligns seamlessly with the conclusion.

  • Revise the conclusion and polish the essay

The conclusion should be the final element edited to ensure coherence and harmony in the entire narrative. It must reinforce the central theme or lesson outlined initially.

  • Revise and refine the entire article

The last step involves refining the article for consistent tone, style, and tense as well as correct language, grammar, punctuation, and clarity. Seeking feedback from a mentor or colleague can offer an invaluable external perspective at this stage.

Narrative essays are true accounts of the writer’s personal experiences, conveyed in figurative language for sensory appeal. Some narrative essay topic examples include writing about an unforgettable experience, reflecting on mistakes, or achieving a goal. An example of a personal narrative essay is as follows:

Title: A Feline Odyssey: An Experience of Fostering Stray Kittens

Introduction:

It was a fine summer evening in the year 2022 when a soft meowing disrupted the tranquility of my terrace. Little did I know that this innocent symphony would lead to a heartwarming journey of compassion and companionship. Soon, there was a mama cat at my doorstep with four little kittens tucked behind her. They were the most unexpected visitors I had ever had.

The kittens, just fluffs of fur with barely open eyes, were a monument to life’s fragility. Their mother, a street-smart feline, had entrusted me with the care of her precious offspring. The responsibility was sudden and unexpected, yet there was an undeniable sense of purpose in the air , filling me with delight and enthusiasm.

As the days unfolded, my terrace transformed into a haven for the feline family. Cardboard boxes became makeshift cat shelters and my once solitary retreat was filled with purrs and soothing meows. The mother cat, Lily, who initially observ ed me from a safe distance, gradually began to trust my presence as I offered food and gentle strokes.

Fostering the kittens was a life-changing , enriching experience that taught me the true joy of giving as I cared for the felines. My problems slowly faded into the background as evenings were spent playing with the kittens. Sleepless nights turned into a symphony of contented purring, a lullaby filled with the warmth of trust and security . Although the kittens were identical, they grew up to have very distinct personalities, with Kuttu being the most curious and Bobo being the most coy . Every dawn ushered in a soothing ritual of nourishing these feline companions, while nights welcomed their playful antics — a daily nocturnal delight.

Conclusion:

As the kittens grew, so did the realization that our paths were destined to part. Finally, the day arrived when the feline family, now confident and self-reliant, bid farewell to my terrace. It was a bittersweet moment, filled with a sense of love and accomplishment and a tinge of sadness.

Fostering Kuttu, Coco, Lulu, and Bobo became one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Their arrival had brought unexpected joy, teaching me about compassion and our species’ ability to make a difference in the world through love and understanding. The terrace, once a quiet retreat, now bore the echoes of a feline symphony that had touched my heart in ways I could have never imagined.

narrative essay on novels

The length of a narrative essay may vary, but it is typically a brief to moderate length piece. Generally, the essay contains an introductory paragraph, two to three body paragraphs (this number can vary), and a conclusion. The entire narrative essay could be as short as five paragraphs or much longer, depending on the assignment’s requirements or the writer’s preference.

You can write a narrative essay when you have a personal experience to share, or a story, or a series of events that you can tell in a creative and engaging way. Narrative essays are often assigned in academic settings as a form of writing that allows students to express themselves and showcase their storytelling skills. However, you can also write a narrative essay for personal reflection, entertainment, or to communicate a message.

A narrative essay usually follows a three-part structure: – Introduction (To set the stage for the story) – Body paragraphs (To describe sequence of events with details, descriptions, and dialogue) – Conclusion (To summarize the story and reflect on the significance)

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What is a Narrative Essay Examples Format and Techniques Featured

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What is a Narrative Essay — Examples, Format & Techniques

I was in the Amazon jungle the first time I wrote a narrative essay, enlightened and enraptured by the influence of ayahuasca. That’s not true. I’ve never been to South America nor have I ever taken ayahuasca. The purpose of that opening is to show how to craft a narrative essay intro — hook, line, and sinker. Narrative essays rely on hooking the reader, and enticing them to read on. But what is a narrative essay? We’re going to break down everything you need to know about these essays — definition, examples, tips and tricks included. By the end, you’ll be ready to craft your own narrative essay for school or for publication.

What’s a Narrative Essay?

First, let’s define narrative essay.

Narrative essays share a lot of similarities with personal essays, but whereas the former can be fictional or non-fictional, the latter are strictly non-fictional. The goal of the narrative essay is to use established storytelling techniques, like theme , conflict , and irony , in a uniquely personal way.

The responsibility of the narrative essayist is to make the reader feel connected to their story, regardless of the topic. This next video explores how writers can use structural elements and techniques to better engage their readers. 

Personal Narrative Essay Examples With Essay Pro

Narrative essays rely on tried and true structure components, including:

  • First-person POV
  • Personal inspiration
  • Focus on a central theme

By keeping these major tenets in mind, you’ll be better prepared to recognize weaknesses and strengths in your own works.

NARRATIVE ESSAY DEFINITION

What is a narrative essay.

A narrative essay is a prose-written story that’s focused on the commentary of a central theme. Narrative essays are generally written in the first-person POV, and are usually about a topic that’s personal to the writer. Everything in these essays should take place in an established timeline, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. 

Famous Narrative Essay Examples

  • Ticker to the Fair by David Foster Wallace
  • After Life by Joan Didion
  • Here is a Lesson in Creative Writing by Kurt Vonnegut

Narrative Writing Explained

How to start a narrative essay.

When you go to sleep at night, what do you think of? Flying squirrels? Lost loved ones? That time you called your teacher ‘mom’? Whatever it is, that’s what you need to write about. There’s a reason those ideas and moments have stuck with you over time. Your job is to figure out why.

Once you realize what makes a moment important to you, it’s your job to make it important to the reader too. In this next video, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker J. Christian Jensen explains the power of the personal narrative. 

Narrative Writing and the Personal Narrative Essay  •  Video by TEDx Talks

Anything and everything can be the topic of your essay. It could be as benign as a walk to school or as grandiose as a trip to the moon — so long as that narrative exists within reality. Give your thoughts and opinions on the matter too — don’t be afraid to say “this is what I think” so long as it’s supported by storytelling techniques. Remember, never limit yourself as a writer, just keep in mind that certain topics will be harder to make engaging than others.

Narrative Essay Outline

How to write a narrative essay.

First step, game plan. You’re going to want to map out the story from beginning to end, then mark major story beats in your document.

Like all stories, your narrative essay needs a clear beginning, middle, and end. Each section should generally conform to a specifically outlined structure. For reference, check out the outline below.

Structure of A Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay Format  •  How to Write a Narrative Essay Step by Step

Make sure to reference back to this outline throughout the writing process to make sure you have all your major beats covered.

Purpose of narrative essay writing

Narrative essays give writers the ability to freely express themselves within the structure of a traditional story. Nearly all universities ask applicants to submit a narrative essay with their formal application. This is done for two reasons: they allow institutions to judge the linguistic and grammar capabilities of its applicants, as well as their raw creative side.

If you’re considering studying creative writing in an undergraduate or graduate program, then you’re going to write A LOT of narrative style essays. This process may seem indomitable; How am I supposed to write hundreds of pages about… me? But by the end, you’ll be a better writer and you’ll have a better understanding of yourself.

One thing that all successful essayists have in common is that they make radical, often defiant statements on the world at large. Think Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, and Langston Hughes for example.

Being a professional essayist isn’t easy, and it’s near-impossible to be one who makes a lot of money. Many essayists work as professors, editors, and curriculum designers as well. 

This next video features the late, award-winning essayist Brian Doyle. He explains all the things you need to hear when thinking about writing a story.

Narrative Essay Examples “Lecture” via Boston University

We can learn a lot from the way Doyle “opens” his stories. My favorite is how he begins with the statement, “I met the Dalai Lama once.” How can we not be interested in learning more? 

This brings us all the way back to the beginning. Start with a hook, rattle off the line, then reel in the sinker. If you entice the reader, develop a personal plot, and finish with a resolute ending, you’ll have a lot of success in essay writing. 

 Up Next

Narrative essay topics.

We've curated a collection of narrative essay topics that will spark your creativity and bring your experiences to life. Dive into the rich tapestry of your memories, explore the unique threads of your life, and let your narrative unfold.

Up Next: Narrative Essay Topics →

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The system format you using on line is very concise ,I encourage to those who are talented to continue puplish their examples of essays so that we student we can crasp.

This site has one of the best narartive writing techniques anyone can need

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Narrative Essays

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

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 widespread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

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 oftentimes 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.

  • As always, be organized!

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 for Success: Narration

This section will help you determine the purpose and structure of narration in writing.

The Purpose of Narrative Writing

Narration means the art of storytelling, and the purpose of narrative writing is to tell stories. Any time you tell a story to a friend or family member about an event or incident in your day, you engage in a form of narration. In addition, a narrative can be factual or fictional. A factual story is one that is based on, and tries to be faithful to, actual events as they unfolded in real life. A fictional story is a made-up, or imagined, story; the writer of a fictional story can create characters and events as he or she sees fit.

The big distinction between factual and fictional narratives is based on a writer’s purpose. The writers of factual stories try to recount events as they actually happened, but writers of fictional stories can depart from real people and events because the writers’ intents are not to retell a real-life event. Biographies and memoirs are examples of factual stories, whereas novels and short stories are examples of fictional stories.

Know Your Purpose

Because the line between fact and fiction can often blur, it is helpful to understand what your purpose is from the beginning. Is it important that you recount history, either your own or someone else’s? Or does your interest lie in reshaping the world in your own image—either how you would like to see it or how you imagine it could be? Your answers will go a long way in shaping the stories you tell.

Ultimately, whether the story is fact or fiction, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way. You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through laughter, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be.

The Structure of a Narrative Essay

Major narrative events are most often conveyed in chronological order, the order in which events unfold from first to last. Stories typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and these events are typically organized by time. Certain transitional words and phrases aid in keeping the reader oriented in the sequencing of a story. Some of these phrases are listed here:

Chronological Transitional Words

Other basic components of a narrative are:

  • Plot – The events as they unfold in sequence.
  • Characters – The people who inhabit the story and move it forward. Typically, there are minor characters and main characters. The minor characters generally play supporting roles to the main character, also known as the protagonist.
  • Conflict – The primary problem or obstacle that unfolds in the plot that the protagonist must solve or overcome by the end of the narrative. The way in which the protagonist resolves the conflict of the plot results in the theme of the narrative.
  • Theme – The ultimate message the narrative is trying to express; it can be either explicit or implicit.

Writing a Narrative Essay

When writing a narrative essay, start by asking yourself if you want to write a factual or fictional story. Then freewrite, brainstorm, or mindmap about topics that are of general interest to you. For more information about pre-writing, review the materials in “My Writing Process – Prewriting and Draft.”

Once you have a general idea of what you will be writing about, you should sketch out the major events of the story that will compose your plot. Typically, these events will be revealed chronologically and climax at a central conflict that must be resolved by the end of the story. The use of strong details is crucial as you describe the events and characters in your narrative. You want the reader to emotionally engage with the world that you create in writing.

Keep the Senses in Mind

To create strong details, keep the human senses in mind. You want your reader to be immersed in the world that you create, so focus on details related to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as you describe people, places, and events in your narrative.

As always, it is important to start with a strong introduction to hook your reader into wanting to read more. Try opening the essay with an event that is interesting to introduce the story and get it going. Finally, your conclusion should help resolve the central conflict of the story and impress upon your reader the ultimate theme of the piece.

Narratives Tell A Story

Every day, you relate stories to other people through simple exchanges. You may have had a horrible experience at a restaurant the night before, or you may have had some good news you are ready to share. In each one of these experiences there’s a story, and when you begin to share a personal experience, you often communicate in a narrative mode.

Although narratives can vary widely, most share several common features. Generally, storytellers establish:

  • Characters , the person/people (sometimes they are animals) the story is about, which may include the storyteller
  • Conflict , or struggle in the story, that builds their audience’s interest
  • Details , or descriptions, that appeal to the  senses  of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste
  • A sequence  of  events  in a  plot , or order of what happens in the story, that keeps the audience engaged as the story unfolds
  • Reflection of events around a  theme , or unifying idea, for telling the story

Narratives of Love and War

Consider two narratives that couldn’t be more different—a tale of love and a story of war: John Hodgman’s sweet, geeky tale of falling in love and Emmanuel Jal’s story of being a child soldier and learning to forgive his enemies. Review these videos below then engage in a discussion following the directions as listed.

John Hodgman: A Brief Digression on Matters of Lost Time

Emmanuel Jal: The Music of a War Child

Narrative Essay Example

Read the following example of a narrative essay. Note how it reflects the basic components and common features of narratives, as discussed above.

My College Education

By Scott McLean, in Writing for Success

The first class I went to in college was philosophy, and it changed my life forever. Our first assignment was to write a short response paper to the Albert Camus essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.” I was extremely nervous about the assignment as well as college. However, through all the confusion in philosophy class, many of my questions about life were answered.

I entered college intending to earn a degree in engineering. I always liked the way mathematics had right and wrong answers. I understood the logic and was very good at it. So when I received my first philosophy assignment that asked me to write my interpretation of the Camus essay, I was instantly confused. What is the right way to do this assignment, I wondered? I was nervous about writing an incorrect interpretation and did not want to get my first assignment wrong. Even more troubling was that the professor refused to give us any guidelines on what he was looking for; he gave us total freedom. He simply said, “I want to see what you come up with.”

Full of anxiety, I first set out to read Camus’s essay several times to make sure I really knew what was it was about. I did my best to take careful notes. Yet even after I took all these notes and knew the essay inside and out, I still did not know the right answer. What was my interpretation? I could think of a million different ways to interpret the essay, but which one was my professor looking for? In math class, I was used to examples and explanations of solutions. This assignment gave me nothing; I was completely on my own to come up with my individual interpretation.

Next, when I sat down to write, the words just did not come to me. My notes and ideas were all present, but the words were lost. I decided to try every prewriting strategy I could find. I brainstormed, made idea maps, and even wrote an outline. Eventually, after a lot of stress, my ideas became more organized and the words fell on the page. I had my interpretation of “The Myth of Sisyphus,” and I had my main reasons for interpreting the essay. I remember being unsure of myself, wondering if what I was saying made sense, or if I was even on the right track. Through all the uncertainty, I continued writing the best I could. I finished the conclusion paragraph, had my spouse proofread it for errors, and turned it in the next day simply hoping for the best.

Then, a week or two later, came judgment day. The professor gave our papers back to us with grades and comments. I remember feeling simultaneously afraid and eager to get the paper back in my hands. It turned out, however, that I had nothing to worry about. The professor gave me an A on the paper, and his notes suggested that I wrote an effective essay overall. He wrote that my reading of the essay was very original and that my thoughts were well organized. My relief and newfound confidence upon reading his comments could not be overstated.

What I learned through this process extended well beyond how to write a college paper. I learned to be open to new challenges. I never expected to enjoy a philosophy class and always expected to be a math and science person. This class and assignment, however, gave me the selfconfidence, critical-thinking skills, and courage to try a new career path. I left engineering and went on to study law and eventually became a lawyer. More important, that class and paper helped me understand education differently. Instead of seeing college as a direct stepping stone to a career, I learned to see college as a place to first learn and then seek a career or enhance an existing career. By giving me the space to express my own interpretation and to argue for my own values, my philosophy class taught me the importance of education for education’s sake. That realization continues to pay dividends every day.

Key Takeaways

  • Narration is the art of storytelling.
  • Narratives can be either factual or fictional. In either case, narratives should emotionally engage the reader.
  • Most narratives are composed of major events sequenced in chronological order.
  • Time transition words and phrases are used to orient the reader in the sequence of a narrative.
  • The four basic components to all narratives are plot, character, conflict, and theme.
  • The use of sensory details is crucial to emotionally engaging the reader.
  • A strong introduction is important to hook the reader. A strong conclusion should add resolution to the conflict and evoke the narrative’s theme.
  • Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : http://lumenlearning.com/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Successful Writing. Provided by : Anonymous. Located at : http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/successful-writing/s14-01-narration.html . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • My College Education. Authored by : Scott McLean. Located at : http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/successful-writing/s19-02-narrative-essay.html . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • A Brief Digression on Matters of Lost Time. Authored by : John Hodgman . Provided by : TED Talks. Located at : http://youtu.be/8W51H1croBw . License : All Rights Reserved . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • The Music of a War Child. Authored by : Emmanuel Jal. Provided by : TED Talks. Located at : http://youtu.be/nF_dHdNOgSA . License : All Rights Reserved . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • Table of Contents

Instructor Resources (Access Requires Login)

  • Overview of Instructor Resources

An Overview of the Writing Process

  • Introduction to the Writing Process
  • Introduction to Writing
  • Your Role as a Learner
  • What is an Essay?
  • Reading to Write
  • Defining the Writing Process
  • Videos: Prewriting Techniques
  • Thesis Statements
  • Organizing an Essay
  • Creating Paragraphs
  • Conclusions
  • Editing and Proofreading
  • Matters of Grammar, Mechanics, and Style
  • Peer Review Checklist
  • Comparative Chart of Writing Strategies

Using Sources

  • Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Avoiding Plagiarism
  • Formatting the Works Cited Page (MLA)
  • Citing Paraphrases and Summaries (APA)
  • APA Citation Style, 6th edition: General Style Guidelines

Definition Essay

  • Definitional Argument Essay
  • How to Write a Definition Essay
  • Critical Thinking
  • Video: Thesis Explained
  • Effective Thesis Statements
  • Student Sample: Definition Essay

Narrative Essay

  • Introduction to Narrative Essay
  • Student Sample: Narrative Essay
  • "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell
  • "Sixty-nine Cents" by Gary Shteyngart
  • Video: The Danger of a Single Story
  • How to Write an Annotation
  • How to Write a Summary

Illustration/Example Essay

  • Introduction to Illustration/Example Essay
  • "She's Your Basic L.O.L. in N.A.D" by Perri Klass
  • "April & Paris" by David Sedaris
  • Writing for Success: Illustration/Example
  • Student Sample: Illustration/Example Essay

Compare/Contrast Essay

  • Introduction to Compare/Contrast Essay
  • "Disability" by Nancy Mairs
  • "Friending, Ancient or Otherwise" by Alex Wright
  • "A South African Storm" by Allison Howard
  • Writing for Success: Compare/Contrast
  • Student Sample: Compare/Contrast Essay

Cause-and-Effect Essay

  • Introduction to Cause-and-Effect Essay
  • "Cultural Baggage" by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • "Women in Science" by K.C. Cole
  • Writing for Success: Cause and Effect
  • Student Sample: Cause-and-Effect Essay

Argument Essay

  • Introduction to Argument Essay
  • Rogerian Argument
  • "The Case Against Torture," by Alisa Soloman
  • "The Case for Torture" by Michael Levin
  • How to Write a Summary by Paraphrasing Source Material
  • Writing for Success: Argument
  • Student Sample: Argument Essay
  • Grammar/Mechanics Mini-lessons
  • Mini-lesson: Subjects and Verbs, Irregular Verbs, Subject Verb Agreement
  • Mini-lesson: Sentence Types
  • Mini-lesson: Fragments I
  • Mini-lesson: Run-ons and Comma Splices I
  • Mini-lesson: Comma Usage
  • Mini-lesson: Parallelism
  • Mini-lesson: The Apostrophe
  • Mini-lesson: Capital Letters
  • Grammar Practice - Interactive Quizzes
  • De Copia - Demonstration of the Variety of Language
  • Style Exercise: Voice

Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay Examples

Caleb S.

10+ Interesting Narrative Essay Examples Plus Writing Tips!

Published on: Jun 23, 2018

Last updated on: Nov 29, 2023

Narrative Essay Examples

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Many students struggle with crafting engaging and impactful narrative essays. They often find it challenging to weave their personal experiences into coherent and compelling stories.

If you’re having a hard time, don't worry! 

We’ve compiled a range of narrative essay examples that will serve as helpful tools for you to get started. These examples will provide a clear path for crafting engaging and powerful narrative essays.

So, keep reading and find our expertly written examples!

On This Page On This Page -->

Narrative Essay Definition

Writing a narrative essay is a unique form of storytelling that revolves around personal experiences, aiming to immerse the reader in the author's world. It's a piece of writing that delves into the depths of thoughts and feelings. 

In a narrative essay, life experiences take center stage, serving as the main substance of the story. It's a powerful tool for writers to convey a personal journey, turning experiences into a captivating tale. This form of storytelling is an artful display of emotions intended to engage readers, leaving the reader feeling like they are a part of the story.

By focusing on a specific theme, event, emotions, and reflections, a narrative essay weaves a storyline that leads the reader through the author's experiences. 

The Essentials of Narrative Essays

Let's start with the basics. The four types of essays are argumentative essays , descriptive essays , expository essays , and narrative essays.

The goal of a narrative essay is to tell a compelling tale from one person's perspective. A narrative essay uses all components you’d find in a typical story, such as a beginning, middle, and conclusion, as well as plot, characters, setting, and climax.

The narrative essay's goal is the plot, which should be detailed enough to reach a climax. Here's how it works:

  • It's usually presented in chronological order.
  • It has a function. This is typically evident in the thesis statement's opening paragraph.
  • It may include speech.
  • It's told with sensory details and vivid language, drawing the reader in. All of these elements are connected to the writer's major argument in some way.

Before writing your essay, make sure you go through a sufficient number of narrative essay examples. These examples will help you in knowing the dos and don’ts of a good narrative essay.

It is always a better option to have some sense of direction before you start anything. Below, you can find important details and a bunch of narrative essay examples. These examples will also help you build your content according to the format. 

Here is a how to start a narrative essay example:

Sample Narrative Essay

The examples inform the readers about the writing style and structure of the narration. The essay below will help you understand how to create a story and build this type of essay in no time.

Here is another narrative essay examples 500 words:

Narrative Essay Examples for Students

Narrative essays offer students a platform to express their experiences and creativity. These examples show how to effectively structure and present personal stories for education.

Here are some helpful narrative essay examples:

Narrative Essay Examples Middle School

Narrative Essay Examples for Grade 7

Narrative Essay Examples for Grade 8

Grade 11 Narrative Essay Examples

Narrative Essay Example For High School

Narrative Essay Example For College

Personal Narrative Essay Example

Descriptive Narrative Essay Example

3rd Person Narrative Essay Example

Narrative Essay Topics

Here are some narrative essay topics to help you get started with your narrative essay writing.

  • When I got my first bunny
  • When I moved to Canada
  • I haven’t experienced this freezing temperature ever before
  • The moment I won the basketball finale
  • A memorable day at the museum
  • How I talk to my parrot
  • The day I saw the death
  • When I finally rebelled against my professor

Need more topics? Check out these extensive narrative essay topics to get creative ideas!

Narrative Essay Writing Tips

Narrative essays give you the freedom to be creative, but it can be tough to make yours special. Use these tips to make your story interesting:

  • Share your story from a personal viewpoint, engaging the reader with your experiences.
  • Use vivid descriptions to paint a clear picture of the setting, characters, and emotions involved.
  • Organize events in chronological order for a smooth and understandable narrative.
  • Bring characters to life through their actions, dialogue, and personalities.
  • Employ dialogue sparingly to add realism and progression to the narrative.
  • Engage readers by evoking emotions through your storytelling.
  • End with reflection or a lesson learned from the experience, providing insight.

Now you have essay examples and tips to help you get started, you have a solid starting point for crafting compelling narrative essays.

However, if storytelling isn't your forte, you can always turn to our essay writing service for help.

Our writers are specialists that can tackle any type of essay with great skill. With their experience, you get a top-quality, 100% plagiarism free essay everytime.

So, let our narrative essay writing service make sure your narrative essay stands out. Order now!

Caleb S. (Literature, Marketing)

Caleb S. has been providing writing services for over five years and has a Masters degree from Oxford University. He is an expert in his craft and takes great pride in helping students achieve their academic goals. Caleb is a dedicated professional who always puts his clients first.

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What Is a Narrative Essay? Definition & 20+ Examples

Ever wondered how life’s vibrant, personal experiences could transform into compelling stories? Welcome to the world of narrative essays, where the art of storytelling meets the essence of self-expression.

This vibrant genre paints vivid pictures, provoking emotions and connecting readers to experiences, perhaps similar to their own or completely novel. Embark on this literary journey with us as we delve into the heart of narrative essays, unearthing the magic of narrating tales spun from threads of personal experiences, historical events, and more.

Prepare to immerse yourself in the fascinating universe where life and literature intertwine.

Table of Contents

Defining Narrative Essay

A narrative essay is a genre of writing that tells a story, often from the writer’s personal perspective. In this type of essay, the author provides a series of events, characters, and settings, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the experience. Although typically written in the first person, narrative essays can be written in the third person as well.

The purpose of a narrative essay is not only to entertain but also to convey a meaningful message or lesson. These essays can be drawn from real-life experiences or fictional scenarios, but they should be engaging and create an emotional connection with the reader. Narrative essays are often used to explore personal growth, relationships, and various worldviews and experiences.

In a narrative essay, it is essential to use vivid, descriptive language and a clear structure to help the reader follow the narrative. While engaging the reader’s emotions, the essay must maintain a consistent point of view and avoid unnecessary complexity or ambiguity.

History of Narrative Essay

The narrative essay has its roots in oral storytelling traditions dating back to ancient civilizations. The art of telling stories has been present across cultures and continents as a means to communicate, preserve history, and entertain. Early examples of narratives were usually passed down through generations of storytellers, which led narratives to transform and adapt over time.

In the Middle Ages , the invention of the printing press allowed for written narratives to become more widely accessible, leading to the rise of written narrative essays. Literature, like Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and Boccaccio’s “Decameron,” showcased the importance of storytelling as a medium to understand and reflect on human experiences.

During the Romantic period in the 18th and 19th centuries , the narrative essay took on new life as authors like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Edgar Allan Poe explored the genre’s creative and intellectual potential. They used narrative essays to express their individual perspectives and encouraged readers to think beyond conventions and social norms.

During the 20th century , the narrative essay became even more prevalent, with the rise of digital technology and the internet making it easier for writers to share their stories via blogs , social media , and online literary publications .

Today , the narrative essay has evolved into a versatile genre that continues to remain a popular form of expression in literature and the digital age.

Although the format of narrative essays has changed over the years, their central purpose — to share personal experiences , entertain readers , and reflect on the human condition — has remained consistent, contributing to the genre’s enduring appeal.

Functions of Narrative Essay

Storytelling.

Narrative essays serve as an effective platform for storytelling. Through these essays, writers impart exciting and entertaining tales to their readers as they incorporate essential elements such as plot , setting , and character .

One primary function of a narrative essay is to engage the audience by keeping them hooked. With its descriptive and vivid language style, it captures the reader’s imagination and evokes curiosity.

Narrative essays also play a role in imparting valuable knowledge and life lessons. They can portray real-life events and experiences that provide readers with a deeper understanding of the world.

These essays offer a medium for reflecting on personal experiences, growth, and emotional journeys, allowing both the writer and the reader to gain valuable insights from past events and decisions.

Though narrative essays primarily tell stories, they can also serve as a tool for persuasion. By presenting a narrative from a specific perspective, writers can subtly influence the reader’s opinions and beliefs on a particular topic.

Through sharing personal stories and experiences, narrative essays help build a connection between the writer and the reader. They create a sense of empathy and relatability, bridging the gap between different backgrounds and perspectives.

Exploration of Themes

Narrative essays allow for an in-depth exploration of themes ranging from morality to the complexities of human relationships. Writers can weave these themes into their stories to provoke thought and discussion.

Character Development

Character development is an essential aspect of narrative essays. By showcasing the growth and transformation of a character, the essay becomes more engaging and dynamic while also revealing insights into human behavior and psychology.

Characteristics of Narrative Essay

Narrative essay tells a story.

A narrative essay presents a story with a clear beginning , middle , and end . The writer’s goal is to engage the reader with vivid descriptions and captivating events, drawing them into the story and encouraging them to experience the emotions and events alongside the characters.

First-Person Perspective

Often written in first-person perspective, narrative essays allow the writer to share their experiences and thoughts with the reader. This point of view connects the reader with the protagonist, creating a more personal and intimate experience.

Characters and Dialogue

Well-developed characters and believable dialogue contribute to the overall authenticity of a narrative essay. The writer achieves this by creating dynamic characters with distinct voices and personalities, with the dialogue often propelling the story forward.

Descriptive Language

Using descriptive language helps paint a picture in the reader’s mind, immersing them in the story’s setting and atmosphere. Adjectives, sensory details, and imagery are essential tools in crafting a vivid narrative.

Plot and Structure

A narrative essay must have a clear, well-structured plot with a beginning, middle, and end. The writer unfolds the story in a way that builds tension and excitement, driving the reader to anticipate the resolution.

Chronological Order

Events in a narrative essay usually unfold in chronological order, following the natural progression of time. This allows the reader to follow the story easily and maintain their engagement.

Theme or Message

Narrative essays often explore themes or convey a message to the reader. The writer subtly weaves this message throughout the story, allowing the reader to understand and appreciate the underlying meaning gradually.

Conflict and Resolution

Conflict drives the story forward, creating excitement and tension that keeps the reader engaged. The narrative essay should present a central conflict that the characters encounter and, ultimately, resolve.

Narrative essays frequently include reflective moments, during which the writer pauses to consider the significance of the events, characters, or conflicts they are describing. These moments help the reader gain a deeper understanding of the writer’s thoughts and the message they are conveying.

Importance of Narrative Essay

Narrative essay enables individuals to articulate their emotions.

Narrative essays enable writers to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They provide an opportunity for individuals to articulate their emotions and insights through storytelling. This promotes a sense of self-awareness, helping individuals better comprehend their own actions and beliefs.

Narrative Essay Engages Readers

Narrative essays engage readers by presenting stories in artistic and imaginative ways. They captivate the audience through vivid descriptions, colorful language, and emotionally resonant themes. This creates an immersive experience, allowing readers to not only learn from the writer’s experiences but also feel emotionally connected to them.

Narrative Essay Enhances One’s Communication Skills

Writing narrative essays enhances one’s communication skills. It requires clear and concise language, as well as the ability to convey ideas in an organized and coherent manner. This practice hones one’s writing ability and overall communication skills.

Narrative Essay Promotes Empathy

A well-written narrative essay promotes empathy by allowing readers to experience events from different perspectives. It encourages understanding and appreciation for the distinct viewpoints of other individuals, fostering respect and appreciation for diversity.

Narrative Essay Challenges a Writer’s Critical Thinking

Developing a narrative essay challenges a writer’s critical thinking ability to evaluate experiences and draw meaningful conclusions. This process of reflection provides an opportunity for personal growth and learning, ultimately cultivating a well-rounded individual.

Narrative Essays Convey Themes or Messages

Narrative essays often relay themes and messages that reflect the writer’s beliefs or values. By sharing these themes, writers provide insights that readers may relate to and learn from, leading to personal growth and understanding.

Narrative Essay Builds Empathy

Sharing personal stories through narrative essays can help build empathy among readers. By connecting with the experiences and emotions presented, readers have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of others and foster compassion in their own lives.

Narrative Essay Encourages Individuals to Explore

Narrative essays entice readers with engaging stories that are interesting and emotionally impactful. This motivation to read can foster an appreciation for literature, encouraging individuals to further explore and engage with written works.

Elements of Narrative Essay

In a narrative essay, the plot is the sequence of events that make up the story. It typically follows a chronological order and includes an exposition , rising action , climax , falling action , and resolution . Each event should contribute to the overall theme and message of the essay.

Characters are the people, animals, or other beings that participate in the story. They have individual personalities, motivations, and conflicts. The main character, or protagonist , is the central figure in a narrative essay, and readers often empathize with them as they undergo various experiences.

The setting is the time and place in which the story occurs. It can be a specific location or a more general environment. The setting contributes to the overall atmosphere and mood of the narrative essay, and it can influence how characters interact with one another.

Point of View

Point of view refers to the perspective from which the story is told. In a third-person narrative essay, the author uses “he,” “she,” “it,” or “they” to tell the story. This allows the writer to provide a more objective view, showing events and character actions without the bias of a first-person narrator.

Conflict is the struggle between opposing forces that drives the plot forward. It can be internal, within a character’s own mind or emotions, or external, between characters or against an outside force. Conflict creates tension and keeps the reader engaged in the story.

Theme refers to the underlying message or central idea that the writer wants to convey through their narrative essay. It can be a commentary on society, human nature, or other universal concepts. A strong theme helps to tie the essay together and contributes to its overall impact on the reader.

Dialogue is the conversation between characters in a narrative essay. It helps to establish character relationships, reveal information, and move the plot forward. Effective dialogue should sound natural and reflect the speaker’s personality and voice.

Narrative Structure

The narrative structure is the organization and arrangement of events in the essay. It includes elements like flashbacks , foreshadowing , and parallel plotlines to create a cohesive and engaging reading experience.

Description

The description is the use of sensory details and vivid language to help the reader visualize the story. It can include the appearance of characters, settings, and objects, as well as sounds, smells, and other sensory details. Effective description enhances the reader’s immersion in the story and supports the emotional impact.

Reflective Aspect

The reflective aspect of a narrative essay refers to the author’s insights and personal growth as a result of the events in the story. It is an opportunity for the author to analyze and reflect on the experiences and emotions they have conveyed, providing a deeper level of understanding for the reader.

Structure of Narrative Essays

Introduction.

Narrative essays generally begin with an introduction that presents the background and sets the stage for the story. This section introduces the main characters, their relationships, and the setting or context in which the story takes place.

The introduction also establishes the purpose or main idea of the essay, grabbing the reader’s attention and sparking their interest in the unfolding events.

Rising Action

The rising action includes a series of events or experiences that create tension and suspense, gradually building toward the pivotal point of the story. In this section, the writer conveys the various challenges and obstacles faced by the main characters while developing the plot and providing insights into their personalities and motivations.

The rising action helps the reader become emotionally invested in the characters and their journey.

The climax is the turning point or the most intense moment in the story, where the central conflict reaches its peak. It is at this stage that the main characters confront the challenges or adversities they have been facing, often resulting in dramatic, emotional, or transformative consequences.

The climax is a crucial moment in the narrative essay, as it determines the outcome of the story and the eventual fate of the characters.

Falling Action

Following the climax, the story enters its falling action phase . In this section, the events and repercussions of the climax begin to unfold, and tensions start to subside. The writer gradually moves towards a resolution of the main conflict while also tying up loose ends and potentially introducing ancillary outcomes that result from the central events.

Conclusion or Resolution

The conclusion or resolution offers a sense of closure or finality by addressing the outcome of the story. It may present the characters reflecting on their experiences, lessons learned, or the consequences of their actions. Ideally, the resolution leaves the reader with a feeling of satisfaction, having followed the characters on their journey and reached an appropriate conclusion.

A narrative essay may also include a reflection section, where the writer discusses the significance of the story or its broader implications. This section allows the writer to share their personal insights, thoughts, or feelings about the events in the narrative and may offer a deeper perspective on the themes or messages explored in the essay.

The reflection, when included, can help to elevate the narrative by adding depth and context to the overall story.

Popular Narrative Essay Topics

Personal experiences.

Narrative essays often focus on personal experiences as they allow the writer to share a unique story with their readers. These topics could include a memorable childhood event, a life lesson learned, or overcoming a significant obstacle.

Travel Experiences

Travel experiences are also popular in narrative essays, as they provide rich and vivid details for the reader to imagine. The writer can recount a fantastic trip, a cultural exchange experience, or even a challenging adventure, capturing the essence of the journey.

Achievements and Failures

Writing about achievements and failures enables the writer to reflect on their personal growth and share the lessons they’ve learned. Topics can range from winning a competition, conquering a fear, or overcoming failure to succeed in the end.

Relationships and Interactions

Narrative essays on relationships and interactions capture the emotions, lessons, and insights gained from interacting with others. The writer could tell a story of forming an unlikely friendship, navigating a challenging relationship, or learning from a mentor.

Historical or Current Events

Addressing historical or current events in narrative essays allows writers to share their perspectives and analyses. Stories could focus on significant moments in history, political events, or social movements, detailing how they’ve impacted the writer and their understanding of the world.

School and Work Experiences

School and work experiences can serve as compelling sources of inspiration for narrative essays. Writers can recount stories of innovative projects, first-time experiences, or memorable teachers and coworkers, sharing valuable insights and reflections.

Techniques Used in Narrative Essay Writing

When writing a narrative essay, authors should use various techniques to create an engaging and well-written piece. These techniques will help to capture the reader’s attention, establish a connection with the audience, and effectively convey the story.

Showing Rather than Telling

One critical technique used in narrative essay writing is showing rather than telling. It involves the use of vivid imagery and descriptions to draw the reader into the story. This allows the reader to create mental images of the events and experiences described in the essay.

For example, instead of merely stating that a character was sad, a writer could describe their frowning face or a tear rolling down their cheek.

Including conversations between characters helps to bring the story to life and provides insight into the thoughts and feelings of those involved. When writing dialogue, it’s essential to maintain a consistent tone and voice and pay attention to punctuation to ensure clarity for the reader.

The use of chronological order is also important when composing a narrative essay. Presenting events in the order they occurred is the most straightforward approach and helps the reader follow along effortlessly. While some writers may choose to mix up the sequence for a more dramatic effect, it is crucial to ensure that the narrative remains clear and easy to understand.

Character development plays a significant role in creating a compelling narrative essay. The thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the characters should evolve throughout the story. A well-developed character with realistic reactions and growth helps engage the reader and creates a deeper connection to the narrative.

Strong Narrative Voice

Employing a strong narrative voice is crucial to a successful narrative essay. The narrative voice can be the author’s own or a fictional character, but it should be consistent and engaging. The voice should provide a unique perspective on the events taking place and help guide the reader through the story.

Types of Narrative Essay

Personal narrative essay.

A personal narrative essay is written from the author’s perspective and shares a personal story or experience. This type of essay often involves reflection on the significance of the event, as well as how it has shaped the author’s life.

Biographical Narrative Essay

A biographical narrative essay focuses on telling the life story of an individual other than the author. It may cover key events or experiences from the person’s life and often requires research to gather accurate information about the subject.

Literacy Narrative Essay

A literacy narrative essay explores an individual’s experiences with reading , writing , or language . It can discuss how these experiences have shaped the individual’s understanding and use of language, as well as any challenges they have faced in their literacy journey.

Historical Narrative Essay

A historical narrative essay tells the story of a significant event, era, or person within a historical context. This type of essay requires the author to research and gather accurate historical information while weaving it into a well-structured narrative.

Reflective Narrative Essay

A reflective narrative essay involves the author discussing an experience or event in their life and examining its impact on their personal growth and development. The focus is on how the event has shaped the individual’s values, beliefs, or understanding of the world.

Descriptive Narrative Essay

A descriptive narrative essay aims to paint a vivid picture of a person, place, or situation through detailed observations and sensory language. It can evoke emotions and immerse the reader in the setting, creating an engaging narrative experience.

Examples of Narrative Essay in Literature

Short story, examples of narrative essay in pop culture, creative writing, how to write a narrative essay.

A narrative essay is a type of essay that tells a story or recounts an event, often through the author’s personal experiences. Writing a narrative essay can be an enlightening and engaging experience for both the writer and the reader.

Impacts of Narrative Essay on Literature

Narrative essays play a significant role in literature, as they provide authors with a platform to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a compelling manner. They enable readers to connect with the story, allowing them to empathize with the author or the characters.

Understanding of Human Experience

Narrative essays offer an opportunity for writers to share their own life experiences, making them relatable and captivating to readers. This form of writing encourages a deeper understanding of human emotions, challenges, and growth.

Exploration of Themes and Issues

Through narrative essays, authors can delve into various themes and issues, such as love, loss, friendship, conflict, and societal norms. This allows readers to see multiple perspectives, fostering critical thinking and empathy.

Development of Narrative Skills

Aspiring writers can hone their narrative skills by writing narrative essays, learning to organize their thoughts, developing interesting plotlines, and creating captivating characters. This process helps writers improve their storytelling techniques, making their work more engaging.

Reflection and Learning

Writing narrative essays encourages self-reflection and introspection, allowing authors to analyze their own experiences and learn from them. It serves as a therapeutic outlet and a learning tool for personal growth and development.

Versatility

Narrative essays are versatile forms of writing that can be adapted to various genres and styles, such as fiction , nonfiction , and even poetry . This flexibility allows writers to experiment with different forms and voices, expanding their creative horizons.

Influence on Other Literary Forms

The narrative essay format has had a profound impact on other literary forms, such as novels , short stories , and memoirs . The storytelling techniques developed through writing narrative essays contribute to the richness and depth of these other literary works.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common mistakes to avoid in a narrative essay.

Common mistakes to avoid when writing a narrative essay include a lack of focus, insufficient development of the story, and an unclear message. To avoid these pitfalls, ensure that the story has a clear central theme, develop the narrative with ample details, and convey a discernible message or lesson.

What is the difference between a narrative essay and a short story?

While both a narrative essay and a short story tell a tale, the main difference lies in their purpose. A narrative essay aims to share a personal experience and often a lesson learned from it, while a short story primarily aims to entertain. Narrative essays are usually written in the first person, while short stories can be written from any point of view.

Can a narrative essay be fictional?

Yes, while many narrative essays are based on personal experiences, they can also be entirely fictional. The key is to tell a compelling story that conveys a clear theme or message, whether it’s based on real events or is a product of the author’s imagination.

Narrative essays offer a compelling medium to share your unique stories, experiences, and perspectives. By weaving together the threads of plot, character, setting, and conflict, you can create an engaging narrative that captivates your readers, immerses them in your world, and leaves them with a lasting impression.

Remember, each narrative essay is not just about recounting a tale; it’s an opportunity to express personal growth, share lessons learned, and convey themes that resonate. So, the next time you have a story to tell, consider a narrative essay, where life’s experiences transform into a literary tapestry of meaning and connection. Happy writing!

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Aerielle Ezra

Narrative Essay

1.1 purpose & structure of narrative writing.

This section will help you determine the purpose and structure of narration in writing.

The Purpose of Narrative Writing

Narration means the art of storytelling, and the purpose of narrative writing is to tell stories. Any time you tell a story to a friend or family member about an event or incident in your day, you engage in a form of narration. A narrative can be factual (true) or fictional (made-up). A factual story is one that is based on, and tries to be faithful to, actual events as they unfolded in real life. A fictional story is a made-up, or imagined, story; the writer of a fictional story can create characters and events as he or she sees fit.

The big distinction between factual and fictional narratives is based on a writer’s purpose . The writers of factual stories try to recount events as they actually happened, but writers of fictional stories can depart from real people and events because the writers’ intents are not to retell a real-life event. Biographies and memoirs are examples of factual stories, whereas novels and short stories are examples of fictional stories.

Know Your Purpose

Because the line between fact and fiction can often blur, it is helpful to understand what your purpose is from the beginning. Is it important that you recount history, either your own or someone else’s? Or does your interest lie in reshaping the world in your own image—either how you would like to see it or how you imagine it could be? Your answers will go a long way in shaping the stories you tell.

Ultimately, whether the story is fact or fiction, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way. You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through laughter, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be.

The Structure of a Narrative Essay

Major narrative events are most often conveyed in chronological order, the order in which events unfold from first to last. Stories typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and these events are typically organized by time. Certain transitional words and phrases aid in keeping the reader oriented in the sequencing of a story. Some of these phrases are listed here:

Chronological Transitional Words

The basic components of a narrative are:

  • Plot – The events as they unfold in sequence.
  • Characters – The people who inhabit the story and move it forward. Typically, there are minor characters and main characters. The minor characters generally play supporting roles to the main character, also known as the protagonist.
  • Conflict – The primary problem or obstacle that unfolds in the plot that the protagonist must solve or overcome by the end of the narrative. The way in which the protagonist resolves the conflict of the plot results in the theme of the narrative.
  • Theme – The ultimate message the narrative is trying to express; it can be either explicit or implicit.
  • Details – The specific descriptions of setting, characters, actions, and all other items that make up the physical world and can be experienced through the senses.

Writing a Narrative Essay

When writing a narrative essay, start by asking yourself if you want to write a factual or fictional story. Then freewrite , brainstorm , or mindmap about topics that are of general interest to you. For more information about pre-writing, review the materials in “My Writing Process – Prewriting and Draft.”

Once you have a general idea of what you will be writing about, you should sketch out the major events of the story that will compose your plot. Typically, these events will be revealed chronologically and climax at a central conflict that must be resolved by the end of the story. The use of strong details is crucial as you describe the events and characters in your narrative. You want the reader to emotionally engage with the world that you create in writing.

Keep the Senses in Mind

To create strong details , keep the human senses in mind. You want your reader to be immersed in the world that you create, so focus on details related to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as you describe people, places, and events in your narrative.

As always, it is important to start with a strong introduction to hook your reader into wanting to read more. Try opening the essay with an event that is interesting to introduce the story and get it going. Finally, your conclusion should help resolve the central conflict of the story and impress upon your reader the ultimate theme of the piece.

Narratives Tell A Story

Every day, you relate stories to other people through simple exchanges. You may have had a horrible experience at a restaurant the night before, or you may have had some good news you are ready to share. In each one of these experiences there’s a story, and when you begin to share a personal experience, you often communicate in a narrative mode .

Although narratives can vary widely, they all feature the basic components as explained above. Effective storytellers establish:

  • Characters , the person/people (sometimes they are animals) the story is about, which may include the storyteller
  • A sequence  of  events  in a  plot , or order of what happens in the story, that keeps the audience engaged as the story unfolds
  • Conflict , or struggle in the story, that builds their audience’s interest
  • Details , or descriptions, that appeal to the  senses  of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste
  • Reflection of events around a  theme , or unifying idea, for telling the story

Narratives of Love and War

Consider two narratives that couldn’t be more different—a tale of love and a story of war: John Hodgman’s sweet, geeky tale of falling in love and Emmanuel Jal’s story of being a child soldier and learning to forgive his enemies. Review these videos below then engage in a discussion following the directions as listed.

John Hodgman: A Brief Digression on Matters of Lost Time

Emmanuel Jal: The Music of a War Child

Key Takeaways

  • Narration is the art of storytelling.
  • Narratives can be either factual or fictional. In either case, narratives should emotionally engage the reader.
  • Most narratives are composed of major events sequenced in chronological order.
  • Time transition words and phrases are used to orient the reader in the sequence of a narrative.
  • The four basic components to all narratives are plot, character, conflict, and theme.
  • The use of sensory details is crucial to emotionally engaging the reader.
  • A strong introduction is important to hook the reader. A strong conclusion should add resolution to the conflict and evoke the narrative’s theme.
  • Provided by : Lumen Learning. Located at : http://lumenlearning.com/ . License : CC BY: Attribution
  • Successful Writing. Provided by : Anonymous. Located at : http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/successful-writing/s14-01-narration.html . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • My College Education. Authored by : Scott McLean. Located at : http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/successful-writing/s19-02-narrative-essay.html . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • A Brief Digression on Matters of Lost Time. Authored by : John Hodgman . Provided by : TED Talks. Located at : http://youtu.be/8W51H1croBw . License : All Rights Reserved . License Terms : Standard YouTube License
  • The Music of a War Child. Authored by : Emmanuel Jal. Provided by : TED Talks. Located at : http://youtu.be/nF_dHdNOgSA . License : All Rights Reserved . License Terms : Standard YouTube License

Narrative Essay Writing

Narrative Essay Examples

Cathy A.

20+ Top Narrative Essay Examples by Experts

12 min read

Published on: Apr 12, 2020

Last updated on: Jan 31, 2024

narrative essay examples

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Narrative essays are a common assignment in school, but many students struggle to write them. 

The problem with narrative essays is that they can be difficult to write. They require students to think about their own experiences and to put those experiences into words. This can be a challenge, especially for students who are not used to writing about themselves.

The solution to the problem of writing narrative essays is to provide students with examples. By reading examples of narrative essays, students can see how other students have successfully written about their own experiences. 

In this blog post, we will provide you with examples of narrative essays.By the end of this blog post, you will have a better understanding of how to write a narrative essay.

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Before writing, go through narrative essay examples to ensure that outlining and formatting are done correctly. Moreover, looking at examples will allow the writer to understand sensory details and vocabulary to describe events, settings, characters, and emotions.

Here are some famous narrative essays that you can consider adding to your reading wishlist:

“A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift

“Once More to the Lake” by EB White

“The Fourth of July” by Audre Lorde

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

“The Crisis” by Thomas Paine

But it doesn't end here! To help our students, CollegeEssay.org has gathered many other narrative essay sample. These examples will help you learn the correct formation of a narrative essay.

Read on to discover!

Personal Narrative Essay Example

Are you looking for a sample to draft a personal narrative essay ? Go through the example provided below to understand how the first-person and third-person perspectives are used in a narrative essay.

Sample Personal Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay Example for Middle School

A narrative essay is frequently assigned to middle school students to assess their writing and creative skills. If you are a student looking for a sample narrative essay for your middle school assignment, go through the example provided below.

Narrative Essay Example: 7th Grade

Narrative Essay Example for Grade 8

Grade 9 Narrative Essay Example

Sample Narrative Essay Grade 12

Narrative Essay Example for High School

When drafting assignments for high school, professional writing is essential. Your essays and papers should be well structured and written in order to achieve better grades. If you are assigned a narrative essay, go through the sample provided to see how an effective essay is written.

Sample Narrative Essay For High School

Good Narrative Essay Examples for College

College essays are more complex in nature than other academic levels. They require a better understanding of the concept, following a proper writing procedure, and an outline.

Although you are to draft a narrative essay for your college assignment, make sure it is professionally written. Read the sample narrative essay provided below.

Descriptive Narrative Essay Example

If you are to draft a document on the recreation of an event, a descriptive narrative essay is written. It presents an incident that happened to the writer and the backed-up information that supports the story.

The following is a perfect example of a descriptive narrative essay.

Sample Descriptive Narrative Essay

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Literacy Narrative Essay Example

Academic assignments often require students to draft essays on education. Education is the most significant topic of discussion, and for this purpose, almost every essay type and research paper studies it.

If you are drafting a narrative essay on literacy, go through the sample provided.

Fictional Narrative Essay Example

Drafting a fictional piece of document requires a more vivid description and detail. If you are assigned a narrative essay to draft on a fictional theme, read the example provided below.

Sample Fictional Narrative Essay

The Essentials of Narrative Essays

In a narrative essay, the goal is to write a story from one person's perspective. To do this well requires incorporating all of these aspects: 

Below are some golden points that you should keep in mind when writing a narrative essay.

  • Chronological order is the most common way to present information.
  • A thesis statement has a function in an essay. This is typically evident in the opening paragraph.
  • The writer's argument is clearly communicated through the use of sensory details and vivid language.
  • This draws the reader in and makes them interested in what the writer has to say. Everything in the passage is somehow related to the main point.

How to Start a Narrative Essay?

When you start writing the narrative essay, you should follow some steps and make your writing process easy.

For your help, we gathered some steps that you should follow when starting writing the essay.

  • Choose a narrative essay topic that is engaging and interesting.
  • Do some research and then start writing the essay.
  • Create an outline.
  • Start writing the essay. The way you describe things should be creative and colorful. Thus, the reader can feel as if they are right there with what's happening.
  • Proofread the essay before submitting it.

Watch the video below for tips on how to write a narrative essay:

Narrative Essay Writing Tips 

Professional essay writers of CollegeEssay.org have gathered some tips and tricks for you to follow to make your narrative essay remarkable. Even if you are aware of the writing procedure, it is advised to use expert tips to make your documents flawless. 

Follow the tips provided below to draft an exceptional narrative essay.

  • Clear Content: The narrative essay content should be clear. All the details and descriptions provided should be readable and understandable by the audience. Avoid using complex words and distribute content into paragraphs.
  • Keep it concise: Avoid describing every minor detail or movement. Provide only explanations that are important for the readers to imagine. 
  • Use first-person perspective: To make something believable and interesting for the readers, state it from the first-person perspective. Share your personal experiences, stories, and opinions to make the content impactful. 
  • Use limited referencing: When drafting an essay, according to the instructed format, avoid using frequent in-text citations. 
  • Use Clear Stance: Write your point of view clearly, so the readers feel that it is a genuine piece of writing. 

Keep in mind that a narrative essay is different from an expository essay but the same as a descriptive essay .  

In conclusion,

Using the tips provided by the professionals and going through the narrative essay examples will let you draft an effective paper. 

Looking for top-tier essay writing help online ?

Our narrative essay writing service offers unparalleled expertise to bring your stories to life with clarity and creativity.

Also, elevate your writing journey with the best essay writer , our AI-driven tool that combines cutting-edge technology with user-friendly functionality. Experience the blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern innovation in your next essay. Try it now!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is a narrative paragraph.

Paragraphs vary in length depending on the content, but a standard 5-sentence paragraph usually isn't enough to tell an interesting story. 

How do I write a narrative essay?

Here are some steps that will help you to write a great narrative essay. 

  • Consider the topic 
  • Start writing the draft 
  • Provide supporting facts 
  • Revise your essay 

Cathy A. (Literature, Marketing)

For more than five years now, Cathy has been one of our most hardworking authors on the platform. With a Masters degree in mass communication, she knows the ins and outs of professional writing. Clients often leave her glowing reviews for being an amazing writer who takes her work very seriously.

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narrative essay on novels

narrative essay on novels

What is narrative? 5 narrative types and examples

Narration and narrative are two key terms in writing fiction. Read on to learn what narrative is, as well as five types of narrative, with examples:

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  • 20 Comments on What is narrative? 5 narrative types and examples

What is narration? 5 narrative types and examples | Now Novel

Narration and narrative are two key terms in writing fiction. Read on to learn what a narrative story is, as well as five types of narrative, with examples:

What is narrative?

Narrative is a style of writing that connects ideas, concepts or events. It shows a sequence of events. Humans like to tell and listen to a coherent story .The definitions below show three important aspects of narration in storytelling:

  • It  connects  events, showing their patterns, relating them to each other or to specific ideas, themes or concepts.
  • It is a  practice  and  art in that when we tell a story, we shape the narrative – the connection between events.
  • Narrating a story involves shaping events around an overarching set of aims or effects (whether consciously or unconsciously). For example, in a comedic narrative, the overarching aim is to surprise/shock or otherwise lead the audience or reader to be amused.

Here are three definitions of narrative technique via the  Oxford English Dictionary that illustrate the above ideas:

  • A spoken or written account of connected events; a story.
  • The practice or art of telling stories.
  • A representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.

A number of literary techniques are used to create narrative: figures of speech, dialogue rhetorical devices and so on.

Now that we’ve clarified what narrative is, here are several types of narration, with examples and tips for using them well:

Common types of narrative:

Descriptive narrative.

  • Viewpoint narrative
  • Historical narrative
  • Linear narrative
  • Non-linear narrative

Let’s explore each narrative type with examples:

Descriptive narrative connects imagery, ideas, and details to convey a sense of time and place.

The purpose of descriptive narrative

Descriptive narrative has two key purposes:

  • To create a sense of setting, of time and place.
  • To convey the mood and tone of said time and place (e.g. threatening, peaceful, cheerful, chaotic).

When we describe a pastoral scene in a rural setting, for example, we might linger on specific images (such as a wide, empty field, an abandoned tractor) to build up an overarching mood (such as peaceful simplicity).

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Descriptive narrative examples

The Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a master of this type of narration. In Love in the Time of Cholera  (1985), the third person narrator describes the unnamed seaside city in the Carribbean where much of the novel takes place. Marquez narrates the passage through the eyes of Dr. Urbino, one of the city’s most distinguished doctors:

The city, his city, stood unchanging on the edge of time: the same burning dry city of his nocturnal terrors and the solitary pleasures of puberty, where flowers rusted and salt corroded, where nothing had happened for four centuries except a slow aging among whithered laurels and putrefying swamps. In winter sudden devastating downpours flooded the latrines and turned the streets into sickening bogs. (p. 16-17)

In the space of a paragraph, Marquez shows how the city changes (or doesn’t change) over centuries. This makes Marquez’s setting more vivid and real. The narration passes from showing the city’s history to its citizens’ current ways of life. The narrator proceeds to describe the lives of poor inhabitants:

During the weekend they danced without mercy, drank themselves   blind on home-brewed alcohol, made wild love among the icaco plants, and on Sunday at midnight they broke up their own party with bloody free-for-alls. (p. 17)

Over the course of two pages, Marquez masterfully shows the city’s mood, culture, unique spirit. His narration then zooms in closer on individuals’ lives. The multiple time-scales in his narrative – past and present day – combine to give a rich sense of time and place .

Types of narrative infographic | Now Novel

2: Viewpoint narrative

Often, the express purpose of a section of narration is to help us understand the views and feelings of the narrating character or ‘viewpoint narrator’. Point of view or POV is thus a key element of narration ( read about different types of POV here  and a definition of narration here ).

The purpose of viewpoint narrative

Viewpoint narrative presents events or scenes to us so that we see understand them through narrators’ feelings, desires, beliefs or values.

In omniscient narration, the narrator may share multiple characters’ private thoughts, even in a single scene. In limited narration, by contrast, we can only know what a single person’s perception (and its subjective limitations) tells us. Tweet This

[You can read more about different points of view here .]

Viewpoint narrative has power. We might interpret story events the way the narrator does. Because we don’t have a different viewpoint for comparison, or because their voice is strong, self-assured. Yet the viewpoint narrator in a scene may be unreliable (they could lie about what truly happened, or gloss over details that, for example, make them look worse to others).

Authors like Vladimir Nabokov have written novels featuring protagonists who are unethical or even abusive. In novels such as Nabokov’s  Lolita , the reader has to remember that the narrating voice has its own agenda. The narrative voice is in first-person, through Humbert Humbert.

The most common viewpoint narratives are generally in either first-person narrative or third-person. There are some stories that have been written in second-person ‘you’ but these are far less common. The Fault in our Stars by John Green and To Kill a Mockingbird  by Harper Lee are other examples of a first-person narrative.

Other third-person narratives are Middlemarch by George Eliot in which she employs third-person omniscient narration to delve into the lives and relationships of the characters in the provincial town of Middlemarch. In Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: the writer uses third-person limited narration to delve into the psyche of the protagonist, Raskolnikov, as he grapples with morality and guilt. The thriller You by Caroline Kepnes is an example of a book written in both first-person and second-person narration. In Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, he novel follows the life of a young man in New York City during the 1980s. The second-person narrative immerses the reader directly into the protagonist’s experiences.

Viewpoint narrative example

Virginia Woolf is a master of filtering events via individual characters’ perceptions. She often switches between multiple characters’ viewpoints within a single page. This approach (called ‘stream of consciousness’) lets her reveal characters’ different fixations and personalities.

Take, for example, this scene in Mrs Dalloway (1925). Septimus Smith is a World War I veteran whose mental health is crumbling. His Italian wife Rezia feels unease and longs for her home country. Woolf switches from paragraph to paragraph between Septimus and Rezia’s viewpoints, in third person:

Human nature, in short, was on him – the repulsive brute, with the blood-red nostrils. Holmes was on him. Dr. Holmes came quite regularly every day. Once you stumble, Septimus wrote on the back of a postcard, human nature is on you. Holmes is on you. Their only chance was to escape, without letting Holmes know; to Italy – anywhere, anywhere, away from Dr. Holmes. Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925), p. 81

Then to Rezia’s POV in limited third person:

But Rezia could not understand him. Dr. Holmes was such a kind man. He was so interested in Septimus. He only wanted to help them, she said. Woolf, p. 81.

Woolf’s gift for clear viewpoint and narration means that she can narrate individuals’ differing fears and obsessions from their viewpoints within a single page without breaking the flow.

Woolf reports Rezia’s words within narration, instead of using dialogue. This allows Woolf’s narrative (and changing viewpoints) to flow into each other without interruption.

Other novels that use this device are Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The novel is narrated by both husband and wife, Nick and Amy, providing conflicting perspectives of the series of events as the mystery unfolds.

In The Martian by Andy Weir,  the novel alternates between the first-person perspective of astronaut Mark Watney, stranded on Mars, and the third-person perspectives of those working to rescue him.

3: Historical narrative

In genres such as biography, autobiography and various historical subgenres (e.g. historical romance or WWII fiction), a lot of narration recounts events in the past. Of course, the author may choose to tell a war story in a tumultuous present tense. There’s no  single  way to narrate the past. Yet it serves a common purpose:

Historical narrative example

One thing common to historical narrative in different genres is it shows historical process. It links causation from event to event, showing the chain reactions that lead to how things pan out.

This is why in historical narrative, such as narration sharing a character’s backstory , we often have  words showing order of events . Such as the words bolded in this example:

First,  the city was a fledgling thing.  In the early days , there was one traffic light, and if you were doing your driver’s license, you could be damned sure you’d have to drive past it.  In later years , as the local publishing industry grew, it became a hotbed of hotshot journalists-in-training.  So the city needed  more traffic lights (and the related tender corruption to write about).

A sense of historical cause and effect, of  long stretches of time condensed,  is typical of historical narrative.

Historical narrative and time words

Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things  (1997), about tragedies that strike twin siblings born in Ayemenem in India and their family, is full of rich historical narration. Note the phrases and words that convey time’s passage, e.g. ‘Six months later…’.

Rahel was first blacklisted in Nazareth Convent at the age of eleven ,  when she was caught outside her Housemistress’s garden gate decorating a knob of fresh cowdung with small flowers. At Assembly the next morning, she was made to look up depravity in the Oxford Dictionary and read aloud its meaning. Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (1997), p. 16

Roy proceeds to narrate Rahel’s expulsion, revealing Rahel’s inquisitive mind in the process:

Six months later she was expelled after repeated complaints from   senior girls. She was accused (quite rightly) of hiding behind doors and deliberately colliding with her seniors. When she was questioned by the Principal about her behaviour (cajoled, caned, starved), she eventually admitted that she had done it to find out whether breasts hurt. Roy, p. 16.

Through narrating events in the past , in Rahel’s schooling, Roy fleshes out a sense of her character. She shows her inquiring, rule-breaking nature while also showing the strict social backdrop that conflicts with it. By narrating Rahel’s history, or backstory, Roy foreshadows future conflicts between Rahel’s individualism and society’s expectations.

Quote on narrative and framing | Now Novel

4: Linear narrative

Linear narrative is narration where you tell events in the order they happened , i.e. in sequence. This type of narrative is typical of realist fiction where the author wants to create the sense of a life unfolding as a character experiences day to day or year to year.

The purpose of linear narrative

Linear narrative shows causation clearly. When we see what happened to a character yesterday, then today, then tomorrow, its often easier to notice patterns and chains of cause and effect.

Stories told in a linear time-frame might be told mainly using past, present, or even future tense. Yet each event flows on simply from the previous incident described. Often this helps to create what Will Self calls ‘the texture of lived life’, as we see characters going through this, then that, then the next thing.

Example of linear narrative

David Mitchell’s genre-bending Cloud Atlas  (2004) spans multiple eras, settings and characters, and is nonlinear as a whole. Yet one section of his book, titled ‘Half-Lives – The First Luisa Rey Mystery’ is written as a mystery/thriller. This section in itself is linear narrative, told in the present tense.

Luisa Rey is a young journalist who becomes a target of powerful people when she investigates health and safety failings at a nuclear power plant.

Mitchell creates suspense and tension by placing Luisa’s narration in third person and the present tense. The present tense narrative creates a sense of immediate action, unfolding now . Mitchell also creates tension by separating Rey’s inner monologue from events happening around her:

Luisa Rey hears a clunk from the neighbouring balcony. ‘Hello?’ Nobody . Her stomach warns her to set down her tonic water. It was the bathroom you needed, not fresh air , but she can’t face weaving back through the party and, anyway, there’s no time – down the side of the building she heaves: once, twice, a vision of greasy chicken, and a third time. David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (2004), p. 90.

The linear chain of events – feeling uneasy and ill at a party, getting sick – occur on a simple timeline of ‘this happens, then that’.

Bildungsroman (also known as coming-of-age novels) also follow the linear narrative style. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens are some examples of linear narratives.

Prose narrative, relating personal experience narratives, is another form of narrative that takes a linear form. These are often found in mythological narratives, as well. Sometimes there are life lessons imbedded in these narratives. Some popular examples include the fable of Icarus (not listening to the advice about flying too close to the sun). This type of story is well known to many of us from a children’s stories. Fables are a type of narrative genre that have a particular focus on illustrating a moral lesson.

5: Nonlinear narrative

Different types of narrative include narration that does not follow events in the order they happened.

Chronological events (e.g. what happens in 1990 followed by what happens in 1991) don’t have to match up with the order of  narrative  events. The author might share key details from 1990 before going back to the events of 1987 in the story.

However, as novel writing coach Romy Sommer says, avoid making the first several chapters of your novel all backstory:

An issue I see with a lot of beginner writers is they tend to write the backstory as the story itself. If you do find yourself writing the first few chapters being all about the backstory […] you may need to ditch the first few chapters. Romy Sommer, ‘Understanding character arcs: How to create characters’, webinar preview here.

The purpose of non-linear narrative

Non-linear narrative has various uses:

  • It can represent the narrator’s emotional state or consciousness. For example, a severely traumatized narrator who has flashbacks might tell events in a jumble of chapters set in different years, out of sequence, as they try to piece together fragments and memories.
  • It can show stories with related arcs or themes unfolding in different places and times.  In Michael Cunningham’s retelling (of a sort) of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway , characters living in different time periods have personal experiences and tragedies that echo events from Woolf’s book as well as Woolf’s own life.
  • It can build suspense.  For example, Donna Tartt opens  The Secret History by telling the reader about a murder. We next meet the murder victim alive, as the story jumps back to the events leading to his killing.

Example of nonlinear narrative

Donna Tartt’s prologue to The Secret History  (1992) is a masterful piece of non-linear narration . Within the first page, we know there’s been a murder and the first person narrator is somehow complicit. Tartt’s opening paragraph reveals a lot but still builds anticipation:

‘The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. He’d been dead for ten days before they found him, you know. It was one of the biggest manhunts in Vermont history – state troopers, the FBI, even an army helicopter; the college closed, the dye factory in Hampden shut down, people coming from New Hampshire, upstate New York, as far away as Boston.’ (p. 1)

Yet next thing we know, we’re back in the days when the narrator first met Bunny, and Bunny Corcoran is very much alive. This non-linear recalling of events gives us a dramatic moment before its buildup. Yet Tartt still delays our complete gratification by making us wait for full understanding of what happened, and why.

Other good examples include The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This novel revolves around a man with a rare genetic disorder that causes him to time travel involuntarily. The narrative alternates between the perspectives of the time-traveling husband and his wife, presenting their lives out of chronological order. 

Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, provides multiple ways to be read. The author offers a “Table of Instructions” that allows readers to choose between two possible orders for the chapters. The narrative follows the life of an Argentine intellectual living in Paris and explores themes of existentialism and identity.

Use examples of narrative to improve your own narration

Read through the examples of narrative above and try exercises based on these authors’ narrative styles and techniques:

1. Write a paragraph  of historical narrative  describing a character’s home city and how it has changed over the years. In the next paragraph, describe how a character or section of the population spends a typical weekend in the city, showcasing more of the city’s unique details.

2. Write a scene using viewpoint narrative  showing two characters preoccupied with different worries, in the third person. Write the scene entirely in narration. Any speech must be reported speech and not dialogue. For example: ‘He told her that he was tired of the city and was thinking about moving abroad.’ In the first half, filter narration through the first character’s thoughts, but then switch to the other character’s point of view. How do they see things differently?

Does your skill in narration need developing? Our writing coaches will help you craft better narrative.

Related Posts:

  • Types of narration infographic - 6 narrative POVs
  • What is an omniscient narrator? Narrative examples and tips
  • How to build narrative pace using grammar
  • Tags examples of narrative , narration

narrative essay on novels

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

20 replies on “What is narrative? 5 narrative types and examples”

Tips are one thing, but aptly differentiating the types is MONEY. Can’t wait to share this.

Thanks, Elias!

[…] first chapter must get the reader comfortable with your narration style. Make it clear how the story will be told. Through one person’s perspective, jumping around […]

very informative

Thank you for the feedback, Richard!

where are the examples

Hi Rory, thank you for asking – they are throughout the article under the subheadings with ‘examples’.

What is the difference between a narrative techniques listed here and the first person narrator and third person?

Hi James, Happy New Year and thank you for your question. The types of narrative in this article refer to functions of narrative rather than viewpoint. First person and third person narration are different points of view (narration using ‘I’ or ‘We’, versus narration using ‘He’, ‘She’, ‘They’, or a gender neutral or non-binary pronoun. I hope this helps? Let us know any questions you have about narration!

[…] But this escapism doesn’t have to always mean detachment. Puzzles are highly involved activities, where good ones are designed to teach the player. But they often lack a viewpoint or narrative that is often included in games. We don’t see puzzles the same way that we see narrative storytelling or narrative games where we experience the narrators’ values, beliefs, and other underlying motivations. […]

I need help. I have an examination tomorrow on Narrative Essays. What should I do?

Hi Tariemi, it’s already the day of your exam so this is probably reaching you a little late. Good luck! I hope you remember to breathe, take your time, and read through the questions twice (and flip over the question sheet in case – I once finished an exam 15 minutes early and wondered why everyone was still writing and only 5 minutes later turned over the question sheet to see there were more questions on the back 🙂). I hope you ace it.

I’m studying for GCSEs, again, and I’ve noticed that the website I bought the English course from uses exactly what you’ve wrote above word by word. I was wondering if you work for them? Since you don’t mention them and they don’t mention you.

Hi Anna, that’s concerning. Could you perhaps share the link? Every article here on our blog is original, we don’t repost others’ full pieces (but there are websites out there that post what I’ve written word for word that I’ve come across, often without permission). Education service providers have asked to properly license my articles for republication, so it may be one of them. Thanks for letting us know (and good luck with your GCSEs!).

Hi Jordan. I double checked and the education service provider gives you credit for the information they’ve used. Great material by the way. Quite explicit hence very helpful. Thank you 😊

Hi Anna, I’m glad to hear that 🙂 Thank you, I’m glad you liked this article and found it helpful (and thank you for letting me know about the citation).

Hello can i ask when was this made? Need it for giving proper credits in my homework!

Hi Cakeri, it was published August 2nd 2018, good luck with your homework!

Hi jordan.thank you i’m glad you helped me to do homeword. Thank you very much

Dear Farah, So pleased you found the blog useful. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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Last updated on Oct 31, 2022

10 Personal Narrative Examples to Inspire Your Writing

Personal narratives are short pieces of creative nonfiction that recount a story from someone’s own experiences. They can be a memoir, a thinkpiece, or even a polemic — so long as the piece is grounded in the writer's beliefs and experiences, it can be considered a personal narrative.

Despite the nonfiction element, there’s no single way to approach this topic, and you can be as creative as you would be writing fiction. To inspire your writing and reveal the sheer diversity of this type of essay, here are ten great examples personal narratives from recent years: 

1. “Only Disconnect” by Gary Shteyngart

narrative essay on novels

Personal narratives don’t have to be long to be effective, as this thousand-word gem from the NYT book review proves. Published in 2010, just as smartphones were becoming a ubiquitous part of modern life, this piece echoes many of our fears surrounding technology and how it often distances us from reality.

In this narrative, Shteyngart navigates Manhattan using his new iPhone—or more accurately, is led by his iPhone, completely oblivious to the world around him. He’s completely lost to the magical happenstance of the city as he “follow[s] the arrow taco-ward”. But once he leaves for the country, and abandons the convenience of a cell phone connection, the real world comes rushing back in and he remembers what he’s been missing out on. 

The downfalls of technology is hardly a new topic, but Shteyngart’s story remains evergreen because of how our culture has only spiraled further down the rabbit hole of technology addiction in the intervening years.

What can you learn from this piece?

Just because a piece of writing is technically nonfiction, that doesn’t mean that the narrative needs to be literal. Shteyngart imagines a Manhattan that physically changes around him when he’s using his iPhone, becoming an almost unrecognizable world. From this, we can see how a certain amount of dramatization can increase the impact of your message—even if that wasn’t exactly the way something happened. 

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2. “Why I Hate Mother's Day” by Anne Lamott

The author of the classic writing text Bird by Bird digs into her views on motherhood in this piece from Salon. At once a personal narrative and a cultural commentary, Lamott explores the harmful effects that Mother’s Day may have on society —how its blind reverence to the concept of motherhood erases women’s agency and freedom to be flawed human beings. 

Lamott points out that not all mothers are good, not everyone has a living mother to celebrate, and some mothers have lost their children, so have no one to celebrate with them. More importantly, she notes how this Hallmark holiday erases all the people who helped raise a woman, a long chain of mothers and fathers, friends and found family, who enable her to become a mother. While it isn’t anchored to a single story or event (like many classic personal narratives), Lamott’s exploration of her opinions creates a story about a culture that puts mothers on an impossible pedestal. 

In a personal narrative essay, lived experience can be almost as valid as peer-reviewed research—so long as you avoid making unfounded assumptions. While some might point out that this is merely an opinion piece, Lamott cannily starts the essay by grounding it in the personal, revealing how she did not raise her son to celebrate Mother’s Day. This detail, however small, invites the reader into her private life and frames this essay as a story about her —and not just an exercise in being contrary.

3. “The Crane Wife” by CJ Hauser 

Days after breaking off her engagement with her fiance, CJ Hauser joins a scientific expedition on the Texas coast r esearching whooping cranes . In this new environment, she reflects on the toxic relationship she left and how she found herself in this situation. She pulls together many seemingly disparate threads, using the expedition and the Japanese myth of the crane wife as a metaphor for her struggles. 

Hauser’s interactions with the other volunteer researchers expand the scope of the narrative from her own mind, reminding her of the compassion she lacked in her relationship. In her attempts to make herself smaller, less needy, to please her fiance, she lost sight of herself and almost signed up to live someone else’s life, but among the whooping cranes of Texas, she takes the first step in reconnecting with herself.

With short personal narratives, there isn’t as much room to develop characters as you might have in a memoir so the details you do provide need to be clear and specific. Each of the volunteer researchers on Hauser’s expedition are distinct and recognizable though Hauser is economical in her descriptions. 

For example, Hauser describes one researcher as “an eighty-four-year-old bachelor from Minnesota. He could not do most of the physical activities required by the trip, but had been on ninety-five Earthwatch expeditions, including this one once before. Warren liked birds okay. What Warren really loved was cocktail hour.” 

In a few sentences, we get a clear picture of Warren's fun-loving, gregarious personality and how he fits in with the rest of the group.

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4. “The Trash Heap Has Spoken” by Carmen Maria Machado

The films and TV shows of the 80s and 90s—cultural touchstones that practically raised a generation—hardly ever featured larger women on screen. And if they did, it was either as a villain or a literal trash heap. Carmen Maria Machado grew up watching these cartoons, and the absence of fat women didn’t faze her. Not until puberty hit and she went from a skinny kid to a fuller-figured teen. Suddenly uncomfortable in her skin, she struggled to find any positive representation in her favorite media.

As she gets older and more comfortable in her own body, Machado finds inspiration in Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock and Ursula, everyone’s favorite sea witch from The Little Mermaid —characters with endless power in the unapologetic ways they inhabit their bodies. As Machado considers her own body through the years, it’s these characters she returns to as she faces society’s unkind, dismissive attitudes towards fat women.

Stories shape the world, even if they’re fictional. Some writers strive for realism, reflecting the world back on itself in all its ugliness, but Carmen Maria Machado makes a different point. There is power in being imaginative and writing the world as it could be, imagining something bigger, better, and more beautiful. So, write the story you want to see, change the narrative, look at it sideways, and show your readers how the world could look. 

5. “Am I Disabled?” by Joanne Limburg 

The titular question frames the narrative of Joanne Limburg’s essay as she considers the implications of disclosing her autism. What to some might seem a mundane occurrence—ticking ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘prefer not to say’ on a bureaucratic form—elicits both philosophical and practical questions for Limburg about what it means to be disabled and how disability is viewed by the majority of society. 

Is the labor of disclosing her autism worth the insensitive questions she has to answer? What definition are people seeking, exactly? Will anyone believe her if she says yes? As she dissects the question of what disability is, she explores the very real personal effects this has on her life and those of other disabled people. 

Limburg’s essay is written in a style known as the hermit crab essay , when an author uses an existing document form to contain their story. You can format your writing as a recipe, a job application, a resume, an email, or a to-do list – the possibilities are as endless as your creativity. The format you choose is important, though. It should connect in some way to the story you’re telling and add something to the reader’s experience as well as your overall theme. 

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6. “Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard

narrative essay on novels

While out on a walk in the woods behind her house, Annie Dillard encounters a wild weasel. In the short moment when they make eye contact, Dillard takes an imaginary journey through the weasel’s mind and wonders if the weasel’s approach to life is better than her own. 

The weasel, as Dillard sees it, is a wild creature with jaws so powerful that when it clamps on to something, it won’t let go, even into death. Necessity drives it to be like this, and humanity, obsessed with choice, might think this kind of life is limiting, but the writer believes otherwise. The weasel’s necessity is the ultimate freedom, as long as you can find the right sort, the kind that will have you holding on for dear life and refusing to let go. 

Make yourself the National Geographic explorer of your backyard or neighborhood and see what you can learn about yourself from what you discover. Annie Dillard, queen of the natural personal essay, discovers a lot about herself and her beliefs when meeting a weasel.

What insight can you glean from a blade of grass, for example? Does it remind you that despite how similar people might be, we are all unique? Do the flights of migrating birds give you perspective on the changes in your own life? Nature is a potent and never-ending spring of inspiration if you only think to look. 

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7. “Love In Our Seventies” by Ellery Akers

“ And sometimes, when I lift the gray hair at the back of your neck and kiss your shoulder, I think, This is it.”

In under 400 words, poet Ellery Akers captures the joy she has found in discovering romance as a 75-year-old . The language is romantic, but her imagery is far from saccharine as she describes their daily life and the various states in which they’ve seen each other: in their pajamas, after cataract surgeries, while meditating. In each singular moment, Akers sees something she loves, underscoring an oft-forgotten truth. Love is most potent in its smallest gestures.  

Personal narrative isn’t a defined genre with rigid rules, so your essay doesn’t have to be an essay. It can be a poem, as Akers’ is. The limitations of this form can lead to greater creativity as you’re trying to find a short yet evocative way to tell a story. It allows you to focus deeply on the emotions behind an idea and create an intimate connection with your reader. 

8. “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” by Mariama Lockington

narrative essay on novels

Mariama Lockington was adopted by her white parents in the early 80s, long before it was “trendy” for white people to adopt black children. Starting with a family photograph, the writer explores her complex feelings about her upbringing , the many ways her parents ignored her race for their own comfort, and how she came to feel like an outsider in her own home. In describing her childhood snapshots, she takes the reader from infancy to adulthood as she navigates trying to live as a black woman in a white family. 

Lockington takes us on a journey through her life through a series of vignettes. These small, important moments serve as a framing device, intertwining to create a larger narrative about race, family, and belonging. 

With this framing device, it’s easy to imagine Lockington poring over a photo album, each picture conjuring a different memory and infusing her story with equal parts sadness, regret, and nostalgia. You can create a similar effect by separating your narrative into different songs to create an album or episodes in a TV show. A unique structure can add an extra layer to your narrative and enhance the overall story.

9. “Drinking Chai to Savannah” by Anjali Enjeti

On a trip to Savannah with her friends, Anjali Enjeti is reminded of a racist incident she experienced as a teenager . The memory is prompted by her discomfort of traveling in Georgia as a South Asian woman and her friends’ seeming obliviousness to how others view them. As she recalls the tense and traumatic encounter she had in line at a Wendy’s and the worry she experiences in Savannah, Enjeti reflects on her understanding of otherness and race in America. 

Enjeti paints the scene in Wendy’s with a deft hand. Using descriptive language, she invokes the five senses to capture the stress and fear she felt when the men in line behind her were hurling racist sentiments. 

She writes, “He moves closer. His shadow eclipses mine. His hot, tobacco-tinged breath seeps over the collar of my dress.” The strong, evocative language she uses brings the reader into the scene and has them experience the same anxiety she does, understanding why this incident deeply impacted her. 

10. “Siri Tells A Joke” by Debra Gwartney

One day, Debra Gwartney asks Siri—her iPhone’s digital assistant—to tell her a joke. In reply, Siri recites a joke with a familiar setup about three men stuck on a desert island. When the punchline comes, Gwartney reacts not with laughter, but with a memory of her husband , who had died less than six months prior.

In a short period, Gwartney goes through a series of losses—first, her house and her husband’s writing archives to a wildfire, and only a month after, her husband. As she reflects on death and the grief of those left behind in the wake of it, she recounts the months leading up to her husband’s passing and the interminable stretch after as she tries to find a way to live without him even as she longs for him. 

A joke about three men on a deserted island seems like an odd setup for an essay about grief. However, Gwartney uses it to great effect, coming back to it later in the story and giving it greater meaning. By the end of her piece, she recontextualizes the joke, the original punchline suddenly becoming deeply sad. In taking something seemingly unrelated and calling back to it later, the essay’s message about grief and love becomes even more powerful.

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11 Novels That Thwart Traditional Narrative Structure (to Brilliant Effect)

Maria adelmann recommends fiction that creates its own shapes.

As a chronic short story writer and someone who reads novels with an almost hopeless disregard for plot, I was lost when I set out to write my own novel, How to Be Eaten , about classic fairy tale characters reimagined as modern women in group therapy for trauma.

I had begun the project as flash fiction. As a longer work, I imagined it would feature lots of tight and intense little pieces, little first-person snippets from each woman’s life, grounded in the premise of group therapy. I thought of myself as a quilter or collage artist, cutting out different pieces, laying them side-by-side, letting the reader see how they related to and played off each other.

The first draft was a disaster. It was less collage and more like the pieces for a collage, dumped on a table. Group therapy hadn’t magically grounded the story, as I had hoped it would, just created additional confetti. It was as if I was saying to the reader, “Here! You figure it out!”

I was stricken. What if the book I wanted to write could never contort itself into a novel? Did I need to consolidate voices by writing in the third person, rather than my beloved first? Did I need to put the women in a mental institution, so they could do plot-stuff together? Did I need to write a book I didn’t want to write? What, I kept thinking, did I need to concede?

Instead of starting a second draft, I started reading and re-reading novels that played with, thwarted, or totally disregarded traditional narrative structure. How did these books hang together?

All the books were grounded by something , of course—a theme, an organizational structure, a framework, a narrative thrust—but they also featured guideposts to help the reader on their way. No two books were the same; each author had a unique solution to not just accommodate but to elevate their particular task.

What I learned is this: A novel is not airline luggage, there are no strict rules, no arbitrary size and weight regulations that you must contemptuously squeeze your story into. You can create your own specifications to your advantage, but the story must still be deliverable—that is, comprehensible to the reader.

Here are ten novels that used their unconventional structures to brilliant effect.

narrative essay on novels

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo  

A devastating novel about grief which revolves around the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie shouldn’t be this hilarious, but it is set in a graveyard of chatty ghosts. Early chapters feature “found nonfiction,” that is, historical works spliced together, to set the scene for Willie’s death. But most of the novel is told in the first-person voices of ghosts who complain and reminisce. The book reads a little like a stage play, a technique that makes it very clear who is speaking at every moment—essential when there are over 150 narrators. Most of the novel takes place over the course of a single night, which helps contain it, and the ending features a climax that brings everyone together in a shared purpose.

narrative essay on novels

Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club  

You could argue that The Joy Luck Club is really linked stories, as almost every beautifully crafted chapter can stand alone (and often does in short story anthologies), but the book features an overarching narrative and a clear organizational structure, which is helpfully laid out in the table of contents. The novel’s four sections are divided into four chapters (each with a different first-person narrator). The first section tells the stories of four Chinese immigrant mothers, the next of their American daughters, then the mothers again, then the daughters. Because one of the mothers has recently died, one daughter takes over her mother’s sections, and it’s her narrative that ultimately frames the book.

invisible Cities

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Novella? Novel? Anti-novel? It’s up for debate, but regardless, this slim work holds together as a unit because of its tight structure and thematic focus. It consists of 55 flash-fiction-type pieces, each describing a different city, along with conversations throughout that ground the book in its conceit, which is that Marco Polo is describing the cities to emperor Kubla Khan. There is a mathematical pattern to the book’s chapters, and Calvino himself likened the structure to a crystal, thinking of the chapters as part of a network rather than a linear series.

No One Is Talking About This

Patricia Lockwood, No One is Talking About This

No One is Talking About This uses the form of a novel in fragments to mimic short bursts of online interaction. What could feel gimmicky does not, thanks in part to the second half of the book, in which a tragedy puts the importance of being always online in sharp relief. Other fragmentary novels I love include Why Did I Ever ? by Mary Robison and Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill, both of which feature short, poetic snippets of text and have varying degrees of narrative thrust. On this, Jenny Offill said in an interview with The Paris Review :

“Fuck the plot, as Edna O’Brien said. What I try to capture as a writer is the feeling of being alive, of being awake. Because of this, I’m more apt to follow the wisp of a thought or a half-glimpsed image than chart a sequential series of events. But I absolutely believe in momentum. Momentum is not plot, but it has that same quality of urgency and forward motion, I think.”

narrative essay on novels

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights  

This cerebral novel about travel, movement, and liminal spaces features vignettes, prose-poemy meditations, and essay-like explorations. Though also fragmentary in form, the book has a distinctly different vibe than the novels above, in part because the fragments are much longer chapters (ranging from a half page to dozens of pages), and in part because this feels even less linear and more like a network of ideas. The novel’s themes are intricately connected to its structure, and the narrator often talks about both at the same time. Consider this paragraph about the narrator’s interest in strange curiosities:

“My set of symptoms revolves around my being drawn to all things spoiled, flawed, defective, broken. I’m interested in whatever shape this may take, mistakes in the making of the thing, dead ends. What was supposed to develop but for some reason didn’t; or vice versa, what outstretched the design. Anything that deviates from the norm, that is too small or too big, overgrown or incomplete, monstrous and disgusting. Shapes that don’t heed symmetry, that grow exponentially, brim over, bud, or on the contrary, that scale back to the single unit. I’m not interested in the patterns so scrutinized by statistics that everyone celebrates with a familiar, satisfied smile on their faces.”

narrative essay on novels

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying  

A seemingly simple plot of a family transporting the dead matriarch of the family to be buried in her hometown is complicated and enriched by the 15 different narrators who tell the story. This particular kind of multi-voice novel, in which one subject or event is viewed from many different points of view, creates an effect like a cubist painting. Another example is the middle section of Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, which features over 40 different narrators discussing the elusive founding duo of an arts movement. Similarly, the novella The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century by Olga Ravn features a series of employee interviews, which come together to create a broader narrative about a workplace in the future.

Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other  

One of the unifying themes for this novel is identity, as (almost) all of the 12 main characters are Black, British women. Divided into five sections and an epilogue, the first four sections each include three chapters focusing on three different women whose lives are intertwined or connected in some way, often loosely. The novel is written in a poetry/prose form, featuring long lines and little end punctuation. A feeling of cohesiveness is created not just by unity of theme and style, but also by a fifth chapter that brings many of the women together at the after-party of a play created by the book’s first character.

narrative essay on novels

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Pale Fire takes the form of a 999-line poem and its commentary—including a forward, annotations, and index, written by the poet’s neighbor, a fellow academic that seems increasingly unhinged. You can read the book straight through, but it is fun to refer to the poem and various references as you go, as if you really have picked up this book and are surprised by what’s inside. Despite the unique conceit, the narrative that unfolds is fairly traditional in structure, providing a clear thread for the reader to follow through the unconventional form.

rachel cusk outline

Rachel Cusk, Outline

The novel takes place in Athens, where the newly divorced narrator is teaching a creative writing class. In each of the book’s eight chapters, she meets a different person, and the chapter itself is mainly conversation that strays into monologue, with the narrator acting as an intently listening vessel, almost disappearing into other people’s stories. In an interview with The Guardian , Cusk explained her project, describing how she experienced the world after she was unmoored by her divorce:

“You are chucked out of the house, on the street, not defended any more, not a member of anything, you have no history, no network. What you have is people, strangers in the street, and the only way you can know them is by what they say. I became attuned to these encounters because I had no frame or context anymore. I could hear a purity of narrative in the way people described their lives. The intense experience of hearing this became the framework of the novel.”

narrative essay on novels

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time,” begins this sci-fi book about the bombing of Dresden, which also features a semi-autobiographical first chapter. Plenty of traditional novels use flash-forwards and flashbacks, but in Slaughterhouse-Five you don’t know what is forward and what is back. The structure itself is commented on throughout, especially by the Tralfamadorians, an alien species who experience time all at once and read books the same way: “There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.” Though in the case of Billy Pilgrim, the moments are mostly not so marvelous.

___________________________________

how to be eaten

Maria Adelmann’s How to Be Eaten is available now via Little, Brown. 

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Iperstoria no. 24: "Anglo-American Digital/Electronic Literature: Theories, Forms and Practices"

Anglo-American Digital/Electronic Literature: Theories, Forms and Practices

Iperstoria - Journal of American and English Studies   no. 24 – Call for Papers Fall 2024 

Andrea Pitozzi, Università degli Studi di Bergamo

Mario Verdicchio, Università degli Studi di Bergamo

Under the umbrella term of  Digital Humanities,  the last thirty years have witnessed a growing production of studies devoted to interactions and connections between increasingly advanced technologies on the one hand, and artistic forms and theoretical perspectives in the humanities on the other. As for the field of literary studies, the interaction with digital technologies and AI is now the center of various research, highlighting in particular the potentialities of an intensive technological application and implementation, which also leads to a rethinking of the basic elements of the discipline. In the field of critical studies, for example, digital technologies have enabled interpretative and analytical models such as those based on  textual analysis  or  distant reading  (Moretti). At the same time, other interpretative models based on the idea of  code  (Geoghegan) or  network  (Jogada) emerged, as well as critical approaches based on  intermedia  or  transmedia  (Jenkins) research perspectives. Even from a creative point of view, recent years have witnessed a passage from early texts using electronic technologies or cybernetic structures, to works entirely generated by software such as Storyspace – with “hypertext narratives” – to more recent works labeled as Electronic Literature (Rettberg) and Digital Literature.

In an ideal continuity with issue 12 (2018) of this journal, devoted to the use of digital technologies as a tool in order to approach the field of literary studies, the present special section of  Iperstoria  aims to analyze contemporary examples of digital/electronic Anglo-American literature, focusing on products that have been conceived directly in the electronic/digital environment, and are thus related to a certain technological specificity. Contributions that understand the digital as a technology that changes and modifies perceptual and creative paradigms, rather than simply as an instrument that facilitates, expands or accelerates established practices are particularly welcomed, as well as essays in which the digital is considered, in its relation to technologies, as an aesthetic condition capable of defining a new theoretical framework for literary products.

In considering digital/electronic literary works great attention will be paid to three main lines of inquiry: firstly, one that explores potential theoretical approaches to the connection between digital/electronic technologies and literature; secondly, one that is devoted to the analysis of digital literary works that problematize and thematize the very connection with technologies; and finally, a third line that is ideally dedicated to contemporary practices in which digital and electronic technologies are integrated into the creative process not as mere tools but on an aesthetic and poetic basis.

As far as theories are concerned, contributions might explore the literary-digital nod from a philosophical and aesthetic perspective. Is it possible to speak of an aesthetic of digital literature? What characterizes a philosophical approach to the study of digital technologies in the field of literature? Since aesthetics concerns the analysis of the sensible and the sensual, is there a theory that questions the processes and uses of technologies?

As for the forms, attention will be paid to contributions exploring how digital and electronic technologies are thematized and interrogated in the literary field, through hybrid products that present themselves as sites of reflection  on  technologies rather than simply sites where technologies are applied  to  literary forms.

Finally, examples and analyses of literary practices that discuss the connection between literature and the digital through a radical rethinking of creative paradigms, such as AI-generated texts, Twitter fiction, Instapoetry, fan fiction, etc., are also welcome.

Possible lines of inquiry may include, but are not limited to:

Surveys of aesthetic theories of digital/electronic literature

Case studies of digital/electronic literature in which the technological aspects are problematized, rather than simply included as implementations

Definition of potential new literary genres through the digital

Analysis of  glitches  and  errors  as potentially creative elements

Works that combine digital art and literature

Deadlines and instructions

Publication is scheduled for December 2024. Papers, in either Italian or English, must be submitted by June 15, 2024 and should be between 5,000 and 8,000 words in length.

Those interested in submitting a proposal should send a 250-word abstract to the editors at [email protected] e [email protected] by  March 20, 2024 . Abstracts will be evaluated by the editors and notifications will be sent shortly thereafter.

Submitted manuscripts must be original and uploaded to the journal website following the procedure available at the link:  https://iperstoria.it/about/submissions .

Final acceptance will depend on the relevance of the article to the call theme(s), as well as on the originality and quality level of the submission. All submitted manuscripts must conform to  Iperstoria ’s guidelines.

Read the call in Italian:  https://iperstoria.it/announcement/view/37

narrative essay on novels

Journal of Materials Chemistry C

Stable and self-healing perovskite for high-speed underwater optical wireless communication.

Greenlight experiences minimal attenuation in water, rendering it indispensable for underwater wireless optical communication (UWOC). Among green light emitters, perovskite materials stand out due to their exceptional optical properties and cost-effectiveness, serving as reliable alternatives to easily manufactured green light sources. However, in underwater environments, perovskites are susceptible to structural damage, which can lead to communication device failures. In this study, we introduce an innovative perovskite-based UWOC system, where the perovskite light source possesses the ability to autonomously self-repair. We achieve this by implementing F-ion modification on CsPbBr3 QWs, significantly enhancing perovskite thermal stability. Subsequently, we incorporate CsPbBr3:F QWs into an all-dipole fluorine, imparting self-healing properties to the device. This results in the creation of a robust system capable of withstanding underwater conditions. This system can seamlessly integrate into a UWOC setup, achieving high-speed underwater communication. Remarkably, the device not only sustains stable operation in underwater environments for over a week but also fully restores communication speed after self-repair from complete breakage. Our innovative design provides substantial support for the future development of perovskite-based underwater communication technology and optoelectronics devices.

  • This article is part of the themed collection: Journal of Materials Chemistry C HOT Papers

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narrative essay on novels

X. Xu, Y. Fu, Y. Kuai, Z. Shi, C. Li, Z. Hu, Z. Cao and S. Li, J. Mater. Chem. C , 2024, Accepted Manuscript , DOI: 10.1039/D3TC04809H

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    The case studies of "Stereo Sue," of the concert pianist Lillian Kalir, and of Howard, the mystery novelist who can no longer read, are highlights of the collection, but each essay is a kind of gem, mined and polished by one of the great storytellers of our era. -Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (2011)

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    This cerebral novel about travel, movement, and liminal spaces features vignettes, prose-poemy meditations, and essay-like explorations. Though also fragmentary in form, the book has a distinctly different vibe than the novels above, in part because the fragments are much longer chapters (ranging from a half page to dozens of pages), and in ...

  24. cfp

    Publication is scheduled for December 2024. Papers, in either Italian or English, must be submitted by June 15, 2024 and should be between 5,000 and 8,000 words in length. Those interested in submitting a proposal should send a 250-word abstract to the editors at [email protected] e [email protected] by March 20, 2024.

  25. Stable and self-healing perovskite for high-speed underwater optical

    Greenlight experiences minimal attenuation in water, rendering it indispensable for underwater wireless optical communication (UWOC). Among green light emitters, perovskite materials stand out due to their exceptional optical properties and cost-effectiveness, serving as reliable alternatives to easily manuf Journal of Materials Chemistry C HOT Papers