Need Help Writing Narrative Essay

Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay

In a narrative essay, the writer tells a story about a real-life experience. Everyone enjoys a good story—especially one that captures the imagination. However, the narrative essay goes further. In it, the writer places a personal experience within the context of a larger theme, such as a lesson learned. When writing a narrative essay, the writer wants not only to tell a good story, but also convey why the story has meaning.

The Five-Step Writing Process for Narrative Essays

At Time4Learning, we are great believers in the writing process. The writing process empowers you to write with better results by giving providing concrete, proven steps to follow. Here, we examine how to write a narrative essay using the five-step writing process. You should find the following suggestions helpful.

1. Prewriting for the Narrative Essay

The prewriting phase in narrative essay writing is particularly important. When planning how to start a narrative essay, think about your life experiences in the context of the assignment’s theme, for example ‘write about achieving a goal.’ When selecting an experience to write about, keep in mind that even a small incident (or goal, in this case) can make a good essay topic if it has significance for you. If writers feel an emotional connection to their topic, their narrative essay will be more effective.

Once you’ve chosen a topic, spend time sorting through your memories and recalling details, including the year, season, setting, people, and objects involved. Think about the sequence of events and remember; no detail is too small. Often it’s the small details that communicate big ideas! Creating an outline of the story’s narrative flow is very helpful.

2. Drafting a Narrative Essay

When creating the initial draft of a narrative essay, follow the outline, but focus on making the story come alive, using the following techniques:

  • Personal narrative essays are most naturally written in the first person, and using “I” gives the story an immediacy that engages the reader.
  • In telling the story, don’t gloss over the details. Readers have no prior knowledge of the story, and many times even one detail accidentally left out will skew their understanding.
  • Use vivid descriptions and words that illustrate. In narrative writing, the writer’s job is to involve the reader, rather than simply inform. Take a look at this sentence: “Losing the game felt like the bottom of my world dropped out.” It conveys so much more about the significance of the writer’s experience than simply saying, “I was disappointed that we lost the game.”
  • While narrative essays are non-fiction, elements of fiction should not be ignored. True stories also benefit from the writer’s ability to use plot-building techniques.

3. Revising a Narrative Essay

In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. In revising a narrative essay, students should reread their work with these considerations in mind:

  • Does the essay unfold in an easy-to-understand progression of events? Do the transitions make sense or confuse the reader?
  • Does the essay involve the reader in the experience? Could there be more detail, or is there extraneous detail that distracts the reader’s attention?
  • Is the word choice descriptive, or merely informative?
  • Has the larger message of the essay been conveyed effectively? Has a connection been made between the experience and its meaning to the writer? Will the reader be able to identify with the conclusion made?

In structuring a narrative essay, it’s the writer’s choice when to reveal the significance of the experience. Some writers make this connection to theme in the opening paragraph. Others like to focus on the experience and reveal its significance at the end. Writers should experiment which way works best for the essay. Clueing in the reader upfront helps their understanding, but saving the revelation to the end can leave the reader with more to think about.

4. Editing a Narrative Essay

At this point in the writing process, writers proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics, and edit to improve style and clarity. Having a friend read the essay is a good idea at this point, and allows the writer to see their work from a fresh perspective.

5. Publishing a Narrative Essay

Due to its personal nature, sharing a narrative essay with the rest of the class or even with friends and family can be both exciting and a bit scary. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The important thing is to learn from the experience and use the feedback to make the next essay even better.

Time4Writing Teaches Narrative Essay Writing

Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher.

At the elementary level, Time4Writing has a dedicated 8-week Narrative Writing Course that walks beginning essay writers through every step of the writing process to make sure that mastery is complete. Our middle school Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay courses teach students the fundamentals of writing well-constructed essays, including the narrative essay. The high school Exciting Essay Writing course focuses in depth on the essay writing process with the goal of preparation for college. The courses also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing courses.


Writing an engaging personal narrative essay requires you to focus on both the key points of information to be conveyed as well as the many details which make the narrative essay interesting. 

Writing an Impactful Personal Narrative Essay   

A personal narrative essay is about a personal experience, so it is usually written in the first person. To maximize its impact, the essay should:

  • Be written to have an emotional impact on the reader
  • Include a lot of references to sensory perceptions and emotions
  • Use vivid details and imagery

Structure of the Essay

  • The opening of the essay needs to let the reader know the essence of what you will be describing and your point of view.
  • The body of the story needs to give the reader a very clear idea of what happened and how you (the author) feel about that. The story can be told chronologically or the facts may be grouped by importance or type.  
  • The final paragraph needs to wrap up and state the point of the story, whether it is a lesson, an idea, or just a learning experience.  

Writing the Essay

Writing a good narrative essay requires you to include interesting information in an engaging way. Here are some tips:

  • Record yourself telling the story. That will help your organize your story and make the writing flow.
  • Include anecdotes and dialogue in the essay.
  • Use transitory words to connect sentences like: therefore, however, or for example.
  • Vary the structure of your sentences to make the writing more interesting. Try adding some compound, complex, or interrogative sentences. 
  • Make the words lively, descriptive, exciting, active, emotional, and precise.  

Example of Narrative Writing

Here is an example of writing used in a personal narrative essay. Notice the tone and words that set the mood. You can almost feel the heat and humidity.

“It was the middle of springtime and across from my house where the incident took place. There was a lake there in which my brother and I loved to explore from time to time. The humidity and water drops where reminiscent of a fully functional sauna. The onslaught of heat and burning glow of the sun was relentless.”

Types of Essays

An essay is a short piece of writing which is either analytical or speculative. Most essays are written from the author’s point of view.

The word “essay” began to be used in 1588 when Michel de Montaigne published a book called Essais and the word represents a short work written on a particular subject.

There are many kinds of essays, and following is a short explanation of a few of them.

Persuasive or Argumentative Essay

The persuasive or argumentative essay picks a certain viewpoint and offers support of it with data, statistics, and other evidence. Its purpose is to make the reader agree with the proofs and conclusions. In other words, the reader should share the viewpoint of the writer.

Persuasive essays need to have logical and clear reasoning supported by facts and arguments.

Comparison Essay

A comparison essay will compare two things and point out their similarities and differences. The writer needs to find as many similarities and differences as possible so he will need to do some research.

It does not matter in what order the facts are presented, as long as they are easy to understand by the reader.

Descriptive Essay

Descriptive essays answer the questions: how, what, why, when, and where.  They can be written about any subject; a place, person, animal, event, thing, or memory. The writer will share with the reader what he feels and perceives.

The tone should be sensory in nature so the reader can almost see, smell, taste, hear, and feel what the author experienced.

Narrative Essay

A narrative essay tells a story that has a point to be made. The reader may receive an idea or a lesson from the essay. The story is told using sensory details and emotional language.

A narrative essay usually reflects something of a personal nature so many times it becomes a personal narrative essay. 

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Tips for Writing a Personal Narrative Essay

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Writing an engaging personal narrative essay requires you to focus on both the key points of information to be conveyed as well as the many details which make the narrative essay interesting. 

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