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Writing Compelling Narrative Essays: Outline & Samples

Writing Narrative EssaysA narrative essay is a type of essay that tells a story or recounts a personal experience. Unlike other types of essays, such as expository or argumentative essays, which primarily focus on providing information or making an argument, a narrative essay centers on storytelling. In a narrative essay, the author shares a real-life experience or event, often from their own perspective, in a way that engages the reader and conveys a particular message or lesson.

Here are well-written sample narrative essays tailored for both high school and college students:

Sample Personal Narrative Essay: My First Solo Skydiving Experience

Sample Literacy Narrative Essay: From a Reluctant Reader to a Book Lover

Sample Historical Narrative Essay: The Space Race

Key Features

Key features of a narrative essay include:

  1. Plot: A narrative essay typically has a clear and coherent plot, similar to a short story. It has a beginning (setting), middle (build up and climax), and end (conflict resolution and reflection), with a sequence of events that unfolds in chronological order.
  2. Characters: Narrative essays often feature characters, which can include the author themselves and other individuals involved in the story. These characters help bring the narrative to life.
  3. Setting: The setting of a narrative essay provides context for the story. It describes where and when the events took place, helping the reader visualize the scene.
  4. Point of View: Narrative essays are usually written from the first-person perspective, using pronouns like “I” and “we.” This allows the author to convey their personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  5. Conflict or Challenge: Many narrative essays involve some form of conflict or challenge that the author faces. This could be a personal struggle, an obstacle to overcome, or a significant event that shapes the narrative.
  6. Theme or Message: A narrative essay often has a central theme or message that the author wants to convey. This theme may emerge naturally from the storytelling or be explicitly stated in the essay’s conclusion.
  7. Descriptive Language: To engage the reader and create a vivid picture of the events, narrative essays often use descriptive language and sensory details to make the narrative more immersive.
  8. Dialogue: Dialogue can be included in a narrative essay to bring conversations between characters to life and add authenticity to the storytelling.
  9. Logical Flow: A narrative essay usually follows a chronological order, starting from the beginning of the story and progressing towards a resolution or conclusion. However, it can also employ various storytelling techniques, such as flashbacks or foreshadowing, to enhance the narrative’s impact.
  10. Traditional Essay Structure: A narrative essay usually entails 3 main sections: an introduction, body paragraphs with at least 4 components – build up, climax, resolution, and reflection, – and a conclusion. When writing a narrative essay, it is essential to create a strong introduction that hooks the reader and sets the stage for the story. The body paragraphs should provide the necessary details and develop the plot, while the conclusion should reflect on the experience and convey its significance.

Overall, a narrative essay allows the writer to use storytelling techniques to engage the reader and share a meaningful personal experience or observation. It combines elements of storytelling with the structure and organization of an essay to create a compelling and impactful narrative.

General Outline

When outlining a narrative essay, you can follow a general format that takes into account the key components. Here’s a suggested outline:

  1. Introduction:
    • Hook: Start with an attention-grabbing opening sentence or anecdote that draws the reader in.
    • Background information: Provide context and necessary details about the event or experience you’ll be narrating.
    • Thesis statement: If the essay requires an explicit thesis statement, state the main point or lesson you want to convey through your narrative. If the thesis statement is implicit, do not state it in the introduction. A third alternative is to include the thesis statement in the conclusion.
  2. Body paragraphs:
    1. Paragraph 1: Set the scene and introduce the characters, time, and place of the story.
    2. Paragraph 2, 3, etc.: Build up
      • Progress the story by describing the series of events, actions, and dialogue that occurred. Use vivid descriptions to engage the reader’s senses and create a compelling narrative.
      • Reflective elements: Intermingle your personal reflections, thoughts, and emotions throughout the story. Share your insights, lessons learned, or changes that occurred as a result of the experience.
    3. Climax:
      • Build up the narrative tension or conflict to a turning point or climax where the main problem or challenge is confronted.
      • Describe the climax with vivid detail and emphasize its significance in the story.
    4. Resolution:
      • Show how the conflict is resolved or how the events come to a conclusion.
      • Reflect on the outcome and its impact on you or others involved.
  3. Conclusion:
    • Summarize the main points of your narrative essay.
    • Reflect on the significance of the experience and its broader implications.
    • End with a memorable closing statement or final thought that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

Remember, this is a general outline, and you can adjust and modify it based on the specific requirements of your essay or the nature of the story you’re telling. The key is to create a well-structured narrative that engages the reader and conveys a meaningful message or lesson.


Depending on the intended goal or approach, narrative essays can be categorized into various types:

  1. Personal Narrative Essay:
    • This type of narrative essay recounts a personal experience or event from the author’s life. It often focuses on the author’s thoughts, emotions, and personal growth.
    • Example: “My First Solo Backpacking Trip.” In this essay, the author shares their experience of going on a solo backpacking adventure for the first time, highlighting the challenges they faced and the personal insights gained during the journey.
  2. Fictional Narrative Essay:
    • Fictional narrative essays involve storytelling based on fictional events, characters, or scenarios. They allow the author to use their creativity and imagination.
    • Example: “The Mysterious Island.” In this essay, the author crafts a fictional story about a group of explorers stranded on an uninhabited island, weaving in elements of suspense, adventure, and mystery.
  3. Literacy Narrative Essay:
    • A literacy narrative essay explores the author’s personal journey with reading, writing, or language development. It often reflects on how literacy has shaped their life.
    • Example: “From Struggles to Triumph: My Journey with Dyslexia.” In this essay, the author shares their experiences of overcoming dyslexia and how it influenced their relationship with reading and writing.
  4. Autobiographical Narrative Essay:
    • Autobiographical narrative essays provide a comprehensive account of the author’s life, from childhood to adulthood. They can cover various aspects of one’s life story.
    • Example: “A Life in Letters: My Journey as a Writer.” In this essay, the author chronicles their life as a writer, from the early years of journaling to becoming a published author, highlighting key moments and milestones.
  5. Biographical Narrative Essay:
    • Biographical narrative essays focus on the life story of another person, often a historical figure or someone the author knows personally.
    • Example: “The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.” In this essay, the author provides a detailed account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, his activism, and the impact of his civil rights work on society.
  6. Descriptive Narrative Essay:
    • Descriptive narrative essays aim to vividly describe a particular scene, event, or experience, often using sensory details to engage the reader’s senses.
    • Example: “A Sunset Over the Grand Canyon.” In this essay, the author paints a vivid picture of a breathtaking sunset they witnessed at the Grand Canyon, using descriptive language to convey the beauty of the moment.
    • We have written a sample descriptive narrative essay titled: “A Cozy Winter Evening by the Fireplace.”
  7. Argumentative Narrative Essay:
    • Argumentative narrative essays combine storytelling with persuasive elements. The author presents a personal experience or anecdote to support an argument or viewpoint.
    • Example: “The Importance of Environmental Education: A Personal Journey.” In this essay, the author shares their experiences with environmental education and argues for its importance in raising awareness about environmental issues.
  8. Expository Narrative Essay:
    • Expository narrative essays aim to inform or educate the reader by presenting information in a narrative format. They often explore historical events or explain complex topics.
    • Example: “The Space Race: A Journey to the Moon.” In this essay, the author narrates the historical events of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, explaining the key milestones and their significance.
  9. Historical Narrative Essay:
    • Historical narrative essays focus on recounting historical events, often from a personal or eyewitness perspective, providing insights into the past.
    • Example: “Surviving the Civil War: A Soldier’s Tale.” In this essay, the author adopts the perspective of a Civil War soldier and narrates their experiences on the battlefield, offering a glimpse into the challenges and hardships faced during that era.

These various types of narrative essays offer writers the opportunity to convey their stories, experiences, or ideas in unique ways, allowing for creativity and engagement with readers while serving different purposes and themes.
These types/techniques are not exclusive and multiple techniques are usually combined in a single narrative essay. The beauty of narrative writing is that it allows for flexibility and creativity, so writers can adapt and combine various elements to suit their storytelling purposes.

Easy Steps on How to Write a Narrative Essay

Writing a narrative essay involves several steps to create a compelling and engaging story. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to write a narrative essay:

  1. Choose a topic: Select a specific event or experience that you want to share in your narrative essay. It could be a personal experience, a memorable trip, a challenging situation, or any significant event that holds meaning for you.
  2. Plan and outline: Create an outline to organize your thoughts and determine the flow of your narrative. Include the key elements such as the introduction, body paragraphs, climax, and conclusion. Outline the main events and details you want to include in each section.
  3. Develop a captivating introduction:
    • Start with a compelling hook that grabs the reader’s attention and encourages them to continue reading.
    • Provide some background information or context about the event to set the stage.
    • End the introduction with a clear thesis statement that expresses the main point or lesson you want to convey.
  4. Build the body paragraphs:
    • Follow the outline to structure your narrative and ensure a logical progression of events.
    • Use descriptive language and sensory details to create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.
    • Include dialogue to bring the characters and scenes to life.
    • Incorporate your personal reflections, thoughts, and emotions throughout the story to deepen its impact.
  5. Highlight the climax:
    • Build up the tension or conflict in your story to a turning point or climax.
    • Describe the climax with vivid detail and emphasize its significance within the narrative.
  6. Provide a resolution:
    • Show how the conflict is resolved or how the events lead to a conclusion.
    • Reflect on the outcome and its impact on you or others involved.
    • Ensure that the resolution aligns with the main point or lesson you want to convey.
  7. Conclude with reflection:
    • Summarize the main events and insights of your narrative.
    • Reflect on the significance of the experience and its broader implications.
    • End with a powerful closing statement that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.
  8. Revise and edit:
    • Review your narrative essay for clarity, coherence, and grammar errors.
    • Ensure the flow of the story is smooth and engaging.
    • Edit for spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure.
    • Consider seeking feedback from others to gain different perspectives.

Remember to be authentic and honest in your storytelling, allowing your personality and unique voice to shine through. By following these steps and putting your personal touch into the narrative, you can create a captivating and impactful narrative essay.

Developing a Strong Thesis Statement

A thesis statement in a narrative essay should convey the main point or lesson that you want to communicate through your story. Here is how you can develop a strong thesis statement:

  1. Reflect on the significance: Think deeply about the experiences or events you are narrating and consider their broader implications. Ask yourself questions like: What is the main message or lesson that I want the reader to take away from my narrative? What insight or understanding did I gain from this experience?
  2. Make it specific and focused: Your thesis statement should be clear, specific, and focused on the central theme or idea of your narrative. Avoid vague or general statements. Instead, identify the core message or lesson that you want to convey to the reader.
  3. Connect it to your narrative: Your thesis statement should directly relate to the events and experiences you are describing in your narrative. It should provide a lens through which the reader can interpret and understand the significance of the story.
  4. Incorporate reflection: Consider incorporating your personal reflections or insights into the thesis statement. This will help convey the deeper meaning or lesson you learned from the experience.
  5. Revise and refine: After developing your initial thesis statement, review it to ensure that it captures the essence of your narrative and effectively communicates your intended message. Revise and refine the statement as needed to make it more concise, focused, and impactful.

Here is an example of a strong thesis statement for a personal narrative essay:

“My journey through overcoming adversity, from childhood struggles with dyslexia to becoming a published author, demonstrates the power of resilience and self-belief in the face of life’s challenges.”

Here is an example of a strong thesis statement for a historical narrative essay:

“The Civil Rights Movement’s impact on society, as seen through the eyes of a Civil War soldier, offers a profound perspective on the enduring struggle for equality and justice in America’s history.”

Remember, the thesis statement sets the tone and direction for your narrative essay. It should guide your storytelling and serve as a central thread throughout the essay. By developing a strong and meaningful thesis statement, you provide a clear focus for your narrative and engage the reader with a purposeful message or lesson.

Writing Effective Body Paragraphs

Show, Don't Tell!
Each body paragraph should focus on a specific event, detail, or aspect of your narrative. Here’s a suggested structure for your body paragraphs; as well as key considerations:

  1. Topic sentence: Start each body paragraph with a clear and concise topic sentence that introduces the main idea or event you will discuss in that paragraph. The topic sentence should relate directly to your thesis statement and contribute to the overall narrative.
  2. Supporting details: Provide vivid and specific details that support and expand upon the topic sentence. Use descriptive language, sensory imagery, and dialogue to engage the reader and create a vivid portrayal of the events or experiences.
  3. Organize chronologically or thematically: Depending on the nature of your narrative, you can organize your body paragraphs in chronological order, following the sequence of events, or you can arrange them thematically, grouping related events or ideas together. Choose the approach that best suits your narrative and helps convey your message effectively.
  4. Reflection and analysis: Intersperse your personal reflections, thoughts, and emotions throughout the body paragraphs. Share your insights, reactions, and lessons learned from the events described. These reflective elements add depth to your narrative and provide a deeper understanding of the significance of the experience.
  5. Show, don’t tell: Instead of simply stating how you felt or what happened, show the reader through descriptive language and storytelling techniques. Use vivid descriptions, actions, and dialogue to immerse the reader in the narrative and evoke emotions.
  6. Transitions: Use transitional phrases or sentences to ensure a smooth flow between paragraphs and connect the different parts of your narrative. Transitions help guide the reader through the story and create coherence within your essay.

Remember to maintain a logical and coherent narrative flow within each body paragraph. Each paragraph should contribute to the overall development of the story and support your thesis statement. By structuring your body paragraphs effectively, you can engage the reader and make your narrative essay more compelling and impactful.

Writing Tips: Dos and Don’ts

Narrative Essay Mistakes to Avoid
Below are the most essential considerations when writing a narrative essay, along with dos and don’ts:

  1. Logical Structure:
    • Introduction: Start with an engaging hook or attention-grabbing statement to draw the reader in. Provide a clear thesis statement or purpose for the essay.
    • Body Paragraphs: Organize the body of the essay into sections that follow a logical progression, such as the build-up, climax, resolution, and reflection.
    • Conclusion: Summarize the key points of your narrative, restate the thesis or main purpose, and leave the reader with a lasting impression.
    • Don’t include unrelated information or stray from the chosen structure. Stick to the components you’ve outlined.
    • Avoid introducing new ideas or details in the conclusion; it should serve as a summary and reflection.
  2. Coherent Plot:
    • Use either chronological or thematic organization, depending on what suits your narrative essay topic best.
    • Clearly indicate the organization method you’ve chosen to help readers follow your narrative.
    • Don’t mix chronological and thematic organization within the same essay without a clear transition or purpose.
  3. Show, Don’t Tell:
    • Use descriptive language and sensory details to paint a vivid picture for the reader.
    • Allow readers to experience the subject through their senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) rather than simply telling them about it.
    • Use metaphors, similes, and figurative language to enhance descriptions.
    • Avoid vague or overly general statements that don’t provide a clear image or sensory experience.
    • Don’t rely solely on adjectives; use action, dialogue, and specific details to show.
  4. Point of View:
    • Choose a specific point of view (first-person, third-person, etc.) that best suits your narrative and allows you to convey the experience effectively.
    • Be consistent with your chosen point of view throughout the essay.
    • Don’t switch between different points of view within the same essay, as it can confuse the reader.
    • Avoid choosing a point of view that doesn’t allow you to effectively convey the sensory details and emotions you want to describe.

Incorporating these characteristics into your narrative essay will help you create a compelling and engaging piece of writing that immerses the reader in the subject matter. Remember to tailor your approach to the specific topic and purpose of your essay, as these guidelines can be adapted to various narrative writing contexts.

Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Qs)

Here are answers to the frequently asked questions about narrative essays:

  1. How does a narrative essay differ from a descriptive essay?

    A narrative essay tells a story, often from a personal perspective, with a clear plot, characters, and a sequence of events. It aims to engage the reader by taking them on a journey. In contrast, a descriptive essay focuses on describing a specific object, place, person, or event in detail, aiming to create a vivid sensory experience for the reader without necessarily following a narrative structure.

  2. How do I choose a compelling topic for my narrative essay?

    Choose a topic that holds personal significance or has had a meaningful impact on your life. Reflect on experiences, moments of growth, challenges overcome, or lessons learned. A compelling topic is one that you can recount with enthusiasm and that resonates with your readers’ emotions.

  3. Can I use the first person in a narrative essay?

    Yes, using the first person (I, me, my) is common and expected in a narrative essay. It helps create a personal and authentic connection between the writer and the reader, as you are sharing your own experiences and perspective.

  4. What are some tips for making my narrative essay engaging and captivating for readers?
    • Start with a captivating hook to grab the reader’s attention.
    • Develop well-defined characters and provide vivid descriptions.
    • Create a clear, chronological structure with a beginning, middle, and end.
    • Use sensory details and descriptive language to immerse readers in the story.
    • Incorporate dialogue and action to bring the narrative to life.
    • Reflect on the significance or lesson learned from the experience.
  5. Are there specific writing techniques or literary devices that work well in narrative essays?

    Yes, literary devices like foreshadowing, symbolism, and metaphors can enhance your narrative. Dialogue adds authenticity, and flashbacks or anecdotes can provide context. Use these tools judiciously to enhance your storytelling.

  6. How do I revise and edit my narrative essay to make it polished and error-free?
    • Review for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
    • Check for clarity and coherence in your narrative structure.
    • Ensure that your essay flows smoothly from one part to another.
    • Seek feedback from peers or a writing tutor for fresh perspectives.
  7. What is the importance of storytelling and character development in a narrative essay?

    Storytelling makes your narrative essay relatable and engaging. Character development brings your story’s subjects to life, allowing readers to connect with and empathize with them. These elements add depth and resonance to your essay.

  8. How can I effectively convey my personal experiences and emotions in a narrative essay?
    • Be honest and authentic in sharing your feelings and reactions to the events in your narrative.
    • Use descriptive language to paint a vivid emotional landscape.
    • Show, don’t just tell, by using specific examples and actions to convey emotions.
    • Reflect on the impact of the experience on your personal growth or perspective.

Remember, the key to writing a successful narrative essay is to engage your readers through compelling storytelling. This involves choosing a meaningful and relatable topic, using vivid descriptions and sensory details, developing well-defined characters, and conveying your personal experiences and emotions authentically. Additionally, maintaining a clear and coherent narrative structure with a captivating beginning, a well-paced middle, and a meaningful conclusion is crucial to keep your readers engaged and leave a lasting impact.