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


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.


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


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.

Chronological Order

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

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


"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee 

A classic novel that explores moral growth and racial injustice through the eyes of a young girl named Scout Finch. The story takes place in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930s.
"The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger 

The story follows the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, as he navigates teenage angst and loneliness while venturing through New York City. The novel is famed for its raw, authentic portrayal of adolescent struggles.
"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen 

An exploration of love, social class, and individual growth, this novel follows Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy as they navigate personal biases and societal expectations in 19th century England.
"1984" by George Orwell 

A chilling dystopian narrative that presents a totalitarian society controlled by total surveillance and thought manipulation. The protagonist, Winston Smith, seeks to challenge the oppressive government.
"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Set during the 1920s, this novel centers around the opulent and mysterious Jay Gatsby, narrated by his neighbor, Nick Carraway. The story explores themes of love, wealth, and the decline of the American Dream.
"Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville 

The epic tale of a whaling ship pursuing the elusive white whale, Moby-Dick, is narrated by the sailor Ishmael. The novel delves deep into themes of obsession, revenge, and the fragile nature of humanity.

Short Story

"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe 

An eerie tale about a man driven to murder by the incessant beating of his victim's heart, this story showcases the effects of guilt and paranoia on the human psyche.
"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson 

A chilling short story that follows a seemingly normal small-town community with a dark, shocking secret.
"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

A symbolist narrative observed through the mental deterioration of a woman confined to her room by her husband, this story raises issues about the treatment of women and societal expectations.
"A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor 

A suspenseful narrative that presents a troubled family vacation, culminating in sudden violence and a twisted revelation, the story explores themes of morality, religion, and the nature of evil.
"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne 

An allegorical tale that delves into morality, temptation, and the duality of human nature, this story follows the protagonist as he confronts the darkness within himself and his community.
"Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway 

A minimalist short story that uses dialogues between a couple at a train station to provide insights into their strained relationship and the sensitive topic of abortion. The narrative explores themes of communication and choice.

Examples of Narrative Essay in Pop Culture


"The Shawshank Redemption" by Frank Darabont 

In this influential film, the protagonist Andy Dufresne faces a wrongful imprisonment, narrating his own story of friendship, redemption, and ultimately, freedom.
"Forrest Gump" by Robert Zemeckis 

An endearing narrative essay in film, Forrest Gump tells the story of a man with a low IQ navigating life, love, and the tumultuous times of 20th-century America.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" by Michel Gondry 

This unique narrative essay employs nonlinear storytelling to explore the painful process of erasing memories after a relationship ends.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" by Wes Anderson 

This narrative essay explores the misadventures of a hotel concierge and his apprentice, recounting their quirky escapades and the friendships formed along the way.
"Stand By Me" by Rob Reiner 

A coming-of-age narrative essay about four young friends who embark on an unforgettable adventure in search of a missing body.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" by David Fincher 

This film narrative essay tells the reverse chronological story of a man who ages in reverse.


"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot 

This nonfiction narrative essay dives into the life of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were utilized for groundbreaking scientific research.
"Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell 

Gladwell's narrative essay investigates the factors that contribute to high levels of success, weaving together personal stories and data.
"A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf 

Woolf powerfully narrates the history of women in literature in this extended essay.
"Slouching Towards Bethlehem" by Joan Didion 

A collection of narrative essays about life in 1960s California, highlighting various aspects of the counterculture and society at large.
"In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote 

Capote's narrative essay meticulously reconstructs the chilling true story of the Clutter family murders in Kansas, 1959.
"Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich 

Ehrenreich's narrative essay details her firsthand experiences attempting to survive on minimum wage jobs in America.

Creative Writing

"Cathedral" by Raymond Carver 

In this short story, the narrator learns to see beyond his prejudices when a blind man visits his home.
"A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor 

This narrative essay follows a family's encounter with a criminal, The Misfit, with suspenseful and dramatic elements.
"Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway 

Hemingway's narrative essay captures a seemingly simple conversation between a couple, with underlying and powerful themes.
"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid 

This flowing narrative essay is composed as a single, continuous sentence, capturing the voice of a mother instructing her daughter in various life tasks.
"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien 

O'Brien's narrative essay intertwines the physical and emotional burdens carried by soldiers during the Vietnam War.
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates 

This unsettling narrative essay follows a teenage girl who faces a mysterious and terrifying stranger with possible supernatural elements.

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.


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 is an enthusiastic student of architecture who has a wide range of interests, including psychology, lifestyle, and relationships. Apart from her studies, she also likes to engage in athletic activities, particularly volleyball. When she is not playing, she spends her free time watching her preferred sitcoms or reading her favorite books, which include fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.