Writing a Narrative

Learning Objectives

  • Describe techniques for writing effective narratives

When writing a narrative essay, approach it as writing or telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing you to express yourselves in a creative and unique way. With the use and popularity of social media, without labeling the approach as a narrative, when you are creating a posting and want engagement, you are storytelling naturally. When you are asked to write a narrative, you may encounter writing prompts such as: tell me about…, a time you experienced…, your most…, a conflict, a dangerous experience, an exciting experience, a celebration, or a lasting memory.

What the narrative prompt is really asking for

Have you ever had a friend or relative tell you a long story that seemed to go nowhere? At some point, you wanted to say: “fine, but what’s the point of this story?” A narrative essay is one that uses a story, usually presented in chronological order, to make some kind of point. When you are writing a narrative argument, that point is persuasive or argumentative. In other words, you’re using the story to convince your reader of something.

Narrative Essay Examples

Let’s say you want to make a point about gun control, and you want to argue for stricter gun control laws. In a narrative argument, you may not make this actual claim until the end. Instead, you should focus your essay on telling a story about a child who was killed because someone should not have had access to a gun.

Maybe you want to write an argument about climate change but know your audience is emotional about the topic. Instead of presenting statistics, you tell the story of one geographic location that has experienced some negative effects of climate change. You tell the story of the people who have been impacted.

Link to Learning

Watch the first few minutes of this Ted Talk by Novelist Chimamanda Adichie as she tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice—and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. Narratives are powerful! Pay close attention from the 2.51 to the 4:05 mark as she uses the narrative format to make her point.

Watch It

In the following video, watch as a student analyzes a narrative argument, pointing to the key elements of narrative and demonstrating how a story can make for a very persuasive argument.

To read the full essay reviewed in the video, click here.

Narrative Structure

You’re likely to see a lot of variation in the structure of narrative arguments. In many cases, your professor may want you to write a traditional introduction with a thesis statement and then use the body of your essay to tell your story. You may also be asked to include a traditional conclusion at the end.

However, you may encounter opportunities to write narrative arguments that save the thesis statement until the end or even use an implied thesis statement.

So, when writing a narrative argument, there may be options.

Narrative Argument Structural Options

Option #1 Option #2 Option #3
  • Traditional introduction (with thesis at the end)
  • Body (story, usually following chronological order)
  • Traditional conclusion (summarize main idea and emphasize thesis)
  • Narrative story (usually following chronological order)
  • Conclusion with a thesis
  • Narrative story (usually following a chronological order)
  • Thesis is not presented, just implied.

Whichever structure you choose, narration is about telling a story to make a point. Have you ever heard someone say: “The moral of the story is…”? That’s essentially what you’re doing in a narrative essay. (Note: in your essay, don’t write “the moral of the story is…”).

Flowchart showing opening, build-up, problem, solution, and end.

Figure 1. A narrative often includes a story arc, with an opening, the presentation of a problem, and then a resolution.

Try It

Sample Narrative

Read the following narrative, “A Proud Granddaughter” by Megon Ganzeveld, an Ivy Tech Student, and answer the questions that follow.

Every child has a pair of grandparents, and every grandparent can make an impact in a child’s life. Grandpa, I thank you for always supporting me and being my role model growing up. You have filled my heart with pride, love, and gratefulness. I would like to share a memory that demonstrates how proud and thankful I am to have you as my Grandpa.

It was our first softball practice and Ashley and I were quite nervous. You had offered to take us to the fields after school to meet the team. All day we felt the butterflies in our stomachs as we were not quite sure what to expect at practice. As we got off the bus that day from school we seen you were sitting at our house with a bag full of stuff. “What’s in the bag Papa?” my sister asked, as you began to pull out cleats, socks, and two softball mitts. You had went out and purchased everything we would need. Our faces lit up with smiles and we couldn’t wait to try out the new items. After we had gotten dressed and tried on the cleats and socks we loaded into the car and off we went.

As we pulled up at the softball fields we saw many other young girls with the same nervous facial expression as we had. Headed to the fields, we walked on the pavement in our cleats, you could hear the pitter patter of our brisk walk. You gave us a gentle smile and grabbed our hands. We walked up to our team and wondered where the coach was? After hanging around for 20 minutes it was apparent our coach had forgotten about us. As some of the other parents started to gather their children and leave you stood up and said “Hold on these girls came to learn softball and I would love to teach them!” You had decided in that instant to dedicate your time and coach our softball team. You, knowing exactly what to do, huddled the team together and got us excited about the season ahead. Instantly my butterflies seemed to fade and excitement replaced it.

The way you just stepped up and took control eased my anxiousness and made me so proud to be your granddaughter. The unsettling feeling of not knowing what to expect turned into a rush of excitement every time practice came around. You were not only my role model, but the entire team looked up to you as well. Your thoughtfulness in preparing us, and your support in taking us to practice that evening will forever remain close to my heart. The ongoing support that I have received has left me filled with love and feeling proud and forever grateful for being blessed with you as my grandpa.

Workshop: Brainstorming a Narrative

As we’ve seen, a narrative is a story that is told to make a point. When choosing which story to tell, it can be helpful to think about an overall point that you can make with your story. Let’s look at a narrative essay prompt:

Choose one of the following topics to write your own narrative essay. The topic you decide on should be something you care about, and the narration should be a means of communicating an idea that ties to the essay’s theme.

Friends

  1. Gaining independence
  2. A friend’s sacrifice
  3. A significant trip with your family
  4. A wedding or a funeral
  5. An incident from family legend

The World Around You

  1. A storm, a flood, an earthquake, or another natural event
  2. A school event
  3. The most important minutes of a sporting event

Lessons of Daily Life

  1. A time you confronted authority
  2. A time you had to deliver bad news
  3. Your biggest social blunder

Firsts

  1. Your first day of school
  2. The first performance you gave
  3. A first date

Notice that sentence “the narration should be a means of communicating an idea…”. In other words,  the story should make a point.

Step 1: Choose three of these topics that you could imagine writing about.

Step 2: For each one, briefly sketch out how you could tell the story (just a few words or a short sentence). How would you set the stage (build-up)? What is the problem? How was it solved?

Step 3: For each of the three topics, write a sentence or two stating the point of the story. What’s the big takeaway? What can your reader learn from it?

  • Topic:
    • Story:
      • Build-up
      • Problem
      • Solution
    • Point of the story:

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