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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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argumentative narrative

Difference Between Narrative and Argumentative Essay

While being in college, students are facing a wide variety of academic challenges. But, among all of them, essay writing seems to be the toughest. Unfortunately, this is one of the most common types of tasks assigned in college. It takes a while to complete, and it also always has a huge impact on a student’s final grade, which is why it can be such a challenge.

To complicate matters, it is also worth noting that there is more than one type of essay. In fact, there are a few different kinds, and each of them requires a different approach from you.

Given the impact such assignments have on your grades, it is clear that understanding the difference between essay types is crucial for academic success. Of course, you can always come to essayservice.com for professional help and score high grades for your essays. Still, if you want to grasp the difference, keep on reading, and we will tell you about the difference between the two most common essay types – narrative and argumentative.

  • 1 What Is a Narrative Essay?
  • 2 What Is an Argumentative Essay?
  • 3.1 1. Purpose
  • 3.2 2. Structure
  • 3.3 3. Tone of Voice
  • 3.4 4. Point of View
  • 3.5 5. Paragraph Length
  • 4 To Sum Up

What Is a Narrative Essay?

Difference Between Narrative and Argumentative Essay

As you can guess from its name, a narrative essay is a piece of writing that narrates something. So, to put it simply, you can think of writing this type of essay as telling a story.

Since narrative essays are used for telling stories, they, unlike the majority of other essays, give students more space for creativity. Such essays can have a personal, anecdotal, or experiential nature. They allow the use of plenty of vivid sensory details, metaphors, and other literary devices that will help the author immerse their readers into the epicenter of the story and help them experience it to the fullest.

Writing a narrative essay requires the writer to create an engaging and well-structured story. Although the structure of a narrative essay differs from that of an argumentative essay, the narrative essay still requires an opening and an ending to express the point of the story (what was learned from the experience or why it made such an impression).

These essays rely usually on past experiences; this is what makes narrative essays more personal and subjective.

Also, one more thing worth noting concerning narrative essays is that they allow authors to elicit emotions in their readers. That is, such essays can and even should evoke certain emotions in the process of reading. They can be sad, funny, moving, or refer to any other emotional response.

What Is an Argumentative Essay?

On the other hand, an argumentative essay is a piece of writing that informs the readers about a specific topic and argues on something. Writing such essays, students are required to do plenty of pre-writing work. They have to investigate the selected topic, collect and evaluate evidence, and define a clear personal position they will support in their essays.

The argumentative essay is also based on evidence, and it’s necessary to create a strong thesis statement for this type of essay. The goal is to write a clear thesis demonstrating your stance on the topic. Then the essay must persuade the reader to see your side of the issue. This is the most common type of college essay.

The argumentative essay is divided into different sections:

  • Introduction (opens your topic to the reader and includes the thesis statement)
  • Body (presents your evidence & arguments)
  • Conclusion (summary of the argument and emphasizes its importance)

Argumentative essays rely on logic and evidence to persuade the reader to accept the thesis.

In the essay itself, the authors will be providing the gathered evidence and establishing their position on the topic. Such essays are much less creative than narrative ones. And they are often harder to cope with.

Narrative vs. Argumentative Essay: What’s the Difference?

Now that you know the definitions of narrative and argumentative essays, let’s look at the five core distinctive features between them.

First and foremost, the most significant difference between an argumentative and a narrative essay is the purpose of why you are writing each. As mentioned earlier, narrative essays tell a story, whereas argumentative ones inform and argue on a topic.

2. Structure

Another distinctive feature is the structure used in each type of these two essays. In general terms, the structure is pretty standard and consists of an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. But, if you look closer at the elements used in every part of the structure, you will see how different these two essay types are.

A narrative essay gets straight to the story from the very first sentence. An introduction typically familiarizes readers with characters and creates a setting for the story. Body paragraphs evolve the plot and, typically, indicate the main conflict. And a conclusion typically shares the culmination of the story.

In an argumentative essay, students use the first paragraph to introduce the topic and the thesis statement. Then each body paragraph shares specific evidence relevant to the topic. And the conclusion wraps up all pieces of evidence and makes the final statement that aligns with the essay’s thesis.

3. Tone of Voice

Narrative essays can evoke emotions and entertain readers, which is why they can use a casual and unconventional tone of voice. Depending on the emotional background of the story, the author’s voice can be positive, negative, joyful, etc. Moreover, in such essays, every paragraph can have a different tone.

Argumentative essays have to adhere to a neutral, academic tone of voice.

4. Point of View

As a rule, argumentative essays are impersonal and, thus, rarely can be written in the first person. Instead, they have to be written in the third person for the sake of retaining an academic tone of voice and objectivity. Narrative essays, on the other hand, can be personal, so you can write them in the first person.

5. Paragraph Length

One more difference is the paragraph length. In an argumentative essay, your paragraphs should be about the same length as each has to represent separate evidence. However, the length of paragraphs in a narrative essay can vary significantly – it can be a long paragraph or even a single line. It all depends on the author’s style and the flow of the story.

The writing process for narrative and argumentative essays also varies. For instance, narrative essays make it necessary for a writer to choose something that happened to them in real life. The body of the narrative is written in chronological order. The essay may also include sensory details that are quite vivid.

On the other hand, the argumentative essay starts with an attention-grabbing statement in the introduction section. From there, the body of the essay deals with presenting evidence and writing persuasive content that brings the reader to accept the thesis statement.

Here you have it, these are the key differences narrative and argumentative essays have. As these essays are practically the opposites, it should be easy to remember what each should include. But you also shouldn’t forget that there are more essay types out there.

Difference Between an Argumentative Essay and Creative Writing Essay


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