What is a narrative essay?
When we were young, our parents or nannies probably used to read us bedtime stories. Most of the stories used to begin in almost a similar way. That is; “a long time ago” “once upon a time” for fairy tales or “very many years ago.” This was our cue to adjust ourselves to bed, get a comfortable position as we semiconsciously shifted to a world of virtual reality. In our heads, the real world faded as we drifted into a world where monsters, fairies, witches, kings, and princesses were the norm. No one told us that it was time to shift realities, it was just instinct. This instinct was brought about by constant exposure to works of creative narrative writers.
Fast forward to the present situation where you are required to write the narratives yourself. Looking back at the creativity you were exposed to at such a tender age, and the level of creativity you are exposed to now through novels, you must have developed a fairly good idea what narration is all about.
Narrative essays are writings that tell a story. The word narrative comes from the word narrate, which means the art of telling a story. Narrative essays are all about recounting certain events to someone through text.
Writing a narrative essay can be fun and frustrating at the same time. It is fun because you have the absolute power and control over the plot and characters. You can twist the story as much as you want, give characters personality, create a life for them or even punish them. There is no limit to your imaginations on this type of essays. You can allow your mind to stretch its boundaries and fly you to whatever world you imagine. Even when writing a narrative based on real-life events, like for example the worst day of your life, you still have the absolute power to tell your story from your point of view. You can paint it as you saw it. Heck! You can even make a hero out of yourself. Isn’t that great?
Well, that was the fun bit. Let’s have a look at the other “not-so-fun” part. Much as the idea of writing a narrative can be all exciting, writing the actual narrative can be a challenge. You see, not everyone is a great orator. Some were born with the natural gift of painting pictures using words while others struggle with making a virtual impression. You might have this great story in your head, with all the characters, fun plot, suspense and all that, but telling it might become hard.
Have you ever been in a situation where you think of some great mini-story only to realize that it was not so great after telling it? If you have, then that right there is an example of poor narration skills. Before you start punishing yourself for your inadequacies, it might interest you to know that narration is a skill that can be acquired. Not being born with the natural ability to tell remarkable stories does not mean that you have to die without one.
Here are some few pointers to writing an intriguing narrative essay.
- Choose a good topic
I honestly cannot overemphasize the importance of a good topic. Remember, the aim of being given a narrative essay to write may be to assess your storytelling skills. If this is the case, which it usually is most of the time, you should strive to give your best creative work. Picking a good topic is the first step to getting there.
When choosing a topic for your creative narrative essay, always choose a topic that you can comfortably handle. It is always advisable to go for events that occurred personally to you. People tend to remember personal events better than any other events. Much as you are free to write the story from your perspective and imagination, you should strive to keep it as close to reality as possible. The better recollection you have of the event, the better your story will be.
The devil is always in the details. Choose a topic that you will not have to struggle remembering the details or coming up with them if need be.
The same applies if your narrative is based on a theme as opposed to an event. Always choose a theme that you are comfortable to work with as opposed to one that stresses you.
- Stick to your topic
When I was an eighth grader, one of the wings of our school’s tuition block caught fire. It didn’t completely burn down, thanks to the prompt response of the fire brigade. School burning became an overnight sensation at the school. Everyone found a way to twist the plot of essays to school fire. This is a perfect example of writers veering off the topic.
Once you have a topic, stick to it. Never introduce another plot and force it to fit it to the topic. There is a reason why you were asked to write a narrative around a certain topic. Most of the time it is used to test your vocabulary in that theme.
- Choose a short plot
When thinking of a plot to write about, always settle for a plot that you can manage. The shorter the duration of the plot the better. Remember you are not writing a novel, just a few paragraphs. These paragraphs are not enough to accommodate a long plot. For example, you cannot fit your whole childhood into an essay without sounding vague. Readers crave for detail. The shorter the duration of the plot, the more space you have to give the details at length. I have seen a TV series with every episode revolving around one hour. As you can tell, the detail in the series is up to every second of the occurrences.
When settling for a plot, choose the most dynamic one, as long as you can handle the twists without losing your readers.
- Show your readers
Narratives are all about imagination. The better you are at transferring this image to your reader, the better you are at writing. For a reader to fully enjoy your writing, you must involve them. Show them instead of just telling them the story. Appeal to their five senses. Let them feel what you felt, taste what you tasted, feel what you touched and see what you saw. Only then will you have fully captured their imaginations. Involving their senses has a way of drifting someone into your virtual reality and making them actual bystander observers in your story.
Instead of just saying how heartbroken you were when you were rejected, show your reader how your heart sank, how heavy you felt your heart was, show them how the world around you started spinning, and how your shoulders dropped as the last bit of ego escaped your soul. This way your reader can feel what you felt, you can even drive them to tears with your descriptions.
Narrative essay structure. Best practice
All narratives have the same skeleton structure. The features that spell out a good narrative include;
- Introduction- The introduction should be as captivating as possible. This is where you bait and hook your reader into your story. It is like a gateway into your imagination. Make it interesting.
- Plot- the plot is the story you intend on telling.
- Characters- characters in a narrative should be properly developed. Give them more than just a name. They should have a face, character, and habits. The main characters should be given a bit of background.
- Setting- describe the place the plot is taking place in detail such descriptions are pivotal to the story.
- Other parts include; dialogue, suspense, tension, dilemma, climax and finally conclusion.
The ABDCE approach
One of the ways to attract and retain your audience is to use the ABCDE approach. ABDCE is an acronym for;
Action- start by giving your readers some action! No one likes a story that starts slowly. The introduction should be able to capture the attention of the reader. You can start by giving your reader a sneak peak of the climax just to make them want to read more.
Background- once you have their attention you can go back and explain how your characters ended up there in the first place. This is where you give your characters personalities.
Development- after bringing your readers up to speed with the occurrences, you can comfortably move on by developing the plot itself. This is where you will need to do more showing and less telling.
Climax- as you build up your story, make sure you are building it up to something. The climax of your story must stand out from the rest of the plot. If you have a rapidly developing plot, you can slow it down a bit in anticipation of the climax
Ending- also known as a conclusion. It is the last bit of your essay where you round up your plot. You can leave your readers in suspense, or you can give an idea of what happened after the plot. After ending the plot, it is advisable to give your opinion or a running comment on what you learned or what the narrative means to you.
Being a great narrative essay writer takes patience and practice. After all, skills are not congenital; they are acquired.