ENGL 101
English Composition I
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This is the explanation of this type of essay. For the actual essay assignment, go here.

A Narrative essay is a story. More to the point, it’s a story with a point, a purpose. People are full of stories, after all. The vast majority of personal narratives are written for personal satisfaction or for a specific audience. In the work world, the narrative doesn't come into play very often, but occasionally you will be asked to report on what happened at a conference, or your memory of something that just happened.

Any time you tell about something that happened to you, it’s a story, right? WRONG.
Go back to that first sentence again. We are not just talking about narrative in general. We are discussing the Narrative ESSAY. This story that you are going to write down needs to be able to carry the weight of an essay. It needs to have an introduction, body paragraphS, a conclusion, a thesis, and everything thing else that an essay has.

So it needs to be long and complicated, right? WRONG.
Sometimes a narrative essay is long or complicated, but it’s just as common for a narrative essay to be about a relatively simple, brief situation. What makes it an essay is that it is analyzed and explained in some detail. The actual incident might be only a small part of the essay.

So since the analysis is so important, the thesis—the point being made—must really need to be emphasized in the introduction and conclusion, right? WRONG.
What often gets missed about narrative essays is that since it is a story with a purpose, telling the story as completely as possible with the necessary details communicates the point and purpose quite well. Being too strong about the point or purpose in a narrative makes it come across as preachy and obvious, not natural or realistic. Emphasize the significant details, and the purpose and reality come through clearly.

So if we are emphasizing details and description, a fictional story where we can control all the details is a better choice than a personal story, right? WRONG.
Most writers have a tendency to try to make their own narratives wrap up into neat little packages like a fictional story. The audience knows that reality doesn’t work that way and typically rejects this approach as unrealistic. The audience wants to know that this really did happen to somebody, that it isn’t just a made up example. If the story or details follow standard plotlines from TV shows, movies, or other essays, the audience knows that you are “borrowing” details, not writing about what actually happened to you. An honest, realistic narrative will always include some specific elements or details that only somebody who actually experienced the situation could remember.

A narrative essay is just that, an ESSAY that tells a STORY. This essay needs to be fully detailed and complete wherever possible. The thesis or purpose doesn’t need to be made incredibly obvious in the introduction or conclusion. If it’s there from the beginning of the writing process, it will be there in the finished story. If YOU as the writer understand what you “learned,” it should come through in the essay to the reader.

When writing a narrative essay, the author should keep these three elements in mind. The questions following each element are the sort of questions that need to be asked as part of the early stages of the writing process as well as in the revision stages.

Purpose -- There needs to be a reason, not only for writing the narrative, but also for why the reader should read it. WHAT purpose you have isn’t important, just that you, as the writer, are aware of what that purpose is.
Audience -- The writer needs to know who his/her audience is and how their needs will affect the way the narrative is composed and presented.
Focus -- The writer needs to be in control of the information being presented to the reader.

Introductions and Conclusions are often a difficult part of a narrative essay, because a story often uses different types and strategies than a more informative essay. In a more traditional essay, it is important that the subject is clear in the introduction and that the thesis/purpose is absolutely clear in the conclusion. However, in a narrative, too much emphasis on the thesis/purpose makes the essay seem forced – “preachy” – too much like a lesson.

My suggestion is very simple: write the first draft with a more traditional introduction and conclusion emphasizing the subject in the introduction and thesis in the conclusion. Then, as you revise that draft, play around with changing or even eliminating the introduction and conclusion. Most of the time, the writer will discover that the essay works much better as a narrative without them, but they served their purpose in the earlier draft of keeping the writer focused.

The story needs to have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Understand that every story has things that happened both before the story and after it that might pertain or be interesting. Make your choice. “I’m writing about the accident, not the argument that led up to the accident or the physical therapy after the accident.” Then stick to the choice. After all, if the other parts are interesting, they can become their own essays once you are done with this one.