Here are some pointers for writing a good narrative essay.
Narrative essays tell a story so they have a beginning, middle and end. The structure is like most movies and novels: something happens – there is some problem, adventure, love story etc that is then resolved at the end.
Topics can be something like:
• The accident
• How I learnt to dance
Example of a narrative essay
A day I will never forget
It was a sunny day at the beach. The sand was hot under our feet. My little brother Xoli started crying. “Pick him up, Busi,” my mother said.
I picked him up. He was so heavy. And his nose was dirty. I didn’t want that snot on my summer top! I put him down and he started crying again. “Pick him up!” my mother shouted. I picked him up again, wishing I didn’t have a baby brother who was always such a pain.
Finally we got to a good spot and spread out the towels. My mother got out her magazine and started reading. I tried to play on my cellphone but the sun was too bright. So I lay down and closed my eyes.
Suddenly I realised it was quiet – too quiet. I sat up and looked for Xoli. He was nowhere around. Then I saw him. He was digging in the sand close to the water and a big wave was coming. “Xoli!” I shouted. But he didn’t hear me.
I started running as fast as I could. My mother had heard me and she came after me too. But we were too late. The huge wave swept him off his feet. I rushed into the water and managed to grab hold of his arm before he could be sucked out to sea. I picked him up. He was spluttering and crying. When I saw he was all right I nearly started crying too.
“Why did you go so far?” I started shouting.
But my mother took him from me gently. “He is just a baby, Busi. We should have been watching him.”
The two of us sat with Xoli and built a sandcastle. I found shells to decorate the castle and Xoli clapped his hands. My mother went to buy us ice creams.
That day I realised how much I love my baby brother.
Tips for writing good narrative essays
• Do not choose stories that cover a long time. Choose to describe short events. (Notice that this essay is actually only about one thing that happened at the beach.)
• Work out how to start your essay
(You can choose to start the story at the beginning, like this: That morning it had been sunny and hot. We had decided to swim in the river…
Or start it in an exciting way, with direct speech:
“Help!” my brother cried. I could see that in the next few minutes he would be swept away by the strong river current. But could we get there in time?
And then go back to explain what led up to the event.
• Only include relevant details. If it is a story about your brother nearly drowning, the whole story must build up to the climax.
• Use direct speech if you can, to make your writing come alive. (Notice in the essay above how there are small bits of direct speech, so we get a feeling for the characters.)
• Use descriptive words to set the scene. (Notice in the essay above how you get a picture of the scene on the beach, almost like a movie, so it is easy to imagine.)
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The structure of a short story or novel follows a pattern with a beginning, middle, and end. Each of the three parts of the story fulfills a distinct purpose.
Here the author hooks the reader by introducing the main characters and their goals, the setting, and the main conflict. The mood and tone are set at the beginning, and should be consistent throughout the story. The tension will fluctuate, but overall the tone should be suspenseful, romantic, or whatever, from start to finish.
Here a series of events or complications occur, leading to an increase in the tension. This is also where the characters change and grow as they deal with the conflicts they face. Some of the minor crises are temporarily resolved, but the story continues in the direction of a major crisis, or climax.
Here the main conflict is resolved, and the loose ends are tied up. Tension falls quickly, and a good ending leaves the readers satisfied—even if they aren’t happy with the way things turned out.
This pattern is called the story arc; it can be visualized as an inverted check mark, with tension building to the climax, then abruptly declining. Depending on the type of story, the rise may be gradual or sharp, but the ending almost always comes shortly after the main climax. After all, the desire to see how the story ends is what keeps a reader turning the pages. Once they know how it works out, there is not much to hold their interest.
Here are a couple of sites that go into more detail on how to structure a story:
Edit February 17, 2010:I ran across a great postby Justine Lee Musk on writing opening hooks. It’s informative and very entertaining.
Do you prefer stories that keep you on the edge of your seat right from the start, or ones that gradually increase the tension and conflict?
Posted in Fiction, Story Elements, Writing Craft | Tagged Fiction, story arc, story structure, writing help | 20 Comments