Famous Narrative Essays
When you are asked to write a personal narrative essay, whether it is as a part of your college admissions package, for scholarship competition, or for an assignment in an English composition class, your first understanding must be that this is not the simplistic essay that you may have written in middle or high school, speaking to your most memorable Christmas or your best vacation, or the scariest moment in your life. These are essays that must relate significant experiences and/or incidents in your life that changed you in some way, which caused you to understand one of life’s “rules” or principles, or that resulted in the development of values or beliefs that you will hold from this point forward.
Another type of narrative essay assignment you may receive is to tell someone else’s story. While this is often an assignment for journalism classes, it may also appear in an English comp, history, or sociology course as well. These will involve an interview with the subject, of course.
It may be difficult to come up with narrative essay ideas for each one of these types of tasks, but studying famous narrative essays of others can certainly provide not only ideas but methods of presentation that are engaging and compelling for your reader.
Examples of Great Narrative Essays
There are a huge number of published narrative essays all over the Internet, but here are a few examples you may want to study, especially to see how the introductions are written in such a way as to hook the reader’s attention from the first sentence forward.
The first, “After Life,” by Joan Didion, is a personal narrative that describes her reaction to her husband’s sudden and unexpected death.
“Soldiers Face Neglect,” is the story of several returning Iraq and Afgan War veterans and their struggles to secure proper medical treatment through the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C.
Most of us alive today do not remember return soldiers from World War II. Bruce DeSilva, however, recalls life with his father and the emotional war wounds with which his father lived the rest of his life. He tells the narrative of his father in, “A Father’s Deepest War Wound.”
Finally, you should read the 7-part narrative titled “Enrique’s Journey,” by Sonia Nazario, the tale of a teenager’s trek from crime-ridden Honduras to find his mother, an illegal immigrant in the United States. This piece won a Pulitzer Prize.
Each of these narratives tells a compelling story of either a personal experience or that of another – an experience that has impacted their lives forever. While your story may not be as impactful as theirs, you can see how a narrative is developed – how a story is woven into a piece of writing that is impossible for a reader to put down. And that is what you want from your story, especially if you are struggling with how to write a personal narrative for college admissions or a scholarship.
Identifying Your Personal Narrative Topic
If your essay is for admissions or scholarship, you will have options of prompts. Be sure to read them carefully. While each one will want you to focus on something from your personal life, they are all just a bit different. And if you are using the “Common Application” process, you can actually get those prompts online right now and have as long as you want to study them and make your selection. Many students do this, and it is a wise move. Other major universities publish theirs as well, or you can access any college or university and get its application package online. The essay prompt(s) will be included.
Creativity is a Must
Many students groan when they hear the term “creative writing,” but that is much of what a winning personal narrative is all about. If you struggle with creative writing, there are solutions. Once you have identified the story you will tell, write it up as a rough draft. Be careful to include every bit of detail that tells your story completely. At this point, you should seek some help, as most students do. Some have trusted friends or family members who are skilled creative writers; others turn to reliable writing services that have creative writers on staff. These experienced pros know how to put the creative pizazz into your narrative, in order to make it wonderfully engaging and memorable for the readers.
What Else Should You Know
To give you the whole picture there are some words about famous argumentative essays for us to add.
Often, a narrative can turn into a persuasive or argumentative essay that presents a call to action either within or at the end of the essay. Re-read the essay, “Soldiers Face Neglect.” In it you will find a number of calls for the U.S. Government, and the Veterans Administration in particular, to clean up its act relative to care for veterans in outpatient treatment centers. Present an argument through a narrative is a strong presentation and makes that argument certainly more powerful. If you write a narrative for an English comp class, consider a story that will also become an argument – it will put a great “twist” on that narrative.
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Writing a personal narrative essay requires you to share some of yourself. You will be writing about an event from your own life and sharing it with your reader in a meaningful way. These stories may be told in your own style, with plenty of details, sparingly, or any way that you see fit, in order to get the idea across to the reader.
You’ve probably read a number of personal narratives before and now it’s time to learn how to write a personal narrative yourself. With a little practice and planning, you can turn a piece of your past into a riveting read. This may be one of the simpler essays to write, since it is entirely based on your own experiences and doesn’t require a lot of research like most essays do.
Start with a Personal Narrative Outline
It’s always a good idea to write an outline before you start to write your actual essay. This helps you keep everything organized and flowing properly throughout the essay. An outline doesn’t require much work, but it can change the way you create your essay and drastically improve it.
To begin, you’ll need to come up with an event you want to write about. This could be a time when you learned a lesson in your life, something funny or sad, or an event where you showed a quality or trait that you want to share. Everyone has a story to tell, so it’s a matter of figuring out which one you want to write about.
Once you know what you’re going to write about, it’s time to create your personal narrative outline. Start by listing the order of events and writing down some of the most standout details for each. These will be your paragraphs, to be filled in with descriptive wording.
Writing a Personal Narrative Introduction
The introduction to your personal narrative essay is possibly the most important part. It’s where you will catch the reader’s attention and get them reading. The introduction should be interesting and let the reader know what to expect from your paper.
While your intro doesn’t need to be very long, it does need to set expectations and give the main point or thesis statement of the piece. Even a personal narrative will use a thesis statement, or a main point that the rest of the essay is based around. You will need to determine this in order to complete the essay.
From the intro, you can fill in the remaining paragraphs with the rest of your story. Be sure to use enough details to give your reader a story they can immerse themselves in. Explain the feelings you had and describe what you saw, felt, heard, etc. The more you add to the description, the easier it is for the reader to imagine the situation or event.
Writing Your Personal Narrative Conclusion
Your personal narrative conclusion is what will stick with people. Use it to recap your story and share what you learned or the lesson to be gleaned from the essay. This is the perfect place to let people know what to do next, whether it be to act on the lesson shown or create their own story. The personal narrative conclusion should also restate the thesis statement, as is the norm in essays.
Famous Personal Narratives
Before you write your own personal narrative, it can be helpful to look at some samples. Many famous people have written their own narratives or memoirs, which may be useful for you to check out. Here are a few that we recommend reading:
Once More to the Lake – E.B. White: This personal narrative by the author of Charlotte’s Web tells about the author’s experience with his son, spending time at the same lake he frequented with his own father.
Ticket to the Fair – David Foster Wallace: The author relates his hilarious experiences at the local fair, with a focus on how living in two very different areas of the United States affect his personality and experiences.
The Death of the Moth – Virginia Woolf: This essay is the perfect example of how you can narrow your focus in a personal narrative. The author writes her observations of a simple moth’s death in detail, creating a fascinating essay.
These are just a few of the many famous personal narratives available to read. If you have a favorite author, do a quick search to see if he or she has ever written an essay. Many have and you may be surprised at the insights you gain when reading these essays.
Personal Narrative Topics
Choosing your personal narrative topics can be difficult. There are so many experiences that you’ve been through . . . how do you select just one? A good way to choose is to think of which experience had the most impact on you and your life. Often, these are the events that are strongest in our memories. This makes it easier to recall the details for writing.
Personal narrative topics may include:
- A childhood birthday party
- An experience that made you realize you were an adult
- Your first day of work
- A time when you fought with your significant other and overcame it
- An embarrassing incident at school
- A time you had to make a difficult decision
- A song that affected you personally
- A relative or other person who had a big influence on your life
- A lesson learned from a pet
The best topics will be very personal and should include plenty of details to help the reader feel like they were there and had the same experience. Check out other personal narratives to get a better idea of how to write.
Use a Personal Narrative Template
A personal narrative template will make your writing that much simpler. Everything is laid out in the order you need to write about it and you just need to fill in the blanks with your own experience and details.
A template can also give you some much needed insight through questions that will make you think about your topic. You’ll reach deeper and dig out more details that really make the essay a hit. Whether you are accomplished at writing essays or not, a template will make it much simpler for you to finish the essay.