Narrative Papers


When you are asked to write a narrative, your teacher wants you to relate a personal experience with your reader. Writing a narrative requires that you reflect on a memory and relate this memory effectively.

To write a successful narrative essay, you should think about:

  • Organization: Narrative papers are typically organized in chronological order, meaning the order in which events occurred. Depending on your comfort level with writing, you can usually take artistic license with the way your narrative flows.
  • Description: Narrative writing and descriptive writing go hand-in-hand. When you begin your narrative paper, think about the aspects of the memory you are relating that are significant. For example, if you are describing a meaningful childhood memory at your grandmother’s house, be sure to describe how the house looked and what it smelled like. Don’t be afraid of using similes and metaphors in your description. Similes, which are used to compare two unlike things using ‘like’ or ‘as’, are an interesting way to relate an experience to your reader. For example, “my grandmother’s house smelled like a library filled with old, dusty books” sounds much better than, “my grandmother’s house smelled weird.” Similes give your reader something to relate to. Description is what gives your narrative a life of its own.

7 Simple Steps to Great Narrative Papers

Step 1: Choosing a Topic for Your Narrative

A narrative requires that you tell a brief story about an event you experienced. Narratives are generally short (800-1000 words), and instructors usually expect the narrative to be detailed since it relates and experience that you’ve had.
One thing that you should think about when choosing what to write about is whether you’ve had a moment in your life that has affected the person you are now. Most narratives explain how you were changed in some way. So, with that in mind, choose an event in your life that has impacted you, for example, the death of your first pet or a moment when you felt successful or proud. Some common narrative topics are

  • a moment in nature
  • a moment of profound success or failure
  • the death of a loved one
  • a memorable wedding or funeral

Step 2: Brainstorming

Much of the time spent writing a narrative is dedicated to pre-writing and brainstorming. As you begin thinking about how your narrative will be organized, take a few moments to think about some important aspects of your narrative that you think will need to have vivid details.

Begin with a sheet of paper (or a blank word processing document) and think about the event you are going to relate. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where did this event take place?
  • What was the time of year and day?
  • What was the weather like?
  • Do you remember any smells, sounds, visual images?
  • How old were you at the time?

Continue to ask yourself questions like these, and answer them with as many details as you can. Then, when you begin writing your narrative paper, you will have some details already written. Don’t forget to use figurative language to relate these meaningful details to your reader. This brainstorming exercise will help you to reflect on the event and to add necessary descriptive details.

Step 3: Writing a Thesis Statement

Believe it or not, a narrative paper should include a thesis. Not what you wanted to hear? Well, there is good news. A narrative thesis is not limited to a formula like most thesis statements, and they are easier to write.

The goal of a narrative thesis statement is to give your reader an idea about how this event that you’re about to relate has impacted your life. If you’ve already chosen a topic for your narrative, think about why you chose it. What about this event is important enough for you to dedicate your time to writing it? After you’ve contemplated these questions, write a sentence that explains how the event you are writing about has changed your life or has changed your opinions about something. This sentence is your thesis statement.

“Coming to terms with the death of my first pet, Marty the Goldfish, forever changed my understanding of life”
Include your narrative thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, either at the beginning or the end. Try the narrative thesis as the first and last sentences and see which placement makes the most logical sense.

Step 4: Making an Outline

Nobody likes writing an outline. That’s a fact. However, outlines are important to beginning to organize your paper, and an outline doesn’t have to be as formal as you think.

Think of an outline as being a road map. If you don’t know where you’re going, you might get lost. An outline keeps you on track.

After reflecting about your topic, think about the number of paragraphs you will write. Most instructors subscribe to the five paragraph essay while others are less strict about paragraph guidelines. If you have to work with a five paragraph essay, your paper will be organized like this:


  • Provide background information
  • Set the scene
  • Include a thesis statement

Body Paragraphs 1-3:

  • The plot occurs in these paragraphs
  • Be detailed!


  • Reflect on the experience
  • How were you changed by the experience?

This type of outline can be modified for any number of body paragraphs.

How to Write a Narrative Paper - Rosenwald SchoolStep 5: Writing your First Draft

Writing your first draft is like conducting an experiment. You’re not sure that what you’re doing will work, but your goal is to get your ideas on paper so you can analyze your writing and see what works and what doesn’t. You shouldn’t expect that your first draft will be good enough to turn in as a final; even the best writers have to revise their writing several times before it is published.

There are several pre-writing strategies that you can use to get started. One of the best strategies is free writing. Free writing is as simple as opening up a word processing document and writing. Concentrating on your topic, write everything that comes to mind. Be detailed and descriptive.

The only difficulty in free writing is turning off that editor inside your head who tells you that what you’re writing isn’t any good. While you’re free writing, tell that little guy to shut up and let you write, but do so politely because you’ll need his expertise during the revision stage.

Step 6: Revising Your First Draft

When you’re ready to revise your writing, look at your outline and see how well you have stuck to the plan. During the revision stage, you should look for coherence, grammar, and description. Visit the writing center at your school or visit an online editing service to have your paper looked over by a professional.

Step 7: Preparing the Final Draft

Believe it or not, a final draft says a lot about you as a person. You don’t want your instructor to think you’re a slacker, so make sure your final draft is well-organized and formatted according to your instructor’s specifications.

Before you turn in your final draft, read through your paper a few times. Reading your paper out loud can help you find missing words or awkward sentences. Then, make sure you have formatted the paper according to your instructor’s specifications. Here are some things you should look for

  • Do you have the correct heading?
  • Have you indented the first sentence for every paragraph?
  • Have you double or single-spaced according to your instructor’s specifications?
  • Did you include page numbers?
  • Did you use the correct font (size and style)?