Let's talk about how to take your next writing project from good to great, whether you're working on a personal narrative essay, a poem, or something else entirely.
What is a narrative?
Before you start working on the different elements of narrative writing, it's helpful to understand what exactly a narrative is.
Taking the most literal meaning, the definition of narration is simply another word for story; It is the way in which a story is elaborated through the union of different events, experiences or details that make up a complete story.
You may have heard the word “narration” in different contexts and have doubts about the details. What is a personal narrative compared to an essay? What is a narrative poem, and how is this form different from other fictional writing?
It's important to remember when considering narrative meaning that your work can ultimately take any form you want, whether it's a song or a play, a long essay or even a game. If it tells a story, it is a narrative.
The narrative form can be oral or written and fictional or nonfictional, depending on what best suits the story. Narration, for example, is the process by which a story is told orally and it is what gives a storyteller its name: it is the guide through which the story is revealed to us. Throughout history, storytelling has been an important form of communication, as well as being vital to human development. Help children process what they learn in their day to day and memorize this information by retelling what they understand of a specific situation.
Storytelling, particularly oral storytelling, has also fostered the development of language over the centuries and across cultures. Storytelling in all its forms has been the foundation on which our traditions and values have been forged, and it continues to be an important part of our daily lives.
And the narrative essays?
When we start to think about “what is a personal narrative?” The first place we usually turn to is nonfiction and the narrative essay. But what is a narrative essay?
Often associated with creative nonfiction when it comes to narrative definitions, personal essays are often based on a real experience you've had and, like descriptive essays, allow you to develop your ideas more creatively than other long writing methods, such as academic papers or newspaper articles. They are usually written in the first person and are based on moving moments and experiences in the writer's life.
It is likely that at some point you have written a personal narrative essay, possibly without realizing it. Narrative questions are often used in college applications to invite you to think creatively about a topic, while demonstrating your skills in structuring a story from beginning to end, your use of language, and how to engage the reader.
For good examples of narrative essays, these college application suggestions are a good starting point. Take a look at some of the suggestions and try writing your own. They are usually open questions so that any student can use them: something like "remember a time when you faced a problem or challenge, how it affected you and what you did to overcome it" is common in this type of narrative suggestions.
Another popular form of personal essay is literary storytelling. You may be wondering “what is a literary narrative?”. The key is in the name. These stories focus on writers discovering their relationship with words, whether by reading, writing, or speaking. Many of the world's most notable writers have written literary narratives for magazines and newspapers, detailing their earliest memories of reading and writing, or reflecting on their journey as novelists, poets, journalists, or screenwriters.
5 Examples of Narrative Essays
1. “Goodbye to All That” by Joan Didion
Even in Crawling to Bethlehem, a collection of Didion's essays, this piece delves into the emotions brought about by his departure from New York City and his journey toward self-awareness.
“Simply put, I was in love with New York. I don't mean "love" in any colloquial way, I mean I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person you touch and never love anyone like that again.
2. “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson was known for his exceptional personal narratives, presented in both written and oral form. His work is one of the best examples of a narrative essay of the 19th century.
“My life is not an apology, but a life. It exists for itself and not for a show. I prefer it to be of a lower intensity, to be genuine and equal, than to be sparkling and unstable”.
3. “Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin
Reflecting on his life as a black man in early and mid-20th century America, James Baldwin's narrative essays are frequently referenced to this day.
“Harlem, at least physically, has changed very little in my parents' lives or in mine. Now, as then, the buildings are old and in desperate need of repair, the streets are crowded and dirty, there are too many human beings per square block.
4. “My Life as an Heiress” by Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron is known for her screenplays for romantic comedies like 'You've Got Mail' and 'When Harry Met Sally', but she began her career as a writer and found great success with her personal essays.
“I never knew why my mom wasn't close with her brother, Hal. I think I know why. It may be that he did not help financially with his parents' expenses. He may not have liked his wife, Eleanor, very much. Or maybe she forever resented the fact that her parents had found the money to send him to Columbia, but they made her go to a public university. Who knows? The secret is dead and buried."
5. “Joy” by Zadie Smith
British essayist Zadie Smith has won numerous awards for her work and is a world-renowned novelist.
“Perhaps the first thing to say is that I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I wonder if that's more than the usual amount. It was the same even in childhood, when most people are miserable. I don't think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me, but because little things help a lot."
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