5 elements of a narrative essay

What Are the Elements of Narrative?

Written by Neil Kokemuller

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A narrative is a literary work that involves the retelling of a story. To develop an effective narrative essay, paper, poem or book, you need to include several common narrative elements. These elements include a main theme of the story, characters, a plot and the setting.

Narrative Element Examples

A theme is the central premise in the story. A main character’s coming of age is a common theme, for instance. Characters include main characters, subordinate or supporting characters and minor characters. The plot is the way in which the story develops and includes goals of the characters, obstacles they face and significant turning points. The setting includes geographical location and other facets about where the story occurs, such as in the forest or in a small town.


About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

The 5 Key Components Of A Narrative Essay: Professional Tips

In some sense, the narrative essay appears to be dead simple. But though we are natural storytellers, there is a gulf between narrative essays that are executed well, and those that are a regurgitation of a sequence of events. These five professional tips are the key components of a narrative essay.

Though an essay may well be comedic or documentary rather than “dramatic”, in truth even those forms have strong elements of tension. These may arise from many different sources. Tension may arise from the mismatch between characters’ goals, those of others, or the impersonal forces of nature. Whatever the sources, be very careful to clearly identify the sources of tension in your narrative, how you will build those tensions, and ultimately, how you will release them.

Not all stories are told in the order in which they happen. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, though a story may have been lived forwards, it may be told backwards, forwards, or even sideways. The clever use of structure will allow you to control how your reader’s understanding of the tensions unfolds, and so support different themes and interpretations.

The points of tension are the key signposts along the way. The pace defines how slow or fast those signposts will be reached. This must be critically considered, as it is most often a balancing act between building greater tensions and simply boring your reader. This is also a good time to critically assess your audience’s attention span… In our modern world, it may be more successful to get to the point quickly.

Having laid out the route, the stops along the way, and the speed of travel, your attention must next focus on the qualities of the vehicle for the journey. In other words, it must consider elements of style. This includes elements such as perspective (told from the first person or third person point of view), tense (past, present, or future), voice (active or passive), and so forth. Your choices here should enhance, the final element: Your ultimate intention and ideology.

  • Component 5: Ideological intention

    Ultimately, stories are told for a purpose. Rarely does the intention stop at mere reporting, or even entertainment. Rather, writers tell stories that matter… Stories that illustrate beliefs about how the world is, and how the world ought to be. For example, if the world is filled with suffering, does your story show that we ought to accept that, or never stop fighting to end it? This is the ideology of the narrative. This is the most vital element to methodically consider, describe, and test against all of the other elements of your essay.

    Lesson 5: Elements of Narrative Essay


    • To know the structure of a narrative essay
    • To learn how to write a narrative essay
    • To understand the advantages and disadvantages when creating a narrative essay

    Quick Navigation through the Lesson 5:

    Narrative Essay

    A narrative essay is one form of writing wherein the writer shares his/her own personal story. This type of essay mostly uses the first person point of view making it more personal both to the writer telling the story and the reader going through it. It mostly talks about you or an experience you went through or something that a person very close to you has gone through or is going through.

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    Basic Structure of a Narrative essay

    Knowing the basic structure of a narrative essay can really be a big help for all creative writing

    1) Introduction

    This is the beginning or start of the essay. The introduction must contain:

    1. Hook – A hook is like a quote or saying that immediately catches the readers’ eye. This is the thing that will draw them in to read more about the piece.
    2. Scene – The scene is where the writer gives the readers a gist of the story. Here, one must give readers an idea on where the story is taking place, what it’s about, who the main characters are and so on.
    3. Thesis Statement – this is the theme. The thesis statement is something that will connect the whole story or essay together. This is where the insights from the story are culminated together by the writer.

    2) Body

    When one is writing the body of an essay he/she must remember to give as much detail about the experience as possible. Be highly descriptive because this is where the writer can describe anything and everything that he/she feels or have felt.

    1. Show them, don’t tell them – the writer should be able to make the readers feel as if they were also present when the event took place when going through his/her essay.
    2. Supporting Evidence – the writer must help the readers understand why the event or the experience was or is significant to him/her. He/she should be able to make them understand the importance of the event to the essay.
    3. Sense of Time – The writer must also have a sense of time. Having a sense of time not only organizes the whole piece but also helps the reader follow easily. The writer will be helping the readers not to get lost.
    4. Transitional words – Transitions help the writer take the readers from one point to another smoothly.

    3) Conclusion

    Conclusion is the morale of the story. After reading the writers piece the reader must come to a realization or a reflection. This is the ending so the reader must learn a thing or two from the essay.

    How to write a Narrative Essay

    How to write a narrative essay can vary from who ever is writing it, but here are the basic steps writers uses in order to write narrative essay.

    Prewriting is outlining the thoughts and ideas that will be used to write the essay. This helps the writer because it will give him/her a chance to sift through memories and experiences and find the perfect topic to write about.
    By drafting the writer gets a more organized glimpse of what he/she is going to write about.
    A writer needs to revise their work to give it a more coherent and concise order. Rearranging, omitting, adding etc. some of the sentences or ideas in the essay can help make it a better piece.
    Editing is proofreading. The writer must check for grammatical errors, wrong use of punctuation marks, run on sentences etc. to make the piece more sound and structured.
    Is sharing the work with readers and getting feedback in return. Feedback helps the writer improve when he/she writes the next piece or story.

    Advantages and Disadvantages when Writing a Narrative Essay


    • It will be easier for a writer to write a narrative essay because it mainly uses the first person point of view. It tackles a topic that is about the writer.
    • Writing narrative essay helps a writer gain perspective. It forces the writer to relive or revisit old memories which sometimes can be therapeutic or a source of fun for them.
    • Writing a narrative essay needs minimal research. Since it is about a writer’s personal experience he/she can just write his/her own memories and feelings.
    • Narrative writing helps the writer free his/her imagination.


    • Writing a narrative essay can tackle more of the truth side. Sometimes it limits a writer to use variety.
    • Writing a narrative essay blurs the line between real and unreal. Writers can distort the realness of their stories if they include too much fiction or imagination in their piece.
    • Writing a narrative essay does not mean that all readers will love it.

    In conclusion, the lesson aims to teach you about what a narrative essay is and how to start writing one. Now that you have understood what a narrative essay is and all its elements and components, it is time for you to create one yourself. You can write about the everyday life of being a student for an idea, so go on and write.

    As for the next lesson, we will be tackling about fiction writing. Fiction simply means writing creatively and freely with the help of one’s imagination. When you are done studying and creating a narrative essay you can head on now to the next lesson to find out more about fiction writing.