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.
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.