Narrative Essay Writing: Basic Formatting Rules

What Is a Narrative Essay?

At the collegiate level, a narrative essay is a piece of serious creative nonfiction that follows a chronological or story driven format. In strict contrast to a persuasive essay, a research paper, or any other type of writing assignment, a narrative essay does not have a strict purpose. Rather than aiming to inform the reader or persuade him or her to take the author’s view, the author of a narrative essay is supposed to convey a story that is rooted in real life.

How Is a Narrative Essay Evaluated?

When you are writing a persuasive or informative essay, you may be graded based on the merits of your arguments or the extensiveness of your research. If you are writing a term paper, you are expected to create a novel study design, implement it, and describe it in precise and technical language. In a narrative essay, however, your goal is to write beautifully and authentically about something that has happened to you personally.

When your narrative essay is graded, your instructor will look at several components. First, they will evaluate the quality of the writing. Next they will grade the way the narrative flows, and the coherence of how the story develops. Finally, the instructor will evaluate the narrative essay as an overall creative work.

What Makes a Strong Narrative Essay?

Did your essay build a rich tapestry of personal details that spoke to something more broad about the human condition? Was it plainly, yet gorgeously written? Was the topic appropriate, and did your essay do it artistic justice? These are the questions that will be asked. You can expect that your professor will ask him or herself all these questions after your essay is submitted. Take care when writing your narrative that all these points are touched upon.

How is a Narrative Essay Formatted?

Because narrative essays are creative and expressive works above all else, there is not a specific regimented format. You should double space your paragraphs and include a first line indent, of course, and include page numbers as well as your name in the header; aside from that, you should have relatively free artistic reign over how you write your story.

Before you write your narrative essay, inquire about your instructor’s grading rubric and their expected format. You may find a few particular guidelines or limitations, especially pertaining to word count. But do not be afraid to explore and experiment with the form.