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Characteristics of Narrative Essays

by Jana Sosnowski, studioD

The narrative essay reports events or tells a story using elements of fiction. Plot, characters and details are included in a narrative essay. Generally, these essays are written in chronological order. The purpose of the narrative essay is to share a personal experience that a reader can identify with or learn from. The characteristics of a narrative essay are use of characters and setting, literary techniques, chronology and a moral to the story.

Characters and Setting

Characters and setting are storytelling elements that give life to the narrative essay. It is important to choose the characters who are most important to the story development. Characters' personalities should follow the "showing not telling" rule and demonstrate the qualities of each character. In developing the characters, use the actions and dialogue of the character to show personality and mood. Setting can include visual details, tastes, sounds and smells. Specific measurements can add to details about shape, time and size.

Literary Techniques

In addition to showing the actions and personalities of characters and giving visual details of the setting, add details and description to the narrative essay through the use of writing techniques. Use of figurative language, such as similes and metaphors, can add to the descriptive quality of the the narrative essay. These comparisons allow the reader to draw personal connections with the writing and topic. Monologues, humor and suspense increase the reader's interest in the narrative.


A narrative essay is written in chronological order -- that is, events should be told in the order of occurrence. Transition words should cue the passage of time. Examples of appropriate transition words are: first, later, before, afterwards and meanwhile. Flashback sequences are used in narratives to give context to the story.

Moral of the Story

The key point or reflection of the story is often presented as the moral of the story at the end of the narrative essay. In this final section of the essay, the writer reflects on the experience presented in the narration and discusses the lesson learned or larger importance of the story. The conclusion may also include the significance of the event to the author's own life or to a broader population.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

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