The term “narrative” can refer to a type of essay, short story or novel. However, each type of narrative has different elements. When writing a narrative essay, you will focus on telling a true story, usually something that happened in your past. When you write a short story, you create fictional characters and a plot. Understanding the differences between these types of narrative will help you recognize these works and may improve your writing skills.
Fact vs. Fiction
Short stories and narrative essays differ in a few ways, but one difference helps define each type of writing. In a narrative essay, you will use facts to tell the story, typically relying on your own memory. With short stories, you will make up the content, creating characters and events that suit the story. You may struggle to maintain accuracy when you rely on your own memory for details or exact dialogue, but so long as you relay information to the best of your memory and do not change events or people, you can say you remained factual in the content of your essay, says Janet Burroway, a writer and Distinguished Professor Emerita of Florida State University.
A narrative essay needs a thesis statement. This sentence belongs in the first paragraph of the essay and informs the reader of the main idea of your essay. For example, your thesis statement may say, “After I passed my driver’s test, I learned how difficult it is to be a good driver.” As you tell the story throughout your essay, you will work towards proving or showing the accuracy of your thesis statement. Although a short story does not have a thesis statement, many short stories do have a central theme. Perhaps the writer aims to show the impact of loss, love or other concept. She will not typically state the theme for the reader, but, instead, she will show this through the characters, plot and other story elements.
The general structure of narrative essays and short stories will vary slightly. In a short story, you might place the reader in the middle of action from the first word. However, in a narrative essay, you will need to have an introductory paragraph, a body and a concluding paragraph. The introduction will give the reader background to the essay, and you will state your thesis, the main idea behind the essay. In the conclusion, you will help the reader summarize the content of your essay and how your story proves the thesis statement.
These two types of writing have differences, but they also have similarities. Just as a short story contains characters and plot, a climax and resolution of the story, a narrative essay will also have these elements. You may also choose to put dialogue into your essay, something you will also find in a short story.
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Narrative Essays
- Santa Barbara City College: Structure of a Personal Essay Narrative
- Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft; Janet Burroway
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images