How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech

Find inspiration with this list of 50 essay topics

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A narrative essay or speech is used to tell a story, often one that is based on personal experience. This genre of work comprises works of nonfiction that hew closely to the facts and follow a logical chronological progression of events. Writers often use anecdotes to relate their experiences and engage the reader.

Narrative essays are one of the four major essay types. The others are:

  • Argumentative: In these essays, the writer makes the case for a specific opinion on a topic, using research and analysis to persuade the reader.
  • Descriptive: This kind of writing relies on detail to describe or define a person, place, thing, or experience. Writing may be either objective or subjective.
  • Expository: Like argumentative essays, expository writing requires research and analysis in order to expound upon a subject. Unlike argumentative essays, the intention is not to change the readers' opinion but to inform the readers.

Narrative essays serve a wide variety of purposes. The most successful ones usually share these three basic traits:

  1. They make a central point.
  2. They contain specific details in support of that point.
  3. They are clearly organized in time.

In the process, your narrative should have an emotional appeal. It can be serious or humorous, but you must give your audience some way to connect with your story.

Constructing the Essay

Magazines like the New Yorker and websites like Vice are known for the pages-long narrative essays they publish, sometimes called long-format journalism.

But an effective narrative essay can be as short as five paragraphs. As with other kinds of essay writing, narratives follow the same basic outline:

  • Introduction: This is the opening paragraph of your essay. It contains the hook, which is used to grab the reader's attention, and the thesis or topic, which you'll detail in the next section.
  • Body: This is the heart of your essay, usually three to five paragraphs in length. Each paragraph should contain one example, such as a personal anecdote or noteworthy event, that supports your larger topic.
  • Conclusion: This is the final paragraph of your essay. In it, you'll sum up the main points of the body and bring your narrative to an end. Writers sometimes embellish the conclusion with an epilogue or a takeaway.

Narrative Essay Topics

Choosing the topic for your essay may be the hardest part. What you're looking for is a particular incident that you can recount in a well-developed and clearly organized essay or speech. We have a few ideas to help you brainstorm topics. They're quite broad, but something will surely spark an idea.

  1. An embarrassing experience
  2. A memorable wedding or funeral
  3. An exciting minute or two of a football game (or other sporting event)
  4. Your first or last day at a job or new school
  5. A disastrous date
  6. A memorable moment of failure or success
  7. An encounter that changed your life or taught you a lesson
  8. An experience that led to a renewed faith
  9. A strange or unexpected encounter
  10. An experience of how technology is more trouble than it's worth
  11. An experience that left you disillusioned
  1. A frightening or dangerous experience
  2. A memorable journey
  3. An encounter with someone you were in awe of or afraid of
  4. An occasion when you experienced rejection
  5. Your first visit to the countryside (or to a large city)
  6. The circumstances that led to the breakup of a friendship
  7. An experience that showed that you should be careful of what you wish for
  8. A significant or comic misunderstanding
  9. An experience that showed how appearances can be deceiving
  10. An account of a difficult decision that you had to make
  11. An event that marked a turning point in your life
  12. An experience that changed your viewpoint on a controversial issue
  13. A memorable encounter with someone in authority
  14. An act of heroism or cowardice
  15. An imaginary encounter with a real person
  16. A rebellious act
  17. A brush with greatness or death
  18. A time that you took a stand on an important issue
  1. An experience that altered your view of someone
  2. A trip that you would like to take
  3. A vacation trip from your childhood
  4. An account of a visit to a fictional place or time
  5. Your first time away from home
  6. Two different versions of the same event
  7. A day when everything went right or wrong
  8. An experience that made you laugh until you cried
  9. The experience of being lost
  10. Surviving a natural disaster
  11. An important discovery
  12. An eyewitness account of an important event
  13. An experience that helped you grow up
  14. A description of your secret place
  15. An account of what it would be like to live as a particular animal
  16. Your dream job and what it would be like
  17. An invention you'd like to create
  18. A time when you realized your parents were right
  19. An account of your earliest memory
  20. Your reaction when you heard the best news of your life
  21. A description of the one thing you can't live without

Additional Resources

As you're exploring topics for your narrative, it may also help to read what others have written. Here are a few notable narrative paragraphs and essays that can inspire your story.


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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech." ThoughtCo, May. 3, 2018, Nordquist, Richard. (2018, May 3). How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 20, 2018).