How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech

Illustration depicting the three parts of a narrative essay (introduction, body, conclusion)


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. In doing so, you can give your narrative a level of emotional appeal. It can be serious or humorous, but this emotional appeal is essential if you want to give your audience some way to connect with your story.

The most successful narrative essays 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.

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 another 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
  12. A frightening or dangerous experience
  13. A memorable journey
  14. An encounter with someone you were in awe of or afraid of
  15. An occasion when you experienced rejection
  16. Your first visit to the countryside (or to a large city)
  17. The circumstances that led to the breakup of a friendship
  18. An experience that showed that you should be careful of what you wish for
  19. A significant or comic misunderstanding
  20. An experience that showed how appearances can be deceiving
  21. An account of a difficult decision that you had to make
  22. An event that marked a turning point in your life
  23. An experience that changed your viewpoint on a controversial issue
  24. A memorable encounter with someone in authority
  25. An act of heroism or cowardice
  26. An imaginary encounter with a real person
  27. A rebellious act
  28. A brush with greatness or death
  29. A time that you took a stand on an important issue
  30. An experience that altered your view of someone
  31. A trip that you would like to take
  32. A vacation trip from your childhood
  33. An account of a visit to a fictional place or time
  34. Your first time away from home
  35. Two different versions of the same event
  36. A day when everything went right or wrong
  37. An experience that made you laugh until you cried
  38. The experience of being lost
  39. Surviving a natural disaster
  40. An important discovery
  41. An eyewitness account of an important event
  42. An experience that helped you grow up
  43. A description of your secret place
  44. An account of what it would be like to live as a particular animal
  45. Your dream job and what it would be like
  46. An invention you'd like to create
  47. A time when you realized your parents were right
  48. An account of your earliest memory
  49. Your reaction when you heard the best news of your life
  50. A description of the one thing you can't live without

Other Types of Essays

Narrative essays are one of the major essay types. Others include:

  • Argumentative: In argumentative 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.


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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).