Lecture 12 Essay Writing (3): Narrative Essays April 15, 2008 What is a Narrative Essay?



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Lecture 12 Essay Writing (3): Narrative Essays

April 15, 2008




  1. What is a Narrative Essay?

A narrative essay tells a story. An essay that tells a story is called a narrative essay. Another word for story is narrative. Even though the narrative essay has the same basic form as most other academic essays, it allows the writer to be more creative than academic essays usually do.
Several important elements make up a story.

Setting The setting is the location where the action in a story happens.

Theme The theme is the basic idea of the story. Very often the theme will deal with a topic that is common in life or human nature, such as greed, envy, love, independence, and so on.

Mood The mood is the feeling or atmosphere that the writer creates for the story. It could be happy, hopeful, suspenseful, scary, etc. Both the setting and descriptive vocabulary create the mood in a narrative.

Characters The characters are the people in the story. They are affected by the mood, and they react to the events in which they are involved.

Plot The plot is what happens in the story, that is, the sequence of events. The plot often includes a climax or turning point at which the characters or events change.




  1. The Introduction

The introduction is the paragraph that begins your story. This is where you describe the setting, introduce the characters, and prepare the reader for the action to come. Of course, the introduction should have a hook and a thesis.

  1. The Narrative Hook

Hooks are especially important in narrative essays because they help “set the stage” for the story. The hook makes readers start guessing about what will happen next. Let’s look at the hook in Essay 4.

Does this hook make you want to know what happened to the narrator? The hook should make the reader ask wh-questions about the essay. You may have thought of questions like these when you read the hook of Essay 4:

Who is the narrator and why is he or she anxious?

Where is the airport?

What made the trip to the airport seem endless?

Why is this person going home?


Task 1 Read the sentences. Which three of these sentences are NOT good hooks for narrative essays? Put an X next to these sentences. Be ready to explain why you think these sentences do not work well as hooks for narrative essays.

    1. ___ The roar of racecar engines ripped (拉开) through the blazing (炽燃的) heat of the day.

    2. ___ It was freezing on that sad December day.

    3. ___ After my brother’s accident, I sat alone in the hospital waiting room.

    4. ___ My friend and I shouldn’t have been walking home alone so late on that dark winter night.

    5. ___ Whales are by far the largest marine mammals.

    6. ___ She gave her friend a birthday gift.

    7. ___ The gleaming snow lay over the treacherous(危险的)mountain like a soft white blanket, making the terrain(地带)seem safe instead of deadly.

    8. ___ The Russian dictionary that we use in our language class has 500 pages.

    9. ___ Sandra never expected to hear the deadly sound of a rattlesnake (响尾蛇) in her kitchen garden.

    10. ___ A shot rang out (响起) in the silence of the night.




  1. The Thesis

Usually the thesis states the main idea of the essay and tells what the organization of the information will be. However, in a narrative essay, the thesis introduces the action that begins in the first paragraph of the essay. Look at these example thesis statements:

a. Now, as I watched the bus driver set my luggage on the airport sidewalk, I realized that my frustration had only just begun.

b. I wanted my mother to watch me race down the steep hill, so I called out her name and then nudged (轻推) my bike forward.

c. Because his pride wouldn’t allow him to apologize, Ken now had to fight the bully, and he was pretty sure that he wouldn’t win.

The example sentences do not tell the reader what happens. They only introduce the action that will follow. The paragraphs in the body will develop the story.


  1. The Body

The body of your narrative essay contains most of the plot – the supporting information. The action in the plot can be organized in many different ways. One way is chronological, or time, order. In this method each paragraph gives more information about the story as it proceeds in time: the first paragraph usually describes the first event, the second paragraph describes the second event, and so on.
Transitional Sentences

In a chronological organization, each paragraph ends with a transitional sentence. Transitional sentences have two purposes: (1) to signal the end of action in one paragraph, and (2) to provide a link to the action of the next paragraph. These sentences are vital because they give your story unity and allow the reader to follow the action easily. Consider the last sentence in paragraph 2 and the first sentence in paragraph 3 of Essay 4.




  1. The Conclusion

Like academic essays, narrative essays need to have concluding ideas. In the concluding paragraph, you finish describing the action in the essay. The final sentence can have two functions:

    1. It can deliver the moral for the story, or tell the reader what the character(s) learned from the experience.

    2. It can make a prediction or a revelation(启示) (disclosure of something that was not known before) about future actions that will happen as a result of the events in the story.

Look at these examples:



Moral: The little boy had finally learned that telling the truth was the most important thing to do.

Prediction/Revelation: a. I can only hope that one day I will be able to do the same for another traveler who is suffering through a terrible journey.

b. Every Christmas Eve, my wife and I return to that magical spot and remember the selfless act that saved our lives.




  1. Tips for you to write an Effective Narrative Essay

In an effective narrative essay, you should have:

    1. a thesis that sets up (提出) the action in the introduction

    2. transition sentences that connect events and help the reader follow the story

    3. a conclusion that ends the story action and provides a moral or revelation




  1. Example Narrative Essay

A good way to learn what a narrative looks like is to read and study an example.
Task 2 Read and study Essay 4. Answer the following questions. These questions will help you understand the content and the organization of the essay. As you read, look at the final sentence in paragraphs 2, 3, 4, and 5. Does each one prepare you for the action to come?


  1. What is the narrative hook?

  2. Do you think the hook is effective (did it grab your attention)? Why, or why not?

  3. Where is the setting of this story (where does it take place)?

  4. What is the theme, or the basic idea, of “Frustration at the Airport”?

5. What do you think the mood of the story is? What feeling or atmosphere does the writer create?

6.Who are the characters?

7. What verb tense is used in this narrative essay? Write down any five verbs.


  1. Is the story arranged in chronological, or time, order? In a few words, describe what happens first, second, third, and so on.

  2. Underline the transitional sentences.

  3. Does the story end with a moral or a revelation? If so, write it down.


Task 3 Outlining Practice: Below is an outline for “Frustration at the airport.” Some of the information is missing. Reread the essay and complete the outline.

Title: __________________



  1. Introduction (para. 1)

    1. Hook: I had never been so anxious in my life!

    2. Connecting info: _________________________

    3. Thesis statement: ___________________________

  2. Body

    1. Para. 2 (event 1) topic sentence: This was my first visit to the international section of the airport, and nothing was familiar.

  1. The signs were confusing.

  2. I began to panic.

  3. Transition sentence: _____________________________

    1. Para. 3(event 2) topic sentence: _____________________________

      1. He scowled and walked away.

      2. I couldn’t remember how to ask for directions.

      3. ___________________________

      4. Transition sentences: ____________________________________

    2. Para. 4 (event 3) topic sentence: I dragged my enormous suitcase behind me and followed the group.

      1. _________________________________

      2. I got on the elevator and looked at the buttons.

      3. ___________________________________

      4. Transition sentence: _____________________________________

    3. Para. 5 (event 4) topic sentence: Tears formed in my eyes as I saw the deserted lobby and realized that I would miss my airplane.

      1. An airport employee offered to help.

      2. _________________________________

      3. _________________________________

      4. Transition sentence: He led me past all the lines of people and pushed my luggage to the inspection counter.

  1. Conclusion (para. 6)

    1. Close of the action: _____________________________________

    2. I will never know his name, but I will always remember his unexpected courtesy.

    3. ________________________________

    4. Final sentence (prediction or revelation): ______________________________





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