The Narrative Essay It’s more than a story. Narrative as Rhetorical Strategy



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The Narrative Essay

  • It’s more than a story.

Narrative as Rhetorical Strategy

  • A narrative essay uses narrative as a rhetorical strategy. The author uses a story not for its own sake, but as a tool to convey some particular idea or ideas, in other words, the thesis.
  • A narrative essay is non-fiction. The story used in the essay represents a past experience of the author or an experience with which the author is familiar.

The Thesis Guides the Narrative

  • Before writing a narrative essay, be sure you know your purpose for writing. What is it you want to say to the reader through your story? What is the point you want to make, or the lesson you’ve learned from the story? In other words, what is your thesis?

Journal and Reflect on Your Stories

  • Journal writing is a place to explore your experiences and search for their meaning and importance to you. Before you begin writing a narrative essay, you need to know already what it is you want to say, the meaning and significance of the tale.
  • Reflecting on your story in a journal can help you explore it’s significance to you before you tell the story.

Organization and Development

  • Let your thesis guide the organization and development of your narrative essay.
  • Remember, this is not just a story you are telling. This is an essay you are writing to make a point. Narrative is the strategy you are using to do so.
  • Your thesis should help you determine the organization and development of the essay.

Org. and Development Cont’d

  • In other words, the narrative should be written in such a way as to make the purpose and point (the thesis) of the story clear to the reader.
  • How will you organize and tell the story in order to bring the point home to the reader?

Leaving things out … on purpose

  • Some parts of the actual story may not serve your thesis as well as others.
  • Extraneous elements can add some interest to the narrative, but be careful not to spend too much time on parts of the story that do not contribute to the development of the essay and the primary concern of your thesis.
  • Don’t lose the reader in unnecessary details, explanations, or “rabbit chasing.”

For example …

  • Suppose you’re telling a story about your brother who is actually your step-brother.
  • Does the fact that he’s your step-brother make any difference to the story? Will it be important at some point for the reader to understand this?
  • If not, leave it out—it might actually weaken your essay.
  • If so, include it.

Order of Ideas

  • Although a true story has its own chronological structure, a writer should still be mindful of the order of ideas for the narrative essay.
  • How should the narrative be presented?
  • What should come first?
  • Given the purpose (thesis), what should be saved for last?
  • In a narrative essay, the order of ideas can influence the impact of the essay on the reader.

…But it’s still a story.

  • Remember that although you are using narrative as a strategy, you are still telling a story.
  • Be mindful, therefore, of the structural elements of good narrative:
    • exposition (setting the scene or context);
    • narrative hook (getting the reader’s attention);
    • conflict (the opposition of forces; what’s at stake);
    • rising action (the story and conflict develops);
    • climax (the critical moment; the height of conflict);
    • resolution (how it all turns out).

Order of Ideas – paragraphs

  • We use paragraphs to organize the development of an essay. Each paragraph represents …
  • another supportive point in the argument (in a persuasive essay)
  • the next focus of a description (in a descriptive essay)
  • the next step in the process (in a process essay)
  • the next part in the developing story (in a narrative essay)

Order of Ideas – paragraphs

  • So …
  • Use paragraphs to organize your story.
      • When I got home from school …
      • While I was waiting for her to arrive …
      • Later that same afternoon …
      • That night, alone in my back yard …
      • The next day …
      • It didn’t work, of course. …

The Reflective Essay – a typical form

  • One traditional and common form of the narrative essay is the Reflective Essay. A Reflective Essay…
  • tells the story of a past experience, recalling how the writer was involved and how the experience affected the writer at the time; then…
  • reflects upon that experience from the present, exploring how the writer feels about it now (e.g., why it still matters to you, regrets, things you wish you’d done differently, why you are glad for the experience, what you’ve learned that you still carry with you, etc.)

The Reflective Essay – a typical form

  • A Reflective Essay follows the basic structure of a narrative, and simply adds the reflection at the end.
    • exposition (setting the scene or context);
    • narrative hook (introducing a potential problem or conflict);
    • conflict (the opposition of forces; what’s at stake);
    • rising action (the story and conflict develops);
    • climax (the critical moment; the height of conflict);
    • resolution (how it all turns out).
    • REFLECTION (how you feel about it all now).

Imagery and Figurative Language

  • Imagery and figurative language can be valuable tools in a narrative essay, bringing the story to life for the reader, but…
  • Make sure these strategies serve the purpose of your essay when you use them.
  • Descriptive language should enhance the story, not distract the reader and detract from the story.
  • Just to remind you:
  • Imagery = language that appeals to the senses.
  • Figurative Language = simile, metaphor, personification.


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