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According to the ABC of academic writing and ABC of essays, (see reference at the end of the unit) student essay writing develops many of the skills needed for other forms of academic writing. A narrative essay is one of the many different kinds of essay writings that students are expected to engage in while in school and sometimes outside of school.

One of the features of essays is originality. You are expected to develop the habit of thinking for yourself so that you can be original in thought and expression. By being original, we mean that students think on their own without the influence of anybody or any material. They can then be  confident enough to express their opinions freely on any matter. For you to be able to express yourself well in English or any target language, you should be able to think in that target language and write expressions that have no language interference or one that has minimal language interference.

Once you have decided to write either for pleasure or exam, you should choose or select an incident worthy of sharing with others or which you think others will benefit from. You should ask yourself if anybody will find this of any relevance. If the answer to your question is yes, then you need to look for ways of making your story real to them by including details that will sound real to them for their enjoyment and learning.

Some people prefer to write about themselves in a narrative essay probably because it is easier to narrate what happened to you better than what happened to others. By doing this, they can describe events vividly and accurately. Human beings have a lot of experiences they share daily with each other orally which if written would be wonderful narratives on paper. One of the reasons we do not have some of these narratives written down is probably because of laziness, lack of time or money to get them printed for others to read.

I have heard of many unexpressed feelings, unfinished manuscripts, finished but unpublished manuscripts etc some of which our generation could have benefited from. You can become a part of the people who will produce the next set of novels for the coming generation and the time to start is now. So get prepared to write different kinds of essays not only in this unit but in the next three units as well.

Principles of Writing Narrative Essays

Once you have chosen the incident, you have to develop a story line which indicates the plot, setting, characters a climax an anticlimax (at times) and an ending.

The Plot

This has to do with the series of incidents forming the plan of action of a story, play or poem. You have to decide on the series of incidents you want to write about. They could be ten, twenty, fifteen etc. You also have to order the events. Which one comes first and which one comes last. It must be ordered in such a way that you will not contradict yourself. For example you can not say somebody died on Tuesday and then he was seen driving around town the next Friday. It is therefore important for you to know how the events occurred and how they are related to each other.

The Setting

Every narrative must have a setting. That is, the place the story is set or reference to specific places that are mentioned in the narrative. You cannot write without situating your narrative or else it will look like a fairy tale that is told by an excited human being.

The Characters

This is another convention of a narrative that has to be followed. If there are no real characters, you must create them and make them say what you want them to say and also achieve what you want them to achieve. The characters must have specified names and functions. They must also be able to interact with one another so that the theme can be properly understood.


There are different ways of introducing a narrative. Some start by introducing the characters while some people present the setting so as to properly situate the narrative. What is important is that it should be done in such a way that will prompt the reader to be interested and continue reading. The introduction often gives the background information which can help the reader to have a better understanding of the narrative. If the introduction is not interesting or challenging to sustain the interest of the reader, the book or narrative piece could be abandoned or put aside until an opportune time when the reader feels he has enough spare time for such novels. Below is an example:

WINTER IN LONDON can be rather unfriendly, especially from the view point of a middle aged African immigrant who had had the privilege of growing up in a land that knew no winter. Winter was the season of nostalgia, the time to assess the wisdom of ever venturing out of home in the first place to a far away land. It is the time when the trees are stripped of their plumes and rendered stark naked.

Faces of men and women are squeezed together, making it hardfor the teeth to catch a glimpse of the daylight. (From The Minister’s Mother’s official car by Kehinde A. Ayoola p.1) The writer sets the pace by describing what winter looks like in Londonfrom a psychological point of view, the physical –the trees and plants, in the environment and even people’s countenances. The reader already has an idea of what to expect.

The Body of the Narrative

This is equally important and this is presented in paragraphs. A short narrative could have about five paragraphs including the introduction and the conclusion. A long narrative could have as many as possible depending on how the paragraphs could be divided. A book on narrative story could then be seen not only in terms of the paragraphs alone but the pages. You should write in such a way that you would be able to sustain the interest of your reader. Make your narration vivid by using the appropriate language and connective devices between sentences and paragraphs. Do not contradict yourself in your narration.

Some people are so good at giving attention to details in narratives that you can almost see the mental picture of the individual or the situation being described. As a narrator, you should know how to connect events, people and places in such a way that will sustain the attention of your reader. You should also write in such a way that the reader will get the essence of what you are trying to present.

The Climax and Ending

There should be a climax and an ending in any narrative. There will definitely be an introduction which has been discussed. Your story should not be flat. There should be some elements of suspense which would lead to a climax and an ending depending on the theme. A narrative could simply be for entertainment. It depends on the motive of the writer. He could just have the intention of taking people’s minds away from the busy frustrations of the day by presenting something that will make them laugh. At times however, the writer may want to instruct, give advice, or help people to be aware of something important in the world around them. A narrative could also end by presenting a moral lesson which every reader or listener can learn from.

The concluding paragraph is very important because that is the reader’s last contact with the narrative. That is where the writer brigs all the major activities of the characters to a close. Go through the part of the concluding paragraph of the extract that started with winter in London-

Many who seek their fortune in foreign lands end up sweeping, sweeping and sweeping until they twist their spines. They wash, wash and wash until their hands get coarse. If you don’t believe me, when next someone returns from abroad, shake hands with them and you will know that they have not been dining with Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace. (From The Minister’s Mother’s official car by Kehinde A. Ayoola). From this conclusion, you will notice that the writer has a lesson for readers to learn and this he makes clear in his concluding paragraphs.

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