Some of the most powerful stories ever told were born out of personal narrative writing ideas—when the author writes about their life, the lessons they’ve learned, and the challenges they’ve overcome, the outcome is typically dynamic and compelling.
Of course, these personal narrative ideas depend entirely on the person writing them. Your life is different than anyone else’s, which means the story you have to tell is as unique as you are.
Racking your brain for personal narrative ideas that can get you started, but still haven’t found that spark yet? It can take time to find stories that you want to bring to life. So, many writers turn to narrative essay prompts to inspire their best writing. Here are a few to get your creative wheels turning.
Narrative Writing Prompts
Often, ideas for narrative writing are spurred by how you feel about your experiences and the world around you—and why. Here are a few prompts for narrative writing.
1. The Fire
Let’s say that your house starts burning (luckily, no one inside is injured). You have time to retrieve exactly one item. What would you go back for? What would be worth the risk? Would you run back in to get photographs of a loved one, a piece of art that you made, or a treasured keepsake? Would you try to rescue the most valuable items you had, or would it be something more sentimental? And most importantly, why?
This is one of those narrative essay topics that can help you figure out what you care about most. You may find that identifying the item you’d care about most in a crisis can lead to an incredible story that has to be told.
2. What Annoys You?
Each of us has something that we find incredibly annoying or frustrating. It might be as simple as a pet peeve or as soul-shaking as an attitude you find unacceptable.
Start by venting about it, and then try to identify the history of your annoyance—by pinpointing what started it, you can inspire all kinds of story ideas. This is one of those prompts for narrative writing that can really get the ball rolling—you’re forced to dig into the “why,” and before you know it, you’re writing a narrative.
3. The Nature of Lies
Have you ever told a lie? (Of course you have!) Did you learn a lesson from it? Did someone find out about your dishonesty, and did they confront you? Were there serious consequences, or not? This can be one of those personal narrative ideas that help you process lessons you’ve learned from your past in an illuminating way.
On the flip side, lies are sometimes necessary. You might consider telling a story about why you chose to skirt the truth, how it made you feel, and whether you regret it or not. This narrative writing idea can get you thinking about morality.
4. How Art Affects You
One way to start thinking about narrative ideas for writing is to think about how art inspires you. Was there music that helped you during a specific time in your life? Why was it so special to you? Are there books or authors that speak to you in ways that others don’t? What draws you to them?
You might find that you enjoy an underrated TV show. Exploring why you connect with it can be a narrative story waiting to be told. Whether it’s a song you sing at karaoke or a museum exhibit you once visited, try writing about how art influenced you and what the outcome was.
5. The Time Machine
You’ve woken up and found that there’s a massive time machine in the living room, and you’re given the chance to go to ONE specific place and time. What place and time do you choose, and why? Who do you meet when you get there? If you go to the past, what memories do you relive, and what do you do differently? If you go to the future, what do you expect to see? What adventures follow?
Personal narrative essays can be interesting, but sometimes it helps to step back from the same familiar scenarios. The time machine prompt is one of many narrative story ideas that can help you think outside of the box.
Ideas for a Narrative Essay
Narrative essays can be personal, but they can also help you learn about yourself and how you react in certain situations. Here are some narrative writing ideas that might inspire you.
6. A Time You Experienced Hardship
In any well-told story, the main character endures a conflict or finds a way to overcome an obstacle or failure. And the same is true of your own stories. Write about an event where you managed to beat the odds or a situation where you ended up failing. The lesson you learned can make for an interesting and insightful story.
7. A Time You Fell in Love
Yes, this particular prompt is a tale as old as time, but each love story is different and unique, making it rich for storytelling and essay prompts (just look at the long-running “Modern Love” column in the New York Times).
You don’t have to write about a time where you fell in romantic love with someone—it could be about falling in love with a song, a place, or an idea. Thinking about the most touching moments of your life can inspire all kinds of creative ideas.
Writing about love is one of the best personal narrative ideas because it taps into your deepest emotions. It might be intense, but the story will likely be worth it.
8. A Friendship Dynamic
There are so many complicated aspects to friendship, making the topic perfect for narrative ideas. Did you have a beloved friend who moved away, changing the relationship forever? Do you have a story about a friend who stayed loyal to you, or betrayed you when you least expected it?
The best narrative ideas for writing typically center around something important to you—and for most, friendship is pretty high on that list.
9. A Weakness
There are countless narrative ideas for writing that force you to think about yourself—
it’s easy to tell stories where you’re the hero. But, what about exploring your weaknesses and insecurities?
Think about a time when you failed or when a certain weakness played a major role in the outcome of a situation. Or, consider a time when you realized a particular quality was your weakness. It can be difficult to self-reflect and then write about it, but you may find it cathartic—and readers will undoubtedly find it interesting.
Narrative Story Ideas
So, you’ve established that you want to write a narrative story, but you find that you’re getting stuck. What are some ideas that can help you tell your narrative story differently, or inspire you to write about it in a more unique way?
10. Switch Up Chronology
Some of the best narrative story ideas use time as a narrative tool. Let’s say you want to tell a story about your grandmother who has passed away. Consider ideas for a narrative essay where you discuss what she was like, how she supported you, and her various interests or hobbies.
Time can make your story more effective. If your story starts at a funeral but flashes back to memories and conversations with your grandmother, it can help drive the narrative of how much she impacted you home and make it more interesting to the reader. While you don’t need to play with time in every story you write, it can explain how and why characters are the way they are.
11. Focus on Natural Conversation
Many stories seem incredibly lifelike and they draw the reader into their every move. The reader is captivated by the main character’s thoughts and wonders where the story is going. But, the main character runs into other characters and the story suddenly falls apart. It seems like the character can’t talk naturally or barely expresses their opinion.
What happened here? In some stories, everything is fine until it comes time for characters to have conversations—the dialogue seems forced. One of many narrative story ideas is to take characters you’re writing about (even if the character is yourself) and write their dialogue as if they are having a natural conversation with another character. You could even start by outlining an interesting conversation you’ve had with a friend or family member.
Photo Narrative Ideas
Sometimes, the best way to tell a story isn’t with words. Here are some incredible photo narrative ideas to help you show, not tell.
12. A Day in the Life
This concept is pretty simple: Follow someone around and put together a photo narrative that describes what they did that day. Bring them to different locations or look at different parts of their life to visually tell a story about who they are and how they’re feeling.
This could take more work than other narrative story ideas, but it allows for a glimpse into someone’s day-to-day life, which could be fodder for other narrative ideas later.
13. Explore the Street
While this might not be for the shy among us, consider taking photos of folks you see on the street. It could be exciting street entertainers or tourists on a sunny day (just remember to always ask for permission when snapping a photo for your narrative story inspiration).
We pass people every day, but we don’t stop to consider their stories, why they’re going somewhere, or what they’re doing. While it can be uncomfortable to get outside of your comfort zone, this photo narrative idea allows you to have conversations you wouldn’t normally have, which could lead to an outcome you wouldn’t normally get.
14. Get to Know a Neighborhood
If you’re feeling up to it, ask to photograph the people who live in a particular neighborhood. While you might get rejected, you may find that some people don’t mind having their photo taken.
Do your research on the neighborhood’s history first, so you can plan out who to photograph to get the best narratives. Ask them questions about what they know about the neighborhood—they might offer some interesting stories. And don’t be afraid to photograph them outside of their homes. Ask where they’re most comfortable, or where they spend a lot of their time and go there. You don’t know what else it will inspire.
Get Narrative Writing!
Some personal narrative ideas will work better for you than others, so keep trying out various ones as a writing exercise. And don’t be afraid to switch up your personal narrative essay ideas! Sometimes, narrative writing prompts that help you explore one aspect of your life or past will inspire entirely new directions.
Now, get out there and tell your story!
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