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No matter what style of writing you choose, your written voice should be as unique as you are. Thinking about how you craft your story and the way that you join different parts together to make one overarching narrative is one of the most important parts to get right when you’re working on a new project. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
In this guide, we’ll give you a few ideas from some of the world’s best writers when it comes to narrative writing and personal narrative examples. When you’re lacking inspiration and filling out the blank page in front of you doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, we hope that these examples of narrative writing will help you to get started.
There are hundreds of different ways to express yourself in a narrative—from fiction and poems to long-form essays and songs. Really, narrative just means story. So if you can write a story, then you’re writing a narrative. But how that story is told is entirely up to you.
Certain types of stories fit best into particular structures, and we’re going to give you a few narrative examples that can help you to decide the best direction for your own writing.
Narrative Essay Examples
One of the most common narrative structures used by writers throughout history is the narrative essay. Narrative essay samples are usually nonfiction, told chronologically, and discuss the subject matter from a first person perspective. It’s a way for you to explore your own experiences or observations in a creative manner, rather than simply reporting facts as they happened with no emotion or personal commentary.
In most examples of narrative writing, you’ll see a theme emerging within the first couple of paragraphs, with repeated references to this topic area throughout the entire essay. This keeps the whole piece from becoming stream-of-consciousness writing with very little structure, which is essential for keeping your readers interested and engaged.
Narrative, or literary, journalism is full of narrative writing samples and is commonly used across a range of topics in published media. This writing style has spawned a number of new waves of journalism, including gonzo and immersion journalism, where the writer openly avoids neutrality and firmly integrates themselves within the story.
Considered to be the inventor of gonzo-style news reporting, Hunter. S Thompon’s The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved is a great example of a narrative essay.
Narrative Example #1: The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved by Hunter S. Thompson
“I barely heard him. My eyes had finally opened enough for me to focus on the mirror across the room and I was stunned at the shock of recognition. For a confused instant I thought that Ralph had brought somebody with him—a model for that one special face we’d been looking for. There he was, by God—a puffy, drink-ravaged, disease-ridden caricature … like an awful cartoon version of an old snapshot in some once-proud mother’s family photo album. It was the face we’d been looking for—and it was, of course, my own. Horrible, horrible …”
While most narrative essays are about the author, the focus of the work is usually on the various elements of the story. When looking at personal narrative examples though, there’s often an additional element that makes this type of writing distinct: a reflection on how the described experience has impacted the writer.
Thanks to this added feature, personal narrative writing samples may not be chronological and instead look at different experiences that have led to the conclusion that the writer wants to share as the theme of the essay.
Many of us have probably written an example of narrative writing like this at some point in our lives, particularly for college applications. It’s a great way for admissions teams to gain a better understanding of who you are as a person, while also evaluating your writing skills and the way you put a story together. The reflection piece of the essay also helps to show off your reasoning and critical thinking skills, essential qualities that college counselors look for when making decisions about who to offer places to at their school.
Here’s an example of a personal narrative essay that someone might use for their application.
Narrative Example #2: Translating My Story Into Words College Admission Essay
“My eyes widen. ‘It’s all Greek to me,’ I whisper under my breath. Sure enough, The Apology by Plato is in Greek. My eyes dart across the page, looking for a word or phrase to grasp onto. Unable to find a familiar word, I take a deep breath. The Greek letters jumble into incoherent words and I am left to the mercy of an incomplete translation. I shake my head, unsure of what to do next. My eyes drag from one word to another, heavy with defeat…With the last word, I feel satisfaction and pride. The whirlwind of emotions repeats: Confusion, passion, satisfaction. Before the bell rings, I finish translating 20 lines of The Apology.”
Narrative Example #3: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
“I sometimes cringe when someone refers to me as a feminist, as if I should be ashamed of my feminism or as if the word feminist is an insult. The label is rarely offered in kindness. I am generally called a feminist when I have the nerve to suggest that the misogyny deeply embedded in our culture is a real problem, requiring relentless vigilance. For example, in an essay for Salon, I wrote about Daniel Tosh and rape jokes. I try not to read comments because they can get vicious, but I couldn’t help but note one commenter who told me I was an ‘angry blogger woman,’ which is simply another way of saying ‘angry feminist.’ All feminists are angry instead of passionate.”
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Creative Personal Writing: Write the Real You
Almost every example of a narrative essay is written in the first person. While of course there are exceptions, this perspective is a defining feature of the narrative essay style. But when it comes to other types of narratives, like fiction, songs, or poetry, the possibilities for how you can structure your writing suddenly become much broader.
Some of the world’s most beloved novels are written from a first person point of view: Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Catcher in the Rye to name a few narrative examples. As the reader is seeing everything through the eyes of a particular character (the narrator), it’s important to establish a clear voice and tone from the beginning so that the reader understands who this character is and how they see the world.
Nick Carraway, the narrator in The Great Gatsby, is always top of the list when looking for a narrative writing example that depicts a first person perspective. It’s clear quite quickly that he’s an unreliable narrator as he exhibits plenty of bias towards other characters in the novel and is dishonest about his own failures.
Narrative Example #4: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply—I was casually sorry, and then I forgot…Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
Fiction books aren’t the only place to find first person samples of narrative writing. Poetry often makes use of a first person perspective, drawing in the reader as if they’re also part of the story being told. This point of view also allows us to actively engage with the emotions that the narrator is feeling. Sylvia Plath has a number of confessional poems that can be used as an example of narrative writing in this way.
Narrative Example #5: The Colossus by Sylvia Plath
“I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued, and properly jointed.
Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cackles
Proceed from your great lips.
It’s worse than a barnyard.
Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.
Thirty years now I have labored
To dredge the silt from your throat.
I am none the wiser.”
The second person perspective is the least used of the three narrative perspectives as it’s incredibly difficult to pull off. It’s where the writer directly addresses the reader themselves, using “you” or “your” throughout the text.
Since this style can be such a challenge, it’s unusual to find it in longer works of fiction like novels or play scripts. But there are a few, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is an excellent sample of narrative writing that uses this technique.
Narrative Example #6: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
“When you drop it in the pool to join the rest of the stones, you feel lighter. As though you have released something more than a smooth piece of rock.”
Morgenstern expertly uses multiple perspectives throughout the novel to create a non-linear timeline. This is a method often used by writers in the third person, with an unnamed, all-knowing narrator allowing the author to jump around in time and place to show the reader everything they need to know. Take a look at a few third person narrative examples if this is something you’d like to try in your own work.
The most common usage of the second person point of view is in shorter narratives like songs, motivational speeches, or instructional writing (think how-to blog posts or recipes). It’s also not unusual to see this perspective in advertising and marketing, addressing the audience directly through slogans and catchphrases. Here are a few examples:
- When the water is boiling, add the pasta and leave for 10 minutes at a simmer.
- Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan
- “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi)
Unlike many of the narrative styles we’ve looked at in this guide, informational narratives aim to present clear and concise information to help the reader accomplish something. They’re very much the opposite of personal narratives and are rarely written in the first person.
Academic essays are often used as informative narrative examples, as they heavily rely on outside sources and references to support their overall thesis and conclusions. They may use either a first person or second person perspective, incorporating elements of personal reflection or narrative essay content into the informational sections of the piece.
Recipe blogs are well-known for this type of writing, often weaving stories and anecdotes throughout the cooking instructions. Here’s an example from the Feasting at Home blog.
Narrative Example #7: No-Knead Sourdough Bread Recipe by Feasting at Home
“STEP 6: PROOF Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise on the kitchen counter overnight 8-12 hours. This is the tricky part that gets easier as you practice. Every environment is different. And seasons will affect proofing time. Warmer homes proof much faster, colder homes, much slower. In midwinter in the Northwest, I’ve even proofed for as long as 18 hours on the counter. Here in Santa Barbara, in summer, the dough was ready in 7 hours.”
It’s Time to Get Writing
Now that you have a better understanding of the different types of narratives that you could write, you’re ready to put pen to paper and start creating your own unique stories. Happy scribbling!
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