The Finest Narrative Non-Fiction Essays
Narrative essays that I consider ideal models of the medium
Perhaps you're the same kind of non- Writer writer. The playful amateur kind who uses it to explore and communicate ideas, rather than making the medium part of your identity. But even amateurs want to be good. I certainly want to get good.
Knowing what you like is half the battle in liking what you create. In that spirit, I collect narrative non-fiction essays that I think are exceptional. They're worth looking at closely – their opening moves, sentence structure, turns of phrase, and narrative arcs.
The only sensible way to improve your writing is by echoing the work of other writers. Good artists copy and great artists steal quotes from Picasso.
You may want to start your own collection of lovely essays like this. There will certainly be some Real Writers who find my list trite and full of basic, mainstream twaddle. It probably is. I've done plenty of self-acceptance work and I'm okay with it.
Twaddle aside, the essays below are worth your attention.
by Paul Ford
Paul Ford explains code in 38,000 words and somehow makes it all accessible, technically accurate, narratively compelling, and most of all, culturally insightful and humanistic.
I have unreasonable feelings about this essay. It is, to me, perfect. Few essays take the interactive medium of the web seriously, and this one takes the cake. There is a small blue cube character, logic diagrams, live code snippets to run, GIFs, tangential footnotes, and a certificate of completion at the end.
by David Foster Wallace – Published under the title 'Shipping Out'
Forgive me for being a David Foster Wallace admirer. The guy had issues, but this account of his 7-day trip on a luxury cruiseliner expresses an inner monologue that is clarifying, rare and often side-splittingly hilarious.
He taught me it is 100% okay to write an entire side-novel in your footnotes if you need to.
by David Graeber
Graeber explores play and work from an anthropological perspective. He's a master of moving between the specific and the general. Between academic theory and personal storytelling. He's always ready with armfuls of evidence and citations but doesn't drown you in them.
by Malcolm Gladwell
This piece uses a typical Gladwellian style. He takes a fairly dull question – Why had ketchup stayed the same, while mustard comes in dozens of varieties? – and presents the case in a way that makes it reasonably intriguing. He's great at starting with specific characters, times and places to draw you in. There are always rich scenes, details, personal profiles, and a grand narrative tying it all together.
Some people find the classic New Yorker essay format overdone, but it relies on storytelling techniques that consistently work.
by Mark Slouka
by Joan Didion
25 Great Nonfiction Essays You Can Read Online for Free
Alison Doherty is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on the subway, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.
View All posts by Alison Doherty
I love reading books of nonfiction essays and memoirs , but sometimes have a hard time committing to a whole book. This is especially true if I don’t know the author. But reading nonfiction essays online is a quick way to learn which authors you like. Also, reading nonfiction essays can help you learn more about different topics and experiences.
Besides essays on Book Riot, I love looking for essays on The New Yorker , The Atlantic , The Rumpus , and Electric Literature . But there are great nonfiction essays available for free all over the Internet. From contemporary to classic writers and personal essays to researched ones—here are 25 of my favorite nonfiction essays you can read today.
“Beware of Feminist Lite” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The author of We Should All Be Feminists writes a short essay explaining the danger of believing men and woman are equal only under certain conditions.
“It’s Silly to Be Frightened of Being Dead” by Diana Athill
A 96-year-old woman discusses her shifting attitude towards death from her childhood in the 1920s when death was a taboo subject, to World War 2 until the present day.
“Letter from a Region in my Mind” by James Baldwin
There are many moving and important essays by James Baldwin . This one uses the lens of religion to explore the Black American experience and sexuality. Baldwin describes his move from being a teenage preacher to not believing in god. Then he recounts his meeting with the prominent Nation of Islam member Elijah Muhammad.
“Relations” by Eula Biss
Biss uses the story of a white woman giving birth to a Black baby that was mistakenly implanted during a fertility treatment to explore racial identities and segregation in society as a whole and in her own interracial family.
“Friday Night Lights” by Buzz Bissinger
A comprehensive deep dive into the world of high school football in a small West Texas town.
“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates examines the lingering and continuing affects of slavery on American society and makes a compelling case for the descendants of slaves being offered reparations from the government.
“Why I Write” by Joan Didion
This is one of the most iconic nonfiction essays about writing. Didion describes the reasons she became a writer, her process, and her journey to doing what she loves professionally.
“Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Roger Ebert
With knowledge of his own death, the famous film critic ponders questions of mortality while also giving readers a pep talk for how to embrace life fully.
“My Mother’s Tongue” by Zavi Kang Engles
In this personal essay, Engles celebrates the close relationship she had with her mother and laments losing her Korean fluency.
“My Life as an Heiress” by Nora Ephron
As she’s writing an important script, Ephron imagines her life as a newly wealthy woman when she finds out an uncle left her an inheritance. But she doesn’t know exactly what that inheritance is.
“My FatheR Spent 30 Years in Prison. Now He’s Out.” by Ashley C. Ford
Ford describes the experience of getting to know her father after he’s been in prison for almost all of her life. Bridging the distance in their knowledge of technology becomes a significant—and at times humorous—step in rebuilding their relationship.
“Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay
There’s a reason Gay named her bestselling essay collection after this story. It’s a witty, sharp, and relatable look at what it means to call yourself a feminist.
“The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison
Jamison discusses her job as a medical actor helping to train medical students to improve their empathy and uses this frame to tell the story of one winter in college when she had an abortion and heart surgery.
“What I Learned from a Fitting Room Disaster About Clothes and Life” by Scaachi Koul
One woman describes her history with difficult fitting room experiences culminating in one catastrophe that will change the way she hopes to identify herself through clothes.
“Breasts: the Odd Couple” by Una LaMarche
LaMarche examines her changing feelings about her own differently sized breasts.
“How I Broke, and Botched, the Brandon Teena Story” by Donna Minkowitz
A journalist looks back at her own biased reporting on a news story about the sexual assault and murder of a trans man in 1993. Minkowitz examines how ideas of gender and sexuality have changed since she reported the story, along with how her own lesbian identity influenced her opinions about the crime.
“Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell
In this famous essay, Orwell bemoans how politics have corrupted the English language by making it more vague, confusing, and boring.
“Letting Go” by David Sedaris
The famously funny personal essay author , writes about a distinctly unfunny topic of tobacco addiction and his own journey as a smoker. It is (predictably) hilarious.
“Joy” by Zadie Smith
Smith explores the difference between pleasure and joy by closely examining moments of both, including eating a delicious egg sandwich, taking drugs at a concert, and falling in love.
“Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan
Tan tells the story of how her mother’s way of speaking English as an immigrant from China changed the way people viewed her intelligence.
“Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace
The prolific nonfiction essay and fiction writer travels to the Maine Lobster Festival to write a piece for Gourmet Magazine. With his signature footnotes, Wallace turns this experience into a deep exploration on what constitutes consciousness.
“I Am Not Pocahontas” by Elissa Washuta
Washuta looks at her own contemporary Native American identity through the lens of stereotypical depictions from 1990s films.
“Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White
E.B. White didn’t just write books like Charlotte’s Web and The Elements of Style . He also was a brilliant essayist. This nature essay explores the theme of fatherhood against the backdrop of a lake within the forests of Maine.
“Pell-Mell” by Tom Wolfe
The inventor of “new journalism” writes about the creation of an American idea by telling the story of Thomas Jefferson snubbing a European Ambassador.
“The Death of the Moth” by Virginia Woolf
In this nonfiction essay, Wolf describes a moth dying on her window pane. She uses the story as a way to ruminate on the lager theme of the meaning of life and death.
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Narrative Essay Examples and Key Elements
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In a narrative essay , you tell a story, often about a personal experience, but you also make a point. So, the purpose is not only to tell an entertaining tale, but also to expound on the importance of the experience. In the narrative essay examples below, see if you can pull out the moral or theme . When it’s your time to draft a similar type of essay, hopefully, you can stir the heart of the reader.
Sample Narrative Essays
Below, you’ll find two narrative essay samples. One has a sad little twist and the other is a personal narrative essay that details the importance of hope. Note that they tell a story, while emphasizing an integral moral or theme.
He Left So I Could Learn
In this first essay example, we explore a lesson on dying:
It was my second day on the job. I was sitting in my seemingly gilded cubicle, overlooking Manhattan, and pinching my right arm to make sure it was real. I landed an internship at Condé Nast Traveler. Every aspiring writer I’ve ever known secretly dreamt of an Anthony Bourdain lifestyle. Travel the world and write about its most colorful pockets. When my phone rang, and it was Mom telling me Dad had a heart attack. He didn’t make it. I felt as though the perfectly carpeted floors had dropped out from under me. Now that I’ve come out the other side, I realize Dad left me with a hefty stack of teachings. Here are three ideals I know he would’ve liked for me to embrace. First, you have to stand on your own two feet. As much as our parents love and support us, they can’t go to our school and confess to the principal that we stole a candy bar from Sara. We have to do that. Neither can they walk into the Condé Nast office and nail a job interview for us. At some point, we have to put on our “big girl pants” and be brave, even if we’re not. Also, there’s a difference between love and co-dependence. Being grateful to have someone to turn to for love and support is not the same as needing someone to turn to for love and support. With the loss of my father, I’ve also lost my sounding board. All I can glean from that is it’s time to look within myself and make proper assessments. If I can’t make sound decisions with the tools already in my kit, then I risk falling for anything. Finally, memories are, perhaps, the only item that cannot be taken away from us. Will I miss my father? Every single day. What can I do in those times? I can open up our suitcase of memories, pick out my favorite one, and dream about it, talk about it, or write about it. Maybe I can’t pick up the phone and call him anymore, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone. Next week, I’m off to Istanbul to explore their art scene. As soon as I read the email from my editor, I picked up my phone to call Dad. Then, I realized he’ll never answer my calls again. I fought back the tears, got up to make a cup of peppermint tea, and added a new note to my iPhone titled, “Istanbul Packing List.” In the end, life goes on. I’m not sure why he had to leave during the single most poignant chapter in my life. So, I won’t dwell on that. Instead, I’ll hold tightly to these three ideals and write about Karaköy in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. Dad will be with me every step of the way.
A Teeny, Tiny Treasure Box
The next short narrative essay takes a different approach. Instead of living in a comfortably loving home, the writer had to deal with the uncertainty of the foster system. Here’s a short lesson on hope:
She took me by the hand and walked me into the lobby like a five-year old child. Didn’t she know I was pushing 15? This was the third home Nancy was placing me in - in a span of eight months. I guess she felt a little sorry for me. The bright fluorescent lights threatened to burn my skin as I walked towards a bouncy-looking lady with curly hair and a sweetly-smiling man. They called themselves Allie and Alex. Cute, I thought. After they exchanged the usual reams of paperwork, it was off in their Chevy Suburban to get situated into another new home. This time, there were no other foster children and no other biological children. Anything could happen. Over the next few weeks, Allie, Alex, and I fell into quite a nice routine. She’d make pancakes for breakfast, or he’d fry up some sausage and eggs. They sang a lot, even danced as they cooked. They must have just bought the house because, most weekends, we were painting a living room butter yellow or staining a coffee table mocha brown. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. When would they start threatening a loss of pancakes if I didn’t mow the lawn? When would the sausage and eggs be replaced with unidentifiable slosh because he didn’t feel like cooking in the morning? But, it never happened. They kept cooking, singing, and dancing like a couple of happy fools. It was a Saturday afternoon when Allie decided it was time to paint the brick fireplace white. As we crawled closer to the dirty old firepit, we pulled out the petrified wood and noticed a teeny, tiny treasure box. We looked at each other in wonder and excitement. She actually said, “I wonder if the leprechauns left it!” While judging her for being such a silly woman, I couldn’t help but laugh and lean into her a little. Together, we reached for the box and pulled it out. Inside was a shimmering solitaire ring. Folded underneath was a short piece of paper that read: “My darling, my heart. Only 80 days have passed since I first held your hand. I simply cannot imagine my next 80 years without you in them. Will you take this ring, take my heart, and build a life with me? This tiny little solitaire is my offering to you. Will you be my bride?” As I stared up at Allie, she asked me a question. “Do you know what today is?” I shook my head. “It’s May 20th. That’s 80 days since Nancy passed your hand into mine and we took you home.” It turns out, love comes in all shapes and sizes, even a teeny, tiny treasure box from a wonderfully silly lady who believes in leprechauns.
Essential Elements of Narrative Essays
Let’s go back to basics first. Generally speaking, there are four types of essays: argumentative essays , descriptive essays , expository essays , and narrative essays .
Narrative essays tell a vivid story, usually from one person's viewpoint. A narrative essay uses all the story elements — a beginning, middle and ending, as well as plot, characters, setting and climax — bringing them together to complete the story. The focus of a narrative essay is the plot, which is told with enough detail to build to a climax. Here's how:
- It’s usually told chronologically.
- It always has a purpose. Often, this is stated in your thesis statement in the introductory paragraph.
- It may use dialogue. For more on that, here are the ins and outs on how to punctuate dialogue correcctly .
- It’s written with sensory details and bright descriptions that involve the reader. All these details relate in some way to the main point the writer is making.
Quick Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay
When writing a narrative essay, remember that you are sharing sensory and emotional details with the reader.
- Your words need to be vivid and colorful to help the reader feel the same feelings that you felt.
- Elements of the story need to support the point you are making. And, you need to remember to make reference to that point in the first sentence.
- You should make use of conflict and sequence like in any story.
- You may use flashbacks and flash forwards to help the story build toward a climax.
- It is usually written in the first person , but the third-person perspective may also be used.
Tell Your Story
Use your next narrative essay to tell your story. It’s possible to focus on yourself, while offering the reader some sort of lesson or truth. Encourage them to move past terrible loss or maintain hope in a seemingly bleak foster system.
Narrative essays are close cousins to short stories. If you feel compelled to share another story, fiction or nonfiction, with the world, check out Get Creative: How to Write a Short Story . Who knows how many lives you’ll brighten and shape with your words. Remember, there’s great power in them.
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6 Personal Narrative Examples For Aspiring Essayists
by Amy Paturel | Oct 2, 2023
If writing a personal essay came with a step-by-step guide—and sadly, it doesn’t—the first step would be to read really good essays.
Analyze what works and what doesn’t and determine why the author was able to catch an editor’s attention.
Here are some reflection questions to consider when reading a personal essay:
- Why does the piece speak to you?
- Why did you read all the way to the end?
- How did you walk away from the essay a little bit different than you did before you came into it?
Then dissect every paragraph, every sentence, every word and apply what you’ve learned to your own work.
Personal Narrative Examples for Aspiring Essayists
6 excellent personal narrative examples .
While there are fantastic examples of stellar essays lurking in nearly every corner of the Internet—and I’m thinking beyond the usual suspects like The New York Times, Oprah and The Washington Post — when I teach my personal essay writing course , I frequently turn to the following examples for the reasons cited below.
Here are six must-read personal narrative essay examples.
1. The Fateful Discovery a Woman Made After the Sudden Death of Her Infant Child by Rebecca Gummere
Few essays have gutted me to the same degree as Rebecca Gummere’s essay in O, The Oprah Magazine . This is an example of a powerful story—one that is truly unique—and that’s what kept me reading.
Admittedly, when I read the first two paragraphs of the story, I glazed over. But Gummere used metaphor beautifully, with passages like, “the multiplying cells begin a right-looping arc, developing in the form of a spiral, as would a rose, or a seashell, or a galaxy.” She also uses dialogue that provides just the right pacing, intermixed with those brilliant metaphors:
“Are you ready?” asks the pathologist. I nod, making a chalice of my hands, and he reaches down into the plastic bucket and lifts my son’s heart and lungs out of the water. I feel a slight weight, as if I am holding a kitten or a bird. I blink and the world turns sideways beneath me.
In the paragraphs that follow, she describes her experience, quite literally blow by blow (and I typically avoid clichés; you always should in your writing). The pacing pulls the reader in to the point where it’s impossible to look away. That is good writing. That is putting the reader in a scene with you. That is how you sell an essay.
There are many other passages I yearn to share, but alas, I don’t want to give too much away. This is an essay you should experience in the moment with the author, just as I did the first time I read it.
2. In Marriage, Beware of Big Boxes by Cindy Chupack
For me, this is a “ Modern Love ” column favorite. And yes, there are many when it comes to Modern Love submissions . In fact, two of the essays I’m providing as samples appeared in The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column . The opening declares a truism that many are afraid to utter aloud:
In any marriage, even the best marriage, there will come a day when you wonder why you married this person…This handsome, tuxedoed man is publicly binding his life to yours, and you think, ‘It would have to snow inside my house before I would ever feel anything but love for this man.’ Well, it snowed inside my house.
Cindy Chupack’s writing is witty, concise and laugh-out-loud funny at times. It’s also honest. Equally important, nearly every woman who has been married to a romantic can find herself inside that story.
Admittedly, while I read this essay, I was thinking more about my parents’ marriage than my own (my hubby’s gift-giving style is decidedly understated), but the point is, there are universal themes scattered throughout this essay. It boils down to this: Snow, even inside your house, can be quite beautiful.
3. Mother Rage: Theory and Practice by Anne Lamott
I had a hard time reading this essay . I wanted to look away, to deny Anne Lamott’s experience, to pretend I can’t relate. But then, I had to press pause and bow down. Lamott’s bravery in this piece, well, it’s almost unparalleled.
After all, it takes guts to admit this:
One reason I think we get so angry mad at our children is because we can. Who else can you talk to like this? Can you imagine hissing at your partner, “You get off the phone NOW! No, NOT in five minutes …”? Or saying to a friend, “You get over here right this second! And the longer you make me wait, the worse it’s going to be for you.” Or, while talking to a salesman at Sear’s who happens to pick up the ringing phone, grabbing his arm too hard and shouting, “Don’t you DARE answer the phone when I’m talking to you. “ But underneath the fear I keep finding resiliency, forgiveness, even grace.
This essay is more of a rant or even a journal entry than a personal essay, but it works because it’s real. It works because her readers see themselves in her words. It works because she doesn’t shy away from the shame or the pain—and she invites her readers to do the same.
4. Your Brain’s Response to Your Ex According to Neuroscience by Amy Paturel (Me)
I frequently share this essay as an example of a reported essay, not because I wrote it, but because my editor said it was a monthly traffic top 10 for Discover Magazine.
The reason: People can relate to it—and there are scientific reasons behind our shared experiences.
Seeing him instantly reactivated the networks my mind encoded 15 years before. Throw a bear hug into the mix—and the accompanying flood of oxytocin—and that old brain circuitry lit up like fireworks. Justin Garcia, the associate director for research and education at the Kinsey Institute, says that’s no surprise. Just like a recovering alcoholic craving a drink after decades of sobriety, we can still be drawn to an old lover. “It doesn’t mean you still want to be with that person,” he says. “It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It means there’s a complex physiology associated with romantic attachments that probably stays with us for most of our lives—and that’s not something to be afraid of, particularly if you had a great run.”
In a sense, this piece gave readers permission to feel all the feels with a former lover, even if there are good reasons why the flame stopped burning.
5. Connecting My Children to Their Heritage in Mandarin by Connie Chang
In this piece , Connie Chang transports us into her experience as both a child and a parent, in part by sharing specific details.
As the daughter of first-generation Chinese immigrants, Chang brilliantly explains what it was like to straddle two worlds—the one that her parents emigrated from and the one where she landed as a young girl.
The message was clear in the media and popular culture of the 1980s: It was better to speak English, exclusively and without an accent; to replace thermoses of dumplings with hamburgers. My father’s college classmate, also a Chinese immigrant, proudly boasted that his kids knew no Mandarin, a claim confirmed when his son butchered the pronunciation of his own name while my parents looked on with unconcealed horror.
The piece is rife with conflict. Chang not only shares her experiences as a young Asian girl trying to assimilate to American life, but also as a parent who wants to preserve her Chinese heritage for her children. The kicker: She realizes how little she remembers of her once native Mandarin.
Throughout the piece, Chang also educates her reader about the growth in Mandarin immersion schools, the seemingly increasing interest in learning Mandarin, and perhaps most important, how teaching her children Mandarin has resulted in a deeper bond between her children and their grandparents.
Buried in Mandarin’s rounded vowels and tones, in the whimsical idioms that pepper our speech, in the Tang era poems every child knows, are irrevocable pieces of me, of my family.
And there’s the redemption!
6. Now I Need a Place to Hide Away by Ann Hood
Ann Hood’s essay is not only a great example of transformation (i.e., I used to…. But now I…), but it also beautifully illustrates how an adept writer can contain a really big story—in this case, the death of a child. Instead of trying to tackle everything from point A to point B chronologically, Hood contains the story with a small piece of the larger puzzle using The Beatles as a vehicle.
For Grace’s fourth Christmas, Santa brought her all of the Beatles’ movies on video, a photo book of their career and “The Beatles 1” tape. Before long, playing “Eight Days a Week” as loud as possible became our anthem.
As parents do, I had shared my passions with my children. And when it came to the Beatles, Grace had seized my passion and made it her own. But with her death, that passion was turned upside-down, and rather than bring joy, the Beatles haunted me.
In this way, The Beatles becomes almost like a character in Hood’s story, a way to illustrate Hood’s tremendous bond with her daughter. It also ensures that each time we hear The Beatles, we recall Hood’s tragic story.
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This is an updated version of a story on personal narrative examples that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.
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The Winners of Our Personal Narrative Essay Contest
We asked students to write about a meaningful life experience. Here are the eight winning essays, as well as runners-up and honorable mentions.
By The Learning Network
Update: Join our live webinar on Oct. 8 about teaching with our Narrative Writing Contest.
In September, we challenged teenagers to write short, powerful stories about meaningful life experiences for our first-ever personal narrative essay contest .
This contest, like every new contest we start, was admittedly a bit of an experiment. Beyond a caution to write no more than 600 words, our rules were fairly open-ended, and we weren’t sure what we would get.
Well, we received over 8,000 entries from teenagers from around the world. We got stories about scoring the winning goal, losing a grandparent, learning to love one’s skin and dealing with mental illness. We got pieces that were moving, funny, introspective and honest. We got a snapshot of teenage life.
Judging a contest like this is, of course, subjective, especially with the range of content and styles of writing students submitted. But we based our criteria on the types of personal narrative essays The New York Times publishes in columns like Lives , Modern Love and Rites of Passage . We read many, many essays that were primarily reflective but, while these pieces might be well-suited for a college application, they weren’t exactly the short, powerful stories we were looking for in this contest.
The winning essays we selected were, though, and they all had a few things in common that set them apart:
They had a clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changed in some way. They artfully balanced the action of the story with reflection on what it meant to the writer. They took risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure and word choice to develop a strong voice. And, perhaps most important, they focused on a specific moment or theme — a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit — instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in 600 words.
Below, you’ll find these eight winning essays, published in full. Scroll to the bottom to see the names of all 35 finalists we’re honoring — eight winners, eight runners-up and 19 honorable mentions. Congratulations, and thank you to everyone who participated!
The Winning Essays
Nothing extraordinary, pants on fire, eggs and sausage, first impressions, cracks in the pavement, sorry, wrong number, the man box.
By Jeniffer Kim
It was a Saturday. Whether it was sunny or cloudy, hot or cold, I cannot remember, but I do remember it was a Saturday because the mall was packed with people.
I was with my mom.
Mom is short. Skinny. It is easy to overlook her in a crowd simply because she is nothing extraordinary to see.
On that day we strolled down the slippery-slick tiles with soft, inconspicuous steps, peeking at window boutiques in fleeting glances because we both knew we wouldn’t be buying much, like always.
I remember I was looking up at the people we passed as we walked — at first apathetically, but then more attentively.
Ladies wore five-inch heels that clicked importantly on the floor and bright, elaborate clothing. Men strode by smelling of sharp cologne, faces clear of wrinkles — wiped away with expensive creams.
An uneasy feeling started to settle in my chest. I tried to push it out, but once it took root it refused to be yanked up and tossed away. It got more unbearable with every second until I could deny it no longer; I was ashamed of my mother.
We were in a high-class neighborhood, I knew that. We lived in a small, overpriced apartment building that hung on to the edge of our county that Mom chose to move to because she knew the schools were good.
We were in a high-class neighborhood, but as I scrutinized the passers-by and then turned accusing eyes on Mom, I realized for the first time that we didn’t belong there.
I could see the heavy lines around Mom’s eyes and mouth, etched deep into her skin without luxurious lotions to ease them away. She wore cheap, ragged clothes with the seams torn, shoes with the soles worn down. Her eyes were tired from working long hours to make ends meet and her hair too gray for her age.
I looked at her, and I was ashamed.
My mom is nothing extraordinary, yet at that moment she stood out because she was just so plain.
Mumbling I’d meet her at the clothes outlet around the corner, I hurried away to the bathroom. I didn’t want to be seen with her, although there was no one important around to see me anyway.
When I finally made my way to the outlet with grudging steps, I found that Mom wasn’t there.
With no other options, I had to scour the other stores in the area for her. I was dreading returning to her side, already feeling the secondhand embarrassment that I’d recently discovered came with being with her.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Mom was standing in the middle of a high-end store, holding a sweater that looked much too expensive.
She said, “This will look good on you. Do you want it?”
It was much too expensive. And I almost agreed, carelessly, thoughtlessly.
Then I took a closer look at the small, weary woman with a big smile stretching across her narrow face and a sweater in her hands, happy to be giving me something so nice, and my words died in my throat.
I felt like I’d been dropped into a cold lake.
Her clothes were tattered and old because she spent her money buying me new ones. She looked so tired and ragged all the time because she was busy working to provide for me. She didn’t wear jewelry or scented perfumes because she was just content with me.
Suddenly, Mother was beautiful and extraordinarily wonderful in my eyes.
I was no longer ashamed of her, but of myself.
“Do you want it?” My mom repeated.
By Varya Kluev
I never kissed the boy I liked behind the schoolyard fence that one March morning. I never had dinner with Katy Perry or lived in Kiev for two months either, but I still told my entire fourth-grade class I did.
The words slipped through my teeth effortlessly. With one flick of my tongue, I was, for all anybody knew, twenty-third in line for the throne of Monaco. “Actually?” the girls on the swings beside me would ask, wide eyes blinking with a childlike naivety. I nodded as they whispered under their breath how incredible my fable was. So incredible they bought into it without a second thought.
I lied purely for the ecstasy of it. It was narcotic. With my fabrications, I became the captain of the ship, not just a wistful passer-by, breath fogging the pane of glass that stood between me and the girls I venerated. No longer could I only see, not touch; a lie was a bullet, and the barrier shattered. My mere presence demanded attention — after all, I was the one who got a valentine from Jason, not them.
This way I became more than just the tomboyish band geek who finished her multiplication tables embarrassingly fast. My name tumbled out of their mouths and I manifested in the center of their linoleum lunch table. I became, at least temporarily, the fulcrum their world revolved around.
Not only did I lie religiously and unabashedly — I was good at it. The tedium of my everyday life vanished; I instead marched through the gates of my alcazar, strode up the steps of my concepts, and resided in my throne of deceit. I believed if I took off my fraudulent robe, I would become plebeian. The same aristocracy that finally held me in high regard would boot me out of my palace. To strip naked and exclaim, “Here’s the real me, take a look!” would lead my new circle to redraw their lines — they would take back their compliments, sit at the table with six seats instead of eight, giggle in the back of the class when I asked a question. I therefore adjusted my counterfeit diadem and continued to praise a Broadway show I had never seen.
Yet finally lounging in a lavender bedroom one long-sought-after day, after absently digesting chatter about shows I didn’t watch and boys I didn’t know, I started processing the floating conversations. One girl, who I had idolized for always having her heavy hair perfectly curled, casually shared how her parents couldn’t afford to go on their yearly trip the coming summer. I drew in an expectant breath, but nobody scoffed. Nobody exchanged a secret criticizing glance. Instead, another girl took her spoon of vanilla frosting out of her cheek and with the same air of indifference revealed how her family wasn’t traveling either. Promptly, my spun stories about swimming in crystal pools under Moroccan sun seemed to be in vain.
The following Monday, the girls on the bus to school still shared handfuls of chocolate-coated sunflower seeds with her. At lunch, she wasn’t shunned, wasn’t compelled to sit at a forgotten corner table. For that hour, instead of weaving incessant fantasies, I listened. I listened to the girls nonchalantly talk about yesterday’s soccer game where they couldn’t score a single goal. Listened about their parent’s layoff they couldn’t yet understand the significance of. I listened and I watched them listen, accepting and uncritical of one another no matter how relatively vapid their story. I then too began to talk, beginning by admitting that I wasn’t actually related to Britney Spears.
By Ryan Young Kim
When first I sat down in the small, pathetic excuse of a cafeteria the hospital had, I took a moment to reflect. I had been admitted the night before, rolled in on a stretcher like I had some sort of ailment that prevented me from walking.
But the nurses in the ward were nice to me, especially when they saw that I wasn’t going to be one of the violent ones. They started telling me something, but I paid no attention; I was trying to take in my surroundings. The tables were rounded, chairs were essentially plastic boxes with weight inside, and there was no real glass to be seen.
After they filled out the paperwork, the nurses escorted me to my room. There was someone already in there, but he was dead asleep. The two beds were plain and simple, with a cheap mattress on top of an equally cheap wooden frame. One nurse stuck around to hand me my bedsheets and a gown that I had to wear until my parents dropped off clothes.
The day had been exhausting, waiting for the psychiatric ward to tell us that there was a bed open for me and the doctors to fill out the mountains of paperwork that come with a suicide attempt.
Actually, there had been one good thing about that day. My parents had brought me Korean food for lunch — sullungtang , a fatty stew made from ox-bone broth. God, even when I was falling asleep I could still taste some of the rice kernels that had been mixed into the soup lingering around in my mouth.
For the first time, I felt genuine hunger. My mind had always been racked with a different kind of hunger — a pining for attention or just an escape from the toil of waking up and not feeling anything. But I always had everything I needed — that is, I always had food on my plate, maybe even a little too much. Now, after I had tried so hard to wrench myself away from this world, my basic human instinct was guiding me toward something that would keep me alive.
The irony was lost on me then. All I knew was that if I slept earlier, that meant less time awake being hungry. So I did exactly that. Waking up the next day, I was dismayed to see that the pangs of hunger still rumbled through my stomach. I slid off my covers and shuffled out of my room. The cafeteria door was already open, and I looked inside. There was a cart of Styrofoam containers in the middle of the room, and a couple people were eating quietly. I made my way in and stared.
I scanned the tops of the containers — they were all marked with names: Jonathan, Nathan, Kristen — and as soon as I spotted my name, my mouth began to water.
My dad would sometimes tell me about his childhood in a rural Korean village. The hardships he faced, the hunger that would come if the village harvest floundered, and how he worked so hard to get out — I never listened. But in that moment, between when I saw my container and I sat down at a seat to open it, I understood.
The eggs inside were watery, and their heat had condensated water all over, dripping onto everything and making the sausages soggy. The amount of ketchup was pitiful.
But if I hadn’t been given plastic utensils, I think I would have just shoved it all into my mouth, handful by handful.
By Isabel Hui
When I woke up on August 4, 2016, there was only one thing on my mind: what to wear. A billion thoughts raced through my brain as wooden hangers shuffled back and forth in the cramped hotel closet. I didn’t want to come off as a try-hard, but I also didn’t want to be seen as a slob. Not only was it my first day of high school, but it was my first day of school in a new state; first impressions are everything, and it was imperative for me to impress the people who I would spend the next four years with. For the first time in my life, I thought about how convenient it would be to wear the horrendous matching plaid skirts that private schools enforce.
It wasn’t insecurity driving me to madness; I was actually quite confident for a teenage girl. It was the fact that this was my third time being the new kid. Moving so many times does something to a child’s development … I struggled finding friends that I could trust would be there for me if I picked up and left again. But this time was different because my dad’s company ensured that I would start and finish high school in the same place. This meant no instant do-overs when I pick up and leave again. This time mattered, and that made me nervous.
After meticulously raiding my closet, I emerged proudly in a patterned dress from Target. The soft cotton was comfortable, and the ruffle shoulders added a hint of fun. Yes, this outfit was the one. An hour later, I felt just as powerful as I stepped off the bus and headed toward room 1136. But as I turned the corner into my first class, my jaw dropped to the floor.
Sitting at her desk was Mrs. Hutfilz, my English teacher, sporting the exact same dress as I. I kept my head down and tiptoed to my seat, but the first day meant introductions in front of the whole class, and soon enough it was my turn. I made it through my minute speech unscathed, until Mrs. Hutfilz stood up, jokingly adding that she liked my style. Although this was the moment I had been dreading from the moment I walked in, all the anxiety that had accumulated throughout the morning surprisingly melted away; the students who had previously been staring at their phones raised their heads to pay attention as I shared my story. My smile grew as I giggled with my peers, ending my speech with “and I am very stylish, much like my first period teacher.” After class, I stayed behind and talked to Mrs. Hutfilz, sharing my previous apprehension about coming into a new school and state. I was relieved to make a humorous and genuine connection with my first teacher, one that would continue for the remainder of the year.
This incident reminded me that it’s only high school; these are the times to have fun, work hard, and make memories, not stress about the trivial details. Looking back four years later, the ten minutes I spent dreading my speech were really not worth it. While my first period of high school may not have gone exactly the way I thought it would, it certainly made the day unforgettable in the best way, and taught me that Mrs. Hutfilz has an awesome sense of style!
By Adam Bernard Sanders
It was my third time sitting there on the middle school auditorium stage. The upper chain of braces was caught in my lip again, and my palms were sweating, and my glasses were sliding down my nose. The pencil quivered in my hands. All I had to do was answer whatever question Mrs. Crisafulli, the history teacher, was going to say into that microphone. I had answered 26 before that, and 25 of those correctly. And I was sitting in my chair, and I was tapping my foot, and the old polo shirt I was wearing was starting to constrict and choke me. I pulled pointlessly at the collar, but the air was still on the outside, only looking at the inside of my throat. I was going to die.
I could taste my tongue in my mouth shriveling up. I could feel each hard-pumping heartbeat of blood travel out of my chest, up through my neck and down my arms and legs, warming my already-perspiring forehead but leaving my ghost-white fingers cold and blue. My breathing was quick. My eyes were glassy. I hadn’t even heard the question yet.
Late-night readings of my parents’ anatomy textbooks had told me that a sense of impending doom was the hallmark of pulmonary embolism, a fact that often bubbled to the surface of my mind in times like these. Almost by instinct, I bent my ring and little fingers down, holding them with my thumb as the two remaining digits whipped to my right wrist and tried to take my pulse. Mr. Mendoza had taught us this last year in gym class. But I wasn’t in gym class that third period. I was just sitting on the metal folding chair, waiting for Mrs. Crisafulli to flip to the right page in her packet for the question.
Arabella had quizzed me in second-period French on the lakes of Latin America. Nicaragua. Atitlán. Yojoa. Lake Titicaca, that had made Raj, who sat in front of me, start giggling, and Shannon, who sat three desks up and one to the left, whip her head around and raise one fist to her lips, jab up her index finger, and silence us. Lakes were fed by rivers, the same rivers that lined the globe on my desk like the cracks in the pavement I liked to trace with my shoe on the walk home. Lake Nicaragua drains into the San Juan River, which snakes its way around the port of Granada to empty into the Caribbean Sea. I knew that.
At that moment I was only sure of those two things: the location of Lake Nicaragua and my own impending doom. And I was so busy counting my pulse and envisioning my demise that I missed Mrs. Crisafulli’s utterance of the awaited question into her microphone, as I had each year in the past as one of the two people left onstage.
“ … Coldest … on earth,” was all I heard. My pencil etched shaggy marks as my shaking hands attempted to write something in the 20 seconds remaining.
“Asia,” I scrawled.
So, for the third time in three years, I got it wrong, and for the third time, I didn’t die. I walked home that day, tracing the faults in the pavement and wondering what inside me was so cracked and broken. Something had to be fissured inside, like the ridges and rivers on my desk globe that I would throw out later that evening, but fish from the trash can when the sun rose the next day.
By Michelle Ahn
My phone buzzes. An unfamiliar number with a 512 area code — I later find out it’s from Texas. It’s a selfie of a 30-something man, smiling with his family, a strange picture to receive as I live halfway across the country.
For the past three years, I — a 14-year-old girl living in Virginia — have been getting texts meant for this man, Jared. Over the years, I’ve pieced together parts of who he is; middle-aged, Caucasian, and very popular according to the numerous messages I’ve received for him.
Throughout this time, I’ve also been discovering who I am. When I received the first text, I was a playful sixth grader, always finding sly ways to be subversive in school and with friends. With this new method of mischief in my hands, naturally, I engaged:
“My sweet momma just told me that BYU Texas Club is holding a Texas Roundup free BBQ dinner on October 10th! Thought y’all would enjoy,” came one of the texts.
After staring at the message for a while, I responded.
As time went on, the story of the mystery man deepened. I was halfway through sixth grade, for example, when I learned he was part of the “Elder’s Quorum,” a rather ominous-sounding group. Looking it up, I learned that it was not a cult, as I’d initially thought, but rather an elite inner circle within the Mormon Church.
This was around the same time my family had stopped going to church. I’d started to spend more time taking art classes and trying out various sports — tennis, basketball, even archery — and soon church fell to the side. Instead, I meddled in the Quorum’s group texts; when a message came about a member moving away, I excitedly responded, “Let me help y’all out, brother!”
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but after a while I started to feel guilty about this deception. I wondered if I’d somehow ruined Jared’s reputation, if his friends were turned off by my childish responses. I was also dealing with changes within my friend group at the time; the biggest change being letting go of a close but toxic friend; I realized that I needed friendships that were more mutually supportive.
Shortly after, I got a phone call from a strange woman. She started talking about the struggles in her life; her children, her job, even about how she wanted to leave Texas forever. In comparison, my own problems — the B minus I’d gotten, the stress of an upcoming archery tournament, the argument I had with my sister — all seemed superficial. I timidly informed her I wasn’t Jared, and her flustered response told me that I should have told her at the start of the call.
A while later, I got another text: “Congratulations on getting married!” It had never occurred to me how much Jared’s life had changed since I had received his number. But of course it did; over time, I’d outgrown my prankster middle school self, gained the confidence to build a solid friend group, and devoted myself to my primary loves of art and archery. Why wouldn’t Jared also be settling into his own life too?
Though I’ve since taken every opportunity to correct those who text Jared, it still happens every once in a while. Just last month, I got another random text; all it said was: “Endoscopy!” When I got it, I laughed, and then I wrote back.
“Hey, sorry, you have the wrong number. But I hope Jared’s doing well.”
By Maria Fernanda Benavides
“Mayfier? Marfir?” the tournament judge called squinting her eyes, trying to find the spelling error, although there was no error.
“It’s Mafer. It’s a nickname for my full name, Maria Fernanda.”
She stared at me blankly.
“My parents are creative,” I lied, and she laughed.
“O.K., Mahfeer, you’re up!”
I walk to the center and scanned the room before starting as instructed. I took a deep breath.
I reminded myself, “Use your voice.”
I spoke loudly at first, trying to hide the fact that I was overthinking every single word that came out of my mouth. As my performance continued, the artificial confidence became natural, and I started speaking from my heart as I told the story of my experience as an immigrant woman, and I described how much I missed my father who had to travel back and forth every weekend to see my mom and me, and how disconnected I felt from my family, and how I longed to have a place I could call home.
My performance came to an end, and I made my way back to my seat with newly found optimism as I reflected on how performing had consumed me.
I used my voice. Finally. I had found my home in the speech program.
Waiting for the speech tournament to post the names of the finalists was excruciating. I jumped off my seat every time a staff member passed by. I didn’t care about accumulating state points or individual recognition. I wanted the chance to speak again.
Finally, a girl walked up to the oratory postings with a paper on her hand, and the entire cafeteria surrounded her, impatiently waiting to see who the finalists were. Then, I saw it.
My name. Written in dense, black letters.
I smiled to myself.
This time, as I walked to the oratory final, I did so by myself, as I had finally acquired self-assurance needed to navigate the quiet hallways of the high school. I could only hear the heels of the two girls behind me.
“I heard that Saint Mary’s Hall freshman made it to oratory finals,” one of them said, obviously speaking about me. “She broke over me. I didn’t see her performance. Did you? Did you see her performance? What is her speech about?” she questioned the other one.
“It’s about being a Mexican immigrant.”
“Oh, so that’s why she broke.”
“It’s the same pity narrative, there’s nothing different about it.”
Suddenly, the confidence that I had acquired from the previous rounds vanished, and I found myself wishing that I had my older, more experienced teammates by my side to help me block the girls’ words. But no one was there.
I thought my narrative was what made my words matter, what made me matter.
But they didn’t matter. Not anymore. From that moment on, I knew I would be recognized around the circuit as the Mexican girl whose name no one knows how to pronounce. I didn’t even need to speak about my identity to be identified. Everyone would recognize me not for my achievement or my being, but by the peculiar way I pronounce words. I could speak about different topics, but it felt like it wouldn’t make a difference. It felt like my voice didn’t make a difference.
“Mafer, how did it feel?” my coach asked me after the round. “It felt amazing!” I lied.
I didn’t feel anything. Not anymore. Speech gave me a voice, but it also took it away.
By Gordon Lewis
We’re all average boys: hard working in school, spending every minute together in the summer, and doing our best to pretend we don’t have a worry in the world. The facts are no different as the sun is beginning to set on a warm July evening. Sam and I say goodbye to Ben, stepping out of our best friend’s house.
“My sister is going to pick me up while we’re walking, is that O.K.?” I ask.
“Actually, she can probably drive you home, too.”
“Sounds good,” says Sam, but lacking his usual upbeat, comedic energy. Neither of us says anything else, but I’m O.K. with it, we just keep walking. I look around, admiring the still, peaceful park as the warm summer breeze brushes across my face. The crickets are chirping and an owl sings along between the soft hum of cars rolling along nearby. It’s nature’s tune of serenity.
I almost forgot Sam was with me until he asked, “Can I ask you kind of a weird question?”
“Sure,” I say, expecting a joke in poor taste as per usual.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” he says before asking.
More hesitantly, I say, “O.K.”
“Do you have someone that you talk to about like deeper stuff … Like more emotional stuff?” Silence hits us like a brick wall: The crickets stop chirping, the owl stops hooting, even the cars stop driving by. It’s deafening. I’m only shocked at the question because it’s Sam, one of the happiest and funniest people I know.
I’m wondering. My disappointment takes over just as quickly as my hope fades as I fail to come up with a name. In the end, the closest thing I can think of is the book I occasionally write in when I’m feeling sad or stressed.
“Huh,” I say quietly, “I’ve never really thought about that, but I guess not.”
“Yeah, I didn’t either, but at camp we did activities and had talks that led to more emotional conversations.” I’m silently both jealous and proud of him, but it’s mostly jealousy.
“It’s funny,” I say, “in English we always joked about that TED Talk guy talking about the man box, but it’s actually so true. We shouldn’t feel like we can’t talk about deeper stuff like that.”
“Yeah,” laughed Sam. Silence drapes over us again, but this time it’s more comfortable. I’m lost in my thoughts trying to think of what to say next, but there’s too much. I’ve never had an opportunity like this before. However it’s not shocking or overwhelming, even though it’s with Sam of all people — instead it’s therapeutic.
The silence is broken once again by Sam:
“Like I never told you guys that my parents got divorced.”
“I’m-I’m sorry,” I say, “That really sucks.” I’m disappointed in myself for not saying more.
“It’s O.K.,” Sam says, but I know he’s lying. I can feel his sadness.
Drowning in my thoughts, I try to pick out something to say. But there’s too much to say. There are too many options after being silent for 16 years.
Headlights appear in front of us, and for a split second I’m relieved, but it rapidly turns into regret.
Knowing it’s Rose, I quickly tell sam, “If you ever want to talk again just let me know.”
I say hi to Rose, masking my solemn, thoughtful mood as tiredness. The warm breeze gives my cheek one final kiss; nature resumes her number, and the cars roll by again as Sam and I reluctantly step into the car.
In alphabetical order by the writer’s last name
“Sorry, Wrong Number” by Michelle Ahn
“Speechless” by Maria Fernanda Benavides
“First Impressions” by Isabel Hui
“Nothing Extraordinary” by Jeniffer Kim
“Eggs and Sausage" by Ryan Young Kim
“Pants on Fire” by Varya Kluev
“The Man Box” by Gordon Lewis
“Cracks in the Pavement” by Adam Bernard Sanders
“The First (and Last) Time Speedy Wasn’t Speedy Enough” by Maya Berg
“Searching for Air” by Sydney Do
“Fear on My Mind” by Daytona Gerhardy
“Under the Starry Sky” by Letian Li
“Chinatown Diptych” by Jeffrey Liao
“They” by Haven Low
“The Vigil” by Beda Lundstedt
“How My Brother Taught Me to Drive” by Sarah Shapiro
“The Six in Mid-August” by Liah Argiropoulos
“‘Those Aren’t Scratches Are They?’” by Casey Barwick
“Brown Is Beautiful” by Tiffany Borja
“I Am Ordinary, After All” by Rebecca Braxley
“Torn” by Melanie D.
“The Stupid Seven” by Madeline G.
“Speak No Evil” by Amita Goyal
“Building My Crown” by Ambar Guzman
“Me, Myself, and a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich” by Zachary Hommel
“The Tomato” by Raymond Huang
“Out” by Michael H.
“Cold Noodles With a Side of Birdballs” by Audrey Koh
“Banya in Siberia” by Arshiya Sanghi
“Traffic” by Kecia Seo
“The Power of Ambiguity” by Marcus Shallow
“Land Mine” by Geneve Thomas-Palmer
“How to Fall Asleep With the Lights On” by Caroline Wei
“The Taste of Tofu” by Amy Zhou
“The Newcomer’s Journey” by Maria Z.
Thank you to all our contest judges!
Edward Bohan, Amanda Christy Brown, Elda Cantú, Julia Carmel, Elaine Chen, Nancy Coleman, Nicole Daniels, John Dorman, Shannon Doyne, Jeremy Engle, Tracy Evans, Ross Flatt, Vivian Giang, Caroline Crosson Gilpin, Michael Gonchar, Lovia Gyarkye, Annissa Hambouz, Karen Hanley, Christine Hauser, Susan Josephs, Shira Katz, Dahlia Kozlowsky, Megan Leder, Miya Lee, Debbie Leiderman, Shauntel Lowe, Keith Meatto, Sue Mermelstein, Amelia Nierenberg, Anna Nordeen, John Otis, Ken Paul, Pia Peterson, Natalie Proulx, Nancy Redd, Kenneth Rosen, Rebecca Rufo-Tepper, Kristina Samulewski, Meghan Stoddard, Brett Vogelsinger, Bonnie Wertheim, Jack Wheeler, Lena Wilson, Sanam Yar
- Summer Reading
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- Quarter 4 Syllabus
True Narrative Essay
A true narrative essay, remember is a story, based on actual events. You are required to compose a true narrative essay about an incident that you experienced or observed. The form of the true narrative is undefined; the purpose in telling the story is to express a point or observation. You are responsible for developing one or more of the nonfiction terms that appeared on the recent exam (analogy, satire, hyperbole, metaphor, rhetoric, foreshadow) in your composition. Ideally the inclusion of the developed terms will be natural rather than appear awkwardly like a nose on a duck. The nebulous nature of the narrative form may be imposing to those of you who require order, thus I thought the explanation provided by a colleague to her class might enlighten you further. Your essay must be computer printed, display the MLA standards for compositions and is due on DAY 7 of the syllabus.
The True Narrative Essay – Essay Writing
The typical prompt or assignment for the narrative essay will ask you to describe an event that affected or changed your life. In other words, in the narrative essay prompt, you are being asked to tell a story. Because of the basic structure of this assignment, students are often fooled into thinking that the stories that take place in a narrative essay have to be true, which often becomes a source of anxiety. “How can I write about myself in a way that will interest my professor?” you might find yourself asking. “After all, nothing interesting has happened to me. And even if something interesting has happened to me, I’m not sure I want my prof. to know about it.”
The best way to address this concern and start writing a narrative essay is to forget about telling “the truth” or “the facts” of a story unless you already think those truths and facts are interesting. Along with telling a story, after all, you’re also being asked in the narrative essay to write vivid descriptions of persons and events. What if you don’t remember what one of your characters was wearing or looked like or smelled like on that fateful day when you decided to skip school, run away from home or sneak out of the house to meet up with a coterie of friends on an unforgettable evening; embellishment becomes a necessary disguise of the truth. You are, after all, telling a story, and stories – even autobiographical ones – are embellished with made up details, characters, and events all the time.
Usually, by the time you reach the point in class where you’re asked to write a narrative essay you will have already been exposed to at least one well-known narrative essay writer, such as Amy Tan or James Thurber. There are numerous others, but the important thing to keep in mind about all of them is that they are not necessarily writing the truth, at least not the objective truth. The reason these writers are taught in literature classes is that they have vivid imaginations, which is just another way of saying that they are good at making things up. They usually have a purpose as well – whether to defend nature (in the case of Henry David Thoreau) or to paint a sympathetic picture of first and second-generation Asian American immigrant experience (as in the case of Amy Tan) – and this purpose is often the very point of the narrative essay. The purpose (or thesis) of the narrative essay, then, should be your first concern.
Once you know the point you want to prove, you just need to provide supporting details, whether real or imaginary, that make that point stand out. If these details are believable and related to your narrative essay’s purpose, it simply doesn’t matter whether they actually happened. English class isn’t a court of law, after all, it’s a chance for you to extend your command of the English language. As long as that’s happening, you can feel secure in almost any story you decide to write.
The following compositions are examples of a true narrative essay. You can also view the essays on the assigned essays link which include several true narrative essays among which are James Thurber’s The Scotty Who Knew Too Much and Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales .
A Happy Day Turned Bad
It was a beautiful day. The sun cast it’s radiant rays upon a little small village in China. Little dust of ivory clouds navigated itself around the sky. On that day a naive girl of four years-old sat in her concise house of only one room., no bigger than a mini garage. An average size twin bed faced the wall, a bed that three people shared every night. A cheap old fashioned stove adjacent to the bed, and a cabinet where three utensils, three plates, and three pairs of clothes lay. I sat on the cold stone floor wearing my pink little summer dress while playing with my rusty train set. All days were the same for me. My parents both worked from when the sun rose to when the sun set, only coming home to make dinner. Life for me was quite lonely. I ran free through the village like a wild child, for no one cared. I became independent the day I could walk.
As I sat there, playing, the door suddenly banged open. My mom stood there anxiously with fear in her chocolaty eyes. I knew something tragic had occurred for she never came home early. She grabbed my forearms and pulled me up with a jolt and snatched a plastic bag from the corner and stuffed what little clothes and toys I had in it. My own brown eyes were filled with tears, but I didn’t let them fall. She dragged me along as she moved and on her way out, she shut the door with a thunderous bang. Who would have thought that that was the last day I would ever see that little one room garage house again.
As we moved along the unfamiliar dusty streets, I was quiet as a four year-old could be. Unasked questions swirled in my head. What’s happening? What was happening? Where am I going? Why is my mom so upset? Where is my dad?
We got on a crowded blue bus. There was the terrible smell of cigarette, body odor, and car gas. I clung to my mother’s pant leg for I didn’t want to be separated from her. I buried my face into her pant leg, not wanting to draw attentions to myself. My mom never looked at me through this whole trip. The bus flew through towns and towns, making the outside world a blur. Eventually we sat down. I curled myself around her, sucking my thumb. I must have fallen asleep for the next thing I was a town not quite so dusty and poor looking.
We got off the bus and got on a motorcycle. I hung on for dear life as we zoomed across town to town. We got off and got on a taxi. Our last transportation vehicle before my mom reached her destination. I had never been out of my village before. This was my first time. Finally we ended up at a park. She picked me up and carried me to a wooden bench. The trees swayed back and forth as if the wind might knock its life out of them. Casting black silhouettes that clung to the enormous buildings.
“Stay here and wait for me. I will be right back. I’m only going to go see a friend,” said my mom in Chinese, and with that, she left after dropping the bag of my things on the ground next to me. Not a goodbye. Not a hug. Never even a last glimpse at the little girl she gave birth to four years ago. I watched her go. When she disappeared, I sat on the bench with my little head bent down, counting the tiles,
I watched the people pass me by. Hoping soon, one of the faces would be my mom. I waited, and waited, but she never came back. My hands started to sweat. I felt shivers running down my spine. I wanted to get up and go look for her, but I didn’t because I thought she would be back. She was just late. If I left, she would never be able to find me in this vast place. I knew she was going to come back for me. Right?
Finally, it was night. I wasn’t so sure anymore. I got scared. I cried silent tears. I was alone in this vast world. Without a mother, or a father. Just alone.
A stranger walking by with her family saw me and persuaded me to go back home with her. I did and while I was there, she called the police and the police came and brought me to the police station. For three days the police searched for my mom but they never found her for they did not know my name. I must have been a nameless child for I didn’t even know my name. I didn’t talk for two weeks. Four days later, the police bought me to an orphanage in Guangzhou, China. By then, I believed my biological family had abandoned me. I was an orphan now. The orphanage gave all they had for me to feel the gift of a family, but I didn’t in the first couple of years. I remained timid and to myself for a month but eventually, I warmed up to them. They searched for a family they knew could offer me something more that they couldn’t, but no family wanted me.
Four years later, they had found an American family that wanted me. This family gave me a name; Alana. Maybe I don’t know why my biological family gave me away, but I do know that some where in their heart, they wonder the same thing. I realized by then that even though I had lost my first family, another family was waiting. Everything occurred for a reason.
“It’s snowing Daddy, it’s snowing!”
“I told you we’d have a white Christmas Son,” the father explained as he made his third circulation through the packed parking lot alerted to any red tail lights that promised a desired parking space. Ahead an elderly woman loaded her packages into her car. The father waited impatiently surveying, in his rear-view mirror, the growing line of vehicles with their drivers. Had he not been programed by a senseless authority that placed duty ahead of consideration the father might have wondered if any of the awaiting motorists too had their spirit singed by the flame of expectation, but he was oblivious to that consideration as well. Although the woman only took a few moments to close the trunk, amble to the driver’s seat and situate herself in the Buick before starting the engine and cautiously backing out of her enviable parking space, the father could not ignore the echoing agitation from the intruding stranger within him who silently cursed the elderly woman for her delay. When had Christmas changed; when had the bitter transformation occurred that altered the sweet palate of his youth?
When the father was young, growing up in the same area, holidays were great celebrations where the consumption of seemingly endless trays of food and the visits with family were orchestrated under the guiding hand of prayer. Christmas, naturally, was the height of excitement. The father came from a large family, everyone it seemed did, with four older brothers and a younger sister. Christmas morning always resembled a mismanaged zoo where all the animals are let out of their cages at once. The opening of gifts accentuated the portrait of chaotic festivity. An amazing union of order and calamity was forged much like a bellowing wind choosing fire as a dance partner and he recalled that the movement was amazingly lithe according to an imaginary baton that ebbed and flowed conducting the song of the family.
As the father parked the car he paused, recalling that while he often envied his older brothers and the gifts that they received on those long ago holidays, he was aware, for the first time, that he was always happy for them. He now desperately desired to bestow upon his child the same charm that marked his youth.
From their individual automobiles the shoppers preceded like fallen leaves in streams that eventually converge into a river whose supreme current determines the journey of its willing, yet helpless travelers. The store in its magnificent holiday attire engulfed father and son along with the countless other shoppers. The father held his son’s small hand, smiling at his child as the youngster’s splendid chocolate eyes were captivated by the expertly arranged displays adorned with New England holiday themes. The son regarded a gigantic moose head whose colossal antlers spread far beyond the width of any man’s shoulders, mounted on the wall ahead of them. He redirected, as best he could, his father’s course fearful of walking beneath the creature, sensing that if the animal could, he would trample any child who crossed his domain.
As they climbed the stairs the son and father spotted other stuffed wildlife: a black bear searching for food, a brilliantly marked pheasant, a bobcat ready-to-pounce from an en-cove, and a fisher whose razor teeth appeared, to the boy, to be knowingly grinning at him. “What’s that animal Daddy?” the boy questioned squeezing his father’s hand.
“That’s a fisher son. They are quite vicious.”
“Mrs. Tomkins said that Noah’s cat was eaten by a fisher. Is that true Daddy?”
The father hesitated in order to conceal his disapproval of Betsy Tomkin’s indiscretion,”Could be, but we don’t have to worry about them where we live.”
“Because they won’t get Smoky, right Daddy?”
“That’s right Son, Smoky is safe and sound.”
Father and son reached the children’s section where a swarm of parents had assembled. Despite the relentless effort by the courteous staff decked in forest green company shirts, the trail that these shoppers left behind resembled a path worn by a migrating herd of bison. Sweaters were flung aside without consideration, books were discarded as one publication laid desecrated on the floor by an unassuming woman who peered over her bifocals scanning the picture books on the upper-most shelf. Her damp designer boots ruined the cover of Robert McCloskey’s classic Make Way for Ducklings insensibly underfoot.
The father scanned the mayhem spying the area where the winter coats were displayed and forcibly led his son by the hand as the air, a cauldron of ill-mannered desire, boiled above infecting the shoppers like a toxic potpourri. The son’s anticipation, by now, had been conquered by an obstinate tide that grew deeper with the realization that despite the immensity of this empire of products there was little to interest a four year old hoping to find mutant action figures, Star Wars Legos, or a remote control jeep to satisfy his anticipation. The father instantly read the disappointment on his son’s face and glared disapprovingly into the boy’s dark eyes, another ill-tempered ingredient added to the stewing cauldron.
For an instant the father took his attention from his son to check his list for the size of the jacket that swayed his attention. Naturally the desired common size was out-of-stock and the rising flame of frustration continued to expand. The taunting chorus played in his head with increasing urgency, Find the boy the gift, find the boy the gift, find the boy–
Instinctively the father returned his awareness to the child. Instead of seeing the disappointed boy, he was staring at woolen leggings adorned with holiday ornaments. His eyes ran up to the countenance of the woman who was outfitted in the stockings while she greeted his delirious gaze with a forced smile. He looked beyond the perplexed woman only to spot another mother and child. Commanded by a reflex, the father knelt to gain the vantage point of his son, overwhelmed with what he saw–shelves stuffed with clothing and slow heavy overcoats meandering to some imaginary waltz as their inhabitants laconically gazed at the merchandise with their dangling tags. The father searched around the surrounding cubicles hoping that his son was playing a sinister game of hide-and-seek. When his attention returned to his previous location only a few feet away, the woman looked at him discerningly as the father’s face bared an anguish expression recognizable only by another parent who is so tortured.
A maddening reflex commanded the father to recall the recent heinous details of an unspeakable crime in Dorchester, Massachusetts where a young boy had been kidnapped, molested and killed by two malefactors who drove to Maine to dump his broken body in the Piscataqua River. The father naturally attempted to extinguish the inferno of misery raising within by affirming the knowledge that his son had simply strayed off a short distance, distracted by one of the decorative displays , but the distressed father’s faith was breaking up like a winter’s icepack scalded by the heightening flames of desperation.
The father, failed in his attempt to conceal his anxiety from the woman, “If my son returns–he’s four years old and has blond hair with brown eyes, he’s wearing a navy blue parka with a green and red knitted hat–keep him here and I’ll be quick to return,” before the startled woman could acknowledge the frantic command the father took off sprinting to the main entrance determined to reach the security desk before anyone could leave with his child!
The father could not avoid bumping shoulders with an elderly man who had stepped back into the walk-way to regard a half-torso manikin sporting a charcoal cashmere sweater. While the jostled man awaited for an apology, the father darted on in the direction of the expansive staircase. He reached the stairs pausing momentarily to survey the procession of shoppers headed in the direction of the entrance. He skipped stairs in his stride and in a blur he landed on the polished granite floor and headed to the security desk. The father’s frantic pursuit suddenly halted.
The compass of a parent’s love directed the father’s attention to the trout pond, a man-made attraction that wrapped around the staircase. His son sat on a large flat stone staring into the tranquil water, mesmerized by the cautious movement of a fish whose speckled markings precisely applied by the patient brush of evolution had stolen his sense of judgement while polishing the jewel of innocence. From the agonized abyss of his soul the father sighed and in the flickering realm of consideration his despair was extinguished. He prepared to ascend upon his unsuspecting son to reveal a measured part of the torment that the child’s disobedience had stirred. The laughter of his own childhood restrained him and as he studied his son’s visage he was thankful, “Oh God, oh dear, dear God.”
The boy’s curiosity was a portrait of beauty, his remoteness and wonder affirmed, for the father, all in life that is divine. The child’s worries were foreign to him as incomprehensible as the innumerable planets that occupy the universe. In that moment he envied his son while he loved him even more.
The son’s fascination could not remain impervious to the responsibility that besieged his lovely freedom. His father, the captivated spectator, witnessed the boy’s discomfort by an agitated tic of awareness. The son was no longer secured in his cloak of serenity; he instinctively raised his bowed head alerted by an instinctive alarm. His instantly moist eyes withheld a sheet of tears while he searched the parameter of the pond until his own growing anguish sprouted from his desperate inspection was spared. He met his father’s stare with a syrupy shame that dripped over his naked innocence. The father, however, had found the gift. He smiled at his child as he walked to the stone and sat admiring the pond as he would have years before. He held his son perhaps forever in that hour and they were content to follow the movement of the trout as the oblivious band of shoppers hurried about them.
Detailed Guide on How to Write a Narrative Essay with Tips
Defining What Is a Narrative Essay
We can explain a narrative essay definition as a piece of writing that tells a story. It's like a window into someone's life or a page torn from a diary. Similarly to a descriptive essay, a narrative essay tells a story, rather than make a claim and use evidence. It can be about anything – a personal experience, a childhood memory, a moment of triumph or defeat – as long as it's told in a way that captures the reader's imagination.
You might ask - 'which sentence most likely comes from a narrative essay?'. Let's take this for example: 'I could hear the waves crashing against the shore, their rhythm a soothing lullaby that carried me off to sleep.' You could even use such an opening for your essay when wondering how to start a narrative essay.
To further define a narrative essay, consider it storytelling with a purpose. The purpose of a narrative essay is not just to entertain but also to convey a message or lesson in first person. It's a way to share your experiences and insights with others and connect with your audience. Whether you're writing about your first love, a harrowing adventure, or a life-changing moment, your goal is to take the reader on a journey that will leave them feeling moved, inspired, or enlightened.
So if you're looking for a way to express yourself creatively and connect with others through your writing, try your hand at a narrative essay. Who knows – you might just discover a hidden talent for storytelling that you never knew you had!
Meanwhile, let's delve into the article to better understand this type of paper through our narrative essay examples, topic ideas, and tips on constructing a perfect essay.
Types of Narrative Essays
If you were wondering, 'what is a personal narrative essay?', know that narrative essays come in different forms, each with a unique structure and purpose. Regardless of the type of narrative essay, each aims to transport the reader to a different time and place and to create an emotional connection between the reader and the author's experiences. So, let's discuss each type in more detail:
- A personal narrative essay is based on one's unique experience or event. Personal narrative essay examples include a story about overcoming a fear or obstacle or reflecting on a particularly meaningful moment in one's life.
- A fictional narrative is a made-up story that still follows the basic elements of storytelling. Fictional narratives can take many forms, from science fiction to romance to historical fiction.
- A memoir is similar to personal narratives but focuses on a specific period or theme in a person's life. Memoirs might be centered around a particular relationship, a struggle with addiction, or a cultural identity. If you wish to describe your life in greater depth, you might look at how to write an autobiography .
- A literacy narrative essay explores the writer's experiences with literacy and how it has influenced their life. The essay typically tells a personal story about a significant moment or series of moments that impacted the writer's relationship with reading, writing, or communication.
You might also be interested in discovering 'HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY'
Pros and Cons of Narrative Writing
Writing a narrative essay can be a powerful tool for self-expression and creative storytelling, but like any form of writing, it comes with its own set of pros and cons. Let's explore the pros and cons of narrative writing in more detail, helping you to decide whether it's the right writing style for your needs.
- It can be a powerful way to convey personal experiences and emotions.
- Allows for creative expression and unique voice
- Engages the reader through storytelling and vivid details
- It can be used to teach a lesson or convey a message.
- Offers an opportunity for self-reflection and growth
- It can be challenging to balance personal storytelling with the needs of the reader
- It may not be as effective for conveying factual information or arguments
- It may require vulnerability and sharing personal details that some writers may find uncomfortable
- It can be subjective, as the reader's interpretation of the narrative may vary
If sharing your personal stories is not your cup of tea, you can buy essays online from our expert writers, who will customize the paper to your particular writing style and tone.
20 Excellent Narrative Essay Topics and How to Choose One
Choosing a good topic among many narrative essay ideas can be challenging, but some tips can help you make the right choice. Here are some original and helpful tips on how to choose a good narrative essay topic:
- Consider your own experiences: One of the best sources of inspiration for a narrative essay is your own life experiences. Consider moments that have had a significant impact on you, whether they are positive or negative. For example, you could write about a memorable trip or a challenging experience you overcame.
- Choose a topic relevant to your audience: Consider your audience and their interests when choosing a narrative essay topic. If you're writing for a class, consider what topics might be relevant to the course material. If you're writing for a broader audience, consider what topics might be interesting or informative to them.
- Find inspiration in literature: Literature can be a great source of inspiration for a narrative essay. Consider the books or stories that have had an impact on you, and think about how you can incorporate elements of them into your own narrative. For example, you could start by using a title for narrative essay inspired by the themes of a favorite novel or short story.
- Focus on a specific moment or event: Most narrative essays tell a story, so it's important to focus on a specific moment or event. For example, you could write a short narrative essay about a conversation you had with a friend or a moment of realization while traveling.
- Experiment with different perspectives: Consider writing from different perspectives to add depth and complexity to your narrative. For example, you could write about the same event from multiple perspectives or explore the thoughts and feelings of a secondary character.
- Use writing prompts: Writing prompts can be a great source of inspiration if you struggle to develop a topic. Consider using a prompt related to a specific theme, such as love, loss, or growth.
- Choose a topic with rich sensory details: A good narrative essay should engage the senses and create a vivid picture in the reader's mind. Choose a topic with rich sensory details that you can use to create a vivid description. For example, you could write about a bustling city's sights, sounds, and smells.
- Choose a topic meaningful to you: Ultimately, the best narrative essays are meaningful to the writer. Choose a topic that resonates with you and that you feel passionate about. For example, you could write about a personal goal you achieved or a struggle you overcame.
Here are some good narrative essay topics for inspiration from our experts:
- A life-changing event that altered your perspective on the world
- The story of a personal accomplishment or achievement
- An experience that tested your resilience and strength
- A time when you faced a difficult decision and how you handled it
- A childhood memory that still holds meaning for you
- The impact of a significant person in your life
- A travel experience that taught you something new
- A story about a mistake or failure that ultimately led to growth and learning
- The first day of a new job or school
- The story of a family tradition or ritual that is meaningful to you
- A time when you had to confront a fear or phobia
- A memorable concert or music festival experience
- An experience that taught you the importance of communication or listening
- A story about a time when you had to stand up for what you believed in
- A time when you had to persevere through a challenging task or project
- A story about a significant cultural or societal event that impacted your life
- The impact of a book, movie, or other work of art on your life
- A time when you had to let go of something or someone important to you
- A memorable encounter with a stranger that left an impression on you
- The story of a personal hobby or interest that has enriched your life
Narrative Format and Structure
The narrative essay format and structure are essential elements of any good story. A well-structured narrative can engage readers, evoke emotions, and create lasting memories. Whether you're writing a personal essay or a work of fiction, the following guidelines on how to write a narrative essay can help you create a compelling paper:
- Introduction : The introduction sets the scene for your story and introduces your main characters and setting. It should also provide a hook to capture your reader's attention and make them want to keep reading. When unsure how to begin a narrative essay, describe the setting vividly or an intriguing question that draws the reader in.
- Plot : The plot is the sequence of events that make up your story. It should have a clear beginning, middle, and end, with each part building on the previous one. The plot should also have a clear conflict or problem the protagonist must overcome.
- Characters : Characters are the people who drive the story. They should be well-developed and have distinct personalities and motivations. The protagonist should have a clear goal or desire, and the antagonist should provide a challenge or obstacle to overcome.
- Setting : The setting is the time and place the story takes place. It should be well-described and help to create a mood or atmosphere that supports the story's themes.
- Dialogue : Dialogue is the conversation between characters. It should be realistic and help to reveal the characters' personalities and motivations. It can also help to move the plot forward.
- Climax : The climax is the highest tension or conflict point in the story. It should be the turning point that leads to resolving the conflict.
- Resolution : The resolution is the end of the story. It should provide a satisfying conclusion to the conflict and tie up any loose ends.
Following these guidelines, you can create a narrative essay structure that engages readers and leaves a lasting impression. Remember, a well-structured story can take readers on a journey and make them feel part of the action.
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Narrative Essay Outline
Here is a detailed narrative essay outline from our custom term paper writing :
A. Hook: Start with an attention-grabbing statement, question, or anecdote that introduces the topic and draws the reader in. Example: 'The sun beat down on my skin as I stepped onto the stage, my heart pounding with nervous excitement.'
B. Background information: Provide context for the story, such as the setting or the characters involved. Example: 'I had been preparing for this moment for weeks, rehearsing my lines and perfecting my performance for the school play.'
C. Thesis statement: State the essay's main point and preview the events to come. Example: 'This experience taught me that taking risks and stepping outside my comfort zone can lead to unexpected rewards and personal growth.'
A. First event: Describe the first event in the story, including details about the setting, characters, and actions. Example: 'As I delivered my first lines on stage, I felt a rush of adrenaline and a sense of pride in my hard work paying off.'
B. Second event: Describe the second event in the story, including how it builds on the first event and moves the story forward. Example: 'As the play progressed, I became more comfortable in my role and connecting with the other actors on stage.'
C. Turning point: Describe the turning point in the story, when something unexpected or significant changes the course of events. Example: 'In the final act, my character faced a difficult decision that required me to improvise and trust my instincts.'
D. Climax: Describe the story's climax, the highest tension or conflict point. Example: 'As the play reached its climax, I delivered my final lines with confidence and emotion, feeling a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.'
A. Restate thesis: Summarize the essay's main point and how the events in the story support it. Example: 'Through this experience, I learned that taking risks and pushing past my comfort zone can lead to personal growth and unexpected rewards.'
B. Reflection: Reflect on the significance of the experience and what you learned from it. Example: 'Looking back, I realize that this experience not only taught me about acting and performance but also about the power of perseverance and self-belief.'
C. Call to action: if you're still wondering how to write an essay conclusion , consider ending it with a call to action or final thought that leaves the reader with something to consider or act on. Example: 'I encourage everyone to take risks and embrace new challenges because you never know what kind of amazing experiences and growth they may lead to.
You might also be interested in getting detailed info on 'HOW TO WRITE AN ESSAY CONCLUSION'
Narrative Essay Examples
Are you looking for inspiration for your next narrative essay? Look no further than our narrative essay example. Through vivid storytelling and personal reflections, this essay takes the reader on a journey of discovery and leaves them with a powerful lesson about the importance of compassion and empathy. Use this sample from our expert essay writer as a guide for crafting your own narrative essay, and let your unique voice and experiences shine through.
Narrative Essay Example for College
College professors search for the following qualities in their students:
- the ability to adapt to different situations,
- the ability to solve problems creatively,
- and the ability to learn from mistakes.
Your work must demonstrate these qualities, regardless of whether your narrative paper is a college application essay or a class assignment. Additionally, you want to demonstrate your character and creativity. Describe a situation where you have encountered a problem, tell the story of how you came up with a unique approach to solving it, and connect it to your field of interest. The narrative can be exciting and informative if you present it in such fashion.
Narrative Essay Example for High School
High school is all about showing that you can make mature choices. You accept the consequences of your actions and retrieve valuable life lessons. Think of an event in which you believe your actions were exemplary and made an adult choice. A personal narrative essay example will showcase the best of your abilities. Finally, use other sources to help you get the best results possible. Try searching for a sample narrative essay to see how others have approached it.
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