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A narrative essay is one of the most intimidating assignments you can be handed at any level of your education. Where you've previously written argumentative essays that make a point or analytic essays that dissect meaning, a narrative essay asks you to write what is effectively a story .

But unlike a simple work of creative fiction, your narrative essay must have a clear and concrete motif —a recurring theme or idea that you’ll explore throughout. Narrative essays are less rigid, more creative in expression, and therefore pretty different from most other essays you’ll be writing.

But not to fear—in this article, we’ll be covering what a narrative essay is, how to write a good one, and also analyzing some personal narrative essay examples to show you what a great one looks like.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

At first glance, a narrative essay might sound like you’re just writing a story. Like the stories you're used to reading, a narrative essay is generally (but not always) chronological, following a clear throughline from beginning to end.  Even if the story jumps around in time, all the details will come back to one specific theme, demonstrated through your choice in motifs.

Unlike many creative stories, however, your narrative essay should be based in fact. That doesn’t mean that every detail needs to be pure and untainted by imagination, but rather that you shouldn’t wholly invent the events of your narrative essay. There’s nothing wrong with inventing a person’s words if you can’t remember them exactly, but you shouldn’t say they said something they weren’t even close to saying.

Another big difference between narrative essays and creative fiction—as well as other kinds of essays—is that narrative essays are based on motifs. A motif is a dominant idea or theme, one that you establish before writing the essay. As you’re crafting the narrative, it’ll feed back into your motif to create a comprehensive picture of whatever that motif is.

For example, say you want to write a narrative essay about how your first day in high school helped you establish your identity. You might discuss events like trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria, having to describe yourself in five words as an icebreaker in your math class, or being unsure what to do during your lunch break because it’s no longer acceptable to go outside and play during lunch. All of those ideas feed back into the central motif of establishing your identity.

The important thing to remember is that while a narrative essay is typically told chronologically and intended to read like a story, it is not purely for entertainment value. A narrative essay delivers its theme by deliberately weaving the motifs through the events, scenes, and details. While a narrative essay may be entertaining, its primary purpose is to tell a complete story based on a central meaning.

Unlike other essay forms, it is totally okay—even expected—to use first-person narration in narrative essays. If you’re writing a story about yourself, it’s natural to refer to yourself within the essay. It’s also okay to use other perspectives, such as third- or even second-person, but that should only be done if it better serves your motif. Generally speaking, your narrative essay should be in first-person perspective.

Though your motif choices may feel at times like you’re making a point the way you would in an argumentative essay, a narrative essay’s goal is to tell a story, not convince the reader of anything. Your reader should be able to tell what your motif is from reading, but you don’t have to change their mind about anything. If they don’t understand the point you are making, you should consider strengthening the delivery of the events and descriptions that support your motif.

Narrative essays also share some features with analytical essays, in which you derive meaning from a book, film, or other media. But narrative essays work differently—you’re not trying to draw meaning from an existing text, but rather using an event you’ve experienced to convey meaning. In an analytical essay, you examine narrative, whereas in a narrative essay you create narrative.

The structure of a narrative essay is also a bit different than other essays. You’ll generally be getting your point across chronologically as opposed to grouping together specific arguments in paragraphs or sections. To return to the example of an essay discussing your first day of high school and how it impacted the shaping of your identity, it would be weird to put the events out of order, even if not knowing what to do after lunch feels like a stronger idea than choosing where to sit. Instead of organizing to deliver your information based on maximum impact, you’ll be telling your story as it happened, using concrete details to reinforce your theme.


3 Great Narrative Essay Examples

One of the best ways to learn how to write a narrative essay is to look at a great narrative essay sample. Let’s take a look at some truly stellar narrative essay examples and dive into what exactly makes them work so well.

A Ticket to the Fair by David Foster Wallace

Today is Press Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and I’m supposed to be at the fairgrounds by 9:00 A.M. to get my credentials. I imagine credentials to be a small white card in the band of a fedora. I’ve never been considered press before. My real interest in credentials is getting into rides and shows for free. I’m fresh in from the East Coast, for an East Coast magazine. Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish. I think they asked me to do this because I grew up here, just a couple hours’ drive from downstate Springfield. I never did go to the state fair, though—I pretty much topped out at the county fair level. Actually, I haven’t been back to Illinois for a long time, and I can’t say I’ve missed it.

Throughout this essay, David Foster Wallace recounts his experience as press at the Illinois State Fair. But it’s clear from this opening that he’s not just reporting on the events exactly as they happened—though that’s also true— but rather making a point about how the East Coast, where he lives and works, thinks about the Midwest.

In his opening paragraph, Wallace states that outright: “Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish.”

Not every motif needs to be stated this clearly , but in an essay as long as Wallace’s, particularly since the audience for such a piece may feel similarly and forget that such a large portion of the country exists, it’s important to make that point clear.

But Wallace doesn’t just rest on introducing his motif and telling the events exactly as they occurred from there. It’s clear that he selects events that remind us of that idea of East Coast cynicism , such as when he realizes that the Help Me Grow tent is standing on top of fake grass that is killing the real grass beneath, when he realizes the hypocrisy of craving a corn dog when faced with a real, suffering pig, when he’s upset for his friend even though he’s not the one being sexually harassed, and when he witnesses another East Coast person doing something he wouldn’t dare to do.

Wallace is literally telling the audience exactly what happened, complete with dates and timestamps for when each event occurred. But he’s also choosing those events with a purpose—he doesn’t focus on details that don’t serve his motif. That’s why he discusses the experiences of people, how the smells are unappealing to him, and how all the people he meets, in cowboy hats, overalls, or “black spandex that looks like cheesecake leotards,” feel almost alien to him.

All of these details feed back into the throughline of East Coast thinking that Wallace introduces in the first paragraph. He also refers back to it in the essay’s final paragraph, stating:

At last, an overarching theory blooms inside my head: megalopolitan East Coasters’ summer treats and breaks and literally ‘getaways,’ flights-from—from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the stress of too many sensory choices….The East Coast existential treat is escape from confines and stimuli—quiet, rustic vistas that hold still, turn inward, turn away. Not so in the rural Midwest. Here you’re pretty much away all the time….Something in a Midwesterner sort of actuates , deep down, at a public event….The real spectacle that draws us here is us.

Throughout this journey, Wallace has tried to demonstrate how the East Coast thinks about the Midwest, ultimately concluding that they are captivated by the Midwest’s less stimuli-filled life, but that the real reason they are interested in events like the Illinois State Fair is that they are, in some ways, a means of looking at the East Coast in a new, estranging way.

The reason this works so well is that Wallace has carefully chosen his examples, outlined his motif and themes in the first paragraph, and eventually circled back to the original motif with a clearer understanding of his original point.

When outlining your own narrative essay, try to do the same. Start with a theme, build upon it with examples, and return to it in the end with an even deeper understanding of the original issue. You don’t need this much space to explore a theme, either—as we’ll see in the next example, a strong narrative essay can also be very short.


Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window-pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

In this essay, Virginia Woolf explains her encounter with a dying moth. On surface level, this essay is just a recounting of an afternoon in which she watched a moth die—it’s even established in the title. But there’s more to it than that. Though Woolf does not begin her essay with as clear a motif as Wallace, it’s not hard to pick out the evidence she uses to support her point, which is that the experience of this moth is also the human experience.

In the title, Woolf tells us this essay is about death. But in the first paragraph, she seems to mostly be discussing life—the moth is “content with life,” people are working in the fields, and birds are flying. However, she mentions that it is mid-September and that the fields were being plowed. It’s autumn and it’s time for the harvest; the time of year in which many things die.

In this short essay, she chronicles the experience of watching a moth seemingly embody life, then die. Though this essay is literally about a moth, it’s also about a whole lot more than that. After all, moths aren’t the only things that die—Woolf is also reflecting on her own mortality, as well as the mortality of everything around her.

At its core, the essay discusses the push and pull of life and death, not in a way that’s necessarily sad, but in a way that is accepting of both. Woolf begins by setting up the transitional fall season, often associated with things coming to an end, and raises the ideas of pleasure, vitality, and pity.

At one point, Woolf tries to help the dying moth, but reconsiders, as it would interfere with the natural order of the world. The moth’s death is part of the natural order of the world, just like fall, just like her own eventual death.

All these themes are set up in the beginning and explored throughout the essay’s narrative. Though Woolf doesn’t directly state her theme, she reinforces it by choosing a small, isolated event—watching a moth die—and illustrating her point through details.

With this essay, we can see that you don’t need a big, weird, exciting event to discuss an important meaning. Woolf is able to explore complicated ideas in a short essay by being deliberate about what details she includes, just as you can be in your own essays.


Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

On the twenty-ninth of July, in 1943, my father died. On the same day, a few hours later, his last child was born. Over a month before this, while all our energies were concentrated in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. A few hours after my father’s funeral, while he lay in state in the undertaker’s chapel, a race riot broke out in Harlem. On the morning of the third of August, we drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass.

Like Woolf, Baldwin does not lay out his themes in concrete terms—unlike Wallace, there’s no clear sentence that explains what he’ll be talking about. However, you can see the motifs quite clearly: death, fatherhood, struggle, and race.

Throughout the narrative essay, Baldwin discusses the circumstances of his father’s death, including his complicated relationship with his father. By introducing those motifs in the first paragraph, the reader understands that everything discussed in the essay will come back to those core ideas. When Baldwin talks about his experience with a white teacher taking an interest in him and his father’s resistance to that, he is also talking about race and his father’s death. When he talks about his father’s death, he is also talking about his views on race. When he talks about his encounters with segregation and racism, he is talking, in part, about his father.

Because his father was a hard, uncompromising man, Baldwin struggles to reconcile the knowledge that his father was right about many things with his desire to not let that hardness consume him, as well.

Baldwin doesn’t explicitly state any of this, but his writing so often touches on the same motifs that it becomes clear he wants us to think about all these ideas in conversation with one another.

At the end of the essay, Baldwin makes it more clear:

This fight begins, however, in the heart and it had now been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.

Here, Baldwin ties together the themes and motifs into one clear statement: that he must continue to fight and recognize injustice, especially racial injustice, just as his father did. But unlike his father, he must do it beginning with himself—he must not let himself be closed off to the world as his father was. And yet, he still wishes he had his father for guidance, even as he establishes that he hopes to be a different man than his father.

In this essay, Baldwin loads the front of the essay with his motifs, and, through his narrative, weaves them together into a theme. In the end, he comes to a conclusion that connects all of those things together and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of completion—though the elements may have been initially disparate, in the end everything makes sense.

You can replicate this tactic of introducing seemingly unattached ideas and weaving them together in your own essays. By introducing those motifs, developing them throughout, and bringing them together in the end, you can demonstrate to your reader how all of them are related. However, it’s especially important to be sure that your motifs and clear and consistent throughout your essay so that the conclusion feels earned and consistent—if not, readers may feel mislead.

5 Key Tips for Writing Narrative Essays

Narrative essays can be a lot of fun to write since they’re so heavily based on creativity. But that can also feel intimidating—sometimes it’s easier to have strict guidelines than to have to make it all up yourself. Here are a few tips to keep your narrative essay feeling strong and fresh.

Develop Strong Motifs

Motifs are the foundation of a narrative essay . What are you trying to say? How can you say that using specific symbols or events? Those are your motifs.

In the same way that an argumentative essay’s body should support its thesis, the body of your narrative essay should include motifs that support your theme.

Try to avoid cliches, as these will feel tired to your readers. Instead of roses to symbolize love, try succulents. Instead of the ocean representing some vast, unknowable truth, try the depths of your brother’s bedroom. Keep your language and motifs fresh and your essay will be even stronger!

Use First-Person Perspective

In many essays, you’re expected to remove yourself so that your points stand on their own. Not so in a narrative essay—in this case, you want to make use of your own perspective.

Sometimes a different perspective can make your point even stronger. If you want someone to identify with your point of view, it may be tempting to choose a second-person perspective. However, be sure you really understand the function of second-person; it’s very easy to put a reader off if the narration isn’t expertly deployed.

If you want a little bit of distance, third-person perspective may be okay. But be careful—too much distance and your reader may feel like the narrative lacks truth.

That’s why first-person perspective is the standard. It keeps you, the writer, close to the narrative, reminding the reader that it really happened. And because you really know what happened and how, you’re free to inject your own opinion into the story without it detracting from your point, as it would in a different type of essay.

Stick to the Truth

Your essay should be true. However, this is a creative essay, and it’s okay to embellish a little. Rarely in life do we experience anything with a clear, concrete meaning the way somebody in a book might. If you flub the details a little, it’s okay—just don’t make them up entirely.

Also, nobody expects you to perfectly recall details that may have happened years ago. You may have to reconstruct dialog from your memory and your imagination. That’s okay, again, as long as you aren’t making it up entirely and assigning made-up statements to somebody.

Dialog is a powerful tool. A good conversation can add flavor and interest to a story, as we saw demonstrated in David Foster Wallace’s essay. As previously mentioned, it’s okay to flub it a little, especially because you’re likely writing about an experience you had without knowing that you’d be writing about it later.

However, don’t rely too much on it. Your narrative essay shouldn’t be told through people explaining things to one another; the motif comes through in the details. Dialog can be one of those details, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Use Sensory Descriptions

Because a narrative essay is a story, you can use sensory details to make your writing more interesting. If you’re describing a particular experience, you can go into detail about things like taste, smell, and hearing in a way that you probably wouldn’t do in any other essay style.

These details can tie into your overall motifs and further your point. Woolf describes in great detail what she sees while watching the moth, giving us the sense that we, too, are watching the moth. In Wallace’s essay, he discusses the sights, sounds, and smells of the Illinois State Fair to help emphasize his point about its strangeness. And in Baldwin’s essay, he describes shattered glass as a “wilderness,” and uses the feelings of his body to describe his mental state.

All these descriptions anchor us not only in the story, but in the motifs and themes as well. One of the tools of a writer is making the reader feel as you felt, and sensory details help you achieve that.

What’s Next?

Looking to brush up on your essay-writing capabilities before the ACT? This guide to ACT English will walk you through some of the best strategies and practice questions to get you prepared!

Part of practicing for the ACT is ensuring your word choice and diction are on point. Check out this guide to some of the most common errors on the ACT English section to be sure that you're not making these common mistakes!

A solid understanding of English principles will help you make an effective point in a narrative essay, and you can get that understanding through taking a rigorous assortment of high school English classes ! 

Need more help with this topic? Check out Tutorbase!

Our vetted tutor database includes a range of experienced educators who can help you polish an essay for English or explain how derivatives work for Calculus. You can use dozens of filters and search criteria to find the perfect person for your needs.

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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay Examples

Caleb S.

Narrative Essay Examples: Free Examples to Help You Learn

Published on: Jun 23, 2018

Last updated on: May 26, 2023

Narrative Essay Examples

On This Page On This Page

Narrative essay examples are great to help you understand how to write high-quality and effective narrative essay. This blog has included several narrative essay examples that will help you understand how to write A-worthy narrative essay.

A narrative essay is a form of storytelling where you have to provide sensory details of your personal experience. However, when writing a  narrative essay , you will have to follow a set pattern and the guidelines closely.

Besides learning these basics, skimming through essay examples is also a great way of learning. In this blog, we will explain the basics to write a narrative essay with the help of narrative essay examples.

The examples given here will help you understand how to explain the plot, characters, setting, and the entire theme effectively.

Before writing your essay, make sure you go through a sufficient number of narrative essay examples. These examples will help you in knowing the dos and don’ts of a good narrative essay.

It is always a better option to have some sense of direction before you start anything. Below, you can find important details and a bunch of narrative essay examples. These examples will also help you build your content according to the format.

Sample Narrative Essay

The examples inform the readers about the writing style and structure of the narration. The essay below will help you understand how to create a story and build this type of essay in no time.


The villagers had lost a few goats and poultry to a mystery. The mystery of the missing farm animals spread like a wildfire in the village. Many speculated there were thieves in the village while others suggested a wild beast was on the run. Despite several speculations, the mystery of the disappearances remained unsolved. The whole village was in a state of dismay when the tiger appeared and launched another attack on the village.

The prey was not any farm animal this time, it was a young child playing by the barn. The villagers had had enough, they had to put a stop to it once and for all. They organized a group of the bravest men from the village, armed them with shotguns and knives, and planned to attack the tiger. They also took a goat to lure to the tiger in our trap.

The plan was to trap the tiger and later kill him. I was amongst the members of the group who left for the jungle late at night. For hours we did not hear anything except the mosquitoes and crickets around us. Then we found paw prints on the muddy ground which assured us of the tiger’s usual trail. Thereupon, as the sun rose we set up a trap using a goat as bait. We were assured that this would catch the tiger immediately.

We had almost given up when suddenly around daybreak we heard the bushes rustle and the leaves crackle. All of us shivered to our spines and saw the mystery east coming towards us. We changed our guns and pointed it towards the wild beast. We steadied our guns towards the tiger as he jumped to grab the goat. He fell into the trap. One of the members shot the tiger dead and we rescued the goat safely back to our village.

The mission was accomplished. We had killed the wild beast and had emerged successful. It was an amazing hunting trip. One that would always remain in my memory for all time to come.

Narrative Essay Example For High School

The narrative essay example for high school will help you build your own essay in an easy to understand manner. They also help you achieve your aim of explaining the main idea with deep analysis and detail.

Narrative Essay Example For College

The transition from high school to college demands better essay writing skills, to analyze and narrate subjects.

Go through the following example and learn how to formulate your ideas and explain them in words.

Personal Narrative Essay Examples

Personal narrative essay  samples given below will help you make a difference between the third and first-person accounts.

Literacy Narrative Essay Example

When we talk about essays related to literacy, these essays contemplate all kinds of issues. From simple daily life events to more complex social issues, they cover them all.

Descriptive Narrative Essay Example

In descriptive narrative essays, the writer explains everything with vivid details. This could be something visual also, like a photo or a painting and the writer narrates it.

3rd Person Narrative Essay Example

As seen in the above examples, a narrative essay is usually written to share a personal experience.

The 3rd person narrative essay example shows how these essays are written from a protagonist’s point of view.

Narrative Essay Example for 3rd Person

The Essentials of Narrative Essays

Let's start with the basics. The four types of essays are argumentative essays, descriptive essays, expository essays, and narrative essays.

The goal of a narrative essay is to tell a compelling tale from one person's perspective. A narrative essay incorporates all of the story components, such as a beginning, middle, and conclusion, as well as plot, characters, setting, and climax.

The narrative essay's goal is the plot, which should be detailed enough to reach a climax. Here's how it works:

How to Write a Narrative Essay in 10 Minutes or Less

Remember that you're giving the reader sensory and emotional information when crafting a narrative essay.

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Do you need help with your narrative essay? If so, our  narrative essay writing service  is the solution for all your ‘write my essay’ requests. 

Narrative essay writers  at  are always here to help you with your essays. Our customer support is exceptional and we are available round the clock to answer all of your essay writing needs. With our  essay writing service , you will get the best deals for the best essays!

So don’t waste any more time, hire our  essay writer service  and get a high-quality narrative essay at affordable prices.

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Caleb S. has been providing writing services for over five years and has a Masters degree from Oxford University. He is an expert in his craft and takes great pride in helping students achieve their academic goals. Caleb is a dedicated professional who always puts his clients first.

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Opinion My neighbor lived to be 109. This is what I learned from him.

long essay story

Early one August morning during a heat wave in Kansas City, Mo., I stepped outside to fetch the Sunday newspaper — and something stopped me in my tracks.

My new neighbor was washing a car. In my memory (this detail is a matter of some disagreement around the neighborhood), it was a shiny new Chrysler PT Cruiser, the color of grape soda pop. It belonged to my neighbor’s girlfriend, and I couldn’t help noting that the vehicle in question was parked in the same spot where she had left it the night before. I deduced that a Saturday night date with the glamorous driver had developed into the sort of sleepover that makes a man feel like being especially nice the next morning.

My neighbor was bare-chested, dressed only in a pair of old swim trunks. With a garden hose in one hand and a soapy sponge in the other, he flexed his muscular chest with each splash and swirl, his wavy hair flopping rakishly over one eye.

This was Dr. Charlie White. Age 102.

This essay was adapted from “ The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old Man ,” by David Von Drehle. It will be published May 23 by Simon & Schuster, © 2023 by David Von Drehle. Excerpts reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.

Charlie, I soon learned, was an extraordinary specimen: hale and sturdy, eyes clear, hearing good, mind sharp. His conversation danced easily from topic to topic, from past to present to future and back. Even so, one does not expect, on meeting a man of 102, to be starting — as we did that day — a long and rich friendship.

long essay story

Actuarial tables have no room for sentiment or wishes, and this is what they say: According to the Social Security Administration, in a random cohort of 100,000 men, only about 350 — fewer than one-half of 1 percent — make it to 102. Among those hardy survivors, the average chap has less than two years remaining. After 104, the lives slip quickly away.

Yet on that muggy Sunday morning, it was clear to me that Charlie wasn’t close to done. In fact, he would live to be 109.

Life seemed somehow to rest more lightly on him than on most of us. I wanted to know the why and the how. As our friendship grew, those questions deepened, for I learned that life had dealt Charlie some heavy blows: grief, victimhood, helplessness, disruption.

I came to realize Charlie was not a survivor. He was a thriver. He did not just live. He lived joyfully. He was like a magnet, pulling me across the street and into his confidences, where I discovered something about life’s essentials. The sort of something one wants to pass on to one’s children.

When my children were young and learned Daddy was a writer of some kind, they began asking me to write a book for them. I wanted very much to deliver, to pull a bit of magic from my hat and spin it into a tale of brave and resourceful young people making their way in a marvelous, dangerous land. But every stab I took at writing a children’s novel failed. Gradually, I saw this would be one more in a catalogue of ways in which I would disappoint them.

Telling Charlie’s story might be my redemption. Although he was not a superhero — no wizards or talking spiders populated his tale — his was a story my children needed. A story many of the world’s children might need.

Today’s children, yours as well as mine, will live out their lives in a maelstrom of change and upheaval. Revolutionary change — which has the power to remake societies, cultures, economies and political systems — can be hopeful and might sound exciting. But it can quickly turn downright scary. For many young people, the future is less a fresh field at dawn than a darkling plain at twilight, ominous and fragile.

Parents of children living through such a time want to give their kids the tools they need. What does it take to live joyfully while experiencing disruption? What are the essential tools for resilience and equanimity through massive dislocation and uncertainty?

That hot August morning, I began to understand that Charlie was the embodiment of this vital information. To my unending gratitude, he welcomed me in, waving hello as his girlfriend’s car sparkled.

Charlie was a physician. He knew how the human body goes — and how it stops. And he was the first to say his extraordinary life span was a fluke of genetics and fortune.

Born Aug. 16, 1905, in Galesburg, Ill., Charlie began life at just the moment that (in the words of Henry Adams) history’s neck was “broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new.” The setting of his childhood was a world recognizable to farmers from the age of Napoleon. Civil War veterans were a part of daily life, their battles closer to Charlie than Vietnam is to a child born today.

Charlie and the future grew up together. With one foot planted in the age of draft animals and diphtheria — when only 6 percent of Americans graduated from high school, and even middle-class people lived without electricity or running water — Charlie planted the other foot in the age of space stations and robotic surgery.

He lived to be among the last surviving officers of World War II, among the last Americans who could say what it was like to drive an automobile before highways existed, among the last who felt amazement when pictures first moved on a screen. He lived from “ The Birth of a Nation ” to Barack Obama . From women forbidden to vote to women running nations and corporations .

Still, as I’ve reflected on this remarkable friend, I have come to see that he was more than a living history lesson, more than the winner of a genetic Powerball. He was one of the few children of the early 1900s who could tell my children of the 2000s how to thrive while lives and communities, work and worship , families and mores are shaken, inverted, blown up and remade.

Charlie was a true surfer on the sea of change, a case study in how to flourish through any span of years, long or short. Or through any trauma.

For his incredibly long life, I came to understand, was indelibly stamped by a tragically shortened one. He learned early — and never forgot — that the crucial measure of one’s existence is not its length but its depth.

How early? At just 8 years old.

Around 10 a.m. on May 11, 1914, Charlie’s father rose from his desk in the downtown Kansas City office where he worked selling life insurance, donned his coat and hat, and set out on an errand. When he reached the elevator in the corridor — one of the early electric passenger cars — he might have noticed that the usual operator was not at the controls. The door was open. A substitute stood with his hand on the lever.

As my friend’s father moved into the car, the operator unexpectedly put the elevator in motion. The box lurched upward, doors still open. This created an empty space between the unmoving floor of the hallway and the rising floor of the elevator, which was now waist-high. It happened so quickly that instead of stepping into the car, the unlucky man put his foot into the open space beneath.

His upper body pitched onto the elevator’s floor, his legs dangling in the abyss of the shaft. In an instant, the climbing car crushed his torso against the upper door frame so violently that the impact left a dent. Horrified, the inexperienced operator panicked and threw the elevator into reverse. When the compartment lurched downward, Charlie’s father slipped loose, his body following his feet into the shaft, where he plunged nine stories to his death. He was 42 years old.

Over the course of our friendship, I heard Charlie tell this story at least half a dozen times. Not once did he indulge in the sort of “Why, God?” or “What if?” questions that so naturally follow a freak accident. He never remarked on the apparent injustice of a good man’s premature death in a world where history’s most murderous despots — men such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao — had decades of life ahead of them. He never asked: What if an experienced operator had been at the elevator controls? What if my father had set out on his errand five minutes earlier or later?

Yet whenever he talked about his childhood, I noticed a tone shift between the tales of his early, carefree childhood and those that came after his father’s death. In the earlier stories, he was light as a lark. After the tragedy, the boy was armored in self-reliance — as independent as Huckleberry Finn , as resourceful as the Artful Dodger .

As I reflected on this subtle change, it occurred to me that after suffering a loss so enormous, and surviving it, Charlie decided he could get through anything. Brought face to face with the limits of his ability, of anyone’s ability, to master fate or turn back time, Charlie began reaching for the things he could control — his own actions, his own emotions, his outlook, his grit. As he put it: “We didn’t have time to be sad.”

Charlie was not a student of philosophy. Yet in those words, I recognized the essence of a credo that has served human beings for centuries: Stoicism , one of the most durable and useful schools of thought ever devised. It has spoken to paupers and presidents, to emperors and the enslaved. It’s the philosophy of freedom and self-determination, one that seeks to erase envy, resentment, neediness and anxiety. Its pillars are wisdom, courage, temperance and justice. It is a philosophy of radical equality and mutual respect.

Stoicism can be equally as compelling to a grieving boy in the early 20th century as to an abused slave such as Epictetus , who smiled as his sadistic Roman master twisted his leg until it snapped. It teaches that a life well lived requires a deep understanding of what we control and — more difficult — all that lies beyond our control. We govern nothing but our own actions and reactions.

Perspective: 5 myths about Stoicism

A true education, Epictetus taught, consists of learning that in our power “are will and all acts that depend on the will. Things not in our power are the body, the parts of the body, possessions, parents, brothers, children, country, and generally all with whom we live in society.”

For the enslaved Epictetus, this insight spoke to the resolve to live with purpose and dignity, even as a master controlled his body and actions. He could be bought and sold and worked like an animal, but he could not be made to think or act like an animal.

For the same reasons, Stoicism spoke to Viktor Frankl , an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Nazi slave labor camps. From his observation of prisoners who maintained their self-respect and goodwill even in those hellish circumstances, Frankl concluded that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” of meeting what life presents.

Nelson Mandela was stripped of his freedom by injustice and hatred for more than a quarter-century and emerged from prison stronger than when he went in. “The cell,” he said stoically, “gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you.” What he made of himself inspired the world.

Charlie often counseled his friends and family in times of anger or annoyance: “Let it go.” But the same spirit — which underlies the qualities we now speak of as grit and resilience — is celebrated in the famous Rudyard Kipling poem that urges:

… force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

Let it go and Hold on! — in the way of so many great philosophies, those apparent opposites prove to be two sides of the same coin. To hold securely to the well-formed purposes of your will, you must let go of the vain idea that you can control people or events or the tides of fate. But you can choose what you stand for and what you will try to accomplish.

You can choose, when hopes and fears are swirling in your head, to clutch at hope. Amid beauty and ugliness, to fasten on beauty. Between despair and possibility, to pursue the possible. Of love and hate, to opt for love.

These are choices, entirely in our power to make. Charlie showed me how.

The year I met Charlie was also the year Apple introduced the first iPhone . I didn’t immediately understand the fuss. Perhaps because I write for a living, and started so long ago that I used a typewriter, I’ve always related to computers initially as fancy typing devices. The iPhone’s tiny touch screen struck me as a lousy substitute.

This was an epic example of missing the point. If I had been around when humans harnessed fire, I might have complained that the early adopters were burning up perfectly good wooden clubs.

Charlie wouldn’t have made that mistake. This was a man who understood that thriving through change begins with an eagerness for The New, even — especially — when it comes along unexpectedly.

His career is Exhibit A. Charlie’s medical education, which began in 1925, came at the threshold of modern medicine, when quacks hawking miracle potions were the norm, and genome sequencing was beyond imagination.

Charlie learned before antibiotics, when the leading causes of death in America weren’t heart disease and cancer. Today, those maladies kill mostly older people; when Charlie was a student, most people didn’t grow old. They succumbed to the same viral and microbial illnesses that had stalked humanity for ages.

Charlie didn’t cure disease in those early years — no doctors did. His stock in trade was his bedside manner, a mixture of knowledge, common sense, kindness and confidence that comforted and encouraged patients and their families while natural immunity won (or lost) its battle. Without a pill or injection to work a cure, the general practitioner was wellness coach, motivator and grief counselor in one. “All we could really do,” Charlie admitted long afterward, was “sit by our patients and pray.”

This was the case when World War II interrupted the medical practice Charlie had struggled to build through the Great Depression. Commissioned in the U.S. Army Air Corps., Capt. White was assigned to a windswept plain by the Great Salt Lake, where Camp Kearns airfield and training base took shape in a frenzy of construction. His tasks at the base hospital ranged from ambulance maintenance to the personal care of the camp commander.

The war was one of history’s most powerful engines of innovation in manufacturing, logistics, transportation, communication, computing, physical science — and medicine. Two major medical advances directly affected the midcareer doctor, turning his world upside down. In Charlie’s response lies a lesson for today: He adapted cheerfully to both of them.

The first was the mass production of penicillin , the breakthrough antibiotic medicine — an immediate blessing on humanity after which medical science would never again settle for nature’s natural course. Charlie was smart enough to recognize that penicillin spelled the death of his brand of doctoring. Physicians of the future would not be generalists making house calls. They would be specialists, masters of a narrow set of treatments or procedures. Specific expertise would rule.

The end of house-call doctoring might have demoralized Charlie, who had spent years building exactly such a practice. Instead, this curious, stoical man eagerly scanned the horizon, where he caught sight of the second major advance.

World War II, with its awful violence, transformed the use of painkillers and anesthesia. Advances in trauma surgery accelerated the use of endotracheal tubes to open airways, support breathing and administer anesthetics. Doctors perfected the use of numbing drugs administered through intravenous lines, and realized the value of local and regional blockers that could shut off pain in one part of the body without putting a patient entirely under.

These head-spinning changes came so quickly that the War Department was suddenly seeking anesthetic specialists.

Charlie reached out and seized his future.

Having earlier mentioned to his Army supervisors that he had experience administering ether, Charlie was Camp Kearns’s designated expert in anesthetics. Now, with so much urgent attention to the long-neglected field, he was promoted and given a new assignment: Report to Lincoln Army Air Field in Nebraska to serve as chief of anesthesiology at the new base hospital.

This is how Charlie found himself in 1943 in Rochester, Minn., at the Mayo Clinic, for a three-month course to turn general practitioners into anesthesiologists. The “90-day wonders,” these instant anesthesiologists were called. Charlie breezed through, then traveled to Lincoln to finish out the war.

Just like that, Charlie had turned the threat of change into an opportunity to grow. No longer was he an endangered generalist trying to hang on to a precarious piece of a dying field. Instead, when the war ended, he returned home as a pioneer in a new and rapidly growing specialty — one of the first anesthesiologists in Kansas City, and with a Mayo Clinic seal of approval.

To me, this episode contains the essence of Charlie’s life. And a crucial lesson for the rest of us.

It’s natural to feel anxiety and even fear amid looming change and intense uncertainty. My own field, journalism, has shrunk by half over the past 15 years. Artificial intelligence might finish off the other half. What will self-driving technology do to truck drivers? What will contract-writing software do to attorneys?

Opinion: Type in your job to see how much AI will affect it

But it helps to understand that change is nothing new. Nearly 40 percent of Americans lived on a farm when Charlie was born. Today: 1 percent.

The fact that the future is full of uncertainty doesn’t necessarily mean it is full of gloom. Realism and optimism fit together powerfully. Too many people believe that realism — seeing the world as it is, with all its pain and threats — demands a pessimistic response. The optimist is deluded, they believe, a Pollyanna moving blindly through a bleak existence with a dumb smile.

Charlie was realistic about the professional dead end he had reached. Yet he was optimistic about new beginnings. So, when he saw a door closing up ahead, he didn’t stop and walk away. He pushed it open and strode through.

Charlie’s new life as a specialist allowed him to indulge his bottomless curiosity and zest for experiments. Horse-tank heart surgery, for instance.

After the war, one of the riskiest frontiers of medicine — and therefore among the most exciting to Charlie — was open-heart surgery. Like penicillin and anesthesia, the idea got a boost from World War II. Battlefield soldiers arrived at hospitals with shards of shrapnel in their hearts. Conventional wisdom held that the heart was inviolate; therefore, there was no way to extract these metal fragments. A heart wound was a death sentence.

But an Iowa-born doctor named Dwight Harken , billeted to a London military hospital, reasoned that if soldiers were going to die anyway, there was no harm in trying to save them. He experimented with finger-size incisions in the heart wall to allow him to reach quickly inside and remove the shrapnel. The gamble was a huge success: Harken saved more than 125 lives.

After the war, Harken and others realized that the same technique might be useful in treating mitral valve stenosis , a potentially fatal condition that often resulted when a youthful strep throat infection worsened into rheumatic fever. Fibrous tissue inside the heart caused the mitral valve to narrow, leading to high blood pressure, blood clots, blood in the lungs and even heart failure.

Charlie and his colleagues in Kansas City were intrigued to read in medical journals about experimental surgery to repair stenotic valves. “The surgeon could reach in real quick,” Charlie said, and with his finger probe for the fibrous tissue, stretch the valve, break the adhesion and get out. “The whole thing could be done in under an hour.”

But even a relatively brief valve surgery ran a high risk of death unless the flow of blood through the heart could be slowed dramatically. Researching the matter further, Charlie learned of experiments in which patients under anesthesia were chilled to thicken and slow the flow of blood. To pioneer open-heart surgery in Kansas City, he simply needed to figure out how to safely chill an unconscious patient.

Enter the horse tank.

After work one day, Charlie was tending to some horses he had purchased along with a little plot of land. As he worked, his eye fell on the large oval trough that held water for his livestock. In a flash, he realized this was just what he needed.

A horse tank was big enough to hold a sleeping patient. “I bought a horse tank and we put the patient under anesthesia and packed him in ice,” Charlie told me. When he was cold enough, “we lifted him from the tank full of ice, placed him on the operating table, and quickly the surgeon opened the chest and made an incision in the heart. He went inside, broke up the fibrous tissue, sewed him back up, and it was done. In an hour, the patient was all thawed out.”

Charlie’s horse tank served as the leading edge of cardiac surgery in Kansas City for some time. “We never lost a patient,” he said.

People familiar with the lingo of Silicon Valley might recognize in this story what is known as IID — iterative and incremental development. It is a supremely practical, pragmatic approach to change, a philosophy that recognizes that great transformations rarely come as single thunderbolts.

There is a Stoic flavor to the approach, because it works with the material and the moment at hand, rather than pine after something better beyond one’s grasp. IID says: Don’t demand a perfect solution before tackling a problem. Move step by step (that’s the incremental part), improving with each new learning experience (that’s the iterative part).

Thomas Edison tested 6,000 filaments to find the best one for his lightbulb. Charlie understood that open-heart surgery wouldn’t arrive in fully formed glory, like a Hollywood ending. First, progress had to spend a year or two in an ice bath rigged from farm equipment.

This is how we live with change: step by step. This is how even elderly and change-resistant people have learned to pump their gasoline with a credit card reader and watch their great-grandchildren take first steps on social media. Charlie embraced that he would be learning new things as long as he lived, and he moved forward by accepting that he would advance in small increments.

He was also willing to make mistakes. Charlie told me he was glad to have worked in an era before malpractice lawsuits were common — when he could participate in what he estimated to be about 40,000 surgeries and “be innovative and not fear the stab of the lawyers, you know?”

And mistakes didn’t come only in the operating theater. After the war, when a buddy suggested that Charlie invest in a fledgling Colorado ski resort called Aspen , he scoffed: “That’s just a ghost town!”

Definitely a mistake.

A salesman by the name of Ewing Kauffman once tried to interest Charlie in a start-up business he had launched in his basement. “He was cleaning oyster shells in a washing machine and grinding them into antacid powder,” Charlie said, still slightly incredulous. Charlie held on to his money. Kauffman’s business, Marion Labs , became a major pharmaceutical company worth billions.

Another mistake.

I once commented on the various fortunes Charlie had missed, and he cheerfully replied that I didn’t know the half of it. He seemed to derive as much delight from recalling these blunders as he did from remembering his triumphs.

Mistakes can have virtue, Charlie knew. They show we’re making the effort, engaging with life, “ in the arena ,” as Theodore Roosevelt put it. Or as Epictetus, that marvelous Stoic, said: “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

A very long life is like a very large mansion. There are many rooms and all the rooms are big. Charlie had not one but two careers as a doctor: years as a general practitioner, followed by decades as an anesthesiologist. His retirement was as long as most careers. He had not one but two long marriages, plus years as a single man.

Everywhere he went, of course, people asked him for his secret to longevity. His answer was deflating: just luck, he insisted.

His genome, over which he had no influence, had not betrayed him with a weak heart or a wasting disease. Unlike his father, Charlie never saw his number come up in the cosmic lottery of freak accidents.

His mother started a May morning in 1914 as the married parent of five children and by noon was a widow with no job and no prospects. She didn’t go to pieces. She turned her home into a boardinghouse and encouraged her children to pitch in. She taught them to be independent and self-sustaining simply by “putting the responsibility of life on us,” as Charlie remembered fondly. Because she believed in them, they believed in themselves.

Charlie was also, of course, fortunate to have been a White man in the 20th-century United States, free to go where he pleased and dream as big as he wanted. The same Midwest of the 1920s that nurtured his optimistic spirit was a hotbed of populist nationalism and the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike women and people of color, he could seize opportunities because doors were open to him that were closed to so many others.

Charlie’s stepdaughter began feeling poorly after a vacation at age 66. A scan disclosed tumors throughout her body and she was gone within months. A few weeks after she died, Charlie turned 102.

That’s the age Charlie was when I met him.

In 2012, when he was 106, Charlie slipped on a patch of ice outside his front door one frigid day, and his ankle broke with a pop. In typical fashion, he shrugged it off.

At 107, he was hospitalized with pneumonia — a disease so efficient at bringing long lives to relatively merciful ends that it has a nickname: the old man’s friend.

Then, at 108, Charlie at last lost his independence. He moved into a nursing home, and one day word came from his family that he was fading fast, telling loved ones that death was near and assuring them he was ready. His wide circle of friends and admirers braced for fate to catch at his collar. But springtime blossomed again, and Charlie had a change of heart. His birthday was near, and having come so far, he decided he might as well keep going to 109.

How unlike Charlie, I thought to myself — to imagine he had control over something as powerful and capricious as death. One of the core teachings of Stoicism is that death keeps its own datebook; it can come at any time, and the only certainty is that it will eventually get to you. Therefore, “ let us postpone nothing ,” said the amiable Roman philosopher and playwright Seneca. “Let us balance life’s books every day.”

The glories of May warmed into June, sweltered into July. On the day my phone finally rang — Charlie was gone — I checked a calendar, then shook my head, which swam lightly in a flood of amazement and delight. It was Aug. 17, 2014. Quietly, in the wee hours after his birthday, Charlie had let go.

In the end, Charlie defied the actuaries to become one of the last men standing — one of only five fellows from the original 100,000 expected to make it to 109. By the time he was done, he had lived nearly half the history of the United States.

Among Charlie’s things after he was gone, his family found a single sheet of notepaper, on which Charlie had boiled 109 years into an operating code of life. He filled the sheet front and back in flowing ballpoint pen, writing in definitive commands. Among them:

Think freely. Practice patience. Smile often. Forgive and seek forgiveness.

Feel deeply. Tell loved ones how you feel.

Be soft sometimes. Cry when you need to. Observe miracles.

As I studied Charlie’s list, it seemed to me that each directive, by itself, was like a greeting card or a meme. Charlie’s takeaways from more than a century of living were things we already know, for we have heard them a thousand times.

But after a few years to think about it, I have arrived at a theory that a life well-led consists of two parts.

In the first, we are complexifiers. We take the simple world of childhood and discover its complications. We say, “yes — but …” and “maybe it’s not that easy.” Nothing is quite as it seems.

Then, if we live long enough, we might soften into the second stage and become simplifiers. For all the books on all the shelves of all the world’s libraries, life must in the end be lived as a series of discrete moments and individual decisions. What we face might be complicated, but what we do about it is simple.

“Do the right thing,” Charlie remembered his mother telling him.

“Do unto others,” a teacher told his disciples, “as you would have them do unto you.”

Charlie lived so long that the veil of complexity fell away and he saw that life is not so hard as we tend to make it. Or rather: No matter how hard life might be, the way we ought to live becomes a distillate of a few words. The essentials are familiar not because they are trite, but because they are true.

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Life is too short for a long story: essay — rob mclennan.

long essay story

Life is too short for a long story. —Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (15 May 1689 – 21 August 1762)

Writing is a passion in the language that will never fit into the world, into lived experience, words. Afterward: birth. —Chus Pato, trans. Erín Moure, Secession

F iction takes forever. One slow word against another.

Tales are told of writers who spend a day to add a single word, as the subsequent day might just be spent removing it. Yes, this happens. Others write in concentrated bursts, and very little after; at least, until the next burst.

The most important writing lesson: patience. The second: learning to recognize what works best for what it is you think you want to do. How to do the writing you do, and do it best. I think my own work a combination of the day spent adding and removing, and the productive, compressed burst. The slow, repeated carve.

But then: the rare compression so dense it explodes for days, or even weeks, leaving a wake of drafts and finished works. A writing big bang.

I’ve a single short story I’ve been poking at for more than two years, less than one hundred words in length. I haven’t yet figured out the hinge on which to hold two semi-connected thoughts. The one phrase that makes it perfect.

Aiming for sentences you could bounce a quarter off. Tight.

This is about precision.

First drafts come in fits, and starts. In rushes. Longhand scraps grafted to the flesh of earlier drafts. Stitch and scratch and scrape. One word, and another. Move or remove sentences, whole paragraphs. Let it sit and sink in the head awhile.

Each story akin to an image that shifts, and moves about, before coming into focus. Ah, yes. This. However long this takes.

Afternoons in pubs or coffeeshops away from laptop, during those periods my mother-in-law enables childcare. What my days have shifted into, and my next few years. During bursts of baby-sleep I rush to office desk and tinker. Move another set of words, aside. Attempt to figure out what else the story requires.

As scientists tell us: life is, in fact, imaginary. Not what occurs, but our responses, perceived and stewed inside a chemical meat. We might mention narrative. This, too, is invented.

It’s a complicated weave. Stories patched together via stitches of imagination, overheard or half-remembered phrases, images and instigations, queries, stolen half-memories, family secrets, all of which evolve into a single work that makes sense on its own terms. Somehow. Through craft and care and steady work.

Description should not exist for its own sake. Nor should anything else.

I’ve a character with a dead mother; I recall the emotion, ascribe the same to her, but in entirely different circumstances. Everything I write is true, but might never have happened, and not necessarily in that order.

Kill your darlings, they say. I’m not convinced. You don’t excise the extraordinary to smooth or soothe the mundane. It should force the text as a whole to be stronger. Kill, instead, the weak. A strong roof will collapse beneath poor walls and foundation. A strong roof on the wrong house will seem out of place.

Akin to extracting grey hairs as they surface. You can’t help but end with nothing.

The Nihilist Spasm Band: “I Have Nothing to Say / But I can say it very well.”

Writing not to tell what it is already known, but instead, to problem-solve. To troubleshoot. We create problems for the sake of unraveling, to figure out. Explore. Not the idea of nothing to say.

George Bowering once wrote: Don’t write what you know. Write what you don’t know. Otherwise, you might never learn.

This is something you might already know.

Fiction is something built, constructed out of parts, not out of thin air. Between empathy and experience, we speculate, articulate and guess. What would happen if? What would that character do, or not do? And what might happen then? Who are you, really? We slip our own thoughts and curiosities within. We slip in other things we’ve heard, or only read about. Invent, at times.

Who was it, said of writing: we battle laziness and lies, in our search for the truth.

Not that such a thing exists: truth, at least in terms of absolute. Even objectivity is subject to bias. IQ tests taken by smarter apes, who answer that the safest place during a lightning storm is in the branches of a tree. We would be wrong, but they are not. Discuss.

Sketch out, and if by chance, impart. Sometimes a clarification, a shift in perception, an alternate point-of-view. Other times, a warning. If you’re lucky, the occasional wisdom.

This whole piece, an invention. Perhaps none of this has happened.

—rob mclennan

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014), as well as the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review ( ), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( ), Touch the Donkey ( ) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( ). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

  One Response to “Life Is Too Short For A Long Story: Essay — rob mclennan”

Good going, Rob. You have always been in the corner of my eye and yet I don’t think we’ve ever met. But I’m a fan. Best wishes, Shannon

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Free Lecture: Writing to Save the World – Join award winning author Danté Stewart for a one hour talk and Q&A session. Watch Now (Free)

Written by A Guest Author May 25th, 2023

How A Reprint and a Long Held Story Got Published

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Some years ago, I had written a personal essay about how my father, who had a problem acknowledging disabled people, learned to accept his first grandchild who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Those two disabilities proved a big burden for our sweet baby girl but also the catalyst for helping her grandfather change his attitude.

I posted the essay on a website for writers where anyone could post whatever they’d written. Some were very amateur in substance and writing while others were well done. I received an email from an editor who had read the piece at Our Echo. She invited me to submit my essay to an anthology that would be published by Guideposts. This was a paying market whereas the other was not. They accepted my personal essay after I submitted it.

In mid-summer of 2019, I happened to notice a listing for a magazine called Kaleidoscope published by the United Disability Services. Their guidelines stated that they liked stories written by people who had a disability but would accept stories from other writers, too. I pondered a while and then decided to submit “The Perfect Grandchild” since they accepted reprints.

Months later, there was no response so I placed a big NO next to the listing I had made in my Submissions Chart and moved on. More than a year later, an editor from Kaleidoscope contacted me with the news that they ‘might’ want to publish “The Perfect Grandchild.” If interested, I was to fill out a form with information about me. Again, they restated that publication was only a possibility.

What was there to lose? Nothing. I filled out the forms and returned them, and then waited several more weeks. Hearing nothing, I figured it was a no-go deal. Not long after I had crossed the possibility off my list, I heard from the editor saying he would like to publish my work in their next issue. Again came the statement inferring it might be pulled at the last minute.

I felt a little like that donkey and the carrot dangling in front of its nose only to be unreachable. Another lesson in frustration.

A year and a half after I had originally submitted to Kaleidoscope , I received a link to the new issue of the magazine including my story, and a check arrived shortly after. The quality of the magazine and the stories published in it pleased me.

Even though it took some time and a lot of wondering on my part, “The Perfect Grandchild” found a home once again. We know very little happens in a quick 1-2-3 fashion in our writing journey. My two keywords as I have traversed my writing path are ‘patience and perseverance.’ I had to use a measure of both when submitting to Kaleidoscope. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Recently,  I had a letter of acceptance from Chicken Soup for the Soul for a story I had submitted in November of 2019. I had long since considered it a NO. Yet, here was the letter saying “The Four-Legged Nanny” would be in the book titled My Heroic, Hilarious, Human Dog to be published the next September with a $200 check to follow.

I learned two lessons through these experiences:  Reprints work. Never count a submission out even when more than a year has passed since submitting.

Bio: Nancy Julien Kopp lives and writes in the Flint Hills of Kansas. She writes short fiction, personal essays, family stories, short stories for children, poetry, and articles on the writing craft. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including 24 Chicken Soup for the Soul books, ezines, magazines, and newspapers.

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Narrative Essays

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the widespread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

What is a narrative essay?

When writing a narrative essay, one might think of it as telling a story. These essays are often anecdotal, experiential, and personal—allowing students to express themselves in a creative and, quite often, moving ways.

Here are some guidelines for writing a narrative essay.

This means that you must include an introduction, plot, characters, setting, climax, and conclusion.

A good example of this is when an instructor asks a student to write a book report. Obviously, this would not necessarily follow the pattern of a story and would focus on providing an informative narrative for the reader.

Make a point! Think of this as the thesis of your story. If there is no point to what you are narrating, why narrate it at all?

It is quite common for narrative essays to be written from the standpoint of the author; however, this is not the sole perspective to be considered. Creativity in narrative essays oftentimes manifests itself in the form of authorial perspective.

Much like the descriptive essay, narrative essays are effective when the language is carefully, particularly, and artfully chosen. Use specific language to evoke specific emotions and senses in the reader.

Do not abuse this guideline! Though it is welcomed it is not necessary—nor should it be overused for lack of clearer diction.

Have a clear introduction that sets the tone for the remainder of the essay. Do not leave the reader guessing about the purpose of your narrative. Remember, you are in control of the essay, so guide it where you desire (just make sure your audience can follow your lead).

What is a Narrative Essay Examples Format and Techniques Featured

What is a Narrative Essay — Examples, Format & Techniques

I was in the Amazon jungle the first time I wrote a narrative essay, enlightened and enraptured by the influence of ayahuasca. That’s not true. I’ve never been to South America nor have I ever taken ayahuasca. The purpose of that opening is to show how to craft a narrative essay intro — hook, line, and sinker. Narrative essays rely on hooking the reader, and enticing them to read on. But what is a narrative essay? We’re going to break down everything you need to know about these essays — definition, examples, tips and tricks included. By the end, you’ll be ready to craft your own narrative essay for school or for publication.

What’s a Narrative Essay?

First, let’s define narrative essay.

Narrative essays share a lot of similarities with personal essays, but whereas the former can be fictional or non-fictional, the latter are strictly non-fictional. The goal of the narrative essay is to use established storytelling techniques, like theme , conflict , and irony , in a uniquely personal way.

The responsibility of the narrative essayist is to make the reader feel connected to their story, regardless of the topic. This next video explores how writers can use structural elements and techniques to better engage their readers. 

Personal Narrative Essay Examples With Essay Pro

Narrative essays rely on tried and true structure components, including:

By keeping these major tenets in mind, you’ll be better prepared to recognize weaknesses and strengths in your own works.


What is a narrative essay.

A narrative essay is a prose-written story that’s focused on the commentary of a central theme. Narrative essays are generally written in the first-person POV, and are usually about a topic that’s personal to the writer. Everything in these essays should take place in an established timeline, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. 

Famous Narrative Essay Examples

Narrative Writing Explained

How to start a narrative essay.

When you go to sleep at night, what do you think of? Flying squirrels? Lost loved ones? That time you called your teacher ‘mom’? Whatever it is, that’s what you need to write about. There’s a reason those ideas and moments have stuck with you over time. Your job is to figure out why.

Once you realize what makes a moment important to you, it’s your job to make it important to the reader too. In this next video, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker J. Christian Jensen explains the power of the personal narrative. 

Narrative Writing and the Personal Narrative Essay  •  Video by TEDx Talks

Anything and everything can be the topic of your essay. It could be as benign as a walk to school or as grandiose as a trip to the moon — so long as that narrative exists within reality. Give your thoughts and opinions on the matter too — don’t be afraid to say “this is what I think” so long as it’s supported by storytelling techniques. Remember, never limit yourself as a writer, just keep in mind that certain topics will be harder to make engaging than others.

Narrative Essay Outline

How to write a narrative essay.

First step, game plan. You’re going to want to map out the story from beginning to end, then mark major story beats in your document.

Like all stories, your narrative essay needs a clear beginning, middle, and end. Each section should generally conform to a specifically outlined structure. For reference, check out the outline below.

Structure of A Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay Format  •  How to Write a Narrative Essay Step by Step

Make sure to reference back to this outline throughout the writing process to make sure you have all your major beats covered.

Purpose of narrative essay writing

Narrative essays give writers the ability to freely express themselves within the structure of a traditional story. Nearly all universities ask applicants to submit a narrative essay with their formal application. This is done for two reasons: they allow institutions to judge the linguistic and grammar capabilities of its applicants, as well as their raw creative side.

If you’re considering studying creative writing in an undergraduate or graduate program, then you’re going to write A LOT of narrative style essays. This process may seem indomitable; How am I supposed to write hundreds of pages about… me? But by the end, you’ll be a better writer and you’ll have a better understanding of yourself.

One thing that all successful essayists have in common is that they make radical, often defiant statements on the world at large. Think Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, and Langston Hughes for example.

Being a professional essayist isn’t easy, and it’s near-impossible to be one who makes a lot of money. Many essayists work as professors, editors, and curriculum designers as well. 

This next video features the late, award-winning essayist Brian Doyle. He explains all the things you need to hear when thinking about writing a story.

Narrative Essay Examples “Lecture” via Boston University

We can learn a lot from the way Doyle “opens” his stories. My favorite is how he begins with the statement, “I met the Dalai Lama once.” How can we not be interested in learning more? 

This brings us all the way back to the beginning. Start with a hook, rattle off the line, then reel in the sinker. If you entice the reader, develop a personal plot, and finish with a resolute ending, you’ll have a lot of success in essay writing. 

 Up Next

Adapting a true story.

A narrative essay is often rooted in real-events, then extrapolated upon with fictional elements. Many of the challenges presented with narrative essays also exist with adapting a true story. In this next article, we look at how pro-writers like Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Kaufmann, and the Safdie Brothers adapt true stories with renewed creative license.

Up Next: Writing fiction based on real events →

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17 Short Story And Essay Collections For When You Want To Laugh, Cry, Think, Or Swoon

Whether you're in a reading slump or just want to read something different, these collections will revitalize you!

Kaitlin Stevens

BuzzFeed Contributor

1. Girls Can Kiss Now by Jill Gutowitz

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Jill Gutowitz's debut essay collection has solidified her own place in the lesbian canon, which she explores in-depth in one of her essays where she lists vital pieces of it, including oat milk, elderflower syrup, and "Eliza Dushku just existing." If you haven't read Jill's work yet, I don't know what you're waiting for — she is consistently the funniest and best person to follow on Twitter and her Gaylor missives are not to be missed. 

Jill's exploration of her own identity is told through era-defining anecdotes, a reminder of just how influential pop culture really is on our lives — which isn't a bad thing, according to Jill. If you love the early aughts-setting of PEN15, Lindsay Lohan, and folklore , this is the perfect read for you.

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound . You can also try the audiobook version through  

2. Game On: 15 Stories of Wins, Losses and Everything In Between edited by Laura Silverman

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This YA anthology is a prime example of the millions of ways a prompt can be interpreted. While the cover may trick you into believing this anthology is all about sports, it's not the case. For instance, Nina Moreno, author of Don't Date Rosa Santos , has an endearing sapphic story about two girls who fall in love playing a farming sim (aka what queer cottagecore dreams are made of). And the first story in the collection, Sona Charaipotra's "Let It Spin," tells of a game of spin the bottle that changed the direction of its MC's life, detailing a devastating friendship breakup. Editor Laura Silverman also has a story in the anthology about sexism and tabletop gaming. And sure, there are sports stories in it, too, ranging from cheerleading to soccer and everywhere in between. There's something for everyone here.

3. Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative by Melissa Febos

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A new collection of essays by writer Melissa Febos navigates the relationship between mind and body, how they are less separated than we think, and how our bodies dictate the way we remember and tell stories. A craft book at its core, the ideas presented will invoke thoughts about process for writers, but it's an insightful read whether you're a writer or not. 

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound . You can also try the audiobook version through . 

4. The Last Suspicious Holdout: Stories by Ladee Hubbard

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Ladee Hubbard's collection of 13 short stories offer vignettes of different Black families living in an unnamed "sliver of Southern suburbia" in a time between the beginning of Bill Clinton's presidency to the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Their stories range from funny to sad; always vivid, mostly hopeful, with a strong focus on matters that affect Black families at disproportionate rates: namely the quality and accessibility of education and healthcare, the war on drugs, and the criminal justice system. There is a strong sense of community throughout the stories, told in a world where resilience and hope are the only options, and nothing is taken for granted. 

5. Cost of Living: Essays by Emily Maloney

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It's no secret that our healthcare system, especially in the US, is beyond broken. This collection of essays from Emily Maloney tells two sides of the story: as a patient and as a healthcare professional, the ways she was wronged and pushed into debt, and the stories of patients she cared for as an emergency room technician. Rather than choosing between a focus on how mental health treatment is not handled properly in this country or a focus on how the smallest of injuries can send someone into massive debt, Maloney explores it all: the different creaks and crevices of the ways the healthcare industry can fail its patients over and over again. 

6. New Teeth by Simon Rich

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Simon Rich's new collection of short stories is an ode to growing up, which is something we can never have enough of. Wholly imaginative, like a child should be, the stories play up a child's fears and big questions, asking: What if they were true? And rather than just dream up the nightmares, Rich provides the answers, letting every insane scenario end in a place of comfort and certainty, at least to some degree. Whether you're looking to get in touch with your inner child, wanting a voice that hears you as a new parent, or just in need of a laugh, you'll find what you're in search of in New Teeth.

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound. You can also try the audiobook version through  

7. In the Margins: On the Pleasures of Reading and Writing by Elena Ferrante

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Elena Ferrante ( My Brilliant Friend ) has long established herself as an author to look out for. So much so that she was invited to give a public series of lectures on writing at the University of Bologna, but the pandemic put a halt to those plans. Instead, she compiled those lessons in this book.

While she's well-known for her fiction, and for being an anonymous author, this book of essays allows her to explore nonfiction writing and allows readers to get a closer glimpse into the mind of this mysterious writer. Elena's prose does not suffer in this different medium; if anything, it's as strong and beautiful as ever.

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound . 

8. Reclaim The Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space edited by Zoraida Córdova

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Featuring both new and acclaimed voices in the Latin American writing space, this anthology explores the world of science fiction, magic, and fantasy through different lenses in the Latin American diaspora, divided into sections. From stories with magical space princesses (Anne-Marie McClemore's "Reign of Diamonds") to stories with plant-growing magic (Zoraida Cordova's "Tame the Wicked Night"), underneath all the supernatural forces are stories about love, death, grief, acceptance, family pressure, coming to terms with your sexuality, and much more. You're bound to find a new favorite story or author here.

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound. You can also try the audiobook version through . 

9. Dear Damage: Essays by Ashley Marie Farmer

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Ashley Farmer's collection of essays on grief are gripping from the start, as she sets the scene of a turning point in her grandparents' marriage. A bad fall paralyzes her grandmother unexpectedly, and trying to do what he thinks is right, her grandfather shoots and kills her shortly after in a "mercy killing." He tries to kill himself, too, but fails. And thus starts the collection of hybrid essays focused on Farmer's grandparents, interspersed with internet comments on the news story, audio transcripts, legal documents, and more, making for a truly unique and fascinating book.

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound.

10. Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby

A blue book cover, with illustrated eyes above the title and illusrated red lips underneath the title

Gwen E. Kirby's debut collection of short stories dares to ask: What if we just let women be their messiest selves? Through this lens, she imagines scenarios women (and men!) may have encountered since the Hellenic times up until today, playing with different structures including a "How To" essay and a scathing Yelp review that has a lot more bubbling under the surface. These hilarious stories use satire to examine real struggles and criticisms of the world and patriarchal standards. If you want to laugh and think, pick this one up. 

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound. You can also try the audiobook version through 

11. Up All Night: 13 Stories Between Sunset and Sunrise edited by Laura Silverman

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This genre-blending anthology features contemporary stories, romance, horror, and even stories about superheroes, all from acclaimed YA authors such as Nina LaCour, Tiffany D. Jackson, Karen M. McManus, and more. What do these stories have in common? They take place in the wee hours of the night, where the magic happens. With disability rep, queer rep, Black rep, and Asian rep, this diverse collection of stories explores both exciting and painful firsts, like first loves and first heartbreaks, as well as stories about friendship breakups and friendship rekindlings, and poignant lessons in self-discovery. 

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound . You can also try the audiobook version through 

12. The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories edited by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang

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Told and translated by a team of female and nonbinary creators, The Way Spring Arrives  is a collection of short stories and nonfiction essays centered on underrepresented voices in Chinese science fiction and fantasy. The stories are often existential and sometimes dystopian, exploring deep and dark "what if's" in the real world and other universes, flush with vivid setting descriptions. Aside from the gorgeously translated stories, there are essays on the art of translation that will give you a new appreciation for the intricacies of translation, including some written by critically acclaimed author of The Poppy Wars  trilogy, R. F. Kuang.

Get it from Bookshop or through your local bookstore via Indiebound . You can also try the audiobook version through 

13. That Way Madness Lies edited by Dahlia Adler

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Whether or not you love Shakespeare, you're sure to love this collection of contemporary reimaginings of some of the Bard's most famous stories, as told by a diverse group of prominent YA authors. There are prom stories based off Twelfth Night (Mark Oshiro's "Shipwrecked"), road trip stories based off Sonnet 147 (Brittany Cavallaro's "His Invitation"), troubled sibling stories based off The Tempest (Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley's "Severe Weather Warning") and so much more, including some spectacular queer and genderfluid rep in quite a few stories, sure to make William himself proud. 

14. Seeking Fortune Elsewhere by Sindya Bhanoo

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This debut collection of short stories from Sindya Bhanoo is a rich exploration of the South Indian immigrant experience, telling varying stories from different characters all detailing the hard and surprising parts of their journeys, reminding readers that these decisions are never easy to make. Raw, honest, and intimate, Bhanoo's gift for storytelling shines in these short stories that paint full pictures and connect with each other, though they take place in different countries. 

15. Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho

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In Fiona and Jane , author Jean Chen Ho takes advantage of the short story format to freely jump around different eras and shift perspectives while telling the stories of two Asian American best friends who find themselves on opposite sides of the country in their adulthood, recounting their personal and joint explorations of identity, love, sexuality, and ambition. Told in the way two real friends may be telling the same stories with varying perspectives to their kids or partners, the honesty and emotions in Fiona and Jane  sheds a beautiful light on the joy of female friendship and how it can shape a person, ground them, and help them see themselves for who they really are. 

16. Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu

Blue book cover with pieces of images of bird wings, trees, branches, frog legs, flowers

A collection of stories that are horrifying and fantastical, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is more than just stomach-churning imagery of bugs and other creatures. With unique perspectives, the stories explore the monsters hiding in plain sight — the effects of technology, the aftermath of grief, the pain of growing up, the trouble that is being a part of a family. As unsettling as the stories may be, they are often relatable, too, and at the very least, thought-provoking.

17. A Manual For Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

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I couldn't write a list of short stories without including this posthumous, must-read collection from the late Lucia Berlin. With a haunting and poignant voice, Berlin weaves tales about alcoholism, tainted love, motherhood, grief, and more, set across a number of settings across the United States. Painfully honest, every emotion explored by Berlin is palpable. An unforgettable collection of stories that belongs on everyone's bookshelf.  

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Importance Of Books – 10 Lines, Short & Long Essay For Kids

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Key Points To Remember When Writing An Essay On ‘The Importance Of Books’ For Lower Primary Classes

10 lines on ‘the importance of books’ in english, paragraph on ‘the importance of books’ in 100 words for children, short essay on ‘the importance of reading books’ for kids, long essay on ‘the importance of books’ in english for children, what will your child learn from this essay.

Books are synonymous with learning and education, and have been a concrete source of information and knowledge for many generations. It is essential for children to develop a habit of reading books from a young age as it builds their vocabulary and self-study skills. Considering the role books play in education, ‘The Importance of Books’ is a popular topic for essay writing assignments and frequently asked as part of tests. In this write-up, we will enlighten you on how to write an essay on the importance of books for classes 1, 2 and 3 in short and long formats.

Books are an authentic source of knowledge for everyone. Here are some crucial points to keep in mind when you write about the importance of books:

A simple essay can be a few lines on the importance of books. It is a good place to start the habit of writing. Here’s an example of an essay for class 1 and class 2 on the importance of books:

Paragraph essays lay the foundation for long-form essay writing skills. Here’s an example of how to approach the topic:

Books are our true best friends. They are full of information we need for our education and daily life. There are different types of books for a variety of knowledge that we seek, including science, history, mathematics, biology, fantasy, and anything else we need. My favourites are story books about adventure and books on history. I can spend my entire day reading these books and immerse myself in a world of imagination and thrill. Books help us to share information and will continue to be significant, although electronic media have gained popularity. Books will always be my best friends and source of imagination and inspiration.

Writing short essays help children build the skills to write long articles on any topic. Here is an example of a short essay on books:

Books play an important role in our lives as they are the source of knowledge and information on all kinds of topics. Books, like good friends, can make you a better person by keeping you company and teaching essential lessons. Everyone should inculcate a habit of reading books to improve their reading, vocabulary, and awareness on different topics. Even if the book being read is fiction or fantasy, it is food for our imagination and language skills. Parents must encourage children to read books as reading is the most crucial skill for academic success. By cultivating a fast reading habit, they can absorb more information and become skilled readers later in life. Children should develop a habit of reading on a variety of subjects, so they have broad knowledge as they go through higher grades. Eventually, they will see that there will always be more books to read and more friends to make! Books are the kind of companions who never grow old and can guide us in life’s journey.

A long essay for class 3 can range over 300 words. Children have to maintain coherence throughout the paragraphs and employ good storytelling. Here is an example of a long essay on the importance of books in our life:

Books are more than just pages with printed text. Throughout history, books have been the record keepers of events and the repository of collective human knowledge. Without written documents or printed texts, human civilisation would not be what it is today. Great thinkers, writers and influencers have always been book readers, and they spent a significant portion of their time reading books to gather knowledge that would later help them transform the world.

Everybody has read books at some point in life, whether out of interest or for studies. Children are familiar with their academic books, and many have libraries filled with their favourite books. Reading books from a young age is crucial as it builds vocabulary and language skills. People who are good readers also become good writers, and good writing is a skill vital for academic success.

To reap the benefits of reading, children should pick a wide range of topics from literature to science and history. Reading books on fiction and fantasy is equally vital as it stimulates the imagination and builds vocabulary. Books on philosophy are excellent sources of material on spiritual and philosophical ideas. They should also become part of our reading list, so we have a good understanding of ourselves and the higher purpose in life.

Considering the benefits books have to offer us, it won’t be wrong to call them our best friends as they will remain by us throughout our lives. As we develop the habit of reading more and more books, we will realise that we also see each book has a character of its own which influences our personality. Only books can take us on many different journeys that are impossible to experience in one single life.

Why Are Books Important?

Books are important because different genres of books contain information about various subjects. We can learn about history, philosophy, values, and science by reading books. A habit of reading builds our knowledge and contributes to intelligence. For many people, reading books is a stress relief exercise and an escape to a different world they can enjoy. For kids, books build language skills and imagination.

What Are The Different Genres Of Books?

Books come in different genres such as travel, philosophy, science, fashion, technology, self-help, motivation, and many more. Each genre has specific information about its subjects and topics.

What Type Of Books Should Children Read?

Children should read fiction, fantasy, science, and history from their usual academic books to learn about different things. The more genre of books their read, the wider their knowledge will be. Reading more also builds language skills and develops their vocabulary.

The essays above are short and long-form essays on the topic of books. Their purpose is to give them an idea about how they can frame their own essays on the subject and gather points they can use in their write-ups.

As we have seen from the examples above, books are long-term friends we need in our lives, and the more we have, the merrier. Although electronic media now dominates the world, books will always have an important place in our lives.

Essay on Knowledge is Power for Children Essay on Importance of English Language for Kids How to Write An Essay on My Favourite Book for Children

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In the "Input" area, provide information about the story.

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Have you ever wondered how an AI Plot Generator creates such unique and engaging story ideas? The process is actually quite simple. First, the tool uses natural language processing (NLP) to analyze the keywords and themes you input.

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First and foremost , the ideas generated by Toolbaz AI Story Generator are just that – ideas. They are not fully fleshed-out stories and do not contain any original content. It is up to you, the writer, to take these ideas and craft them into a unique and compelling narrative using your own writing skills and creativity.

Additionally , using an AI tool can actually enhance the legitimacy of your work. By providing you with a diverse range of ideas and inspiration, the tool can help you create more original and innovative stories that stand out in the crowded literary market.

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Why Should Writers Use AI Story Generators?

AI story generators like Toolbaz's AI Story Generator can help writers overcome writer's block and generate new ideas. They can also assist with brainstorming, outlining, and character development.

Additionally, using AI can help writers save time and focus on other aspects of the writing process.

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Start writing after copying and pasting the storyline into a text editor!

Are only writers able to use this AI generator?

While this AI Story Writer is primarily designed for writers, it can also be used by anyone who is interested in generating creative ideas.

It can be a helpful tool for students, artists, or anyone looking to generate unique ideas for a project.

Can I use this tool for commercial purposes?

It is important to read and understand the terms of use for Toolbaz free AI Story Maker before using it for commercial purposes.

Is AI Story Writer safe to use?

Toolbaz Artificial Intelligence (AI) Story maker is a safe and reputable tool.

However , it is always a good idea to use caution when using any online tool and to be aware of potential security risks.

Can I trust the ideas and prompts generated by AI Generators?

While the ideas and prompts generated by Toolbaz's Free AI Story Generator can be a helpful starting point, it is ultimately up to the writer to determine their suitability and to use their own judgment and creativity in the writing process.

Can I contact the developers of Toolbaz if I have questions or feedback?

At the moment, there is no way for users to provide feedback.

However, we plan to change this as soon as we have analyzed user data. "Stay tuned for updates!"

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Stories in 'Sidle Creek' offer an insider look at Appalachia

Ilana Masad

Cover of Sidle Creek

In a 2017 piece for Salon , writer and historian Elizabeth Catte wrote: "Every generation of politicians, writers, analysts, academics and economists believes it has discovered something unique or horrible or paradoxical about Appalachia."

Indeed, especially since 2016, it seems, and the release of now Republican senator J. D. Vance's popular — and also critiqued — book, Hillbilly Elegy , there has been an odd smugness among people who've never set foot in the region casually analyzing and diagnosing it like armchair therapists. Thankfully, there are also those pushing back against oversimplified narratives.

All of this to say that I suggest non-Appalachian readers put aside whatever it is they think they know about the very large region (which spans 423 counties across 13 states) when picking up Sidle Creek, Jolene McIlwain's debut short story collection. Taking place in the Appalachian plateau of western Pennsylvania, where the author grew up and lives now, the 22 stories in Sidle Creek charm, surprise, and convey a deep love of the people and place McIlwain has long called home.

The title story, which is also the book's first, is narrated by a girl being raised by a single father and navigating her increasingly worrisome periods. The story also gives us some of the lore surrounding the fictional Sidle Creek, which is mentioned in nearly every piece and links together the people and places throughout the book. The Sidle is "not a large creek, but cool enough for trout," the narrator tells us, and it's known locally for its healing properties — one man blinded by flash burns got his sight back after falling in the water — as well as its ability to bite back when used incorrectly — the trout refused to bite in the season after a woman tried to drown herself in the creek's deepest channel.

One of the collection's recurring motifs is a masculine softness that isn't always easy to express in words but that is nevertheless deeply felt. In "Steer," for instance, a 50-year-old father, Roy, contemplates his son nearing his 16th birthday. Roy wants to teach his son to be a man who can roll with the punches of life, but "he wanted him, also, to be free and light and open. He feared his son would inherit from him the maintenance and heft of this border around his heart he was constantly buttressing and closing off to guarantee hurt would not breach it." In another story, "Seed to Full," a man doesn't know how to comfort his wife or convey his own grief, so he focuses on what he can control, his work as a sawyer, and builds a coffin "straight and true from wood [he'd himself] sanded and stained, rubbed with linseed until [his] hands were raw."

Another recurring theme is community care, and not in the Hollywoodized small town "aw shucks" kind of way, but rather in the difficult, intentional work of maintaining contact with one's neighbors and trying to provide what people need. In one story a game warden takes care to check in on his newly widowed neighbor. In "You Four Are the One," narrator Lanie and three of her friends spend the summer before starting sixth grade helping Lanie's pregnant neighbor, Cinta Johns, who is on strict bedrest following the four miscarriages in seven years that she's already been through. While Cinta's husband is at work at the mill, the girls hold her hand, walk her dog, make her tea, paint her toenails, and mostly take her mind off the mounting pressure to make sure she's able to carry the pregnancy to term. Lanie's mother is the one who sends the girls over at first, but Lanie soon finds meaning in the work as well. "At Cinta Johns's house we weren't four flat-chested nerdy girls in one-pieces," she emphasizes. "We were a part of her Support Team."

McIlwain is no Pollyanna, though, and Sidle Creek includes stories of community failure and violence a well. In "Where Lottie Lived," the titular Lottie lets her house, the site of horrors from her childhood, crumble around her even as neighbors come sniffing around about buying the property. In "Eminent Domain," a woman recognizes she will have to leave if she wants to "be anything that ain't a few steps away from crazy." In the background of many of the stories are hints of broader issues within the region — mines closing, workplace injuries, a lack of easily accessible medical care — but these realities aren't at the center of characters' lives.

Instead, Sidle Creek 's stories largely focus on people who are making their lives where they were born and raised, as well as some who have come from away — and the small and large dramas of their lives are rendered in beautiful prose.

Ilana Masad is a fiction writer, book critic, and author of the novel All My Mother's Lovers.

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How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on September 2, 2022.

Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.

A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :

Table of contents

Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion.

The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.

To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.

Language choices

Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?

What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).

Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.

Narrative voice

Ask yourself:

Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?

Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?

Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.

Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.

There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?

With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.

In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for  dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.

Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.

If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:

Essay question example

Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?

Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:

Thesis statement example

Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.

Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.

Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.

Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:

Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:

The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .

However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.

Finding textual evidence

To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.

It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.

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To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.

Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.

A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.

If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.

“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”

The introduction

The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.

A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.

Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!

If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.

The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.

Paragraph structure

A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.

Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.

In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.

Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.

Topic sentences

To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:

… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.

Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.

This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.

Using textual evidence

A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.

It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:

It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.

In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:

The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.

A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:

By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.

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34 English Short Stories with Big Ideas for Thoughtful English Learners

What if you could understand big ideas in English with just a little bit of text?

You don’t need to read an entire English book to learn. A good English short story is often enough!

Stories are all about going beyond reality, and these classics will not only improve your English reading but also open your mind to different worlds.

1. “The Tortoise and the Hare” by Aesop

2. “the ant and the grasshopper” by aesop, 3. “white wing: the tale of the doves and the hunter”, 4. “royal servant”, 5. “emily’s secret”, 6. “the bogey beast” by flora annie steel, 7. “love is in the air”, 8. “the tale of johnny town-mouse” by beatrix potter, 9. “paul bunyan” adapted by george grow, 10. “cinderella” by charles perrault, 11. “little red riding hood” adapted by the british council, 12. “the lottery” by shirley jackson, 13. “the happy prince” by oscar wilde.

15. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury

17. “Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu

18. “the missing mail” by r.k. narayan, 19. “harrison bergeron” by kurt vonnegut.

21. “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

22. “rikki-tikki-tavi” by rudyard kipling, 23. excerpt from “little dorrit” by charles dickens, 24. “to build a fire” by jack london, 25. “miracles” by lucy corin.

27. “The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce 

28. “the monkey’s paw” by w.w. jacobs, 29. “a tiny feast” by chris adrian, 30. “the story of an hour” by kate chopin, 31. “the zero meter diving team” by jim shepherd, 32. “the velveteen rabbit” by margery williams, 33. “the friday everything changed” by anne hart, 34. “hills like white elephants” by ernest hemingway, how to use short stories to improve your english.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

The Tortoise and the Hare

This classic fable (story) is about a very slow tortoise (turtle) and a speedy hare (rabbit). The tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare laughs at the idea that a tortoise could run faster than him, but the race ends with a surprising result.

Have you ever heard the English expression, “Slow and steady wins the race”? This story is the basis for that common phrase . You can read it for free , along with a number of other stories in this list!

very short english stories

This is another great story that teaches a lesson that’s written for kids but adults can enjoy, too . The story tells of a grasshopper who lounges around all summer while his friend the ant prepares for the winter. When winter comes, the two friends end up in very different situations!

The moral is that those who save up during the good times will get to enjoy the benefits when times are bad.

White Wing The Tale of the Doves and the Hunter

This very short story from India was originally written in Sanskrit (an ancient language). When a group of doves is caught in a hunter’s net, they must work together as a team to escape from the hunter’s clutches.

You can listen to a reading of the story as you read along on this website.

very short english stories

In this story, an old man sets out to ask an African king to dig some wells in his village when their water runs dry. But first, he teaches the king a lesson in humility by showing him how all people help each other. Read the story to see how the clever old man gets the king to do as he asks!

very short english stories

This is a modern-day story about a little girl with a big secret she can’t tell anyone about. When her teacher finds out her secret, they work together to fix the issue.

This story is a good choice for absolute beginners, because it uses only the present tense. It’s also written in very basic English with simple vocabulary and short sentences.

english short stories

The woman in this story finds a pot of treasure on her walk home. As she carries it home, the treasure keeps changing, becoming things of lesser value.

However, the woman’s enthusiasm makes her see only the positive after each change, which would have upset anyone else. Her positive personality tries to make every negative situation seem like a gift!

This story shows how important it is to look at things from a positive point of view. Instead of being disappointed in what we don’t have, this story reminds us to view what we do have as blessings.

very short english stories

This modern story is about a young woman named Penny who is anxious about going to her family’s annual reunion barbecue. But despite screaming children and arguing cousins, Penny ends up happy that she came to the reunion when she starts a conversation with a handsome man.

The story is written in simple English, using only the present tense, so it’s perfect for beginners.

The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse (Peter Rabbit)

This classic children’s story is about two mice, one from the country and one from the city. Both mice think that the other mouse is so lucky to live in what they think is a wonderful place!

The two mice decide to visit each other in their homes. It turns out that the country mouse has a difficult time in the city, and the city mouse struggles in the country.

In the end, they realize that they believed the old English saying: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” In other words, each mouse thought the other had a better life, only to discover that they actually preferred their own life!

Paul Bunyan

The story of Paul Bunyan has been around in the United States for many years. He’s the symbol of American frontier life, showing the ideal strength, work ethic and good morality that Americans work hard to imitate.

Paul Bunyan is considered a legend, so stories about him are full of unusual details, such as eating 50 eggs in one day and being so big that he caused an earthquake. It can be a pretty funny read, with characters such as a blue ox and a reversible dog.

This version of the story is also meant to be read out loud, so it’s fast-paced and entertaining. This website has an audio recording with the story, which you can play at slower or faster speeds.

Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper

You may already know the story of Cinderella, whether you saw the Disney movie or read a children’s book of it.

However, there are actually many different versions of “Cinderella.” This one by Charles Perrault is the most well-known and is often the version told to children.

“Cinderella” is a beloved story because it describes how a kind and hard-working person was able to get a happy ending. Even though Cinderella’s stepsisters treated her awfully, Cinderella herself remained gentle and humble. It goes to show that even though you may experience hardships, it’s important to stay kind, forgiving and mindful.

Little Red Riding Hood

This is a story that every English-speaking child knows. It’s about a little girl who meets a wolf in the forest while going to see her sick grandmother. The wolf pretends to be her grandmother in order to trick the little girl.

This story is presented by the British Council as a video with the text clearly spoken. You can then play a game to rearrange the sentences below the video into the correct order, read the text of the story in a PDF file and answer some activity questions (then check your answers with the provided answer sheet.

This website has many other stories you can read and listen to, like “Circus Story” by Sue Clarke, which is an excellent option for learning animal vocabulary, and even adaptations of Shakespeare plays for younger readers.

The Lottery and Other Stories (FSG Classics)

Every year, the small town in this story holds an event known as “The Lottery.” During this event, someone from the community is randomly chosen.

What are they chosen for? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

You may have heard of the term “mob mentality” and how it can allow for some pretty surprising (and terrible) things to happen. This classic story looks at society, and how much evil people are willing to overlook to keep their society stable.

This is considered to be one of the most famous short stories in American literature. It’s a great example of what is known as a dystopian society, where people live in a frightening way. To learn more, check out this TED-Ed video that tells you how to recognize a dystopia.

English short stories

Since the story is old, much of the English is outdated (not used in modern English). Still, if you have a good grasp of the English language, you can use this story to give yourself a great reading challenge.

14. “The Night Train at Deoli”  by Ruskin Bond

The Night Train at Deoli

Ruskin Bond used to spend summers at his grandmother’s house in Dehradun, India. While taking the train, he always had to pass through a small station called Deoli. No one used to get down at the station and nothing happened there.

Until one day, when he sees a girl selling fruit and is unable to forget her.

Ruskin Bond is a writer who can communicate deep feelings in a simple way. This story is about our attachment to strangers and why we cherish (value or appreciate deeply) them even though we might never meet them again.

There Will Come Soft Rains

The title is taken from a poem that describes how nature will continue its work long after humanity is gone. But in this story, we see that nature plays a supporting role and the machines are the ones who have taken its place.

They continue their work without any human or natural assistance. This shows how technology has replaced nature in our lives and how it can both destroy us and carry on without humanity itself.

16. “Orientation”  by Daniel Orozco

Orientation and Other Stories

This is a humorous story in which the speaker explains the office policies to a new employee while gossiping about the staff. It’s extremely easy to read, as the sentences are short and the vocabulary is simple.

Many working English learners will relate to this story, as it explains the silly, nonsensical moments of modern office life. Modern workplaces often feel like theaters where we pretend to work rather than get actual work done. The speaker exposes this reality that few would ever admit to.

He over-explains everything from the view out the office window to the intimate details of everyone’s life—from the overweight loner to the secret serial killer. It talks about the things that go unsaid; how people at the office know about the deep secrets of our home life, but don’t discuss them.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Jack’s mother can make paper animals come to life. In the beginning, Jack loves them and spends hours with his mom. But once he grows up, his mother’s inability to speak English keeps Jack from talking to her.

When his mother tries to talk to him through her creations, he kills them and collects them in a box. After a tragic loss, he finally gets to know her story through a hidden message that he should have read a long time ago.

The story is a simple narration that touches on complex issues, like leaving your home country and the conflicts that can occur within families when different cultures and languages collide.

The Missing Mail in Malgudi Days

Thanappa is the village mailman, who is good friends with Ramanujam and his family. He learns about a failed marriage and helps Ramanujam’s daughter get engaged to a suitable match.

Just before the wedding, Thanappa receives a tragic letter about Ramanujam’s brother. To spare them heartache, he decides not to deliver the letter.

The story explores the idea that despite the best of intentions, our actions can cause more harm to our loved ones than we ever intended. If you like this and want to read more by R.K. Narayan, check out the other stories in the author’s “ Malgudi Days” short story collection.

Harrison Bergeron in Welcome to the Monkey House

The year is 2081, and everyone has been made equal by force. Every person who is superior in any way has been handicapped (something that prevents a person’s full use of their abilities) by the government. Intelligent people are distracted by disturbing noises. Good dancers have to wear weights so that they don’t dance too well. Attractive people wear ugly masks so they don’t look better than anyone else.

However, one day there is a rebellion, and everything changes for a brief instant.

Technology is always supposed to make us better. But in this case, we see that it can be used to disable our talents. Moreover, the writer shows us how the mindless use of a single value like equality can create more suffering for everyone.

20. “The School”  by Donald Barthelme

easy English short stories

And that’s just the beginning of the series of unfortunate events at the school in this short story, narrated by a teacher. The story is absurd (ridiculous to the point of being silly), even though the topic is serious. By the end, the kids start asking difficult questions about death that the adults don’t quite know how to answer.

This story leaves a lot of things unsaid, which means you’ll need to “read between the lines,” or look closer at the text to understand what’s really happening.

english short stories

In “Girl,” a mother tells her daughter how to live her life properly. The mother instructs the girl to do all the household chores, in very specific ways, making it seem like that’s her only duty in life.

Sometimes the mother tells the girl how to attract attention, not to talk to boys and to always keep away from men. Other times, the mother hints that the girl will need to be attractive to men to live a good life.

This story doesn’t feel like a story. There’s no plot, and nothing really happens. But read closely, and you’ll see an important message about how girls are taught to live restricted lives since childhood.


“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is a classic tale about a Mongoose who regularly visits a family in India. The family feeds him and lets him explore their house, but they worry that he might bite their son, Teddy.

One day, when a snake is about to attack Teddy, the Mongoose kills it. This event helps the family accept the mongoose into their family.

This is a simple story about humans and animals living together as friends. It’s old, but the language is fairly easy to understand. It reminds us that animals can also experience feelings of love and, like humans, they will also protect the ones they love.

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is part of Kipling’s short story collection “The Jungle Book,” which was famously made into a movie by Disney.

Little Dorrit (Penguin Classics)

Dorrit is a child whose father has been in prison ever since she could remember. Unable to pay their debts, the whole family is forced to spend their days in a cell. Dorrit dreams of seeing the world outside their little cell.

This excerpt (short part of a larger work) introduces you to the family and their life in prison. The novel is about how they manage to get out and how Dorrit never forgets the kindness of the people who helped her.

Injustice in law is often reserved for the poor. “Little Dorrit” shows the government jailing people for not being able to return their loans, a historical practice the writer hated since his own father was punished in a similar way.

To Build a Fire and Other Tales of the North

A man travels to a freezing, isolated place called Yukon with only his dog for company. Throughout his journey, he ignores the advice other people have given him and takes his life for granted.

Finally, he realizes the real power of nature and how fragile (easily broken) human life actually is.

Nature is often seen as a powerful force that should be feared and respected. The animal in this story is the one who’s cautious and sensible in this dangerous situation. By the end, readers wonder who is really intelligent—the man who could not deal with nature, or the dog who could survive?

This is a modern-day story that describes a group of children gathering around their father to watch little spiders hatch out of their eggs. But the story gets a different meaning as it nears the end. What do you think happened?

26. “Evil Robot Monkey ” by Mary Robinette Kowal

english short stories

Sly is a character who doesn’t fit into society. He’s too smart for the other chimps, but humans don’t accept him. He is punished for acting out his natural emotions.

But the way he handles his rage, in the end, makes him look more mature than most human beings. Nominated for the  Hugo award , many readers have connected with Sly since they can see similarities in their own lives.

“The Boarded Window” is a horror story about a man who has to deal with his wife’s death. The setting is a remote cabin in the wilderness in Cincinnati, and he feels helpless as she gets sick.

There’s an interesting twist to this story, and the ending will get you thinking (and maybe feeling a bit disturbed!).

If you enjoy older stories with a little suspense, this will be a good challenge for you. It talks about the event that made a hermit decide to live alone for decades, with a mysterious window boarded up in his cabin. It also uses a lot of psychology and symbolism, so you may want to read the story more than once to understand everything it has to say.

The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre

Be careful what you wish for! One man finds this out the hard way when he brings a magical monkey’s paw home from India. This paw is supposed to grant three wishes to three people. People start to wish on it, only to realize that our wishes can have severe consequences.

The characters in this story immediately regret when their wishes come true. Even though they get what they wanted, it comes at a large cost!

This short story is from the early 1900s and uses some outdated English, but it’s still easy to follow. It reminds us that there are no shortcuts in life, and to be wary if something seems too good to be true.

This story centers around Titania and Oberon, two fairy characters from Shakespeare’s famous play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The two fairies are having a rough time in their marriage when they find a human child. They decide to adopt him, hoping that he’ll help them save their relationship. However, the child develops a deadly, modern disease and the fairies have no idea what to do since they have never known illness or death.

This is a tragic tale about how they try to understand something they’ve never seen before and their deep love for a stranger who is so unlike them. The story explores the grief of parenthood and the uncertainty of knowing whether your child will ever even know you.

The Story Of An Hour

This story, written by a woman, is a sad look inside an unhappy marriage. Mrs. Mallard is a woman with heart troubles. When her husband dies, the people who come to give her this news tell it to her gently, so she doesn’t have a shock.

Mrs. Mallard busts into tears and locks herself in her room. At first, she’s upset by the news. But the more she considers it, the more excited she becomes about the idea of the freedom that would come from her husband’s death.

What happens, then, when her husband comes home after an hour, alive and well?

The story explores the conflicting range of the human emotions of grief and hope in a short span, and the impact it can have on a person’s mind and body.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was one of the deadliest accidents of the twentieth century. This is a story about that event seen through the eyes of a father and his sons, who were all unfortunate enough to be close to the disaster area.

The story exposes the whole system of corruption that led to a massive explosion taking innocent lives and poisoning multiple generations. The technical vocabulary and foreign words make this text a little more difficult. However, its plot is relatively easy to follow.

The story is divided into small parts that make it both easy and exciting to read. Its various events show what it was like to live in the former Soviet Union . And just like any other good story, it’s also about human relationships and how they change due to historic events.

The Velveteen Rabbit

A simple, stuffed rabbit toy is given to a young boy as a Christmas present. At first, the rabbit isn’t noticed, as the boy is distracted by much fancier gifts. While being ignored, the rabbit begins to wonder what it means to be “real.”

One day, a certain event brings the rabbit into contact with the boy, and changes the toy’s life forever.

Have you ever loved a toy or doll so much, that you treated it as if it were alive? This story shows the power of love from a very unexpected viewpoint: that of a fluffy stuffed rabbit. It also highlights the importance of self-value, being true to yourself and finding strength in those who love you.

Tradition is important in this school, where the boys always go to fetch water for the class. The girls are teased for being “weaker,” and are last to get other privileges, like having the first choice of magazines. One day, a girl asks the teacher why girls aren’t allowed to get the water, as well. This one question causes a big reaction and leads to a huge change.

The girl’s courage surprises everyone, but it also inspires other girls to stand up for themselves. One act from one brave person can lead to change and inspire others. The story reflects on gender equality and how important it is to fight for fairness. Just because something is accepted as “normal,” doesn’t mean it is right!

Hills Like White Elephants

At a Spanish train station, an American man and a young woman wait for a train that would take them to the city of Madrid. The woman sees some faraway hills and compares them to “white elephants.” This starts a conversation between the two of them, but what they discuss seems to have a deeper meaning.

This is another very well-known story that asks you to “read between the lines” to find the hidden meaning behind the text. Much of the story is a back-and-forth dialogue between two people, but you can tell a lot about them just from what they say to each other.

There’s a lot of symbolism that you can analyze in this story, along with context clues. Once you realize what the real topic of the characters’ conversation is, you can figure out the quiet, sadder meaning behind it.

Short stories are effective in helping English learners to practice all four aspects of language learning: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Here’s how you can make the most out of short stories as an English learner:

Some of the short stories above are available in video format on FluentU , which is an online English immersion program.

english short stories

In addition to short story videos, the program has many types of authentic videos like movie clips, music videos and inspirational talks. These can help you work on your listening comprehension and pronunciation alongside your reading skills. Each video has interactive subtitles and a video dictionary for unfamiliar words.

I hope you have fun with these English short stories while improving your English language skills.

Happy reading!

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How to Write a Short Story in 5 Steps

Lindsay Kramer

Short stories are to novels what TV episodes are to movies. Short stories are a form of narrative writing that has all the same elements as novels—plot, character development, point of view, story structure, theme—but are delivered in fewer words. For many writers, short stories are a less daunting way to dive into creative writing than attempting to write a novel . This doesn’t mean writing short fiction is easy—it, like every other kind of writing, comes with its own unique challenges. 

If you’re wondering how to write a short story, we’re here to help. We’ve got tips for everything from coming up with short story ideas to fleshing out a plot to getting your work published in literary magazines. 

Here’s a tip: Want to make sure your writing shines? Grammarly can check your spelling and save you from grammar and punctuation mistakes. It even proofreads your text, so your work is extra polished wherever you write.

Your writing, at its best Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly

What is a short story?

A short story is a short, self-contained work of fiction that generally falls between 1,000 and 10,000 words. 

Because of this length constraint, short stories tend to be less complex than longer works—in certain ways. In a short story, you can build a world, but not to the extent you can build a world in a (longer) novel. Similarly, you can have multiple fleshed-out characters, but you can’t give every character a full backstory and meaningful character arc like you can in a lengthier work. Generally, long, intricate plots with multiple subplots are better suited to novel-length works than a short story. 

Don’t take this to mean your short story’s theme can’t be as deep as a longer work’s theme. You don’t need an extensive world with a complex magical system and an entire cast of three-dimensional characters to express a theme effectively. While short stories have fewer words, simpler settings, and smaller casts than novels, they can have just as much of an impact on readers. If you’re looking to read a powerful short story and see how other authors communicate substantive themes in just a few thousand words, check out these famous, impactful works:

How long should a short story be?

Like we said in the previous section, short stories typically contain between 1,000 and 10,000 words. Stories longer than 10,000 (but shorter than 40,000) words are generally considered novellas . You might even come across the term novelette to refer to a story between 7,500 and 17,000 words. Once you hit about 50,000 words, you’re in novel territory (and you’ve won NaNoWriMo!) 

Stories that clock in under 1,000 words are known as flash fiction and stories of 500 words or fewer are considered microfiction .  

There’s really no limit to how short a story can be, though. Consider Hemingway’s famous six-word story: 

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In just six words, Hemingway evokes an entire scene and the backstory that led to that scene. This is an extreme example of a short story, and it relies on the reader extrapolating meaning from the words, but because it does so successfully, it counts as a short story. 

What’s in a short story?

Every short story has these five elements:

Characters are the people (or animals, aliens, mythical creatures, or sentient objects) who do the action in your story. Your protagonist is the character who undergoes some kind of change (or lack thereof) as a result of the story’s main conflict. Your antagonist is the character (or something abstract) attempting to prevent the protagonist’s change. To clarify, the antagonist doesn’t have to be a person—it could be the protagonist’s environment, their society, or even an aspect of themselves. 

>>Read More: What Is Direct Characterization in Literature?

Plot is the series of events that illustrate the story’s conflict. When you’re writing a short story, it’s generally best to start your plot as close to the end as possible. In other words, if your story is about an alien who visits Earth and then retreats, horrified, back to her spaceship, start your story just as she’s approaching Earth or just as she’s touching down. You can build up a backstory later through tools like dialogue, flashbacks, and the protagonist’s actions. With a short story, you don’t have space for a lengthy exposition, so drop your readers right into the action. 

A short story’s theme is its central message. This is the point the author wants readers to take away from their work. 

Conflict is the action that drives the story’s plot. It’s the obstacle the protagonist has to overcome or the goal they’re attempting to reach. A conflict can be internal, like our example alien setting out to prove to herself that she can manage a mission to Earth on her own, or it can be external, like the protagonist striving to prove to her society that Earth is a worthwhile planet with which to establish a relationship. 

Setting is the time and place where a story’s action occurs. For example, our alien story’s setting might be Nevada in 1955. 

How to write a short story

Mine your imagination.

Just like every other type of writing, a short story starts with brainstorming . In fact, the process for writing a short story is the same writing process you use for other kinds of writing, like essays and presentations. 

Ask yourself this: What do I want my short story to be about? Jot that down. Do you already have a clear idea of who your characters are or the setting they’ll inhabit? Or are you starting with a theme you want to convey, and now you need to develop a story to express that theme?

Start your brainstorming session with the elements you already have, then flesh out your story idea from there. Write down your setting, your characters, the conflict they face, and any key plot points you have in mind. You can fill in details later; right now, the goal is to have some rough data to use for your outline. 

Don’t move on to outlining until you’ve defined your story’s conflict. Without a conflict, you don’t have a story. Although all of the five elements listed above are necessary for writing a great short story, conflict is the one that drives your plot, shapes your characters, and enables you to express your theme. 

The next step in writing short fiction is outlining your story. 

When you outline your story, you organize the notes from your brainstorming session into a coherent skeleton of your finished story. Outlining your story is a key part of prewriting because it’s where you develop your story’s framework and sketch out how each scene follows the previous scene to advance the plot. This stage is where you determine any plot twists or big reveals and fit them into the story’s sequence. 

Next, it’s time to write. 

Don’t worry about grammatical mistakes—you’ll fix them later. 

Don’t worry about your narration or dialogue being extraneous or not making complete sense—you’ll fix that later too. Right now, you’re working on a rough draft. Just get that story out of your imagination and onto the page without being self-conscious about it. 

Keep that first draft as tight as possible. You’re writing a short story, after all, so be economical with your words. Keep these tips in mind as you write :

Once you have a finished first draft, let it rest. If you have the luxury of waiting a day or so to come back and read what you wrote, do that. That way, you can read your writing again with fresh eyes, which makes it easier to spot inconsistencies and plot holes. 

Then it’s time to edit. Read your writing again and note any places where you can make the writing more descriptive, more concise, more engaging, or simply more logical. At this stage, it can be very helpful to work with readers’ feedback. If you’re comfortable sharing your work and receiving constructive criticism, share your rough draft with friends and family—and, if possible, with other writers—and let their feedback guide the revisions you make.  

Move past creative blocks

So you’ve got writer’s block. 

Writer’s block can strike at any point in the writing process. You might have a great idea for a short story, then find yourself struggling as you try to brainstorm ways to transform that idea into a narrative. Or you might have no problem brainstorming and creating a coherent outline, but then feel like you’re running into a wall as you try to write linear scenes and craft realistic dialogue that advances the plot. Or maybe you aren’t stuck in the sense that you don’t know what to write, but you’re having a hard time determining the most effective way to write it.  

It happens to every writer.

Because writer’s block is such a universal condition, we gathered up a few helpful tips you can use to defeat writer’s block and write effective, engaging scenes:

Give a writing prompt a shot

If getting started is what’s giving you a hard time, consider using a writing prompt . A writing prompt is like kindling for your short story. They’re generally brief, at just a sentence or two, and describe scenarios writers flesh out into full-fledged stories. Run a web search for  “writing prompts” and you’ll find a ton. You can even tailor your search to a specific genre, like “horror writing prompts” or “romantic comedy writing prompts.”

Skip the scene and work backward

When a particular scene is what’s making it difficult to move forward, skip it. There’s no rule that says you have to write your short story in order. Just move ahead to the next scene that you can write, and then when you’re finished, revisit the challenging one. In many cases, it’s easier to write a scene once you know what happens after it. 

We’ve talked about writing sprints before. They’re a great way to make yourself write faster . When it comes to busting through that brick wall of writer’s block, sprinting can put you into a mindset where you’re writing words, any words, just to reach the word count goal you set. You probably won’t craft publishable prose this way, but you’ll likely find creative ways through the difficult scenes that you can build on later.

Where to distribute your short story

If you’re like most authors, one of your goals is to publish your story. 

There are two main ways to do that: traditional publishing and self-publishing. 

In the short fiction world, traditional publishing generally means having your work published in a literary magazine. There are thousands of literary magazines currently being published around the world, each with a unique combination of editorial focus, publishing schedule, submission process, acceptance rate, and payment for authors.

Some literary magazines accept nearly every story they receive. Others select very few—as in, a single-digit percentage of the stories submitted—to publish. You can find literary magazines and contests through resources such as Poets & Writers , Duotrope , and Writer’s Digest . 

If you’ve got a collection of short stories that together are approximately book-length, you can also query agents to have your work published that way. A few well-known short story collections include The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin.

The other way to publish your work is self-publishing. With self-publishing, you don’t need to have your work greenlit by a magazine editor or a publishing house. Although that hurdle isn’t present, self-publishing can be a complex process. As a self-published author, you’re responsible for everything, including these elements:

Whether self-publishing is the right route for your story depends on your goals for the story. If you’re looking to have your work featured in a widely circulated magazine, guaranteeing that thousands of people (or more!) read it, traditional publishing is the way to go. If your priority is to simply get your work out there, or if you want total control of every part of building your platform as an author, self-publishing can be the perfect choice. 

Popular self-publishing platforms include Kindle Direct Publishing , CreateSpace , Apple Books , and Barnes & Noble Press . Each has a unique publishing process and royalty rate for authors. 

You can also self-publish your short story on your blog . Blogs are personal (and professional) outlets for writing, and if you’ve got a story to tell and don’t want to go through the process of getting it published or going the “traditional” self-publishing route, you can create a blog and publish your work there. 

Finding a writing community

For many authors, being part of a writing community is a key part of staying in regular writing practice and striving to grow as a writer. Writing communities exist online and offline, with some existing as simply places for writers to connect with each other and others offering up more structure, like a regular critique schedule. There are also writing communities built around writing challenges like NYC Midnight and NaNoWriMo .

If you think you’d benefit from being part of a writing community, find one that fits what you’re looking for—or start one yourself! You can find writing communities on social media and through websites like Other places to look for writing groups are local libraries and bookstores and if you’re a student, your university. Being part of a writing community can help you get your work published in two ways:

Tell your story with confidence

We all have stories inside us. Writing your story is what makes you an author, and even the most accomplished authors need help catching grammar mistakes and other issues in their writing. That’s what makes Grammarly an ideal writing assistant. Write what’s in your heart and on your mind, then when it’s time to edit, Grammarly will catch any mistakes you might have missed, flag wording that isn’t clear, and suggest the right tone for telling your tale. 

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Squat, beige and Soviet, the Marie Antoinette Apartments stood against the stale gray Minneapolis sky. Irony of the worst kind, he thought, blandly ugly and unconscious. He would take exquisitely self-aware irony any day over this three-story architectural monstrosity, “classed up” with tacked on ionic Greek columns, harsh blue LED Christmas lights wrapped inexpertly around them, canned Christmas classics pumping through the air.God, this place was only better than minimum security prison by a hair. But it was all he cou...

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Note: brief reference to ableist languageRachel stood at the kitchen sink watching the snow fall softly over the back yard, muffling the world in its white overcoat. She wanted to wrap her mind up the same snug way, but in the living room, her husband was watching some show where commentators loudly traded barbs and lobbed insults at each other. The noise was incessant. Oh! The noise, noise, noise, noise! she thought, visualizing herself poised on a snowy crag, ear cocked to the Whos down in Whoville bel...

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As a child, I would hide in the coat closet, taking advantage of the door that wouldn’t close, as I watched my mother command the items around the house to do her bidding with the smallest gesture. The moment she heard a sound, the items would set themselves down as if they hadn’t been acting of their own accord just moments earlier. My father would come home and rant and rave about more and more witche...

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Henry & Gwen go to White Castle - and fall in love: Newberry woman's burger essay honored

long essay story

Family and food, the two go together like bread and butter, or in this case – bread and burger.  

As trends come and go, it's the long-practiced traditions that withstand the test of time.

For Deborah Doemland, of Newberry Township, an enthusiast of all-things White Castle, her burger journey holds not just a love for the fast-food restaurant's famous sliders, but also a connection to her family’s rich history.

Doemland recalled the story of her grandparents’ simple yet memorable first date, which occurred in 1925, just four years after the burger joint opened.

“Grandpa (Henry Decker) was in college, and took Grandma (Guinevere Kreutz) to a movie, and then a White Castle in New Jersey for sliders and coffee.”

In the early moments of that dinner date, inside the blue and white porcelain steel building, the two shared sliders, laughter and a delicious memory.

“In his own words, grandpa said that’s when he was smitten with grandma,” who went by Gwen.

Their love for the family-owned hamburger chain became a cherished family tradition, passed down to their children and grandchildren.

One of these traditions is held every Aug. 21, called "Slider Day," where Doemland and her husband drive to Allentown, home of Pennsylvania's only White Castle restaurant, and pick up a handful of "craver clutch" boxes, containing sliders and fries, they later distribute to relatives.

"Then we go around to our family and friends that we can reach in Carlisle, Stevensville, and deliver them and then we talk about grandma and grandpa - it just keeps them in everyone's hearts."

Doemland continues to carry the torch of her grandparents’ devotion to White Castle, recently with an honor – an induction into the White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame.

More: York County's 2023 Distinguished Young Woman: Namya Jindal of Dallastown Area High School

More: Believe it or not, Ripleigh got roses from Taylor Swift for ice creams honoring singer

White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame: 'A tribute to my family'

Every year, the family-owned burger chain inducts a new set of White Castle fans, or cravers, into a Hall of Fame. The honorees receive free travel to White Castle's home office in Columbus, Ohio and attend a reception in their honor.

Thousands each year submit essays that paint a picture of the ways people make memories and connect over White Castle. Some tales are funny, others are personal and heartfelt.

Doemland's essay detailed the celebrated holidays she created for the entire family to enjoy their shared heritage.

Included in her essay were "Nancy Foose Day," where Doemland's family members enjoy frozen strawberry treats in honor of her great-grandmother Nancy, who loved strawberry ice cream, and "Slider Day," which honors her grandparents' first date, falling in love over sliders and coffee.

"This was a tribute to my family and my grandparents - I loved them dearly," Doemland said.

Each inductee takes home a plaque commemorating the distinction, and White Castle fans everywhere will get to know them via their personal stories featured on the iconic Slider boxes, which will roll out later this year.

"When we got there, I met the other inductees and heard their stories. By the end, it was like we were family - it was surreal."

For Doemland, White Castle is more than just a burger chain restaurant, it brought her closer to family and allowed for new traditions to be made and celebrated.

Lena Tzivekis is a Central pa reporter. Have a story? Email her at  [email protected] , or message her on Twitter at  @tzivekis

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Guest Essay

There’s Another Businessman Who Wants to Run America

Vivek Ramaswamy before a 2024 campaign backdrop and a U.S. flag.

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Katherine Miller

By Katherine Miller

Ms. Miller is a staff writer and editor in Opinion.

GOOSE LAKE, Iowa — “We’re like a bunch of blind bats. We human beings are, we millennials are, we Americans are,” Vivek Ramaswamy riffed. “We can’t see where we are.”

Bats send sonar signals, which bounce off objects and allow the mammals to navigate. “So we do that, we send out our signals, and it bounces off something that is true, something that is real, like family. The two parents who brought me into this world, my mother and father. The two children who I brought into this world,” he went on. “That is real. That is true. That means something to me.”

In person, his presentation is a lot more intense; it is also about a bleaker landscape of American life than the bright version of Trumpism he’s trying to project.

“We’re hungry for a cause,” Mr. Ramaswamy, who is 37, said of millennials when he spoke on a recent Friday night in Iowa, in a navy suit and white dress shirt, walking the stage and not pausing too often for applause. “We’re hungry for purpose and meaning. And identity. At a point in our national history when the things that used to fill that void — things like faith, patriotism, hard work, family — these things have disappeared.” Instead, he said, “poison” and “secular cults” had taken their place.

All of this — the bats and the void and the disappearance of our families from the collective American identity — was delivered to a county committee dinner in a friendly ballroom with an open bar, a buffet, patriotic decorations and a fun local musician playing country hits from the past.

This is what a pro-capitalism candidate looks like in post-Trump Republican politics, in which the emphasis is on the creation of a national identity in the face of spiritual emptiness and the idea that big business and the customer aren’t always right.

The next morning, at campaign events held at one of those cool digital driving ranges and at a pizza place with a beautiful old tin ceiling, the American identity crisis talk continued. “There’s more to life than just the aimless passage of time, going through the motions,” he said standing in front of what looked like a floor-to-ceiling image of a Pebble Beach fairway. “You’re more than the genetic attributes you inherited on the day you were born,” he went on to say. “You are you.”

He is technically the business candidate, but not really. This is the elite corporate executive as culture warrior. Mr. Ramaswamy’s pitch in Iowa was not about the application of free-market principles to the federal government, at least not in the way you might expect from a pre-Trump Republican business candidate. Nor was it economic populism, either, not really, because his idea isn’t so much that corporations are ripping you off; it’s that they’re in bad-faith league with one another to advance liberal pieties.

Theoretically, he could be doing a business pitch. Mr. Ramaswamy started a pharmaceutical investment and drug development company that picked up pharmaceutical projects abandoned by other companies and aimed to bring the drugs to market. In 2020, as chief executive, he refused to support Black Lives Matter and in 2021 was an author of a Wall Street Journal opinion essay arguing that online platforms were censoring people when they blocked accounts in the chaotic aftermath of Jan. 6, 2021. He has published three books critiquing the environmental, social and governance practices of BlackRock and other fund managers and started an anti-E.S.G. asset management firm.

As Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review pointed out , Mr. Ramaswamy has chosen to “download and internalize” MAGA moods — shutting down the F.B.I., replacing the A.T.F., raising the voting age to 25 unless you pass a civics test or serve in the military or as an emergency worker. These are the kinds of proposals that are drafted to please and anger the right people and never happen. He’s given $10,000 to the defense fund of Daniel Penny, the man accused of second-degree manslaughter in the subway chokehold death of Jordan Neely, and his campaign is selling a coffee mug that reads “truth,” with the words “wokeism,” “climatism” and “transgenderism” crossed out above. He has repeatedly portrayed trans people as mentally ill.

As a Ramaswamy campaign memo recently said , “The mistake every other campaign is making is that they see their path to the nomination through Trump, when our path is alongside Trump.” In reality, many Republican politicians have seen their path alongside Donald Trump as they wait for someone else to break him like a big piñata.

Mr. Ramaswamy wants to restore an American identity that, in speeches, involves a lot of concepts but rarely anecdotes. That identity would involve the pursuit of excellence, which he described in an interview along vague, traditional lines — people achieving their maximal potential, free of societal hindrance. He contended this ethic is absent from corporate life. “I think that part of this is psychological, that in the moment people feel compelled to apologize for excellence,” he told me. To “be accepted as cool,” the most successful “have to apologize for the system that got them there by sticking the word ‘stakeholder’ in front of it,” he said and called “the racial equity agenda” an “example of prioritizing a different value.”

Mr. Ramaswamy came up in an elite world where some people employ the idea of charity or progressive impulses to get ahead, first in admissions, then in business, and they sometimes become deluded or self-interested ethical consumers. “Whatever justice is, surely it can’t be attained so incidentally, by just picking the right shirts, the right burgers and the right bankers,” he writes in the book “Woke, Inc.” He’s bothered by that thing many also dislike, which is a hedge fund putting in place a superficial diversity effort intended to disrupt as little as possible to prevent a lawsuit or make money, or a corporation with an aspirational brand made of cotton produced in the Xinjiang region of China.

This is the world summarized by Sam Bankman-Fried last year in a D.M . he later claimed he thought was off the record: “this dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us.”

In “Woke, Inc.,” Mr. Ramaswamy’s solution is to separate politics and business. He argues that both stakeholder capitalists and Milton Friedman devotees miss something in the corporate system we have: A sole focus on fiduciary duty and profit maximization keeps corporations from becoming extragovernmental bodies like Dutch colonial trading companies.

But it’s also not as if the only time anyone cares about racism in America is to sell Pepsi or to get into Columbia. The practical implications of keeping business and politics separate become complicated quickly for this reason; the economy is made up of millions of individuals who live in the larger world. “This is a business,” as Dolly Parton said of her decision to remove “Dixie,” the nickname for the South often associated with the Confederacy, from the Stampede, two dinner show attractions she owns. She didn’t want to offend prospective customers. What if Chick-fil-A wants to stay closed on Sundays? What if a company wants to market fratty beer to trans people and supporters as customers in and of themselves? What counts as maximizing profit or respecting the employees, and what counts as politics? What is politics?

Over the past decade, many presidential candidates — especially the long-shot , unconventional kinds in both parties — have talked in secular-spiritual ways about voids in American life and the corruption among elites. There are different theories of the case (technological change, inequality, institutional decline, loneliness), including the omnipresence of corporations and the emptiness of material goods for justice. The vision that markets and capitalism would liberalize the world and accelerate the realization of a pluralistic America, full of choice and privacy and respect, has begun to dim.

Mr. Ramaswamy has isolated a problem in that vision (the hollowness of so much of corporate social policy). His national-identity-based explanation for the void is winning with some post-Trump conservative politicians who see the “power, dominion, control and punishment” that Mr. Ramaswamy said he believes are behind climate activism in much of American elite life. It’s a lean time for the sunnier version of a capitalist pitch — in which climate change is a problem but also a business opportunity, just like the valued employees and customers in a pluralistic, ever-changing American society.

Katherine Miller is a staff writer and editor in Opinion.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram .


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