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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 !

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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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Telling the Story of Yourself: 6 Steps to Writing Personal Narratives

Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue

writing personal narratives

Table of Contents

Why do we write personal narratives, 6 guidelines for writing personal narrative essays, inspiring personal narratives, examples of personal narrative essays, tell your story.

First off, you might be wondering: what is a personal narrative? In short, personal narratives are stories we tell about ourselves that focus on our growth, lessons learned, and reflections on our experiences.

From stories about inspirational figures we heard as children to any essay, article, or exercise where we're asked to express opinions on a situation, thing, or individual—personal narratives are everywhere.

According to Psychology Today, personal narratives allow authors to feel and release pains, while savouring moments of strength and resilience. Such emotions provide an avenue for both authors and readers to connect while supporting healing in the process.

That all sounds great. But when it comes to putting the words down on paper, we often end up with a list of experiences and no real structure to tie them together.

In this article, we'll discuss what a personal narrative essay is further, learn the 6 steps to writing one, and look at some examples of great personal narratives.

As readers, we're fascinated by memoirs, autobiographies, and long-form personal narrative articles, as they provide a glimpse into the authors' thought processes, ideas, and feelings. But you don't have to be writing your whole life story to create a personal narrative.

You might be a student writing an admissions essay , or be trying to tell your professional story in a cover letter. Regardless of your purpose, your narrative will focus on personal growth, reflections, and lessons.

Personal narratives help us connect with other people's stories due to their easy-to-digest format and because humans are empathising creatures.

We can better understand how others feel and think when we were told stories that allow us to see the world from their perspectives. The author's "I think" and "I feel" instantaneously become ours, as the brain doesn't know whether what we read is real or imaginary.

In her best-selling book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains that the human brain craves tales as it's hard-wired through evolution to learn what happens next. Since the brain doesn't know whether what you are reading is actual or not, we can register the moral of the story cognitively and affectively.

In academia, a narrative essay tells a story which is experiential, anecdotal, or personal. It allows the author to creatively express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Its length can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to hundreds of pages.

Outside of academia, personal narratives are known as a form of journalism or non-fiction works called "narrative journalism." Even highly prestigious publications like the New York Times and Time magazine have sections dedicated to personal narratives. The New Yorke is a magazine dedicated solely to this genre.

The New York Times holds personal narrative essay contests. The winners are selected because they:

had a clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changed in some way. They artfully balanced the action of the story with reflection on what it meant to the writer. They took risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure and word choice to develop a strong voice. And, perhaps most important, they focused on a specific moment or theme – a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit – instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in 600 words.

In a nutshell, a personal narrative can cover any reflective and contemplative subject with a strong voice and a unique perspective, including uncommon private values. It's written in first person and the story encompasses a specific moment in time worthy of a discussion.

Writing a personal narrative essay involves both objectivity and subjectivity. You'll need to be objective enough to recognise the importance of an event or a situation to explore and write about. On the other hand, you must be subjective enough to inject private thoughts and feelings to make your point.

With personal narratives, you are both the muse and the creator – you have control over how your story is told. However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines.

1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story

As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should set the tone, while the body should focus on the key point(s) you want to get across. The conclusion can tell the reader what lessons you have learned from the story you've just told.

2. Give Your Personal Narrative a Clear Purpose

Your narrative essay should reflect your unique perspective on life. This is a lot harder than it sounds. You need to establish your perspective, the key things you want your reader to take away, and your tone of voice. It's a good idea to have a set purpose in mind for the narrative before you start writing.

Let's say you want to write about how you manage depression without taking any medicine. This could go in any number of ways, but isolating a purpose will help you focus your writing and choose which stories to tell. Are you advocating for a holistic approach, or do you want to describe your emotional experience for people thinking of trying it?

Having this focus will allow you to put your own unique take on what you did (and didn't do, if applicable), what changed you, and the lessons learned along the way.

3. Show, Don't Tell

It's a narration, so the narrative should show readers what happened, instead of telling them. As well as being a storyteller, the author should take part as one of the characters. Keep this in mind when writing, as the way you shape your perspective can have a big impact on how your reader sees your overarching plot. Don't slip into just explaining everything that happened because it happened to you. Show your reader with action.

dialogue tags

You can check for instances of telling rather than showing with ProWritingAid. For example, instead of:

"You never let me do anything!" I cried disdainfully.
"You never let me do anything!" To this day, my mother swears that the glare I levelled at her as I spat those words out could have soured milk.

Using ProWritingAid will help you find these instances in your manuscript and edit them without spending hours trawling through your work yourself.

4. Use "I," But Don't Overuse It

You, the author, take ownership of the story, so the first person pronoun "I" is used throughout. However, you shouldn't overuse it, as it'd make it sound too self-centred and redundant.

ProWritingAid can also help you here – the Style Report will tell you if you've started too many sentences with "I", and show you how to introduce more variation in your writing.

5. Pay Attention to Tenses

Tense is key to understanding. Personal narratives mostly tell the story of events that happened in the past, so many authors choose to use the past tense. This helps separate out your current, narrating voice and your past self who you are narrating. If you're writing in the present tense, make sure that you keep it consistent throughout.

tenses in narratives

6. Make Your Conclusion Satisfying

Satisfy your readers by giving them an unforgettable closing scene. The body of the narration should build up the plot to climax. This doesn't have to be something incredible or shocking, just something that helps give an interesting take on your story.

The takeaways or the lessons learned should be written without lecturing. Whenever possible, continue to show rather than tell. Don't say what you learned, narrate what you do differently now. This will help the moral of your story shine through without being too preachy.

GoodReads is a great starting point for selecting read-worthy personal narrative books. Here are five of my favourites.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, the author of 386 books, wrote this poetic story about a daughter and her father who went owling. Instead of learning about owls, Yolen invites readers to contemplate the meaning of gentleness and hope.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. This Holocaust memoir has a strong message that such horrific events should never be repeated.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This classic is a must-read by young and old alike. It's a remarkable diary by a 13-year-old Jewish girl who hid inside a secret annexe of an old building during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1942.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This is a personal narrative written by a brave author renowned for her clarity, passion, and honesty. Didion shares how in December 2003, she lost her husband of 40 years to a massive heart attack and dealt with the acute illness of her only daughter. She speaks about grief, memories, illness, and hope.

Educated by Tara Westover

Author Tara Westover was raised by survivalist parents. She didn't go to school until 17 years of age, which later took her to Harvard and Cambridge. It's a story about the struggle for quest for knowledge and self-reinvention.

Narrative and personal narrative journalism are gaining more popularity these days. You can find distinguished personal narratives all over the web.

Curating the best of the best of personal narratives and narrative essays from all over the web. Some are award-winning articles.


Long-form writing to celebrate humanity through storytelling. It publishes personal narrative essays written to provoke, inspire, and reflect, touching lesser-known and overlooked subjects.

Narrative Magazine

It publishes non,fiction narratives, poetry, and fiction. Among its contributors is Frank Conroy, the author of Stop-Time , a memoir that has never been out of print since 1967.

Thought Catalog

Aimed at Generation Z, it publishes personal narrative essays on self-improvement, family, friendship, romance, and others.

Personal narratives will continue to be popular as our brains are wired for stories. We love reading about others and telling stories of ourselves, as they bring satisfaction and a better understanding of the world around us.

Personal narratives make us better humans. Enjoy telling yours!

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Jennifer Xue is an award-winning e-book author with 2,500+ articles and 100+ e-books/reports published under her belt. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, Esquire,, Business2Community, Addicted2Success, Good Men Project, and others. Her blog is Follow her on Twitter @jenxuewrites].

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10 Personal Narrative Examples to Inspire Your Writing

Personal narratives are short pieces of creative nonfiction that recount a story from someone’s own experiences. They can be a memoir, a thinkpiece, or even a polemic — so long as the piece is grounded in the writer's beliefs and experiences, it can be considered a personal narrative.

Despite the nonfiction element, there’s no single way to approach this topic, and you can be as creative as you would be writing fiction. To inspire your writing and reveal the sheer diversity of this type of essay, here are ten great examples personal narratives from recent years: 

1. “Only Disconnect” by Gary Shteyngart

best personal narrative essays college

Personal narratives don’t have to be long to be effective, as this thousand-word gem from the NYT book review proves. Published in 2010, just as smartphones were becoming a ubiquitous part of modern life, this piece echoes many of our fears surrounding technology and how it often distances us from reality.

In this narrative, Shteyngart navigates Manhattan using his new iPhone—or more accurately, is led by his iPhone, completely oblivious to the world around him. He’s completely lost to the magical happenstance of the city as he “follow[s] the arrow taco-ward”. But once he leaves for the country, and abandons the convenience of a cell phone connection, the real world comes rushing back in and he remembers what he’s been missing out on. 

The downfalls of technology is hardly a new topic, but Shteyngart’s story remains evergreen because of how our culture has only spiraled further down the rabbit hole of technology addiction in the intervening years.

What can you learn from this piece?

Just because a piece of writing is technically nonfiction, that doesn’t mean that the narrative needs to be literal. Shteyngart imagines a Manhattan that physically changes around him when he’s using his iPhone, becoming an almost unrecognizable world. From this, we can see how a certain amount of dramatization can increase the impact of your message—even if that wasn’t exactly the way something happened. 



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2. “Why I Hate Mother's Day” by Anne Lamott

The author of the classic writing text Bird by Bird digs into her views on motherhood in this piece from Salon. At once a personal narrative and a cultural commentary, Lamott explores the harmful effects that Mother’s Day may have on society —how its blind reverence to the concept of motherhood erases women’s agency and freedom to be flawed human beings. 

Lamott points out that not all mothers are good, not everyone has a living mother to celebrate, and some mothers have lost their children, so have no one to celebrate with them. More importantly, she notes how this Hallmark holiday erases all the people who helped raise a woman, a long chain of mothers and fathers, friends and found family, who enable her to become a mother. While it isn’t anchored to a single story or event (like many classic personal narratives), Lamott’s exploration of her opinions creates a story about a culture that puts mothers on an impossible pedestal. 

In a personal narrative essay, lived experience can be almost as valid as peer-reviewed research—so long as you avoid making unfounded assumptions. While some might point out that this is merely an opinion piece, Lamott cannily starts the essay by grounding it in the personal, revealing how she did not raise her son to celebrate Mother’s Day. This detail, however small, invites the reader into her private life and frames this essay as a story about her —and not just an exercise in being contrary.

3. “The Crane Wife” by CJ Hauser 

Days after breaking off her engagement with her fiance, CJ Hauser joins a scientific expedition on the Texas coast r esearching whooping cranes . In this new environment, she reflects on the toxic relationship she left and how she found herself in this situation. She pulls together many seemingly disparate threads, using the expedition and the Japanese myth of the crane wife as a metaphor for her struggles. 

Hauser’s interactions with the other volunteer researchers expand the scope of the narrative from her own mind, reminding her of the compassion she lacked in her relationship. In her attempts to make herself smaller, less needy, to please her fiance, she lost sight of herself and almost signed up to live someone else’s life, but among the whooping cranes of Texas, she takes the first step in reconnecting with herself.

With short personal narratives, there isn’t as much room to develop characters as you might have in a memoir so the details you do provide need to be clear and specific. Each of the volunteer researchers on Hauser’s expedition are distinct and recognizable though Hauser is economical in her descriptions. 

For example, Hauser describes one researcher as “an eighty-four-year-old bachelor from Minnesota. He could not do most of the physical activities required by the trip, but had been on ninety-five Earthwatch expeditions, including this one once before. Warren liked birds okay. What Warren really loved was cocktail hour.” 

In a few sentences, we get a clear picture of Warren's fun-loving, gregarious personality and how he fits in with the rest of the group.


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4. “The Trash Heap Has Spoken” by Carmen Maria Machado

The films and TV shows of the 80s and 90s—cultural touchstones that practically raised a generation—hardly ever featured larger women on screen. And if they did, it was either as a villain or a literal trash heap. Carmen Maria Machado grew up watching these cartoons, and the absence of fat women didn’t faze her. Not until puberty hit and she went from a skinny kid to a fuller-figured teen. Suddenly uncomfortable in her skin, she struggled to find any positive representation in her favorite media.

As she gets older and more comfortable in her own body, Machado finds inspiration in Marjory the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock and Ursula, everyone’s favorite sea witch from The Little Mermaid —characters with endless power in the unapologetic ways they inhabit their bodies. As Machado considers her own body through the years, it’s these characters she returns to as she faces society’s unkind, dismissive attitudes towards fat women.

Stories shape the world, even if they’re fictional. Some writers strive for realism, reflecting the world back on itself in all its ugliness, but Carmen Maria Machado makes a different point. There is power in being imaginative and writing the world as it could be, imagining something bigger, better, and more beautiful. So, write the story you want to see, change the narrative, look at it sideways, and show your readers how the world could look. 

5. “Am I Disabled?” by Joanne Limburg 

The titular question frames the narrative of Joanne Limburg’s essay as she considers the implications of disclosing her autism. What to some might seem a mundane occurrence—ticking ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘prefer not to say’ on a bureaucratic form—elicits both philosophical and practical questions for Limburg about what it means to be disabled and how disability is viewed by the majority of society. 

Is the labor of disclosing her autism worth the insensitive questions she has to answer? What definition are people seeking, exactly? Will anyone believe her if she says yes? As she dissects the question of what disability is, she explores the very real personal effects this has on her life and those of other disabled people. 

Limburg’s essay is written in a style known as the hermit crab essay , when an author uses an existing document form to contain their story. You can format your writing as a recipe, a job application, a resume, an email, or a to-do list – the possibilities are as endless as your creativity. The format you choose is important, though. It should connect in some way to the story you’re telling and add something to the reader’s experience as well as your overall theme. 



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6. “Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard

best personal narrative essays college

While out on a walk in the woods behind her house, Annie Dillard encounters a wild weasel. In the short moment when they make eye contact, Dillard takes an imaginary journey through the weasel’s mind and wonders if the weasel’s approach to life is better than her own. 

The weasel, as Dillard sees it, is a wild creature with jaws so powerful that when it clamps on to something, it won’t let go, even into death. Necessity drives it to be like this, and humanity, obsessed with choice, might think this kind of life is limiting, but the writer believes otherwise. The weasel’s necessity is the ultimate freedom, as long as you can find the right sort, the kind that will have you holding on for dear life and refusing to let go. 

Make yourself the National Geographic explorer of your backyard or neighborhood and see what you can learn about yourself from what you discover. Annie Dillard, queen of the natural personal essay, discovers a lot about herself and her beliefs when meeting a weasel.

What insight can you glean from a blade of grass, for example? Does it remind you that despite how similar people might be, we are all unique? Do the flights of migrating birds give you perspective on the changes in your own life? Nature is a potent and never-ending spring of inspiration if you only think to look. 


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7. “Love In Our Seventies” by Ellery Akers

“ And sometimes, when I lift the gray hair at the back of your neck and kiss your shoulder, I think, This is it.”

In under 400 words, poet Ellery Akers captures the joy she has found in discovering romance as a 75-year-old . The language is romantic, but her imagery is far from saccharine as she describes their daily life and the various states in which they’ve seen each other: in their pajamas, after cataract surgeries, while meditating. In each singular moment, Akers sees something she loves, underscoring an oft-forgotten truth. Love is most potent in its smallest gestures.  

Personal narrative isn’t a defined genre with rigid rules, so your essay doesn’t have to be an essay. It can be a poem, as Akers’ is. The limitations of this form can lead to greater creativity as you’re trying to find a short yet evocative way to tell a story. It allows you to focus deeply on the emotions behind an idea and create an intimate connection with your reader. 

8. “What a Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew” by Mariama Lockington

best personal narrative essays college

Mariama Lockington was adopted by her white parents in the early 80s, long before it was “trendy” for white people to adopt black children. Starting with a family photograph, the writer explores her complex feelings about her upbringing , the many ways her parents ignored her race for their own comfort, and how she came to feel like an outsider in her own home. In describing her childhood snapshots, she takes the reader from infancy to adulthood as she navigates trying to live as a black woman in a white family. 

Lockington takes us on a journey through her life through a series of vignettes. These small, important moments serve as a framing device, intertwining to create a larger narrative about race, family, and belonging. 

With this framing device, it’s easy to imagine Lockington poring over a photo album, each picture conjuring a different memory and infusing her story with equal parts sadness, regret, and nostalgia. You can create a similar effect by separating your narrative into different songs to create an album or episodes in a TV show. A unique structure can add an extra layer to your narrative and enhance the overall story.

9. “Drinking Chai to Savannah” by Anjali Enjeti

On a trip to Savannah with her friends, Anjali Enjeti is reminded of a racist incident she experienced as a teenager . The memory is prompted by her discomfort of traveling in Georgia as a South Asian woman and her friends’ seeming obliviousness to how others view them. As she recalls the tense and traumatic encounter she had in line at a Wendy’s and the worry she experiences in Savannah, Enjeti reflects on her understanding of otherness and race in America. 

Enjeti paints the scene in Wendy’s with a deft hand. Using descriptive language, she invokes the five senses to capture the stress and fear she felt when the men in line behind her were hurling racist sentiments. 

She writes, “He moves closer. His shadow eclipses mine. His hot, tobacco-tinged breath seeps over the collar of my dress.” The strong, evocative language she uses brings the reader into the scene and has them experience the same anxiety she does, understanding why this incident deeply impacted her. 

10. “Siri Tells A Joke” by Debra Gwartney

One day, Debra Gwartney asks Siri—her iPhone’s digital assistant—to tell her a joke. In reply, Siri recites a joke with a familiar setup about three men stuck on a desert island. When the punchline comes, Gwartney reacts not with laughter, but with a memory of her husband , who had died less than six months prior.

In a short period, Gwartney goes through a series of losses—first, her house and her husband’s writing archives to a wildfire, and only a month after, her husband. As she reflects on death and the grief of those left behind in the wake of it, she recounts the months leading up to her husband’s passing and the interminable stretch after as she tries to find a way to live without him even as she longs for him. 

A joke about three men on a deserted island seems like an odd setup for an essay about grief. However, Gwartney uses it to great effect, coming back to it later in the story and giving it greater meaning. By the end of her piece, she recontextualizes the joke, the original punchline suddenly becoming deeply sad. In taking something seemingly unrelated and calling back to it later, the essay’s message about grief and love becomes even more powerful.

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Home — Essay Types — Personal Narrative Essay

Personal Narrative Essay Examples

In the realm of personal narrative essays, personal narrative essay examples serve as a compelling platform for individuals to share their unique stories, experiences, and perspectives. These essays are more than just pieces of personal history; they are windows into the human condition. However, a key factor in crafting a memorable personal narrative essay lies in selecting the right topic. In this article, we'll delve into the art of choosing personal narrative essay topics and explore their significance in creating a meaningful and engaging narrative.

Finding Ideas for a Personal Narrative Essay

The first step in the journey of crafting a captivating personal narrative essay is finding ideas and inspiration. Inspiration often resides within our own lives and experiences:

  • Reflecting on Personal Experiences: Personal narrative essays draw their strength from real-life encounters and observations. Take time to reflect on moments that have left a lasting impact on you.
  • Exploring Emotions and Memories: Emotions are the lifeblood of personal narratives. Recall events that stirred powerful emotions within you, whether it was joy, fear, anger, or love.
  • Identifying Life-Changing Moments: Sometimes, our most profound stories revolve around events that changed the course of our lives. Identify these turning points and consider how they have shaped you.

By utilizing these ideas for a personal narrative essay, you will unlock a wealth of storytelling potential. Reflecting on personal experiences , exploring emotions and memories, and identifying life-changing moments will enable you to tap into the richness of your own life.

Popular Personal Narrative Essay Ideas and Topics

Now, let's explore some popular personal narrative essay ideas that encompass a wide range of experiences and emotions:

Childhood Memories

  • First Day of School : Delve into the nerves, excitement, and anticipation of your very first day of school. What did it teach you about resilience and adaptability?
  • A Memorable Family Vacation: Share the details of a family vacation that etched memories into your heart. What made it unforgettable, and how did it shape your bond with your family?
  • A Childhood Friendship: Reflect on a cherished childhood friendship. Explore the lessons you learned about trust, loyalty, and the bittersweet passage of time.

Life-changing Experiences

  • Overcoming a Fear or Phobia: Narrate an experience where you conquered a deep-seated fear or phobia. What steps did you take, and what did it reveal about your inner strength?
  • A Pivotal Life Decision: Share the story of a critical decision that altered the course of your life. What factors weighed on your choice, and what did you gain or lose?
  • An Unexpected Adventure: Recount an unexpected adventure that took you out of your comfort zone. What challenges did you face, and how did you grow as a person?

Personal Growth and Reflection

  • A Lesson Learned from a Mistake: Explore a mistake you made and the valuable lesson it taught you. How did this experience shape your decision-making and personal growth?
  • Achieving a Personal Goal: Celebrate the journey of achieving a personal goal. Reflect on the obstacles you overcame and the determination that fueled your success.
  • A Moment of Self-Discovery: Share a moment when you discovered something profound about yourself. How did this newfound self-awareness impact your life and relationships?

Tips for Choosing the Right Topic

When it comes to selecting topics for personal narratives, making the right choice is essential to craft a compelling and meaningful story. Your chosen topic forms the foundation of your narrative, shaping its tone, relevance, and impact on your readers. Selecting the right personal narrative essay topics is crucial. Here are some tips to guide your choice:

  • Connecting with Your Audience: Consider your target audience and choose a topic that will resonate with them. Your narrative should evoke emotions and experiences that your readers can relate to.
  • The Importance of Authenticity: Authenticity is the key to a compelling personal narrative. Choose a topic that genuinely reflects your experiences and emotions. Readers can sense when a story is authentic.
  • Balancing Significance and Relatability: While dramatic events make for engaging narratives, even seemingly small moments can hold immense significance. Balance the significance of the event with its relatability to your audience.

In the realm of personal narrative essays, the choice of topic serves as the foundation upon which the narrative is built. It determines whether your story will resonate with readers and leave a lasting impression. Personal narrative essay examples can illustrate how a well-chosen topic can make your narrative more engaging and relatable. As we conclude this exploration of personal narrative essay topics, remember that your life is a treasure trove of stories waiting to be shared. Whether it's a childhood memory, a life-changing experience, or a moment of self-discovery, the power of your narrative lies in your ability to choose the right topic and let your unique voice shine through. So, embrace your experiences, and embark on a journey of storytelling that captivates, inspires, and connects with others.

Embark on a journey through this writing guide, where personal narrative examples aren’t merely presented; they leap off the page, enveloping us in a world where stories don’t just speak—they roar, resonate, and sometimes, perform a whimsical dance. In this realm, personal narrative examples serve as our guideposts, illuminating the path to crafting narratives that are as authentic as they are compelling.

What is a Personal Narrative Essay Examples

A personal narrative essay is a type of essay that tells a story from the author’s own life experiences and perspectives. It is a form of creative nonfiction in which the author shares a personal story, event, or incident that holds meaning or significance. Personal narrative essays often aim to engage the reader by providing a vivid and emotional account of the author’s experiences.

When crafting a personal narrative essay, it’s essential to find valuable personal narrative essay examples to guide you. This type of writing demands a unique approach, where external research is unnecessary. Draw from your personal experiences and explore your ideas from a personal point of view. The purpose of such essays is to let you work on a certain topic by using analysis and by turning to reflective writing practices. 

The examples of personal narrative essays may relate to anything from bullying to the way social media affects our perception of body image in a negative way. Likewise, if you are majoring in Journalism or Political Sciences, you may take any topic that would relate to what you are currently exploring unless you have already been provided with an essay prompt. In either case, you must take your time to focus on your opinion and things that inspire you the most. If you can keep your writing interesting and unique, it will always show as you write.

Comparing personal narrative essays with research essays sheds light on distinct approaches to storytelling and analysis. While personal narrative essays delve into personal experiences and reflections, research essays delve into data-driven analysis and findings. To gain deeper insights into these essay types, explore research essay examples uncovered on our site. Research essays present a systematic examination of a topic, drawing from scholarly sources and empirical evidence, whereas Personal Narrative essays offer subjective accounts of individual experiences. By reviewing examples of both genres, you can discern their unique characteristics and appreciate the diversity of essay writing styles.

Personal narrative essays are a popular form of writing that allow individuals to share their personal experiences, stories, and insights. In the infographics we’ve prepared, you can find a most common types of personal narrative essays:

Types of Personal Narrative Essays

These are some of the most common types of personal narrative essays, each with its unique focus and storytelling approach. The choice of type depends on the author’s personal experiences and the message they want to convey.

How to Write a Personal Narrative Essay

Writing a personal narrative essay is a creative and introspective process that enables you to share a piece of your life with others. If you’re wondering how to write a personal narrative essay, here are 5 key steps to help you get started:

  • Choose a Meaningful Experience : Select a personal experience that has had a significant impact on your life. Whether it’s a moment of growth, a life-changing event, or a cherished memory, pick a topic that resonates with you.
  • Plan Your Narrative : Create an outline to organize your thoughts. Highlight the main events or moments you want to include and decide on the order in which you’ll present them. This will provide structure to your essay.
  • Engage Your Audience : Craft a captivating introduction that immediately grabs the reader’s attention. You can use vivid descriptions, a compelling question, or a thought-provoking quote. Establish the setting and context to draw the reader into your story.
  • Tell Your Story : In the body of your essay, narrate your story chronologically. Describe the events, emotions, and thoughts you experienced. Utilize descriptive language to create a vivid picture for the reader, immersing them in your narrative.
  • Reflect and Conclude : Conclude your essay by reflecting on the significance of the experience. Share what you’ve learned, how it has affected you, and the message or insight you want to leave with your reader. Summarize the key points to make a lasting impression.

Writing a personal narrative essay allows you to share your unique experiences and connect with your audience on a personal level. By carefully selecting your topic, crafting a compelling narrative, and reflecting on its importance, you can create an impactful and memorable essay. If you’re looking for an example of a personal narrative essay , studying well-crafted essays can provide valuable insights into the structure and storytelling techniques that make them effective.

Incorporating these steps into your writing process will help you craft a compelling and meaningful personal narrative essay that resonates with your audience.

Writing a Personal Narrative Essay: Tips and Tricks

Writing a personal narrative is an art form that invites readers into your world, offering them a glimpse of your experiences, emotions, and reflections. Whether you’re crafting a personal narrative essay for a class, a publication, or your satisfaction, the following tips and tricks, illustrated with personal narrative essay examples, can help you create a compelling and resonant story.

  • Start with a Strong Hook. Engage your readers from the very beginning with a captivating hook. This could be a thought-provoking question, a surprising fact, or a vivid scene. For example, a personal narrative example might begin with a dramatic moment that immediately places the reader in the heart of the story.
  • Focus on a Significant Moment. A personal narrative should center around a significant moment or series of events that had a profound impact on you. This doesn’t have to be a life-altering event, but it should be meaningful enough to warrant exploration. Personal narrative essay examples often highlight a turning point that offers insight into the writer’s growth or change.
  • Include Sensory Details. Bring your story to life with sensory details. Describe what you saw, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted to help the reader experience the event as you did. A personal narrative essay example might describe the aroma of a grandmother’s kitchen or the texture of a rough sea to immerse the reader fully.
  • Explore Your Emotions and Reflections. The heart of a personal narrative lies in your introspection and emotional journey. Discuss how the events affected you, what you learned, and how you changed. Personal narrative essay examples excel when they delve deep into the writer’s emotional landscape, offering honest and relatable reflections.
  • Use Dialogue Effectively . Incorporating dialogue can add dynamism to your narrative, bringing characters to life and moving the story forward. Ensure that the dialogue sounds natural and contributes to the development of the story or the understanding of the characters. A well-chosen dialogue in a personal narrative example can illustrate a relationship or a pivotal moment vividly.
  • Structure Your Narrative with Care. While a personal narrative may not follow a traditional plot structure, having a clear beginning, middle, and end is crucial. Lead your readers through the events with a purposeful narrative arc, guiding them toward the resolution or the main point of your story. Personal narrative examples show how an effectively structured narrative can enhance the impact of the story.
  • Revise and Edit. A great personal narrative doesn’t just happen on the first draft. Revise your work for clarity, coherence, and conciseness. Pay attention to grammar and punctuation, and consider feedback from readers to refine your narrative. Personal narrative essay examples that resonate the most are often those that have been carefully polished.
  • Reflect on the Universality of Your Experience . While a personal narrative is inherently personal, reflecting on the universal themes within your story can connect with a broader audience. Consider how your personal experiences touch on larger truths or common human experiences. A personal narrative essay that captures universal themes becomes relatable and impactful.

By following these tips and tricks and studying personal narrative essay examples, you can craft a personal narrative that not only tells your story but also touches the hearts and minds of your readers. Remember, a personal narrative is a gift of your perspective, a glimpse into your world that can enlighten, entertain, and inspire.

How to Structure a Personal Narrative Essay: Examples

Turning to personal narrative structure , you are mostly allowed to approach a free style where you may keep your narration according to your preferences, yet it’s recommended to keep your topics narrowed down to a certain period of time or a take on things if that speaks of your life’s experience. To create an engaging and well-structured personal narrative essay , follow these essential elements:

  • Introduction : Set the Stage
  • Start with a hook: Begin your essay with an attention-grabbing sentence or anecdote that draws readers in.
  • Provide context: Introduce the setting, time, and place of your story.
  • Present the thesis statement: Clearly state the main idea or message you want to convey through your narrative.
  • Background Information : Build the Foundation
  • Offer background details: Provide essential information about the characters, setting, and circumstances relevant to your story.
  • Develop characters: Describe the key individuals involved, including yourself, if applicable.
  • Plot Development : Unfold the Story
  • Sequence events: Organize the events of your narrative in chronological order to maintain clarity.
  • Build tension: Use rising action to create anticipation and interest in the narrative.
  • Climax: Present the turning point or the most significant moment of your story.
  • Descriptive Detail s: Paint a Vivid Picture
  • Utilize sensory imagery: Engage readers’ senses by describing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings.
  • Use vivid language: Employ descriptive adjectives and metaphors to enhance the reader’s understanding of your experiences.
  • Reflection and Analysis : Share Insights
  • Reflect on the significance: Explain why the experience was meaningful or how it impacted you.
  • Offer personal insights: Share your thoughts, emotions, and personal growth resulting from the experience.
  • Conclusion : Wrap It Up
  • Summarize the story: Provide a concise summary of the main events and their outcomes.
  • Reinforce the thesis: Reiterate the key message or lesson learned.
  • End with a powerful closing: Leave readers with a thought-provoking statement, a lesson, or a reflection.
  • Editing and Proofreading : Polish Your Essay
  • Revise for clarity: Ensure the narrative flows smoothly and is easy to follow.
  • Check for grammar and spelling errors: Use tools like Grammarly to eliminate mistakes.
  • Seek feedback: Have someone else review your essay for constructive input.
  • Title : Choose an Engaging Title
  • Craft a title that captures the essence of your narrative and intrigues potential readers.

Remember, personal narrative essays allow you to share your unique experiences and perspectives, making them compelling and relatable to your audience. By following this structured approach, you can create a well-crafted and engaging personal narrative essay.

How to Start a Personal Narrative Essay

Starting a personal narrative essay can be both exciting and challenging. To help you embark on this writing journey effectively, here are 5 key points on how to start a personal narrative essay :

P1. Choose an Engaging Topic: Begin by selecting a compelling and personal experience as your essay’s focus. Reflect on moments from your life that had an impact, taught you a lesson, or evoked strong emotions. Your chosen topic should resonate with both you and your potential readers.

P2. Create a Captivating Hook: Grab your readers’ attention right from the start. You can use a catchy anecdote, a thought-provoking question, a relevant quote, or a vivid description to engage your audience. The hook sets the tone for your narrative.

P3. Develop a Clear Thesis Statement: In a personal narrative essay, your thesis statement should convey the central message or lesson you want to share through your story. It serves as a roadmap for your essay, guiding both you and your readers throughout the narrative.

P4. Organize Your Ideas: Outline the main events and details you want to include in your essay. Ensure a logical flow of events, from the introduction to the climax and resolution. Organizing your thoughts beforehand will make the writing process smoother.

P5. Show, Don’t Just Tell: Use descriptive language and vivid imagery to paint a picture for your readers. Let them experience the emotions and sensations you felt during the event. Showcasing your experiences through sensory details helps create a more immersive narrative.

By following these 5 key points on how to start a personal narrative essay , you can begin your essay-writing journey with confidence and captivate your readers from the very beginning.

Personal Narrative Examples to Inspire Your Writing

A personal narrative essay example , such as this personal narrative essay example about life , is a written piece that serves as an illustration or personal narrative essay sample. It is a real-life essay that an author has written to share a personal experience or story, often in the first-person perspective.

Free personal narrative essay examples are used to demonstrate how to structure and craft a personal narrative essay, showcase effective storytelling techniques, and provide inspiration and guidance to other writers who may be working on their own personal narratives. They are valuable resources for both students and writers looking to understand the art of personal storytelling and how to effectively convey their own experiences through essays.

Good Personal Narrative Essay Samples

Good examples of personal narratives serve as effective tools for enhancing your comprehension. Here are some excellently crafted narrative essay examples. Take the time to thoroughly analyze them and leverage their guidance to create a well-written essay of your own.

Short Free Personal Narrative Essay Examples

Dive into these brief yet impactful stories for inspiration and insights into crafting your own compelling personal narratives.

Examples of Personal Narrative Essays for College

These narratives delve into diverse experiences, offering valuable insights and storytelling inspiration for those navigating the world of higher education. Dive into these narratives to discover the power of personal storytelling in a college context.

Personal Narrative Essay Examples for High School

These narratives are tailored to resonate with high school students, providing a valuable glimpse into personal experiences, challenges, and moments of growth.

Checklist for Writing a Personal Narrative Essay

While it is considered that no thesis statement is necessary for a personal narrative essay, you should keep your main thought throughout as you deal with a certain topic. See our free personal narrative essay examples and brainstorm various ideas before you start. Don’t forget to check our helpful checklist to make sure that you follow the general structure rules for this essay: 

  • You write in the first person.
  • Your tone is narrative and explanatory where and if necessary.
  • You keep up with the same idea and avoid vague statements.
  • You have a strong hook or some fact in your introduction.
  • You bring out a moral lesson in your conclusion part.
  • There are transitions and topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph. ( Use words like “Therefore”, “As a result of”)

Although it’s a personal narrative, make sure that you choose your topic wisely by exploring the objectives and checking your grading rubric twice! 

Exploring the Essence of Personal Narrative Examples

Diving into today’s exploration, we’ve encountered the enchanting essence of personal narratives. Far from mere storytelling, these narratives act as vibrant conduits for conveying messages, rendering abstract ideas tangible, and forging authentic human connections. Whether deployed in a polished professional presentation, a candid conversation, or the draft of your latest writing endeavor, the strategic integration of a well-crafted story can significantly amplify your message.

Navigating the art of personal storytelling requires a balanced approach—aim for authenticity without veering into the realm of TMI (Too Much Information), and strive to captivate without tipping into melodrama. The arenas for employing these personal narratives are boundless. Whether in formal professional environments or spontaneous casual interactions, a memorable story can leave a lasting impression, elevating you in the minds of your audience.

In conclusion, mastering the art of crafting personal narrative essays involves not only understanding the intricacies of storytelling but also appreciating the nuanced form of memoir essays. By dissecting a memoir essay example , writers can glean valuable insights into narrative structure, thematic elements, and emotional resonance, thereby enhancing their storytelling prowess.

Narrative: Why Softball Is Important in My Life

Softball has been a significant part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has shaped me into the person I am today, teaching me valuable lessons both on and off the field. The sport has given me a sense of belonging,…

Personal Narrative: a Day I Lost My Best Friend

It was a day that started like any other, with the sun rising in the sky and the birds chirping outside my window. It was a day that would change my life forever, a day I lost my best friend. I had known Sarah since…

The Impact of a Funeral: a Personal Narrative

Death is an inevitable part of life that we all must face at some point. For me, the experience of attending a funeral was a significant event that left a lasting impact on my life. In this essay, I will explore the emotional, psychological, and…

Personal Narrative: Confirmation Changed My Life

Confirmation is a significant event in the Catholic Church where individuals reaffirm their faith and commitment to the teachings of the Church. For many, including myself, this sacrament marks a pivotal moment in their spiritual journey. My own confirmation experience was a transformative one that…

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Personal Narrative: I Am a Perfectionist

Personal Narrative Essay: I Am A Perfectionist As long as I can remember, I have always been a perfectionist. From the smallest details to the biggest tasks, I have always strived for perfection. It has shaped my personality, influenced my choices, and impacted my relationships….

Personal Narrative: My Fear of Failure

Failure is an inherent part of life, and it is something that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. However, for some individuals, including myself, the fear of failure can become debilitating, leading to feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, and a reluctance to take risks….

Narrative about Losing My Dad

It was a warm summer day when my world was turned upside down. I received a phone call that would change my life forever. My dad had been in a car accident, and the news was not good. I rushed to the hospital, my heart…

Personal Narrative on Winning The Lottery

Winning the lottery is a dream that many people have. The thought of suddenly coming into a large sum of money can be exhilarating and life-changing. For me, winning the lottery was something that I had never even considered. I had always seen it as…

Personal Narrative: from Childhood to Adulthood

The transition from childhood to adulthood is a significant and transformative period in an individual’s life. It is a time of immense personal growth, self-discovery, and the development of independence. This personal narrative aims to explore my journey from childhood to adulthood, highlighting the key…

Personal Narrative: The Hero’s Journey

The concept of the Hero’s Journey has been a fundamental aspect of storytelling for centuries. Originating from mythologist Joseph Campbell’s theory, the Hero’s Journey outlines the common stages that a hero undergoes in their quest for growth, transformation, and self-discovery. This narrative structure has been…

What is a personal narrative essay?

In most cases, you must take ideas that deal with a personal narrative that can be a story from your life or a case that you have been involved in. You should write from the first person. Personal narrative examples include writing about your birthday or meeting your best friend in middle school. The topics should inspire you and have a beginning with a hook sentence, content, and a conclusion.

How to write personal narrative essays?

Regardless of what subject you may write about, most personal narrative essays should include an argumentation or a lesson. Ask yourself about what can your audience learn when reading your story. It may be a little difficult to write at first, yet start with a brief introduction, thesis, and a story itself with a powerful conclusion. See our free personal narrative essay to see how it can be done right.

What is the purpose of a personal narrative essay?

The primary purpose is to share a personal experience or story, allowing readers to connect with the author on a deeper level. It may also convey a lesson, moral, or reflection.

How do I choose a topic for my personal narrative essay?

Select a topic that holds personal significance, such as a life-changing event, memorable journey, or lesson learned. Choose something that resonates with you.

What makes a personal narrative essay compelling?

Vivid descriptions, sensory details, and emotional connections make a personal narrative essay compelling. Show, don't just tell the story.

Can I write a humorous personal narrative essay?

Absolutely! Personal narrative essays can be humorous, serious, or a mix of both, depending on the tone you want to convey.

How do I conclude a personal narrative essay effectively?

Summarize the main events, reiterate the central message or lesson, and end with a thought-provoking statement or reflection.

What is the recommended word count for a personal narrative essay?

The word count can vary, but a typical personal narrative essay may range from 500 to 1,500 words. It's best to follow the guidelines provided by your instructor or publication if applicable.

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best personal narrative essays college

Narrative Essay Writing

Narrative Essay Examples

Cathy A.

20+ Top Narrative Essay Examples by Experts

12 min read

Published on: Apr 12, 2020

Last updated on: Mar 24, 2024

narrative essay examples

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Narrative essays are a common assignment in school, but many students struggle to write them. 

The problem with narrative essays is that they can be difficult to write. They require students to think about their own experiences and to put those experiences into words. This can be a challenge, especially for students who are not used to writing about themselves.

The solution to the problem of writing narrative essays is to provide students with examples. By reading examples of narrative essays, students can see how other students have successfully written about their own experiences. 

In this blog post, we will provide you with examples of narrative essays.By the end of this blog post, you will have a better understanding of how to write a narrative essay.

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Before writing, go through narrative essay examples to ensure that outlining and formatting are done correctly. Moreover, looking at examples will allow the writer to understand sensory details and vocabulary to describe events, settings, characters, and emotions.

Here are some famous narrative essays that you can consider adding to your reading wishlist:

“A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift

“Once More to the Lake” by EB White

“The Fourth of July” by Audre Lorde

“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

“The Crisis” by Thomas Paine

But it doesn't end here! To help our students, has gathered many other narrative essay sample. These examples will help you learn the correct formation of a narrative essay.

Read on to discover!

Personal Narrative Essay Example

Are you looking for a sample to draft a personal narrative essay ? Go through the example provided below to understand how the first-person and third-person perspectives are used in a narrative essay.

Sample Personal Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay Example for Middle School

A narrative essay is frequently assigned to middle school students to assess their writing and creative skills. If you are a student looking for a sample narrative essay for your middle school assignment, go through the example provided below.

Narrative Essay Example: 7th Grade

Narrative Essay Example for Grade 8

Grade 9 Narrative Essay Example

Sample Narrative Essay Grade 12

Narrative Essay Example for High School

When drafting assignments for high school, professional writing is essential. Your essays and papers should be well structured and written in order to achieve better grades. If you are assigned a narrative essay, go through the sample provided to see how an effective essay is written.

Sample Narrative Essay For High School

Good Narrative Essay Examples for College

College essays are more complex in nature than other academic levels. They require a better understanding of the concept, following a proper writing procedure, and an outline.

Although you are to draft a narrative essay for your college assignment, make sure it is professionally written. Read the sample narrative essay provided below.

Descriptive Narrative Essay Example

If you are to draft a document on the recreation of an event, a descriptive narrative essay is written. It presents an incident that happened to the writer and the backed-up information that supports the story.

The following is a perfect example of a descriptive narrative essay.

Sample Descriptive Narrative Essay

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Literacy Narrative Essay Example

Academic assignments often require students to draft essays on education. Education is the most significant topic of discussion, and for this purpose, almost every essay type and research paper studies it.

If you are drafting a narrative essay on literacy, go through the sample provided.

Fictional Narrative Essay Example

Drafting a fictional piece of document requires a more vivid description and detail. If you are assigned a narrative essay to draft on a fictional theme, read the example provided below.

Sample Fictional Narrative Essay

The Essentials of Narrative Essays

In a narrative essay, the goal is to write a story from one person's perspective. To do this well requires incorporating all of these aspects: 

Below are some golden points that you should keep in mind when writing a narrative essay.

  • Chronological order is the most common way to present information.
  • A thesis statement has a function in an essay. This is typically evident in the opening paragraph.
  • The writer's argument is clearly communicated through the use of sensory details and vivid language.
  • This draws the reader in and makes them interested in what the writer has to say. Everything in the passage is somehow related to the main point.

How to Start a Narrative Essay?

When you start writing the narrative essay, you should follow some steps and make your writing process easy.

For your help, we gathered some steps that you should follow when starting writing the essay.

  • Choose a narrative essay topic that is engaging and interesting.
  • Do some research and then start writing the essay.
  • Create an outline.
  • Start writing the essay. The way you describe things should be creative and colorful. Thus, the reader can feel as if they are right there with what's happening.
  • Proofread the essay before submitting it.

Watch the video below for tips on how to write a narrative essay:

Narrative Essay Writing Tips 

Professional essay writers of have gathered some tips and tricks for you to follow to make your narrative essay remarkable. Even if you are aware of the writing procedure, it is advised to use expert tips to make your documents flawless. 

Follow the tips provided below to draft an exceptional narrative essay.

  • Clear Content: The narrative essay content should be clear. All the details and descriptions provided should be readable and understandable by the audience. Avoid using complex words and distribute content into paragraphs.
  • Keep it concise: Avoid describing every minor detail or movement. Provide only explanations that are important for the readers to imagine. 
  • Use first-person perspective: To make something believable and interesting for the readers, state it from the first-person perspective. Share your personal experiences, stories, and opinions to make the content impactful. 
  • Use limited referencing: When drafting an essay, according to the instructed format, avoid using frequent in-text citations. 
  • Use Clear Stance: Write your point of view clearly, so the readers feel that it is a genuine piece of writing. 

Keep in mind that a narrative essay is different from an expository essay but the same as a descriptive essay .  

In conclusion,

Using the tips provided by the professionals and going through the narrative essay examples will let you draft an effective paper. 

Looking for top-tier essay writing help online ?

Our narrative essay writing service offers unparalleled expertise to bring your stories to life with clarity and creativity.

Also, elevate your writing journey with the best essay writer , our AI-driven tool that combines cutting-edge technology with user-friendly functionality. Experience the blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern innovation in your next essay. Try it now!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is a narrative paragraph.

Paragraphs vary in length depending on the content, but a standard 5-sentence paragraph usually isn't enough to tell an interesting story. 

How do I write a narrative essay?

Here are some steps that will help you to write a great narrative essay. 

  • Consider the topic 
  • Start writing the draft 
  • Provide supporting facts 
  • Revise your essay 

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best personal narrative essays college

best personal narrative essays college

Narrative Essay Topics: TOP 200 Choices for Students

best personal narrative essays college

Imagine yourself facing a blank page, ready to fill it with your memories and imagination. What story will you tell today?

As students, you often have to write narratives that capture people's attention. But with so many stories to choose from, where do you start? How do you find the perfect topic that will grab our readers' interest and make them think?

Join our essay service experts as we explore 200 topics for college where stories are waiting to be told, and experiences are ready to be shared. From everyday events to unforgettable moments, each topic is a chance to connect with your readers and make them feel something.

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Ideas for Narrative Essay Topics

After exploring how students write narrative paragraphs, we've put together a list of narrative essay topics designed specifically for college and school students. This list covers a wide range of subjects, so pick one that speaks to you! If you want to see how to develop a topic into a written essay, check out our narrative essay example . 

Literacy Narrative Essay Topics for College Students

How about delving into captivating literacy narrative essay topics designed specifically for college-level writing? Exciting, isn't it?

  • How did a childhood book shape your view of the world?
  • What challenges did you face when learning to read in a second language?
  • How has storytelling within your family influenced your literacy journey?
  • Can you recall a pivotal moment that ignited your love for reading?
  • How did a specific teacher inspire your passion for literature?
  • Have you ever encountered a character in a book who profoundly impacted your perspective on life?
  • What role did writing play in helping you navigate a difficult period in your life?
  • How has your relationship with technology affected your reading habits?
  • What cultural or historical event sparked your interest in a particular genre of literature?
  • How has poetry shaped your understanding of language and emotion?
  • Have you ever experienced a breakthrough moment in your writing process?
  • How has reading aloud impacted your comprehension and enjoyment of literature?
  • Can you recall a time when a book challenged your beliefs or worldview?
  • How has participating in a book club enriched your reading experience?
  • What strategies have you developed to overcome reading difficulties or distractions?

Personal Narrative Essay Topics on Relationships

Take a moment to reflect on your past experiences and craft compelling personal narratives with these essay ideas.

  • How did a specific friendship shape who you are today?
  • Can you recount a moment that strengthened your bond with a family member?
  • What challenges have you faced in maintaining a long-distance relationship?
  • How has a mentor influenced your personal and professional development?
  • Have you experienced a betrayal in a relationship? How did it impact you?
  • Can you describe a memorable conflict resolution process within a relationship?
  • How has your relationship with a pet affected your emotional well-being?
  • What lessons have you learned from navigating a romantic relationship?
  • How has your relationship with a sibling evolved over time?
  • Can you recall a time when you had to set boundaries in a friendship?
  • How has volunteering or community involvement enriched your relationships?
  • What cultural differences have influenced your relationships with others?
  • Can you share a moment when you felt truly understood by someone?
  • How has technology affected the dynamics of your relationships?
  • Have you ever experienced a reconciliation that transformed a strained relationship?

Best Narrative Essay Topics on Education and Learning

Consider the beauty of sharing your personal experiences and emotions in a captivating manner through these ideas for personal narrative essays.

  • What was the most valuable lesson you learned outside of the classroom?
  • Can you recount a moment when a teacher's unconventional method transformed your understanding of a subject?
  • How has a field trip or experiential learning opportunity impacted your education?
  • What challenges have you faced in balancing extracurricular activities with academics?
  • Have you ever had a "Eureka!" moment while studying? Describe it.
  • How has learning a new skill outside of school influenced your academic performance?
  • Can you recall a time when a peer's perspective challenged your own understanding of a topic?
  • How has technology enhanced or hindered your learning experience?
  • What role does creativity play in your approach to learning?
  • Have you ever experienced a setback that ultimately propelled you forward academically?
  • How has your cultural background influenced your learning style?
  • Can you describe a time when you had to advocate for yourself within an educational setting?
  • How has mentorship shaped your educational journey?
  • What strategies have you employed to overcome academic challenges or obstacles?
  • Can you reflect on a time when failure taught you a valuable lesson about learning?

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Personal Narrative Essay Ideas on Reflection on Life

Why not ignite your creativity with a range of narrative essay topics, from extraordinary moments to everyday experiences?

  • How has a moment of failure ultimately led to personal growth and resilience?
  • Can you recount a pivotal decision that significantly altered the course of your life?
  • What lessons have you learned from navigating a crossroads or major life transition?
  • How has your perspective on success evolved over time?
  • Can you reflect on a time when you had to confront and overcome a deeply held fear?
  • What role has gratitude played in shaping your outlook on life?
  • How have your values and beliefs been influenced by significant life experiences?
  • Can you describe a moment when you found clarity and purpose amidst chaos or uncertainty?
  • What impact has traveling to a new place had on your understanding of the world and yourself?
  • How has adversity strengthened your character and determination?
  • Can you recall a time when a random act of kindness profoundly impacted your life?
  • What lessons have you learned from embracing vulnerability and authenticity in relationships?
  • How has practicing mindfulness or self-reflection enhanced your well-being and happiness?
  • Can you reflect on a period of personal transformation or self-discovery?
  • How have you found meaning and fulfillment in pursuing your passions and interests?

Ideas for a Narrative Essay on Culture and Society

Engaging your readers with narrative essays on culture and society is a great way to spark interest, offering captivating ideas for exploration.

  • How has your family's unique culinary heritage influenced your cultural identity?
  • Can you reflect on a specific cultural artifact or heirloom that holds deep significance for your family?
  • What challenges have you faced in preserving traditional customs while adapting to modern societal expectations?
  • How has a local festival or celebration revealed the intricacies of your community's cultural tapestry?
  • Can you recount a moment when you navigated a cultural clash between your upbringing and the dominant culture?
  • How has your experience as a first-generation immigrant shaped your understanding of cultural assimilation?
  • What lessons have you learned from participating in intercultural exchange programs or initiatives?
  • Can you describe a unique cultural practice or tradition within your community that outsiders might find intriguing or misunderstood?
  • How has the revitalization of indigenous languages contributed to the preservation of cultural heritage in your region?
  • Can you reflect on a personal journey of reconnecting with your cultural roots after a period of assimilation or disconnection?
  • What role does storytelling play in passing down cultural wisdom and values within your family or community?
  • How has the portrayal of your culture in mainstream media affected your sense of belonging and self-perception?
  • Can you recount a moment when you challenged cultural stereotypes through creative expression or advocacy?
  • How has the migration of a specific cultural group enriched the social fabric and economic landscape of your community?
  • What initiatives or grassroots movements are currently underway to promote cross-cultural understanding and cooperation in your society?

Since you're working on essays, we think it's suitable to suggest you learn more about the case study format , which is another common college assignment.

Narrative Writing Topics on Hobbies and Interests

Wow your readers by turning your passions and hobbies into compelling narrative essay topics that will get them thinking.

  • How has your passion for urban gardening transformed neglected spaces in your community?
  • Can you recount a thrilling adventure from your hobby of urban exploration?
  • What lessons have you learned from restoring vintage motorcycles in your spare time?
  • How has your fascination with birdwatching deepened your connection to nature and conservation efforts?
  • Can you describe a memorable moment from your hobby of foraging wild edibles in the wilderness?
  • What unique skills have you developed through your hobby of beekeeping, and how have they impacted your daily life?
  • How has your interest in historical reenactment brought the past to life in unexpected ways?
  • Can you reflect on a transformative experience from your hobby of landscape photography?
  • What insights have you gained from practicing the art of bonsai cultivation and nurturing miniature ecosystems?
  • How has your passion for stargazing inspired awe and wonder in the vastness of the universe?
  • Can you recount a challenging project from your hobby of woodworking and the satisfaction it brought upon completion?
  • What cultural connections have you discovered through your hobby of traditional folk dancing?
  • How has your interest in sustainable fashion influenced your consumer habits and environmental awareness?
  • Can you describe a moment of serenity and mindfulness experienced while practicing the art of tea ceremony?
  • How has your hobby of letterpress printing preserved the tactile beauty of handmade craftsmanship in a digital age?

Narrative Essay Titles on Life-Changing Moments

Life is full of unexpected twists that can lead to life-changing moments. Take a look at these narrative essay titles for stories that have had a lasting impact on your life.

  • How did surviving a natural disaster reshape your perspective on life?
  • Can you recall a single conversation that drastically altered the course of your life?
  • What was the pivotal moment that inspired you to pursue your dreams against all odds?
  • How did a chance encounter lead to a life-changing friendship or partnership?
  • Can you reflect on the decision that transformed your career trajectory?
  • What profound lesson did you learn from facing a life-threatening illness or injury?
  • How did traveling to a new country open your eyes to new possibilities and opportunities?
  • Can you recount the moment when you discovered your true passion or calling in life?
  • What was the turning point that allowed you to break free from a toxic relationship or environment?
  • How did experiencing failure or rejection ultimately lead to personal growth and resilience?
  • Can you describe the moment when you found the strength to overcome a deep-seated fear or insecurity?
  • What life-changing realization did you have while experiencing a period of solitude or introspection?
  • How did a profound act of kindness from a stranger restore your faith in humanity?
  • Can you reflect on the moment when you forgave someone who had deeply hurt you, and how it changed your perspective on forgiveness?
  • What pivotal decision did you make that allowed you to reclaim control over your own happiness and destiny?

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Good Narrative Topics on Travel and Adventure

Consider creating intriguing titles for your narrative essay ideas by exploring thrilling travel adventures.

  • Can you recount a memorable encounter with wildlife during your solo hiking adventure?
  • How did a spontaneous decision to explore an unfamiliar city lead to unexpected discoveries?
  • What lessons did you learn from navigating a foreign country with only a map and your instincts?
  • Can you describe the exhilaration of conquering a challenging mountain peak for the first time?
  • How did immersing yourself in a local culture during your travels broaden your perspective on the world?
  • What unexpected obstacles did you encounter while embarking on a backpacking journey through rugged terrain?
  • Can you reflect on the transformative experience of volunteering abroad in a community-driven project?
  • How did getting lost in a labyrinthine city alleyway lead to serendipitous encounters and newfound friendships?
  • What was the most memorable meal you had while sampling street food in a bustling market abroad?
  • Can you recount the adrenaline rush of participating in an extreme sports activity in a foreign land?
  • How did witnessing a breathtaking natural phenomenon during your travels leave a lasting impression on you?
  • What cultural traditions or rituals did you participate in during a homestay experience with a local family?
  • Can you describe the sense of wonder and awe you felt while exploring ancient ruins or historical sites?
  • How did navigating a language barrier challenge and ultimately enrich your travel experience?
  • What valuable life lessons did you learn from the mishaps and misadventures encountered during your journey off the beaten path?

Narrative Essay Topic Ideas on Career and Work Experience

College students can uncover captivating narrative essay ideas by exploring potential career paths or reminiscing about past job experiences.

  • How did a challenging project at work showcase your problem-solving skills and resilience?
  • Can you reflect on a pivotal mentorship experience that guided your career trajectory?
  • What valuable lessons did you learn from a career setback or failure, and how did it shape your future success?
  • How did a workplace conflict lead to personal growth and improved communication skills?
  • Can you recount a moment when taking a professional risk paid off in unexpected ways?
  • What insights did you gain from transitioning to a new industry or career path?
  • How did participating in a cross-functional team project enhance your collaboration and leadership abilities?
  • Can you describe the satisfaction of achieving a long-term career goal after years of hard work and perseverance?
  • What impact did a meaningful recognition or award have on your motivation and sense of accomplishment?
  • How did volunteering or pro bono work contribute to your professional development and sense of purpose?
  • Can you reflect on the decision to leave a stable job in pursuit of passion or fulfillment?
  • What strategies did you employ to navigate a toxic work environment and maintain your well-being?
  • How did a career setback lead to unexpected opportunities for personal and professional growth?
  • Can you describe a moment when mentorship or sponsorship played a crucial role in advancing your career?
  • What lessons did you learn from a challenging client or customer interaction, and how did it shape your approach to customer service and relationship-building?

Interesting Narrative Essay Topics about Challenges and Obstacles

If you're not sure what to write about for your narrative essay, think back to the tough times you've had and how you managed to get through them.

  • How did you conquer a once-paralyzing fear to chase your dreams?
  • What new strengths did you discover while adapting to a physical challenge?
  • Can you recall a creative solution you used during a tough financial period?
  • When did you bravely stand against injustice, despite opposition?
  • How did overcoming a language barrier broaden your horizons?
  • What key lessons did you learn from a major setback in your life?
  • How did you manage overwhelming stress and responsibilities?
  • What inner reserves of resilience did you draw upon after personal loss?
  • Describe a time when you defied societal norms to pursue your goals.
  • Reflect on a moment when failure fueled your determination for success.
  • When did you find the courage to leave your comfort zone behind?
  • How did community support bolster you through a challenging time?
  • Share a time when self-doubt led to newfound confidence.
  • Can you recount a tragedy that spurred your personal growth?
  • What insights did overcoming a monumental obstacle reveal about life?

Best Narrative Essay Topics: How to Choose the One That Resonates 

A narrative essay is a type of writing that tells a personal story, including characters, plot, setting, and the order of events. Its main goal is to connect with readers emotionally and share a specific message or insight through the retelling of a meaningful experience.

Students write narrative essays as part of their studies for several reasons. Firstly, it allows them to express themselves creatively by sharing their unique experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Secondly, it helps them develop important writing skills like organizing ideas and thoughts effectively.

Narrative Essay topics

Choosing good narrative essay ideas involves looking at personal experiences, interests, and the potential for engaging storytelling. Here's a simple guide to help you pick the right topic:

  • Think about significant moments in your life that had a lasting impact, such as personal growth or overcoming challenges.
  • Choose topics related to your hobbies, interests, or areas of expertise to make your story more engaging.
  • Consider what your audience would be interested in and choose topics that resonate with them.
  • Focus on a specific event or detail to make your narrative more focused and impactful.
  • Look for universal themes like love or personal transformation that connect with readers on a deeper level.
  • Brainstorm ideas and write freely to uncover compelling topics.
  • Decide on storytelling techniques like flashbacks or foreshadowing and choose a topic that fits.
  • Get feedback from friends, peers, or instructors to see if your topics are interesting and impactful.
  • Choose topics that evoke strong emotions for a more compelling narrative.
  • Select a topic that you personally connect with to make your story authentic.

Once you've chosen a topic, brainstorm ideas and create an outline for your essay. Follow your professor's instructions carefully and consider seeking help from our narrative essay writing service if needed.

Bring your stories to life with EssayPro. Select from a vast array of narrative essay topics and let our professionals help you weave your tales into captivating essays. Whether it's adventure, reflection, or imagination, we're here to assist.

Final Remarks

As we wrap up, our list of 200 narrative essay topics is here to fuel your creativity for your next writing project! Whether you're sharing a memorable event, reliving a childhood memory, or expressing a profound insight, crafting a narrative essay can be an uplifting experience that resonates deeply with readers.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, personal narrative essay examples for college apps.

Hi everyone! I'm working on my college applications and I'm struggling with my personal narrative essay. Can anyone share some tips or examples that would help me craft a compelling college essay?

Hi there! Crafting a compelling personal narrative for your college essay is key to showcasing your unique personality and experiences. Here are some tips and examples to get you started:

1. Start with an engaging hook: Grab your reader's attention from the very beginning with an interesting or surprising statement or anecdote from your life. For example, if you're writing about your love for plants, start with: "It was during my quest to save my mom's wilting gardenias that I discovered my passion for botany."

2. Focus on a specific experience or moment to drive your narrative: Instead of providing a broad overview of your life experiences, choose a singular event or moment that holds significance and can convey a deeper message. For example, you could write about the impact of volunteering at a local animal shelter and how it changed your perspective on compassion and advocacy.

3. Show, don't tell: Use vivid descriptions, sensory details, and dialogue to help your reader feel like they're experiencing the events firsthand. For example, instead of saying "I was nervous when I first started my internship," describe the butterflies in your stomach, the cold sweat on your hands, and the way your heart raced as you walked through the door.

4. Reflect on growth and personal development: A crucial aspect of personal narrative essays is explaining how the experience shaped you, what you learned from it, and how it contributed to your growth. For example, if you're writing about overcoming a fear of public speaking, focus on how that experience taught you the importance of perseverance and helped boost your self-confidence.

5. Conclude your essay with a strong ending: Tie everything together by illustrating how your personal story connects with your future goals and aspirations. Offer a glimpse into how you will leverage the lessons learned from your experience in college and beyond.

Remember, the most important thing is to stay true to yourself and write a genuine, heartfelt essay that reflects your unique personality and experiences. Good luck with your college applications!

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The Winners of Our 3rd Annual Personal Narrative Essay Contest for Students

Eight short, powerful essays from teenagers about the moments, big and small, that have shaped them.

best personal narrative essays college

By The Learning Network

For a third year, we invited students from 11 to 19 to tell us short, powerful stories about a meaningful life experience for our Personal Narrative Writing Contest . And for a third year, we heard from young people across the globe about the moments, big and small, that have shaped them into who they are today: a first kiss that failed to meet expectations, a school assignment that led to self-acceptance, an incident at airport security that made the world look much less sweet, and more.

Our judges read more than 11,000 submissions and selected over 200 finalists — eight winners, 16 runners-up, 24 honorable mentions and 154 more essays that made it to Round 4 — whose stories moved us and made us think, laugh and cry. “I’m always blown away by the vulnerability and tenderness so many of these stories hold,” one judge commented.

Below, you can read the eight winning essays, published in full. Scroll to the bottom of this post to find the names of all of our finalists, or see them here in this PDF .

Congratulations, and thank you to everyone who shared their stories with us.

(Note to students: We have published the names, ages and schools of students from whom we have received permission to do so. If you would like yours published, please write to us at [email protected] .)

The Winning Essays

“the best friend question”, “504 hours”, “t.s.a. and cinnamon buns”, “lips or slug”, “the bluff”, “autocorrect”, “purple corn”.

By Blanche Li, age 13, Diablo Vista Middle School, Danville, Calif.

“All right, class, settle down! Your last Spanish essays were the worst I’ve read in my 22 years of teaching. So today, I’m requiring you to be specific. You must use new vocabulary to write about your best friend. I don’t want to hear that your best friend is nice. I want to know how. Begin, and no talking!” my Spanish teacher, Señora Morales, shouted at the class.

I sat with my pencil hovering over my paper and then slowly began to write in Spanish: My best friend is Hayley. She’s a soccer champion who colored a red streak in her hair to support her team. She plays cello, like I do, and we car pool to our orchestra every Saturday. She uses funny English words like “shenanigans” and “bamboozle,” and describes angry people as “ballistic.” We’ve been best friends since fourth grade.

This is my standard response to the “best friend” question, no matter who asks. The problem is, Hayley isn’t real. I had to come up with a fictional best friend because there have been too many writing prompts asking me to describe this person, too many moments when I’ve replied, “I don’t have one,” and too many times I’ve heard, “Why not? Are you just not the type of person who wants a best friend?” It’s as if people think I’m too introverted and gloomy to even bother. Truth is, during school, I’ve watched with envy the best friends who ice skate together and the best friends who call each other nicknames like “Homeskillet” and “Key Chain.”

Of course, I have plenty of acquaintances — those who I talk to at lunch about conspiracy theories: that the school’s macaroni and cheese has neither macaroni nor cheese and that our beloved janitor is actually God. But the friend who I can depend on when my bully calls me “Bleach” doesn’t exist.

I’ve often wondered, does not having a best friend make me defective? Should I be embarrassed that the only people I hang out with at the farmer’s market are my parents? Should I be worried that my primary cure for loneliness is my cats? Will I have to face heartbreak and failure alone?

Not having a best friend means I have no one to text late at night when I can’t fall asleep and no shoulder to cry on when I fail my orchestra audition. Sometimes I tell myself, “You’re such a baby; just toughen up. There’s no way you’ll ever succeed because you can’t deal with the smallest issues in life.” Considering these thoughts makes me lock myself in my room, sit against the door, and take psychology tests on my phone to prove why I am defective.

But as I scroll through my phone, I ask myself, what would Hayley say to me right now? As an imagined character, Hayley can say what my mind tells her to. So Hayley sits down and puts her arm around me. Her lips curl slightly upward, and her brown eyes zoom in on my face. She tells me, “You can only do so much, and bringing yourself down uses most of the ‘so much’ you can really do.”

When Señora Morales hands back my paper describing Hayley, she tells me, “She seems like a great friend!”

“Yeah,” I grin. “She’s the best friend I’ve ever had.”

By Lyat Melese, age 16, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.

The shrill sound of a whistle slices through the gym, slowly halting the bouncing basketballs, squeaking tennis shoes and background chatter. My P.E. teacher stands in the middle of the room, looking around in distaste at the disarray of basketballs, hula hoops, and volleyball nets. He asks for volunteers to help clear the gym.

Saanvi raises a lone hand into the air. Everybody else refuses to meet the teacher’s eyes, focusing on the floor, their hands or the ceiling.

I sigh as it strikes again.

It is hard to define the Amharic word in English. It describes the feeling comprising a mishmash of extreme empathy and the inability to say “no.” It is a trait I see in my mother and, much to my annoyance, myself. While yilugnta makes me a kind and respectful daughter at home, it makes me a pushover susceptible to guilt-tripping at school.

I raise my hand, “I can do it.”

Saanvi and I collect all the balls and ropes, rolling the carts into the storage room.

We are alone when she suddenly stops and looks at me.

“Did you get accepted?” she asks, referring to the highly selective admission to the local STEM high school.

“Yeah,” I reply. “You?”

She looks away. Her hands fist at her sides as a frown is etched on her face.

I look down. “I’m sorry. I know how badly you wanted to go.”

“You don’t understand,” she spits out. “You obviously got in because you are Black.”

I don’t respond, focusing instead on the colorful hula hoops I am stacking in a pile: green, yellow, blue.

When we first moved to America, my parents went to great lengths to avoid the term “Black.” They instilled in me that I was not just Black, I was Ethiopian. I used to think it was because they didn’t want me to forget my culture. Now I think they were protecting me because the term “Black” shoulders the weight of history.

My Nigerian neighbor always grits his teeth and talks to himself when he watches Nigerian news. He blames Britain for forcing the tribes together. He says Nigeria should not have existed. Now, his wife hides the remote because his blood pressure grows too high.

My mom’s friend’s African-American partner goes to town halls and protests every week. He still waits for the day he will get the reparations his ancestors were owed.

My mom tells me that we are not like them. Our ancestors were not colonized or enslaved. Don’t carry the burden that is not yours.

In my head, I want to scream that I did not choose to carry anything. It was shoveled on top of my head. Much like my yilugnta , it is a trait I have to own, no matter how I wish otherwise.

The age of shackles and scramble for land has long passed, but the aftermath reverberates in our ears, whispering words like “victim,” “predator” and “diversity hire.”

Black is black is black.

I turn back to look at Saanvi.

“The admissions are race-blind,” I state.

“Everybody knows that’s not true,” she scoffs. “So few Black people apply, you are guaranteed a spot.”

She pushes past my shoulders and marches out of the room.

Her bag lies forgotten on the floor, a key chain with a colorful peace sign dangling from the front.

I stare at it, contemplating leaving it there.

I pick up the straps and haul it over my shoulder, once more carrying the weight I do not own.

By Elise Spenner, age 15, Burlingame High School, Burlingame, Calif.

It felt like there was no air in the room. Mom sat on the mint green chair in the corner. The white exam paper crinkled under me as I gripped my knees to my chest and rocked back and forth. My tears blurred the cheery posters on human anatomy, balanced eating and mask etiquette into a mosh pit of swirling words and colors. The doctor’s words were garbled, blocked out by a rushing storm of shame.

“Hospital … patient care … check if they have beds.”

“Disordered eating … bradycardia … not enough blood to the heart …”

I didn’t need to listen to her. I already knew everything. I am a straight-A student. I have a solid grasp on cause and effect. Two plus two is four; not eating and exercising too much is an eating disorder. I’ve watched enough “Grey’s Anatomy” to know when doctors have bad news. I could tell by the way she walked into the room: the weary smile that screamed pity and heartache and the look that said, “I came into this profession to save lives, but that means I have to ruin yours.” I knew before that, when the nurse’s brow furrowed at the 42 on the heart rate monitor, and her icy fingers pressed my wrist to recalculate. I knew when I left that morning for my ritualistic five-mile run, leaving the remains of a breakfast pecked at and shuffled around on the plate. Of course I knew.

For a moment, as I listened and cried and the world swirled around me, I was relieved. Relieved that I could let go. That I wouldn’t have to think about what I ate or how fast I ran because my hands were being forcibly removed from the steering wheel.

But the world wouldn’t stay on hold until I was ready to start living again.

While I sat shellshocked, Mom canceled next week’s vacation to the bungalow rental by the beach. Dad sent a terse email to my soccer coach explaining why I would miss our first training camp in a year. For the next three weeks, I would participate in my summer courses from the four walls of a hospital room, with my computer angled to block out the nurse that would routinely flush my IV, the tangled mess of green and yellow wires that would tie me to a 24-hour heart rate monitor, and the makeshift sofa that one of my parents would sacrifice their back to sleep on each night. And two months later, my dad would open the mail to find a bill for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Enough to account for the 504 hours I would spend in a hospital room, the 126 meals and snacks I would eat over those 504 hours, and the nurses who would wait on me for every single one of those 504 hours.

As I rocked compulsively on the glaring, white exam paper, relief quickly gave way to guilt. Gnawing guilt that in my undying pursuit for some ideal, I had destroyed my parents, my relationships and my life. I thought the numbers on the scale were some test to be passed or game to be won, until winning left me in a hospital bed for the summer. My choices were real. And the consequences? They were even more real.

First, after I finished sobbing, I wanted to scream, “Why me?” Then I wanted to pray to a god I didn’t believe in to turn back the clock and rewrite my story. But finally, with my face still buried in my knees, all I could do was whisper “I’m sorry” over and over and over again.

By Ruhani Chhabra, age 16, Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, Calif.

“You’re going to have to take that thing off, sir.”

Yet another T.S.A. officer had just arrived. I cast a nervous glance at my father, who was extremely calm, even as he explained — for the third time — that he couldn’t unwrap the turban on his head. One, it would take too long to put back on. Two, it was against his faith.

The sentence hung heavily in the cinnamon-scented air. I resisted the urge to run through the metal detectors, shoes on and everything.

Make no mistake, I didn’t want to be embarrassed about my religion; in Sikhism, dignity is as fundamental as the turban. But when you’re 12 years old, awkward, pimply and painfully aware of the stares and mutterings from speedy holiday travelers, it’s hard to muster that pride.

It shouldn’t have turned out like this. My father and I had embarked on an impromptu trip to surprise his relatives, and the events resembled a Charlie Brown Christmas special — until we reached that dreaded corner of the airport.

To distract myself, I concentrated on the sugary aroma coming from the diner in the terminal. We always ate there before our flights; I loved their cinnamon buns. I associated a peculiar sense of freedom with those baked goods — their sweet taste meant we’d finished with security, freed of scrutiny.

Having brown skin and a head-covering means you’re practically begging for a “random” T.S.A. check. I figured that out at around the same age that I learned how to put on an airplane seatbelt on my own. However, this demand was significantly worse. Still, I wanted him to comply, wanted to rid myself of the scathingness of being “different.”

My father, who knew he would forever be considered “different” from the moment he walked into this country, persisted. He’d been to this airport before, and they let him have his turban scanned instead of removing it — what could’ve changed?

“It’s the holiday season,” the palest officer said, rolling his eyes. “Security is tighter. Just make a decision. Can’t you see your little girl’s waiting too?”

If I was embarrassed before, it was nothing compared to how I felt now. With all eyes on me, I wanted to shrink to the ground.

I had always feared the possibility of such humiliating “precautions” imposed on my father, and I had always thought that I would speak up. Even a simple “Don’t talk to him that way” would suffice.

Yet I looked up, turned to my father, and said, “Just take it off.” And the way he sighed let me know that I’d won. It was a rather haunting victory.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on my younger self. After all, I was severely insecure and surrounded by years worth of schoolyard ignorance (“So … why does your dad wear that rag?”), which morphed into my buried shame, and it took me a while to realize I had to dispel it. It took me even longer to learn how.

In the years to come, I’d discover the cathartic space of transcribing my feelings on paper. At that moment, though, I simply internalized everything: the embarrassment, the confusion and, most of all, the gnawing guilt. I watched impassively as my father removed his turban, every layer of meaningful fabric peeled away in front of a whole crowd.

The officers, circling him like angry piranhas, took one long look and then dismissed us. It was over.

Or so I thought. My father, never one to hold a grudge, still bought me some cinnamon buns. I took them onto the flight and looked out the window at the bright blue American sky, wondering why they didn’t taste as sweet as before.

By Daniella Canseco, age 17, Saint Mary’s Hall, San Antonio

When I was younger, I romanticized the thought of my first kiss. I thought it would be the most extravagant thing I would experience with the most handsome boy ever. I wanted the whole shebang: a Zac Efron look-a-like, roses, candles. When I did have my first kiss, was it like this? Nope. My first kiss was in a church parking lot after a musty dinner at the local food court. Just like everyone else, I remember the experience vividly, even though I try to forget.

The first red flag with this guy should’ve been the fact that when my mother Googled him, a picture of my last failed attempt at a relationship came up. They knew each other. Why didn’t I bail that very moment? Well, I was so desperate for even a hue of male validation that I put my blinders on for all red flags. I even ignored the fact that he had shirtless mirror pictures on his Instagram. How I cringe.

In my blue Mazda with the sticker “Let me see your kitties” on the back, I drove into the desolate Mission City Church parking lot, not knowing what fate awaited me. For about 30 minutes this guy showed me his entire music library, which consisted of subpar rap songs that his ex-girlfriend had introduced him to, and his entire camera roll, which was all pictures of him shirtless in front of a mirror, except for two, which were, surprisingly, shirtless pictures of him not in front of a mirror. So unpredictable!

A heavy rain started and, with each drop of water smacking my car, a loud slap would reverberate inside and inhibit our ability to hear one another. This unfortunate turn of events resulted in a conversation where the question “WHAT?” was said every other statement. We made small talk by screaming (well, him just screaming about himself at me) for about 10 minutes until the atmosphere in the car thickened with anticipation.

“Have you ever been kissed before?” he asked, breaking the silence.


Taken aback by this overwhelming question, I felt heat rush to my face as my body tinged with panic: Will he think I’m weird if I say no? Should I lie? I shouldn’t have eaten that Greek salad with onions.

“It’s OK if you haven’t.”

I pulled out my metaphorical white flag of surrender and admitted to my lack of achievement of this milestone. Suddenly, I saw his body lean over the dashboard that separated us; his hand reached for my cheek and, just like that, he started kissing me. The fumes of hot onion breath were shared between us as his wet lips slid against mine like a slug. This went on for a good three seconds, which really felt like a good three years, until I pushed him away, overwhelmed by the discomfort I had just experienced. My hand lunged for my cup of water as I attempted to wash down the dissatisfaction of something I had yearned for for years.

“Oh, are you OK?” he questioned, as I violently gulped down my water.

“ARE!? YOU!? OK!?”


I drove him back to his house, the only sounds the ending of the once violent storm and his ex-girlfriend’s rap music playlist. The awkward end-of-date goodbye ensued, and I drove back home in silence rethinking what happened, my lofty expectations deflated. Most of life’s presumptions will not be close to reality, but that’s just how things work.

By Marion Cook, age 14, The Wheeler School, Providence, R.I.

Thirty feet below me and the quivering gray of the diving board, the ocean howled its lonely tune. It whispered and wept like a child lost at the market. It was restless. The wind blew to the same beat at which my heart quickened. It thumped almost audibly despite the shouts of encouragement from strangers, their presence adding a touch of surrealness to my already fraught situation.

I wonder how many people I disappointed that day. I wonder if they remembered my face as I disappeared into the lottery of daily life.

Slowly, my cousins began to run off the sharp angle of the board. I watched some of them fall; there was always this flutter of panic before they all resurfaced, laughing.

I wanted to, too. I wanted to be like them. They said it felt like flying. I remembered thinking that I wanted to know what it felt like to have wings.

The concept of voluntary risk leaked from my brain in the same way water leaks through one’s cupped hands. I think I blame cancer. My mom was diagnosed. Skin cancer. On her head. Not like one surgery and it’s gone type cancer, like fighting for more time type cancer. I was nine years old. Instead of worrying about what to wear to school, I worried about whether or not my mom would wake up in the morning. And how I wouldn’t know until later because a hospital bed cradled her arms and IV bags hugged her, instead of me.

I didn’t really think about my partially broken urge to take on fear because I was too busy with school and birthday parties and the full-time occupation of being the kid of a sick person.

So I didn’t. For years I would come back. Sometimes I would watch my cousins or strangers fall and just say that I didn’t feel like it or that I had just dried off or that the water was too cold. The ocean didn’t judge me, and the sky didn’t care.

But I still felt regretful whenever I walked away. Slowly, I remembered that I had still wanted to know what it felt like to fly.

All of life is temporary and like a dream in the sense that when it will end is as obscure as the already forgotten beginning. Perhaps the greatest people are those who understand that risk is what makes life count. You can be alive for lifetimes without ever really living at all. Sometimes fear is what makes existence tangible as we crisscross our strings of consciousness, floating haphazardly in the void.

I remembered this. I think, to some degree at least, it saved me in a way. I ran off the board. Partially because heights and I are not compatible, and partially because life’s too short to spend time hesitating.

And I did fall. I think I screamed. The whole ordeal happened as spontaneously as the disease that had engulfed my mother. It was over faster, though. And hurt less than radiation and needles and drugs sometimes did. My mom was there that day. Despite relapses and tumors, by the time I was 14, she was extraordinarily cancer-free. The ocean consumed me. I felt small again, like a kid, like I had traveled back to before the Big Bang, and everything forever was silence and the bubbles caused by the air escaping my lungs. And then I resurfaced. I was OK.

I was going to be OK.

By Ellen Xu, age 16, Del Norte High School, San Diego

I stare at the texts on my phone screen, sent from Dad an ocean away: “Love you.” “Miss you.” “Call?” When I was young, I used to play a game where I would repeat a word enough times for it to sound foreign. Now, I’m playing the same game but in reverse, attempting to remember what it was like when his texts still held their meaning.

Out of habit, I type out “Lub”— my way of saying “love”— and press send, a fraction of a second too late before I see the letters rearrange themselves on their own accord. “Lin.” My mom’s name. Not again. I’m convinced autocorrect has a mind of its own; or, maybe it knows that there is a part of me that has a hard time letting go, that wants to revert to a time when her name was not taboo when sent to him.

Dad moved to China the summer after sixth grade. I remember the long nights we would sit at kitchen table discussions, a tug of war between “job” and “family.” Whenever I look back, I’m reminded of the movie “Interstellar”; not just because it was our favorite movie, but because if I had only been smart enough like Murphy, I would have told him to stay. It was not long after he left that distance severed the bond between my parents, like the expanding universe pulling stars out of orbit. Like Cooper pounding his fist on an interdimensional bookshelf, I am banging on the keyboard hoping the right words will fall out. But all that ends up on the other side is empty text and autocorrect.

I write “Lub” again, this time removing the autocorrect and appending a gauche apology. He texts back: “Call for just one minute?” I think of all the things I want to say: It’s not the same to call. It’s been two years since I was last with you. I just had my first driving lesson today and don’t you remember promising me years ago that you would be the one to teach me to drive? Do you know how many memories we’ve traded for texts and calls?

But I don’t say this. I bite back the frustration and text back “OK,” and in the next instant, his face lights up my screen.

We don’t say much in that minute. He doesn’t ask me how I am, because “good” is never a good enough answer. I don’t ask about his new life, his job, his family, or any of the questions I used to hurl at him. His tear-filled smile, creased with hope and sadness, makes me swallow all the things I want to say. The fact that he is OK with this, that he would keep calling and texting me every night even if I never answered, that just being able to see me on the other side of the screen is enough, makes it enough for me to let go. To move past my anger and regret at how, when I needed it the most, my words came out jumbled in those crucial moments at the kitchen table, where I could have changed things.

I’m not angry anymore. He looks at me and tells me he loves me. And for once, my words come out just as I want them to: no longer autocorrecting to the bitterness of a past left behind.

“I lub you, too.”

By Lillian Sun, age 17, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.

Part of my youth remains in China, in the suburbs of Hangzhou where the children feed stray cats on the open streets and the elders take leisurely walks in the quiet parks. The roads were barely wide enough for one car to pass through, not that very many people knew how to drive. My grandpa owned a bicycle that he used to take me to wherever I wanted to go. At 70 years old, he could still pedal the two of us through the town fast enough for the wind to tousle my hair and send my hat flying.

The bicycle only had room for one passenger, so I walked with my grandpa and grandma whenever all three of us went downtown in the summer. We bought our groceries in a spacious multistory shopping mall that sold everything from cellphones to raw meat. I wasn’t tall enough back then to push the cart and decided to drift from stall to stall, eyeing the different foods on display designed to catch the eye of a wandering child. No matter how much I begged, my grandpa never bought me shiny red candy or steamed custard buns: Wai puo and I can cook better food for you.

Once back in our apartment, my grandparents got to work, creating an aroma that seeped through the kitchen and into the living room where I was reading an old book. Within half an hour, a whole steamed fish, white rice, and purple corn were laid out on the table. I always finished the fish and rice first, leaving the corn for last.

My grandparents only bought the freshest vegetables, especially so when it came to purple corn. They knew which corn was the most tender just by looking at the husks. Then, they boiled the corn for a good 10 minutes on their gas stove to ensure that it was fully cooked.

I was not a patient granddaughter and often burned my fingers picking up the purple corn, though my complaints were forgotten after the first bite. The kernels stuck to my teeth and filled my mouth with warmth. I chewed the glutinous corn until my jaw ached and my teeth were stained purple, leaving a wholesome aftertaste on my tongue.

After two years of living with my grandparents, I flew back to the United States. The streets here were loud and dogs barked all day long. The corn in American grocery stores was pale yellow, small and watery. I didn’t burn my fingers when I ate it, nor did I chew it for very long. Juice from the corn dripped down onto my plate and I wished I was back in China, walking hand in hand with my grandparents. Here in America, I could eat all the candy I wanted, but there were only so many pieces I could swallow before the sugar became nauseating and I threw up, crying.

My mother eventually found frozen purple corn at a Chinese supermarket, packaged in Styrofoam and plastic wrap. When boiled, the corn softened to a chewy texture, but I could no longer taste Hangzhou summers in this purple corn.

Student Personal Narrative Contest Finalists

In alphabetical order by the writer’s last name.

Daniella Canseco, age 17, St. Mary’s Hall, San Antonio: “Lips or Slug?”

Ruhani Chhabra, age 16, Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, Calif.: “T.S.A. and Cinnamon Buns”

Marion Cook, age 14, The Wheeler School, Providence, R.I.: “The Bluff”

Blanche Li, age 13, Diablo Vista Middle School, Danville, Calif.: “The Best Friend Question”

Lyat Melese, age 16, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.: “Guilted”

Elise Spenner, age 15, Burlingame High School, Burlingame, Calif.: “504 Hours”

Lillian Sun, age 17, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Va.: “Purple Corn”

Ellen Xu, age 16, Del Norte High School, San Diego: “Autocorrect”

Bailee Cook, age 17, Hanford High School, Richland, Wash.: “To Cry”

Esther Lee, age 16, St. Paul Preparatory, Seoul: “Warmth Behind Unfamiliarity”

Anjanette Lin, age 14 Groton School, Groton, Mass.: “Orange Nikes”

Jimmy Lin, age 17, BASIS International Park Lane Harbor, Huizhou, Guangdong, China: “The Front Seat”

Robin Linden, age 13, The Wheeler School, Providence, R.I.: “Goodnight, Mom”

Sybellah Kidd-Shugart, age 15, Sprayberry High School, Marietta, Ga.: “A Watch Wound Back Seven Years”

Sim Khanuja, age 17, Kirkwood High School, Kirkwood, Mo.: “An Angel’s Eyes”

Maximus Masucci, Harmony Middle School, Purcellville, Va.: “How I Learned to Break Out of My Shell: An Autistic Boy’s Perspective on Communication”

Pranav Moudgalya, age 17, University High School, Irvine, Calif.: “Talking Turkey”

Jack Quach, age 17, St. Ignatius High School, San Francisco: “A Mighty Pen”

Sum Yu Tian, age 15, The Hockaday School, Dallas: “The Ever-Moving Train”

Ryan Thomas, age 16, Hinsdale Central High School, Hinsdale, Ill.: “The Pyrotechnician”

Yihan (Laura) Wang, age 13, Shrewsbury International School Bangkok Riverside, Bangkok: “Confession”

Elizabeth Warren, age 17, The Hockaday School, Dallas: “El Xbox”

Stella Wu, age 16, Taipei American School, Taipei, Taiwan: “Anonymous”

Jerry Xu, age 16, Sacred Heart Schools Atherton, Atherton, Calif.: “What’s in a Name?”

Honorable Mentions

Jayda Brain, age 15, Illawarra Christian School, Albion Park, Australia: “The Viking Revenge Flume”

Claire Beeli, age 15, Woodrow Wilson High School, Long Beach, Calif.: “When Airplanes and Rocket-Copters Were Stars”

Tony Cai, age 17, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, N.H.: “A Coin Never Delivered”

Czarina Datiles, age 16, Academy of Our Lady of Peace, San Diego: “Bystander”

Jinane Ejjed, age 13, The Seven Hills School, Walnut Creek, Calif: “The Flying Turtle”

Elena Green, age 17, Washington-Liberty, Arlington, Va.: “Modern Education”

Viona Huang, age 16, Diamond Bar High School, Diamond Bar, Calif: “Born a Crime”

Chloe Jacobs, age 17, Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, Conn.: “Heart Hearth”

Yoo Jin Cho, age 16, Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Sydney: “Lost Your Voice?”

Eve Kaplan, age 16, Community High School, Ann Arbor, Mich.: “Boy Crazy”

Liana Kim, age 15, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, Va.: “Echoes of My Blood”

Gwen McNulty, age 14, Lincoln High Schoo, Lincoln, R.I.: “You Don’t Dry Them”

Asher Mehr, age 17, De Toledo High School, West Hills, Calif.: “I Remember August”

Atena Mori, age 16, Iolani School, Honolulu: “Not Throwing Away Any Soup”

Eojin P.: “Withering Cards”

Anya Pan, age 14, International School of Beijing, Beijing: “White Rabbit Under the Sun”

Raymond Pan, age 17, Aurora High School, Aurora, Ontario: “10,000 Kilometers”

Stewart Payne, age 16, Western Albemarle High School, Crozet, Va.: “Playing Games”

Arian Salamat, age 17, Branham High School, San Jose, Calif.: “Boneco”

Alexander Sayette, age 16, Winchester Thurston School, Pittsburgh, Pa.: “400 Meters”

Lauren Strauch, age 18, St. Mary’s Hall, San Antonio: “Two Women Baking”

Cheyenne Toma, age 17, Leonardtown High School, Leonardtown, Md.: “Mourning the Dad I Never Had in Nine Innings”

Paul Wallace, age 16, Glenbrook North High School, Northbrook, Ill.: “Unholy Night”

Madison Xu, age 17, Horace Mann School, Bronx, N.Y.: “Table for Three”

Round 4 Finalists

A PDF of all the winners and 154 more great narratives that made it to Round 4.

Thank you to all of our contest judges!

Sara Aridi, Erica Ayisi, Edward Bohan, Julia Carmel, Amanda Christy Brown, Kathryn Curto, Nicole Daniels, Dana Davis, Shannon Doyne, Alexandra Eaton, Jeremy Engle, Arden Evers, Vivian Giang, Caroline Gilpin, Michael Gonchar, Robyn Green, Emma Grillo, Annissa Hambouz, Michaella Heavey, Kimberly Hintz, Callie Holtermann, Jeremy Hyler, Susan Josephs, Tina Kafka, Shira Katz, Varya Kluev, Megan Leder, Phoebe Lett, Kathleen Massara, Keith Meatto, Sue Mermelstein, Andy Newman, Amelia Nierenberg, John Otis, Fran Pado, Kim Pallozzi, Olivia Parker, Ken Paul, Anna Pendleton, Raegen Pietrucha, Natalie Proulx, Christina Roberts, Kristina Samulewski, Katherine Schulten, Juliette Seive, Jesica Severson, Rachel Sherman, Ana Sosa, Arman Tabatabai, Mark Walsh and Kim Wiedmeyer

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