Essay Lab Glossary



Simply put, a narrative is a story. Less simply put, a narrative is a true or fictitious tale written with the intent of entertaining or amusing the reader. We like the first way better.

Anyway, when you write a narrative, you are telling a story. Sounds easy, but it can get tricky. Especially when you’re trying to juggle bowling pins at the same time.

The basic features of a good narrative are

  • Interconnected events: All the events that occur within the story must be important enough to be mentioned and must be related to one another. A focusing statement will help you keep all your details organized. A small filing cabinet might also not be a bad idea. 
  • Conflict: This is some sort of problem at the heart of the story. It could be a problem between two people, between a person and society, or within a person’s mind. Curse you, conflict. Can’t we all just get along? 
  • Significance: Sometimes called “moral,” this is the meaning of the story, which makes the story worth telling. It’s the reason your parents woke you up at 2:00AM to lecture you about bicycle safety. 
  • Style: The words and descriptions used to tell the story. Also, how hip your shoes are.


Let’s say your assignment is to write a narrative about a memorable day in your life. You write your first draft about the day you ate the last cupcake that was intended for your sister, got drenched in a thunderstorm on the way to school, got a D on your math test, and then got mugged on the way home, with the thieves making away with your wallet, cellphone, and watch. Can you say “karma?” Maybe next time, you’ll think twice about filching your siblings’ baked goods.

Certainly sounds like a memorable day, but looking at the checklist of the features of a good narrative, you’ll quickly see that not all the events you wrote about need to be in your story, even if they actually happened.

Decide on a focusing statement. Perhaps something like “A meditation on the nature of greed and desperation” might work? In that case, you’ll do away with the thunderstorm and the math test and work on developing the thematic connections between the cupcake and the mugging. (At least they didn’t get the cupcake.)

The significance of the story might lie in your thoughts about the muggers. Maybe you initially felt disgusted by them, but the memory of greedily eating that cupcake came to you, and you ended up empathizing with those who feel a desire for “more, more, more?” Or maybe you’re just complicating things, and you’re still just wishing your mother had used buttercream frosting.