Certain essays can call for either descriptive or narrative writing. Narrative writing usually refers to recounting events, focusing more on the events themselves rather than on details, while descriptive writing adds in those details using imagery and invoking one or more of the five senses.

The Gist of Narrative Writing

Recapping a day's events in a journal or to someone else is a form of narration.
Recapping a day's events in a journal or to someone else is a form of narration.

Narrative writing is used to recap or relate a series of imagined or real events in an organized sequence. Most narratives are stories that make a point. They can instruct, provide insight or tell the origins of a tradition passed down, such as Native American legends. Narratives also provide entertainment by conveying action and conflict in the writing. Usually a narrative will talk about a conflict, have a climax that creates tension, and ultimately resolve the issue.

Structure of a Narrative

The introduction of a narrative usually provides the setting and prepares the reader for the rest of the story. Sometimes the main conflict thesis will be introduced here as well.

The action or drama usually takes place over a span of three events, creating tension and buildup in the narrative. This tension reaches climax in a fourth event, propelling the reader towards the conclusion.

This conclusion generally resolves the conflict and leaves a final impression or insight with the reader. Sometimes the main conflict theme will be re-stated here; if the point of the narrative is implied throughout the story, there is less need for this re-statement.

The Basics of Descriptive Writing

Descriptive writing is like painting a picture in someone else's mind.
Descriptive writing is like painting a picture in someone else's mind.

Whereas narrative writing mostly talks about events, descriptive writing adds detail to describe people, places, and things. It presents the information in a more appealing way to get the reader emotionally invested in the story. Usually this is done by engaging one or more of the five senses. Descriptive writing can go beyond the five senses by allowing other details to come together and form a strong impression in the reader's mind. One of the ways this is accomplished is by using comparisons to help relate a passage or description to something the reader may be more familiar with.

Structure of a Descriptive Essay

The introduction still talks about the background of the story or passage, but instead of also mentioning a theme or insight it focuses on the dominant impression the writer wants the reader to walk away with. This can be stated outright or implied; usually anything implied adopts a "show not tell" approach. This show approach can sometimes make a greater impression with the reader.

Three paragraphs of supporting details follow this introduction, further fleshing out the dominant impression. Comparisons may also be used in this section, though too many comparisons grouped together can become stale and can degrade the reader's overall impression.

The conclusion draws the description to a close and references the dominant expression again. Sometimes using a comparison in this section is helpful if it can tie all the imagery stated in the supporting details together.