Students can plan narrative essays by brainstorming the conflict, characters and lessons of their personal experiences.

Narrative essays offer writers a unique opportunity to share a personal part of themselves with readers. In a narrative, an author tells the story of a significant personal experience. Narratives bring their stories to life using the same techniques fiction writers employ to create the worlds of their stories, including character, conflict, setting and dialogue. Thinking about how these elements could operate in your own essay can help you plan a powerful narrative that will be easy for readers to identify with.

Choosing a Topic

Students can start the brainstorming process by making lists of memories that have had a significant impact on them, freely writing down these moments without censoring themselves. Many students think they have to write about dark, challenging situations like death or illness. While these events can make for powerful essays, an equally meaningful story can be created from a family tradition, a friend who had a positive influence on you or a favorite hobby or job. Select a topic that you are excited about writing and would translate well into a story.

Conflict and Plot

In narrative writing, conflict propels the plot forward by showing readers what is at stake for the main character. Using your chosen topic, you can think about what conflict you dealt with during this experience. If you chose to write about your first music recital, the conflict might be that you were nervous about playing in front of an audience. The story would then develop to show the strategies you took to prepare and overcome your fear. The climax would be the recital itself, in which you reached your goal of giving a solid performance.


Good stories need dynamic characters. One way to brainstorm your narrative is to think about who the main players were in the actual experience. In the music recital example, the key people involved might be your music teacher who coached you for the performance and a friend or parent who encouraged you and was sitting in the audience to cheer you on. Narratives should include only the most significant two or three people as characters. Trying to add everyone who actually figured into the event will result in many underdeveloped characters rather than a few strong ones.


Every story needs a backdrop. Setting gives narratives a sense of location, creates mood and can often be symbolic of the story's larger events. Brainstorming the important settings in your experience can be helpful in transferring those places into your essay. In the recital example, you might describe the large, cavernous auditorium where the performance was held and the small comfortable bedroom where you practiced for your parents or friends. When setting is well established, readers will be able to visualize all the story's events as well as where they are happening.


An epiphany is a sudden, powerful realization that affects the way you live and the decisions you make from that point. In brainstorming your narrative, you might start by thinking about epiphanies you have had, listing when and where they occurred, the situation and who was involved. You might then consider you learned and how it has changed the way you live. In the recital example, the epiphany might be that while onstage listening to the audience applaud, you realized that you have the power to overcome fears and accomplish great things.