Back to Senior English page.
is a page of information I used when I taught personal narratives in
Sophomore English. It should still be valuable to you.
What in the World is a Descriptive Narrative Essay?
It is what it appears to be: a story (narrative) with plenty of
descriptive adjectives (descriptive) in an essay format. It
combines two of the four purposes for writing leaving exposition and
persuasion to wait their turn for their own essays. It is
commonly the first essay you'll write in college. It is typically a
"personal" narrative: this means you get to use the first-persons like I and me and it's something you have experienced.
Let's look at the individual parts.
In a narrative, one tells a story that often begins with background
information that describes the setting and main character. Many
writers prefer to skip this step and include these details in the story
as they describe the action. A story has a character, real or
fictional, facing a conflict or obstacle in their path, fighting
against it, and either beating it or being beaten by it at the peak of
excitement, the climax. After the climax, the falling action ties
up the loose ends, showing the main character (sometimes called the
protagonist or hero) living in the new conditions the conflict's
resolution created. Here's a terse example of a story plot:
Exposition: Johnny was walking through Wal-mart, noticing falling prices.
Conflict: He wants the big red ball at the top of the big ball bin in the toy department, but it's out of his reach.
Rising Action: Johnny begins climbing the metal cage of the big ball bin.
Climax: He lets go to grab the big red ball and begins teetering back and forth. Johnny falls.
Falling Action: He lands hard, snapping three of his vertebrae, but he has the big red ball.
Resolution: Johnny lies in his hospital bed, holding his big red ball, paralyzed from the waist down.
is a very brief example of a narrative. Obviously, in this case
the story is a piece of fiction. In the descriptive narrative
essay, the events are real (as far as your instructor knows) and the
names have not been changed to protect the innocent. It is often
called the personal narrative because the writer is typically the main
character of the story or at least an observer.
• Adjectives Descriptive writing gives the reader what the five senses would absorb in that setting:
what is seen, physically felt, heard, smelled, and tasted.
Consequently, most every time a noun is mentioned in a descriptive
narrative, and actually in all good writing, a descriptive adjective
precedes or follows it. Too many adjectives is a possibility, so
don't overdo, but the tendency in student writers is not to put enough
description into their writing.
As I lay there, I tried to wipe away the acrid smell of a
petroleum-created ball, red and two feet in circumference, that floated
through my nostrils. I had attempted to block its cool, pebbled surface
that gave only slightly as it temporarily flattened against my face. I
fell to the hard, unforgiving wood floor, my back slapping the
planks like an irate mother spanking a baby's bottom. The salty taste
of blood from my upper lip reminded me dodgeball was a dangerous
Yes, I went overboard so you could see the
descriptive adjectives from all categories in action. In this example,
the sound category was covered by a simile, not an adjective.
Descriptive Adjective Starter Pack
• Figurative LanguageA
simile is an example of figurative language, meaning words operating on
a non-literal level. In the example above, no mother and baby
were literally in Wal-mart. However, comparing the actual sound
to a sound readers can imagine easily is another way to provide the
sensory information. Figurative language works for all the senses.
A simile is a comparison using like or as. He runs like a giraffe.
A metaphor states that one thing is another or implies it. He is a giraffe.
A hyperbole is an obvious exaggeration. He has fists of steel.
For a lengthier list of figurative language, go to this page: Levels of Meaning. However, the terms above are the easiest to insert into writing and the most helpful.
of an event in your life that lends itself to the story
structure. The assignment I make in class targets "a lesson you
learned about life, people, or yourself." In other words, write
about a learning experience.
Decide what events to include in
your narrative using a timeline as a brainstorming device.
Finally, you get some good from your history class!
the story into three parts. Your story will fill three,
three-fourths page paragraphs, so dividing the story is
important. Keep in mind as you divide the story that half
or more of the third body paragraph will be devoted to your discussion
of the lesson(s) learned from the experience.
Start with your
with your first body paragraph (the story), not the introduction. I
don't like to write an introduction until I know exactly what it is I
am introducing. Often I have thought I had the main idea down
exactly, but as I wrote, the focus shifted and my main point in the
thesis statement was no longer my main point exactly.
Consequently write the three body paragraphs with your story first so
you can write an excellent, precise introduction later.
standard elements of a paragraph can be used in the descriptive
narrative: topic sentence (main point of the paragraph),
supporting sentences (story details), figurative language, descriptive
adjectives, transitions, and a clincher or ending sentence. In
most types of writing, making your point in the first sentence is an
excellent way to proceed. However, doing that in descriptive
narratives would mean giving away the story before you wrote it.
Instead, you need to hint at the future events of that paragraph by
writing a topic sentence that is general enough not to give away the
story. What do I mean? Check out this link to the example I
gave in class. Topic Sentences for Descriptive Narratives.
If you use the paragraph elements above in your narrative, then use transitional phrases
in the topic sentences of body paragraphs two and three. What do
I mean by transitional phrases? In class I have a lovely (it
really is lovely) poster on the wall with various colors.
Colorwise, it looks like this. Imagine the essay is writing about the
health benefits of various fruits. If the yellow paragraph is
about bananas, then in the next paragraph about cherries, you mention
bananas before tackling cherries. That is what the yellow portion
of the cherries' paragraph's topic sentence shows. What would
this read like? Bananas are good for you, but cherries are even
better. You would do the same in the third body paragraph about
oranges. A transitional phrase allows the reader to shift ideas
easily. How would this work with a descriptive narrative?
Take a look at our earlier story.
lot of instructors don't mind if you simply make your narrative's body
paragraphs read like they came from a book of fiction. In that
case, you can forget topic sentences and such. However, your intro and conclusion probably deal with whatever the point of your story was.
Remember to discuss the lesson you learned and how it changed or will change your life in your third body paragraph.
you're ready for the real art of essay writing: the introduction
and the conclusion. The triangles you looked at earlier show the
general to specific intro and specific to general conclusion
structures. I have a good explanation of this posted elsewhere,
which I passed out in class. Introductions and Conclusions--One method.
reading the info on that link, you know the process. In class we
generated these topics that two or three sentences can be written about
since our writing prompt was about a lesson learned about life, people,
or ourselves: Education, formal education with teachers and
professors, informal education with life as the teacher, many lessons
are learned, the lesson I learned was __________________ which is
your thesis statement.
Reverse the topics and write new sentences about them for the conclusion's specifice-to-general structure.
Here is another look at the essay structure. It is not limited to the descriptive narrative.
Here is a link to my sample essay. Frankly, this story is a little intense. If you're a pet lover, you will hug them when you're done reading.