Sample Narrative Essays Personal Experience

The following Graduation Writing Proficiency Examination essays were written by HSU students during a regularly scheduled GWPE.  Except for the elimination of cross-outs, the essays are reproduced here exactly as written.  Insofar as possible, the essays were chosen to represent the entire range of possible scores.  (No essay received a score of One on Essay Topic I.)  The majors represented by the authors of these essays are, in alphabetical order, Art, Biology, Business Administration, Environmental Resources Engineering, Fisheries, Geography, Geology, Industrial Arts, and Resource Planning and Interpretation.

Personal-Experience Essay Prompt

You have 45 minutes to write on the following topic.

A distinguished essayist once wrote: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."

Write an essay in which you:

  1. Describe a book that has strongly affected you.
  2. Explain how your reading of this book changed your outlook.
  3. Tell why you think this book had such a profound effect on you.
Sample Essay Score:  Six

During my third year of college I became acutely aware of the Womens Rights Issue.  I made an attempt to re-examine many of the cultural norms that I had previously accepted as just being "the natural order of things."  One of the paths I took to expand my awareness of the female psyche involved women's literature.  That is why I spent one weekend of my life in bed--crying, laughing, feeling sometimes confused, and often, incredibly angry and distraught.  On that rainy Humboldt Friday night I had decided to read "The Women's Room."

The author, Marilyn Fridey, describes the lives of several women from the 1950's to present.  These women are nothing out of the ordinary.  They either go to college and then get married, or they get married without bothering about the pretense of college--after all, they know that college is only a way to find more economically promising husbands.  Myra, the main character whose life is traced throughout the book vaguely wonders why she is not content cooking pot roast, scraping shit from the baby's diapers, and picking up her husband's dry cleaning.  Her only solace is the neighborhood of women who share concerns over coffee in the afternoons.

They wonder why Katherine, a Catholic woman who has 9 children and an alcoholic husband, committed suicide.  "She had a normal life, they thought, she just should have talked her husband into using birth control."  As for the rest of the women, including Myra, their lives, fears, disappointments and yearnings, were much more subtle, yet equally suicidal in their quiet desperation.

Many years down the road, Myra's life finally changes. Her husband has "made it", the kids have grown, and life is easy economically.  Myra has a nervous breakdown.  Once recovered, she divorces, and becomes a graduate student at Yale.  Though painful and difficult, it is here that she comes to terms with herself, realizes her potential, and learns to live with herself--not necessarily happily--but at least honestly.

After I finished the story of Myras world that Sunday evening, I woke up in the middle of the night sobbing uncontrollably from a terrible nightmare.  Though I couldn't remember the dream, I came to a profound realization. Myra's life was my mothers.

Most of my life I had revered, respected and admired my father for going to college, being intelligent and worldly, having power and control.  In short for being a man.

My mother always seemed too "wishy-washy", easily trodden upon, overly dependent because she had chosen the role of HOUSEWIFE, MOTHER.  I rebelled against the tradition, and feared wearing those chains someday.  Consequently, I strove to be like my father.

Until this book, I never realized how much more courage it took for a person to live within a stifled role, and find contentment by living through other people.  During that night of crying I understood my mother for the first time--I respected her inner strength, compassion, gentleness.

Ever since then, my relationship with my mother has evolved, and we are very close.  I will probably never adopt the role in life that she chose to take, but I now respect her for her life, and understand the reasons why she made those choices.  Reading of Myra's evolution as a female changed the way I feel towards myself, my feelings and compassion for my mother, and provided me with a much more sensitive view towards the lives of many women in our society today.

Comment:Clearly a well-written, superior essay.  Each of the three parts of the topic is covered and well developed, with considerable detail provided.  Despite an occasional lapse in the use of the possessive and a few other matters, the paper is strong in mechanics.  Sentence structure is sophisticated and effective.

Sample Essay Score:  5

Through the ages of 8-15 I was an avid reader of pleasure books.  The majority of the books were mysteries such as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.  Books about animals were avoided because they usually had a very sentimental theme, and I was very emotional when it came to animal suffering.

When I was approximately 10 years old I read a book titled Misty & Chatlenaque.  This book was about a young horse that was stranded on an island.  It had been on a horse-trading ship when the ship wrecked on the rocks.  Misty went through several adventures where wild dogs tried to kill her, horse traders tried to capture her (and beat her in the process), and the sea tried to swallow her.

A little girl who lived on the Island found Misty and tried to protect her from the wild dogs and horse traders.  The story was told from the horse's point view, and the agony and terror Misty went through passed on to me.  I felt as if it were me who was being chased and beat.

A girl at the age of ten is influenced by the things she sees and reads.  Years after reading the book I had the notion that horse ranches were terrible to horses.  I also felt that horses were very human in the sense that they could think, feel, understand, and have emotions.

Whenever I passed by a horse who was behind a fence I had to stop and feed it, talk to it, pet it, and feel sorry for it.  Every horse had that "Misty" look in its eyes, and I felt it was "crying out to me".

After reading Misty and Chatlenaque, horses became more than just an animal to me.  They became something I could relate to and sympathize with.  I myself was a lonely child who felt neglected (even though I wasn't) and "penned".  While reading the book I felt the horse and I were one.  Years later I felt like horses and I had something in common and could relate to each other.

Now, I know horses do not understand what I say to them, but I still stop and talk to them as if they were human.  I feel that if I had not read that book eleven years ago I wouldn't feel as attached to horses as I do now.  To this day, I refuse to read another horse book or watch a horse movie that looks like it might be "emotional" or "sentimental".

Misty & Chatlenaque is still a very prominent book in my mind, and details of it are remembered frequently.  It has had the profound effect of altering my view of horses and will probably remain in my memory for life.  The book also had the effect of making me not want to read those kinds of books again.  Their emotional impact was too great on me so I only read mysteries and school books.  To this day I have my reservations about reading an emotional book, especially if it pertains to animals.

Comment:A very competent paper, nearly free of mechanical errors but lacking the coherent development of the superior essay.  It is also occasionally repetitious and a bit unfocused at times.  (The correct title of this book is Misty of Chincoteaque.)

Sample Essay Score:  4

In the summer of 1981 I worked for the Army Corps of Engineers on the Warm Springs Dam Project.  Much to my objections I was to spend the entire summer living alone, without my wife, since she had obligations to keep in Eureka, California.

The project was located 7 miles southwest of Cloverdale, Ca., in an area which is essentially agricultural.  Housing in the area was very scarce and the lodging which could be found was either too expensive or unsuitable.  By my own preference, I decided it would be nice to camp out in the woods for the entire duration of the summer.

At first the evenings after work were hot but beautifully peaceful.  It didn't take long though until I found my self bored to death looking for something to do besides play solitare.  How did the people in the early days of our world stand life without television.  I was forced to find some other means of entertainment which just happened to be reading.

The only reading material which was at my camp was a book left there by my wife on her last visit entitled "The Stix Complex."  This book to most of the world I'm sure has no great literary value, but to me, it was the greatest entertainment I had ever found.  I realized that in the reading of a book, ones own imagination can bring out much more detail in a story than television ever could.

I don't feel that it was the specific book that struck me so much that summer, and it probably could have been any book.  I realized that we expect to be entertained by television and movies so much that we forget that we can entertain ourselves to a much higher degree.  I still watch television, but I now read much more for enjoyment.

Comment:Although this essay addresses all three aspects of the topic, development of them is thin.  The writer devotes most of the essay to describing his situation and passes rather quickly over the book itself and its effects on him.  Still, despite a few mechanical flaws, this is clearly a competent piece of writing.

Sample Essay Score:  3

I was strongly affected by a book I read called Never Cry Wolf.  The book discribes a remote animal behavor study, located in a mountainous region of northern Canada.  The purpose of the study was to observe the animal behavior of wolfs in there natural environment. The study was conducted by a wildlife biologist, working for the Canadian goverment.

Up until the time I read the book, I had the impression that wolfs where among the meanest creatures on the planet.  I may have received this impression from childhood fairy tales that were told to me.  After reading the book severl times, my impression of wolfs had changed.  I no longer viewed wolfs as mean creatues, but instead viewed them as primarly passive creatures.  Their intent was not to harm, but to survive.

Animal behavior became a primary interest of mine after reading the book, Never Cry Wolf.  Although, I am not a wildlife major, I have assisted in a wildlife study on wolfs.  I would have never gained this experience if I had not read Never Cry wolf.  The knowledge I gained from the book has opened my eyes to nature.

Comment:While no parts of the topic are omitted, treatment of them tends to be superficial.  The writer provides very little supporting detail.  Considerable repetition is present because of the predominantly simple sentences used.  (Note, for example, how the three opening sentences can easily be combined into one: I was strongly affected by a book I read called Never Cry Wolf, which describes the behavior of wolves living in their natural environment in the mountains of northern Canada.)  Spelling is also weak.

Sample Essay Score:  2

The purpose of this essay is to describe my personal experience; that of a particular book which has greatly affected me.  This book is Sweet Thursday by John Stienbeck.  This book has greatly affected my over all outlook on life in general.  Sweet Thursdaychanged the way I think about myself and others.  Also, it has changed the way I feel about my own career.

The main character of the book was Doc.  Doc had a very profound outlook on twards life, which I found quite interesting.  He gave his career all of his attention yet still felt an emptyness inside.  This was because he was without a meaningful relationship with a women.  I too feel this emptyness, but because of Sweet Thursday I am able to understand what it is.  This understanding gives me hope when career goals are overwelming.

Comment:Although this essay does not ignore the question, it treats it very poorly.  The essay is both thin in content and lacking in development.  The writer uses repetitious simple sentences rather than more sophisticated sentence structures which would combine and properly subordinate thoughts and eliminate the repetitions.


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In a narrative essay you tell a story, often about a personal experience, but you also make a point. So, the purpose is not only to tell an entertaining tale but also show the reason for the story and the importance of the experience.    

Narrative Essays: To Tell a Story

There are four types of essays:

  • Exposition - gives factual information about various topics to the reader. 
  • Description - describes in colorful detail the characteristics and traits of a person, place, or thing. 
  • Argument - convinces the reader by demonstrating the truth or falsity of a topic. 
  • Narrative - tells a vivid story, usually from one person’s viewpoint.

A narrative essay uses all the story elements - a beginning, middle and ending, plot, characters, setting and climax - all coming together to complete the story.

Essential Elements of Narrative Essays

The focus of a narrative essay is the plot, which is told using enough details to build to a climax. Here's how:

  • It is usually told chronologically.
  • It has a purpose, which is usually stated in the opening sentence.
  • It may use dialogue.
  • It is written with sensory details and bright descriptions to involve the reader. All these details relate in some way to the main point the writer is making.

All of these elements need to seamlessly combine. A few examples of narrative essays follow. Narrative essays can be quite long, so here only the beginnings of essays are included:

Learning Can Be Scary

This excerpt about learning new things and new situations is an example of a personal narrative essay that describes learning to swim.

“Learning something new can be a scary experience. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was learn how to swim. I was always afraid of the water, but I decided that swimming was an important skill that I should learn. I also thought it would be good exercise and help me to become physically stronger. What I didn't realize was that learning to swim would also make me a more confident person.
New situations always make me a bit nervous, and my first swimming lesson was no exception. After I changed into my bathing suit in the locker room, I stood timidly by the side of the pool waiting for the teacher and other students to show up. After a couple of minutes the teacher came over. She smiled and introduced herself, and two more students joined us. Although they were both older than me, they didn't seem to be embarrassed about not knowing how to swim. I began to feel more at ease.”

The Manager. The Leader.

The following excerpt is a narrative essay about a manager who was a great leader. Notice the intriguing first sentence that captures your attention right away.

“Jerry was the kind of guy you love to hate. He was always in a good mood and always had something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, 'If I were any better, I would be twins!' He was a unique manager because he had several waiters who had followed him around from restaurant to restaurant. The reason the waiters followed Jerry was because of his attitude. He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Jerry was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation.”

The Climb

This excerpt from The Climb also captures your attention right away by creating a sense of mystery. The reader announces that he or she has "this fear" and you want to read on to see what that fear is.

“I have this fear. It causes my legs to shake. I break out in a cold sweat. I start jabbering to anyone who is nearby. As thoughts of certain death run through my mind, the world appears a precious, treasured place. I imagine my own funeral, then shrink back at the implications of where my thoughts are taking me. My stomach feels strange. My palms are clammy. I am terrified of heights. Of course, it’s not really a fear of being in a high place. Rather, it is the view of a long way to fall, of rocks far below me and no firm wall between me and the edge. My sense of security is screamingly absent. There are no guardrails, flimsy though I picture them, or other safety devices. I can rely only on my own surefootedness—or lack thereof.”

Disneyland

The following narrative essay involves a parent reflecting on taking his kids to Disneyland for the first time.

“It was a hot, sunny day, when I finally took my kids to the Disneyland. My son Matthew and my daughter Audra endlessly asked me to show them the dreamland of many children, with Mickey Mouse and Snow White walking by and arousing a huge portion of emotions. Somehow these fairy-tale creatures can make children happy without such 'small' presents as $100 Lego or a Barbie house with six rooms and garden furniture. Therefore, I thought that Disneyland was a good invention for loving parents.”

The Sacred Grove of Oshogbo by Jeffrey Tayler

The following essay contains descriptive language that helps to paint a vivid picture for the reader of an interesting encounter.

“As I passed through the gates I heard a squeaky voice. A diminutive middle-aged man came out from behind the trees — the caretaker. He worked a toothbrush-sized stick around in his mouth, digging into the crevices between algae'd stubs of teeth. He was barefoot; he wore a blue batik shirt known as a buba, baggy purple trousers, and an embroidered skullcap. I asked him if he would show me around the shrine. Motioning me to follow, he spat out the results of his stick work and set off down the trail.”

Playground Memory

This excerpt from “Playground Memory” has very good sensory details.

“Looking back on a childhood filled with events and memories, I find it rather difficult to pick on that leaves me with the fabled “warm and fuzzy feelings.” As the daughter of an Air Force Major, I had the pleasure of traveling across America in many moving trips. I have visited the monstrous trees of the Sequoia National Forest, stood on the edge of the Grande Canyon and have jumped on the beds at Caesar’s Palace in Lake Tahoe. However, I have discovered that when reflecting on my childhood, it is not the trips that come to mind, instead there are details from everyday doings; a deck of cards, a silver bank or an ice cream flavor. One memory that comes to mind belongs to a day of no particular importance. It was late in the fall in Merced, California on the playground of my old elementary school; an overcast day with the wind blowing strong. I stood on the blacktop, pulling my hoodie over my ears. The wind was causing miniature tornados; we called them “dirt devils”, to swarm around me.”

Christmas Cookies

This excerpt from “Christmas Cookies” makes good use of descriptive language.

“Although I have grown up to be entirely inept at the art of cooking, as to make even the most wretched chef ridicule my sad baking attempts, my childhood would have indicated otherwise; I was always on the countertop next to my mother’s cooking bowl, adding and mixing ingredients that would doubtlessly create a delicious food. When I was younger, cooking came intrinsically with the holiday season, which made that time of year the prime occasion for me to unite with ounces and ounces of satin dark chocolate, various other messy and gooey ingredients, numerous cooking utensils, and the assistance of my mother to cook what would soon be an edible masterpiece. The most memorable of the holiday works of art were our Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, which my mother and I first made when I was about six and are now made annually.”  

Tips on Writing a Narrative Essay

When writing a narrative essay, remember that you are sharing sensory and emotional details with the reader.

  • Your words need to be vivid and colorful to help the reader feel the same feelings that you felt.
  • Elements of the story need to support the point you are making and you need to remember to make reference to that point in the first sentence.
  • You should make use of conflict and sequence like in any story.
  • You may use flashbacks and flash forwards to help the story build to a climax.
  • It is usually written in the first person, but third person may also be used.

Remember, a well-written narrative essay tells a story and also makes a point.

Do you have a good example to share? Add your example here.

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Narrative Essay Examples

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In a narrative essay you tell a story, often about a personal experience, but you also make a point. So, the purpose is not only to tell an entertaining tale but also show the reason for the story and the importance of the experience.    

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