Writing Center

A Description for Narrative Writing

by Andrew Eggerding, Graduate Assistant

Academic writing can sometimes get a bad reputation for being stale, uninteresting, and ultimately boring. That just isn't true. Every writing assignment is an opportunity to tell a good story, especially when you're writing a narrative essay. Even if you're writing a rhetorical analysis or a history paper, the components that make up a good narrative can help make your writing more interesting to read and your points more impactful.

Before you begin writing it is in your best interest as a writer to choose a topic that you personally find interesting. When writing a narrative essay, a topic or subject to which you have an emotional or significant connection will make the writing more interesting and perhaps easier to write about. There is a natural relationship between interest in a topic and how the writer documents it. Typically, the more interested the writer, the more interesting the writing.

It's easy to think that if a narrative is personal, that is, from the perspective of the writer, the easier it will be to write. Still, writing your own story can be a daunting task, especially if it spans a wide range of time. Combat that anxiety by getting specific and narrow down the topic of your essay or paper. The more narrow the topic or thesis, the more room there will be to write a descriptive, illustrative story that will engage the reader. Pick a moment or experience to write about instead of an expansive autobiography.

Description may be the most important component to writing a good narrative. The first step to better description is to remember that you are human. Consider your thoughts, feelings and actions about the event or topic you're writing. Most importantly, use the concrete language that recalls the senses. For example, imagine you're writing a narrative about your neighborhood ice cream stand. You could write "I ate a vanilla ice cream cone because it's my favorite." A more descriptive way of writing that phrase might be "The sweet smell of vanilla swirled around me as I devoured the icy treat on a hot, summer evening." Appealing to the reader's five senses can help them connect with the writer, to imagine themselves in the story.

Too much description could be an enemy of your writing, distracting from your narrative's main theme. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King says, "In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because 'it got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling." We may not write about subjects like "The King of Horror," but he makes a fair point: keep focused on your main theme and use description when it matters.

In truth, there is no right way to tell your story because it is personal. As long as you select a specific moment or experience, use vivid descriptions, and share your emotions or thoughts, your connection to the reader will be greater.

You might also like: