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Narrative: The spoken or written account of connected events; a story

Narrative Introductions

The introduction of a narrative essay sets the scene for the story that follows. Interesting introductions—for any kind of writing—engage and draw readers in because they want to know more.

Since narratives tell a story and involve events, the introduction of a narrative quite often starts in the middle of the action in order to bring the reader into the story immediately, as shown in examples 1, 3, and 5 below. Other effective introductions briefly provide background for the point of the story—often the lesson learned—as in 4 below and the first example on the reverse side.

Below are some strategies for writing effective openings. Remember your introduction should be interesting and draw your reader in. It should make your audience want to read more. If it's a person, begin with a description of the person and then say why that person mattered. If it's an event, begin with the action or begin by reflecting back on why the event mattered, then go into the narrative.

  1. Dialogue or the middle of the action
    1. "Potter...take off!" my coach yelled as I was cracking yet another joke during practice.
  2. Question
    1. Why do such a small percentage of high school athletes play Division One sports?
  3. Snapshot
    1. It was a cold, rainy night, under the lights on the field. I lined up the ball on the penalty line under the wet grass. After glancing up at the tied score, I stared into the goalkeeper's eyes.
    2. My heart pounds in my chest. My stomach full of nervous butterflies. I hear the crowd talking and names being cheered.
  4. Flashback or reflection
    1. Slipping the red and white uniform over my head for the first time is a feeling I will never forget.
    2. "No football." Those words rang in my head for hours as I thought about what a stupid decision I had made three nights before.
  5. Sound effect
    1. "SNAP!" I heard the startling sound of my left knee before I ever felt the pain.
  6. Fact or startling information
    1. According to the NCAA, there are over 400,000 student-athletes in the United States.

Narrative Story

  • Know your Reader's Expectations: Your story should be...
    • Unified: Ensure all actions in your story develop a central idea or argument.
    • Interesting: Draw your readers into your scene(s), making them feel as if they're experiencing them first-hand.
    • Coherent: Indicate changes in time, location, and characters clearly (even if your story is not chronological).
    • Climactic: Include a moment (the climax) when your ending is revealed or the importance of events is made clear.
  • Remember the 5 W's: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
  • Write vividly: Include significant sensory information in the scene (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) to make readers feel they are there
  • Develop "Thick Descriptions"

Clifford Geertz describes thick descriptions as accounts that include not only facts but also commentary and interpretation. The goal is to vividly describe an action or scene, often through the use of metaphors, analogies, and other forms of interpretation that can emote strong feelings and images in your readers' minds.


"The flatness of the Delta made the shack, the quarters, and the railroad tracks nearby seem like some tabletop model train set. Like many Mississippi shacks, this one looked as if no one had lived there since the birth of the blues. Four sunflowers leaned alongside a sagging porch. When the front door creaked open, cockroaches bigger than pecans scurried for cover [...] walls wept with mildew."

—from Bruce Watson's Freedom Summer

Narrative Checklist

  1. Does the story have a clear and unifying idea? If not, what could that idea be?
  2. If the story doesn't include a thesis sentence, is the unifying idea of the story clear without it?
  3. Is the story unified, with all the details contributing to the central idea?
  4. Is the story arranged chronologically? If not, is the organization of ideas and events still effective and clear?
  5. Do the transitions show the movement from idea to idea and scene to scene?
  6. Are there enough details?
  7. Is there dialogue at important moments?
  8. Is there a climax to the story—moment at which the action is resolved or a key idea is revealed?