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Six Principles of the Narrative Essay

My principles for narrative essay-writing. So far.

Six Principles of the Narrative Essay

My principles for narrative essay-writing. So far.


1. Write for the switch
It takes time to become immersed in a story, and there is an almost-unnoticeable moment when a reader moves into the meat of the piece and begins to care about it. Figure out where that point is, or needs to be, and make sure the reader gets far enough in for you to flip the switch.

2. Iterate the thread
Don’t worry about nailing the structure of the narrative on the first draft. Just throw words and paragraphs on the screen as quickly as you can, then arrange and tweak them until the best possible story emerges.

3. Drive
Be mindful of your essay’s underlying truths and messages, and use them to justify decisions about what story points to include, what to cut, and the tone to take in conveying them.

4. But enjoy the scenery
At the same time, don’t force it. Leave breathing room for other themes to come out and for more important ones to take over.

5. Shine a soft light
Reveal implicitly what the story means, why it’s important, why it’s being told in this particular way. Trust readers to extract meaning themselves. Don’t spell it out.

6. Find the signature
Tell and resolve the story and its themes with your own brand of beautiful brushstrokes. The way you do this will determine your style as a writer.