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.  Let's look at the individual parts.

The Narrative

    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.

That 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 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.

Descriptive Writing

    Descriptive writing gives the reader what the five senses would absorb in that setting:  what is seen, physically felt, heard, smelled, and tasted.  Consequently, each 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. 

    The acrid smell of a petroleum-created ball, red and three feet in circumference, floated through my nostrils just before I latched onto its cool, smooth surface that gave only slightly as I fell to the hard,     unforgiving white tiled floor, my back slapping the floor like an irate mother spanking a baby's bottom.  I tasted the bitter taste of dust as my tongue popped out in pain, accidently licking the orb I         would embrace during ten months of traction in a St. Louis hospital. 

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.

A 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 can dunk the ball without jumping.

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.


The Process

Think 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! 

Divide 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.

The standard elements of a paragraph apply to 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.

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.

Remember to discuss the lesson you learned and how it changed or will change your life in your third body paragraph.

Now, 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.

After 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.