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  • How to write a narrative essay | Example & tips

How to Write a Narrative Essay | Example & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A narrative essay tells a story. In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay , along with the descriptive essay , allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing .

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Table of contents

What is a narrative essay for, choosing a topic, interactive example of a narrative essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about narrative essays.

When assigned a narrative essay, you might find yourself wondering: Why does my teacher want to hear this story? Topics for narrative essays can range from the important to the trivial. Usually the point is not so much the story itself, but the way you tell it.

A narrative essay is a way of testing your ability to tell a story in a clear and interesting way. You’re expected to think about where your story begins and ends, and how to convey it with eye-catching language and a satisfying pace.

These skills are quite different from those needed for formal academic writing. For instance, in a narrative essay the use of the first person (“I”) is encouraged, as is the use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense.

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interesting story essay

Narrative essay assignments vary widely in the amount of direction you’re given about your topic. You may be assigned quite a specific topic or choice of topics to work with.

  • Write a story about your first day of school.
  • Write a story about your favorite holiday destination.

You may also be given prompts that leave you a much wider choice of topic.

  • Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself.
  • Write about an achievement you are proud of. What did you accomplish, and how?

In these cases, you might have to think harder to decide what story you want to tell. The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to talk about a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

For example, a trip where everything went according to plan makes for a less interesting story than one where something unexpected happened that you then had to respond to. Choose an experience that might surprise the reader or teach them something.

Narrative essays in college applications

When applying for college , you might be asked to write a narrative essay that expresses something about your personal qualities.

For example, this application prompt from Common App requires you to respond with a narrative essay.

In this context, choose a story that is not only interesting but also expresses the qualities the prompt is looking for—here, resilience and the ability to learn from failure—and frame the story in a way that emphasizes these qualities.

An example of a short narrative essay, responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” is shown below.

Hover over different parts of the text to see how the structure works.

Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.

Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.

A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.

The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?

The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.

Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.

When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

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550 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing

Questions that invite students to tell stories, describe memories, make observations, imagine possibilities, and reflect on who they are and what they believe.

interesting story essay

By The Learning Network

Update, Sept. 9, 2022: We published a new collection of 445 narrative and personal writing prompts.

We’ve been posting fresh writing prompts every school day for over a decade now, and every so often we create a themed collection like this one to help you find what you need all in one place.

This fall, in honor of our new narrative-writing unit and our first-ever Personal Narrative Essay Contest for teenagers, we’ve rounded up 550 evergreen questions on everything from family, friendships and growing up to gender, spirituality, money, school, sports, social media, travel, dating, food, health and more. (They’re also all available here as a PDF .)

We hope they’ll inspire you, whether you’re entering our related contest or just want to improve your writing skills. Like all our Student Opinion questions , each links to a related Times article, which is free to read if you access it from our site.

So dive in and pick the questions that most inspire you to tell an interesting story, describe a memorable event, observe the details in your world, imagine a possibility, or reflect on who you are and what you believe.

Overcoming Adversity

1. How Resilient Are You? 2. What Do You Do When You Encounter Obstacles to Success? 3. When Have You Failed? What Did You Learn From It? 4. Have You Ever Felt Like an Outsider? 5. What Are Your Secret Survival Strategies? 6. When Have You Reinvented Yourself? 7. How Often Do You Leave Your ‘Comfort Zone’? 8. When Was the Last Time You Did Something That Scared or Challenged You? 9. How Do You Handle Fear? 10. What Do You Gain From Pursuing Something You Do Really, Really Badly? 11. Do You Give Yourself Enough Credit for Your Own Successes? 12. How Often Do You Cry? 13. How Do You Cope With Grief? 14. How Have You Handled Being the ‘New Kid’? 15. How Do You Deal With Haters? 16. How Do You React When Provoked? 17. Does Stress Affect Your Ability to Make Good Decisions? 18. Are You Too Hard on Yourself? 19. How Do You Find Peace in Your Life? 20. Does Your Life Leave You Enough Time to Relax? 21. What Did You Once Hate but Now Like? 22. Do Adults Who Are ‘Only Trying to Help’ Sometimes Make Things Worse? 23. How Well Do You Take Criticism?

Your Personality

24. What Motivates You? 25. What Makes You Happy? 26. What Are You Good At? 27. How Do You Deal With Boredom? 28. Do You Like Being Alone? 29. How Full Is Your Glass? 30. Do You Have a Hard Time Making Decisions? 31. How Much Self-Control Do You Have? 32. Are You a Patient Person? 33. How Well Do Rewards and Incentives Work to Motivate You? 34. How Productive and Organized Are You? 35. Under What Conditions Do You Do Your Best Work? 36. How Do You Express Yourself Creatively? 37. Do You Hold Grudges? 38. How Good Are You at Judging Your Own Talents? 39. How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? 40. Do You Take More Risks When You Are Around Your Friends? 41. Are You a Procrastinator? 42. What Role Does Envy Play in Your Life? 43. How Much of a Daredevil Are You? 44. Are You a Perfectionist? 45. How Impulsive Are You? 46. Are You a Novelty-Seeker? 47. What Annoys You? 48. Do You Apologize Too Much? 49. What Animal Are You Most Like? 50. How Materialistic Are You? 51. How Easy — or Hard — Is It for You to Say No When You Want To? 52. Are You a Hoarder or a Minimalist? 53. Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert? 54. Are You Popular, Quirky or Conformist? 55. How Good Is Your Sense of Direction? 56. How Competitive Are You? 57. What Assumptions Do People Make About You? 58. Are You More of a Leader or a Follower?

59. What Are Your Hobbies? 60. What Are Your Passions? 61. What Would You Choose to Do If You Had Unlimited Free Time and No Restrictions? 62. Are There Activities You Used to Love That Are Now So Competitive They’re Not Fun Anymore? 63. What Activities Make You Feel Most Alive? 64. What Do You Collect? 65. What Work, Sport or Pastime Do You Like to Do at Night?

66. Do You Wish You Had a Different Morning Routine? 67. What Ordinary Moments Would You Include in a Video About Your Life? 68. What Are Your Best ‘Life Hacks’? 69. Do You Spend Enough Time With Other People? 70. How Do You Greet Your Friends and Family? 71. How Do You Remember What You Need to Remember? 72. What’s Your Sunday Routine? 73. How Often Do You Talk to Yourself? 74. When and For What Reasons Do You Seek Silence? 75. What Habits Do You Have, and Have You Ever Tried to Change Them? 76. What Small Things Have You Seen and Taken Note Of Today? 77. What Are the Sounds That Make Up the Background Noise in Your Life? 78. What Sounds Annoy You? 79. What Public Behavior Annoys You Most? 80. What Are Some Recent Moments of Happiness in Your Life? 81. What Are You Grateful For?

Role Models

82. What Heroic Acts Have You Performed or Witnessed? 83. What Are Some ‘Words of Wisdom’ That Guide Your Life? 84. Who Outside Your Family Has Made a Difference in Your Life? 85. What Does the World Need to Know About an Important Person in Your Life? 86. To Whom, or What, Would You Like to Write a Thank-You Note? 87. What Does Dr. King’s Legacy Mean to You? 88. What Six People, Living or Dead, Would You Invite to Dinner? 89. Who’s Your ‘Outsider Role Model’?

90. How Do You Define ‘Family’? 91. What Events Have Brought You Closer to Your Family? 92. What Have You and Your Family Accomplished Together? 93. What Is Your Relationship With Your Siblings Like? 94. Have You Ever Felt Pressured by Family or Others in Making an Important Decision About Your Future? 95. What Possessions Does Your Family Treasure? 96. What Hobbies Have Been Passed Down in Your Family? 97. What’s the Story Behind Your Name? 98. How Have You Paid Tribute to Loved Ones? 99. What Family Traditions Do You Want to Carry On When You Get Older? 100. Did Your Parents Have a Life Before They Had Kids? 101. How Much Do You Know About Your Family’s History? 102. Where Would You Visit To Find Out More About Your Family’s Past?

Parents & Parenting

103. How Close Are You to Your Parents? 104. How Are You and Your Parents Alike and Different? 105. How Much Freedom Have Your Parents Given You? 106. Do You Push Your Parents’ Buttons? 107. How Often Do You Fight With Your Parents? 108. Are Your Parents Addicted to Their Phones? 109. Is Your Family Stressed, Tired and Rushed? 110. How Do You Get What You Want From Your Parents? 111. Do You Ever Feel Embarrassed by Your Parents? 112. Do Your Parents Try Too Hard to Be Cool? 113. Do Your Parents Support Your Learning? 114. Do Your Parents Yell at You? 115. Do You Want Your Parents to Stop Asking You ‘How Was School?’ 116. How Much Do Your Parents Help With Your Homework? 117. How Has Your Family Helped or Hindered Your Transition to a New School? 118. Have Your Parents and Teachers Given You Room to Create? 119. Are You Conforming to or Rebelling Against Your Parents’ Wishes for You? 120. What Advice Do You Have for Teenagers and Their Parents? 121. Do Your Parents Spy on You?

Your Neighborhood

122. What’s Special About Your Hometown? 123. Who Are the ‘Characters’ That Make Your Town Interesting? 124. What Marketing Slogan Would You Use for Your Town or City? 125. After Home and School, Where Do You Find the Strongest Feeling of Community? 126. What Do the Types of Dogs in Your Neighborhood Say About Where You Live? 127. Who Is the ‘Mayor’ of Your School or Neighborhood? 128. How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are? 129. What ‘Urban Legends’ Are There About Places in Your Area? 130. Do You Know Your Way Around Your City or Town? 131. How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors? 132. What Is Your Favorite Place? 133. What’s Your Favorite Neighborhood Joint? 134. What Is Your Favorite Street? 135. Do You Hang Out in the Park? 136. What Buildings Do You Love? What Buildings Do You Hate? 137. Have You Ever Interacted With the Police? 138. What Ideas Do You Have for Enhancing Your Community? 139. Where Do You Think You Will Live When You Are an Adult? 140. Would You Most Want to Live in a City, a Suburb or the Country?

141. What is Your Favorite Place in Your House? 142. Do You Wish You Had the Go-to House? 143. Do You Need to De-Clutter Your Life? 144. Do You Plan on Saving Any of Your Belongings for the Future? 145. Is Your Bedroom a Nightmare? 146. What Would You Grab in a Fire? 147. Do You Think You Might Like Communal Living When You’re an Adult? 148. Who Lived Long Ago Where You Live Now? 149. What Would Your Dream Home Be Like? 150. What City or Town Most Captures Your Imagination?

Childhood Memories

151. What Was Your Most Precious Childhood Possession? 152. What Objects Tell the Story of Your Life? 153. Have You Ever Given, or Received, a Perfect Gift? 154. What Were Your Favorite Picture Books When You Were Little? 155. What’s the Best Party You’ve Ever Been To? 156. What Places Do You Remember Fondly From Childhood? 157. What Food or Flavor Do You Remember Tasting for the First Time? 158. What Do You Wish You Could See, Hear, Read or Experience for the First Time All Over Again? 159. Have You Ever Felt Embarrassed by Things You Used to Like? 160. Do You Wish You Could Return to Moments From Your Past? 161. Was There a Toy You Wanted as a Child but Never Got? 162. What Childhood Rules Did You Break? 163. What Is the Most Memorable Thing You Have Ever Lost or Found? 164. What Is Your Earliest Memory? 165. What Nicknames Have You Ever Gotten or Given? 166. What Are Your Best Sleepover Memories? 167. What Old, Worn Out Thing Can You Just Not Part With? 168. What Is Your Most Prized Possession?

169. What Have You Learned in Your Teens? 170. What Rites of Passage Mark the Transition to Adulthood in Your Community? 171. What Letter of Inspiration Would You Write to Your Younger Self? 172. Do You Hate When Adults Ask You What You Want to Be When You Grow Up? 173. Do You Look Forward to Old Age? 174. What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation? 175. What Have You Learned From Older People? 176. What Advice Do You Have for Younger Students? 177. Do You Recognize Yourself in Descriptions of ‘Generation Z’? 178. Do Other People Care Too Much About Your Post-High School Plans? 179. Do You Have ‘Emerging Adult’ Skills? 180. What Do Older Generations Misunderstand About Teenagers Today? 181. What Have You Learned From a Younger Person — and What Have You Taught An Older Person? 182. What Legacy Do You Want to Leave Behind?

Morality & Ethics

183. What Ethical Dilemmas Have You Faced? 184. Have You Ever Taken a Stand That Isolated You From Your Peers? 185. Have You Ever Donated Your Time, Talents, Possessions or Money to Support Anyone in Need? 186. What Acts of Kindness Have You Witnessed or Participated In? 187. Have You Ever ‘Paid It Forward’? 188. How Would You Like to Help Our World? 189. What Would You Invent to Make the World a Better Place? 190. What Would You Risk Your Life For? 191. How Trustworthy Are You? 192. How Comfortable Are You With Lying? 193. When Do You Lie? 194. Have You Ever Lied to Your Parents or Done Something Behind Their Backs? 195. If You Drink or Use Drugs, Do Your Parents Know? 196. Have You Ever Taken Something You Weren’t Supposed To? 197. Do You Ever Eavesdrop? 198. Do You Know How to Say ‘I’m Sorry?’

Religion, Spirituality & Beliefs

199. What Is the Role of Religion or Spirituality in Your Life? 200. How Often Do You Start Conversations about Faith or Spirituality? 201. Do You Believe That Everything Happens for a Reason? 202. How Much Control Do You Think You Have Over Your Fate? 203. Can You Be Good Without God? 204. Can You Pass a Basic Religion Test? 205. What Can You Learn From Other Religions? 206. What Legends and Myths Do You Believe In? 207. Do You Believe in Astrology? 208. Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Gender, Race & Sexuality

209. Do You Feel Constricted by Gender Norms? 210. Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters? 211. Have You Ever Been Told You Couldn’t Do Something Because of Your Gender? 212. Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies? 213. How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body? 214. What Experiences Have You Had With Gender Bias in School? 215. What Does it Mean to Be ‘a Real Man’? 216. What Have You Learned From the Women in Your Life? 217. What Messages About Gender Have You Gotten From Music? 218. How Do You Feel About Being Told to Smile? 219. Have You Ever Tried to Hide Your Racial or Ethnic Identity? 220. Do You Ever Talk About Issues of Race and Class With Your Friends? 221. Have You Experienced Racism or Other Kinds of Discrimination in School? 222. What Has Your Sex Education Been Like?

Money & Social Class

223. What Are Your Attitudes Toward Money? 224. Are You a Saver or a Spender? 225. What Have Your Parents Taught You About Money? 226. Do You Expect Your Parents to Give You Money? 227. How Important a Role Has Money, Work or Social Class Played in Your Life? 228. Do You See Great Disparities of Wealth in Your Community? 229. Can Money Buy You Happiness? 230. What Are the Best Things in Life and Are They Free? 231. What Are Your Expectations About Earning, Saving and Spending Money? 232. How Much Financial Help Do You Expect From Your Parents in the Future? 233. What Choices Do You Make About Money Every Day?

234. Are You Distracted by Technology? 235. Are You Distracted by Your Phone? 236. Are You ‘Addicted’ to Texting? 237. Do Screens Get in the Way of the Rest of Your Life? 238. Do You Experience FOMO When You Unplug? 239. Could You Go a Year Without a Smartphone? 240. Is Your Phone Love Hurting Your Relationships? 241. How Much of Your Day is Voluntarily Spent Screen-Free? 242. To What Piece of Technology Would You Write a ‘Love Letter’?

The Internet

243. How Do You Know if What You Read Online Is True? 244. How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews? 245. What Has YouTube Taught You? 246. What Would You Teach the World in an Online Video? 247. Do You Worry About Your Digital Privacy? 248. Do You Listen to Podcasts? 249. Would You Share an Embarrassing Story Online? 250. Do You Leave Funny Comments Online? 251. What Are Your Experiences With Internet-Based Urban Legends? 252. How Do You Use Wikipedia? 253. Have You Ever Been Scammed? 254. Whom Would You Share Your Passwords With? 255. Do You Ever Seek Advice on the Internet? 256. What Are Your Favorite Viral Videos?

Social Media

257. What Role Does Instagram Play in Your Life? 258. Do You Have ‘Instagram Envy’? 259. Do the Adults in Your Life Follow You on Social Media? 260. Have You Ever Gone to a Place for the Primary Purpose of Taking Selfies? 261. Who Is Your Favorite Social Media Star? 262. How Much Do You Trust the Celebrities and Social Media Stars You Follow? 263. Are You the Same Person on Social Media as You Are in Real Life? 264. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had on Facebook? 265. Why Do You Share Photos? 266. How Do You Archive Your Life? 267. Have You Ever Posted, Emailed or Texted Something You Wish You Could Take Back? 268. Have You Ever Sent an Odd Message Because of Auto-Correct? 269. Would You Want Your Photo or Video to Go Viral? 270. Do You Worry Colleges or Employers Might Read Your Social Media Posts Someday? 271. What Advice Do You Have for Younger Kids About Navigating Social Media?

272. What Are Your Earliest Memories of Music? 273. Who in Your Life Introduces You to New Music? 274. How Much Is Your Taste in Music Based on What Your Friends Like? 275. What Role Does Hip-Hop Play in Your Life? 276. What’s Your Karaoke Song? 277. How Closely Do You Listen to Lyrics? 278. What Is Your Favorite Musical Instrument? 279. What Would You Name Your Band?

Movies, Television & Video Games

280. What Have You Learned About Life From Watching Movies? 281. What Is Your Favorite Sports Movie? 282. Do You Like Horror Movies? 283. What Are Your Favorite TV Shows? 284. What Role Does Television Play in Your Life and the Life of Your Family? 285. What Stereotypical Characters Make You Cringe? 286. Have You Fallen Into ‘Friends’ or Any Other Older Television Shows? 287. How Much Are You Influenced by Advertising? 288. Do You Play Violent Video Games? 289. Who Are Your Opponents in Online Gaming? 290. What Classic Video Games Do You Still Enjoy Playing? 291. Are You a Fortnite Addict? 292. Do You Gamify Your Life?

Books & Reading

293. Read Any Good Books Lately? 294. What Books Do You Think Every Teenager Should Read? 295. What Role Have Books Played in Your Life? 296. Has a Novel Ever Helped You Understand Yourself or Your World Better? 297. Has a Book, Movie, Television Show, Song or Video Game Ever Inspired You to Do Something New? 298. What Book Would You Add to the High School Curriculum? 299. What Have You Learned from Comics? 300. Do You Read or Write Poetry? 301. What Is the Scariest Story You Have Ever Heard?

302. What Purpose Does Writing Serve in Your Life? 303. Do You Keep a Diary or Journal? 304. Do You Want to Write a Book? 305. When Do You Write by Hand? 306. Do You Write in Cursive? 307. Do You Write in Your Books? 308. What ‘Mundane Moments’ From Your Life Might Make Great Essay Material? 309. What Is Your Most Memorable Writing Assignment? 310. Do You Ever Write About Challenges You Face in Life? 311. What’s Your Favorite Joke? 312. If You Had a Column in The New York Times, What Would You Write About? 313. What Would You Write in a Letter to the Editor?

314. What Has Arts Education Done For You? 315. What Work of Art Has Changed Your Life? 316. What Are the Most Memorable Works of Visual Art You Have Seen? 317. Who Is Your Favorite Visual Artist? What Is Your Favorite Work of Art? 318. Which Photograph Stays In Your Memory? 319. What Would You Like to Learn to Make by Hand? 320. Are You Intimidated by Classical Music and Art? 321. Do You Love to Dance? 322. Have You Ever Performed for an Audience or Shared Creative Work With Others? 323. Have You Ever Stumbled Upon a Cool Public Performance? 324. What Show Do You Wish Your School Would Stage?

Language & Speech

325. What’s Your Favorite Word? 326. What Words Do You Hate? 327. Do You Say ‘Kind of, Sort of’ More Than You Realize? 328. What Makes a Great Conversation? 329. How Often Do You Have ‘Deep Discussions’? 330. Do You Wish Your Conversations Were Less Small Talk and More ‘Big Talk’? 331. How Much Information Is ‘Too Much Information’? 332. How Good Are You at Coming Up With Witty Comebacks? 333. Do You Sometimes ‘Hide’ Behind Irony? 334. How Good Is Your Grammar? 335. Do You Speak a Second, or Third, Language? 336. What Does Your Body Language Communicate?

337. Do You Like School? 338. Are You Stressed About School? 339. Are High School Students Being Worked Too Hard? 340. Would You Want to Go to a School Like This One? 341. How Much Do You Speak Up in School? 342. What ‘Pop-Up’ Classes Do You Wish Your School Offered? 343. Is Your School a Safe Learning Space? 344. Would You Want to Be Home-Schooled? 345. What Can Other Schools Learn — and Copy — From Your School? 346. What Do You Hope to Get Out of High School? 347. What Are Your Thoughts on Riding the School Bus? 348. Do You Feel Your School and Teachers Welcome Both Conservative and Liberal Points of View? 349. Do You Want to Be ‘Promposed’ To? 350. How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community? 351. Can Students at Your School Talk Openly About Their Mental Health Issues? 352. What Career or Technical Classes Do You Wish Your School Offered?

Learning & Studying

353. Do You Have Too Much Homework? 354. Do You Need a Homework Therapist? 355. What’s the Most Challenging Assignment You’ve Ever Had? 356. Are You Afraid of Math? 357. How Would You Do on a Civics Test? 358. What Was Your Favorite Field Trip? 359. What Are Your Best Tips for Studying? 360. What Kind of Time Management Skills Are You Learning from the Adults in Your Life? 361. What Would You Like to Have Memorized?

362. What Do You Wish Your Teachers Knew About You? 363. When Has a Teacher Inspired You? 364. What Teacher Would You Like to Thank? 365. Have You Ever Been Humiliated by a Teacher? How Did it Affect You? 366. Have Your Teachers or Textbooks Ever Gotten It Wrong? 367. Does Your Teacher’s Identity Affect Your Learning? 368. Has a Teacher Ever Changed Your Mind-Set? 369. Do You Have a Tutor?

370. What Personal Essay Topic Would You Assign to College Applicants? 371. How Prepared Are You For College? How Well Do You Think You’ll Do? 372. What Worries You Most About the College Admissions Process? 373. What Worries Do You Have About College? 374. What Role Has Community College Played in Your Life or the Life of Someone You Know? 375. What Qualities Would You Look For in a College Roommate? 376. Would You Want to Take a Gap Year After High School? 377. Do You Intend to Study Abroad While You Are in College? 378. Are You Worried About the Rising Cost of Attending College? 379. Do You Want Your Parents to Live Nearby When You Go to College? 380. What Specialty College Would You Create?

Work & Careers

381. What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? 382. Do You Have a Life Calling? 383. What’s Your Dream Job? 384. Would You Pursue a Career If You Knew You Likely Would Not Make Much Money? 385. What Jobs Are You Most Curious About? 386. Will You Follow in Your Parents’ Footsteps? 387. Would You Consider Moving Overseas for a Job? 388. Would You Want to Be a Teacher? 389. Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office? 390. What ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Skills Do You Have, or Wish You Had? 391. What Skill Could You Teach in Two Minutes? 392. What Have You Made Yourself? 393. Do You Have an Idea for a Business or App? 394. How Did You Start Doing Something You Love? 395. Did You Ever Take a Break From Doing Something You Love? 396. Would You Quit if Your Values Did Not Match Your Employer’s? 397. Do Your Summer Plans Include Employment?

398. Do You Have Satisfying Friendships? 399. How Alike Are You and Your Friends? 400. Do You Have Any Unlikely Friendships? 401. Do You Like Your Friends? 402. Do You Have a Best Friend? 403. Have You Ever Been Left Out? 404. Do You Ever Feel Lonely? 405. How Often Do You Spend One-on-One Time With Your Closest Friends? 406. How Do You Feel About Introducing Friends from Different Parts of Your Life? 407. Do You Find It Easier to Make New Friends Online or In Person? 408. How Good a Friend Are You? 409. How Have You Helped a Friend in a Time of Need? 410. Is Competitiveness an Obstacle to Making or Keeping Friendships? 411. How Should You Handle the End of a Friendship?

412. Are You Allowed to Date? 413. Is Dating a Thing of the Past? 414. What Advice Would You Give to Somebody Who Just Started Dating? 415. How Do You Think Technology Affects Dating? 416. Have You Ever Been in Love? 417. How Much of a Romantic Are You? 418. Have You Ever Been Ghosted? 419. What’s the Best Way to Get Over a Breakup? 420. Would You Want to Be Proposed to on a Jumbotron? 421. If You Get Married Someday, Do You Think You Will Change Your Last Name?

Sports & Games

422. Why Do You Play Sports? 423. Have You Ever Learned Something From a Professional Athlete? 424. How Would You Change Your Favorite Sport? 425. Does Being a Fan Help Define Who You Are? 426. What Kinds of Games and Puzzles Do You Like? 427. What Are Your Favorite Board Games? 428. Are You a Good Driver?

429. Where Do You Want to Travel? 430. What Is Your Most Memorable Family Vacation? 431. How Would You Spend Your Ideal Family Vacation? 432. What Do You Think You Would Learn From Traveling to All 50 States? 433. What Would Your Fantasy Road Trip Be Like? 434. What Crazy Adventure Would You Want to Take? 435. What Local ‘Microadventures’ Would You Like to Go On? 436. How Has Travel Affected You? 437. What Kind of Tourist Are You? 438. What Are the Best Souvenirs You’ve Ever Collected While Traveling? 439. What Famous Landmarks Have You Visited? 440. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in Nature? 441. Would You Like to Live in Another Country? 442. If You Could Time-Travel, Where Would You Go?

Shopping, Looks & Fashion

443. What’s Your Favorite Store? 444. Could You Stop Shopping for an Entire Year? 445. Are You an Ethical Consumer? 446. Do Politics Ever Influence How or Where You Shop? 447. What Is Your All-Time Favorite Piece of Clothing? 448. Are You a Sneaker Head? 449. Do You Wear Clothes for the Logo? 450. Would You Like to Be a Fashion Model? 451. What’s Your Favorite T-Shirt? 452. What Does Your Hairstyle Say About You? 453. How Do You Feel About Your Body? 454. Have You Inherited Your Parents’ Attitudes Toward Their Looks? 455. What’s Your Favorite Room?

Exercise, Health & Sleep

456. What Rules Do You Have for Staying Healthy? 457. Do You Like to Exercise? 458. Do You Get Enough Exercise? 459. How Has Exercise Changed Your Health, Your Body or Your Life? 460. Do You Vape? 461. How Do You Get Your Nature Fix? 462. How Strong Is Your Sense of Smell? 463. What’s Your Favorite Mood Booster? 464. Do You Have Any Bad Health Habits? 465. Do You Learn Better After Moving Around? 466. How Often Do You Engage in ‘Fat Talk’? 467. Do You Pay Attention to Nutrition Labels on Food? 468. What Are Your ‘Food Rules’? 469. What Are Your Healthy Habits? 470. What Health Tips Have Worked for You? 471. What Are Your Sleep Habits? 472. Do You Get Enough Sleep?

Meals & Food

473. What Foods Bring Up Special Memories for You? 474. What Are the Most Memorable Meals You’ve Ever Had? 475. Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been, a Picky Eater? 476. What Foods Best Represent Your Hometown? 477. Have You Ever Experienced Food Insecurity? 478. What’s Your Favorite Holiday Food Memory? 479. What Convenience Foods Make You Happy? 480. How Do You Like Your Pizza? 481. What Are Your Favorite Junk Foods? 482. What’s Your Favorite Candy? 483. What’s Your Favorite Sandwich? 484. What Food Would You Like to Judge in a Taste-Off? 485. Do You Cook? 486. What Would You Most Like to Learn to Cook or Bake? 487. What Messages About Food and Eating Have You Learned From Your Family? 488. How Often Does Your Family Eat Together? 489. What Are Your Favorite Restaurants? 490. What Restaurant Would You Most Like to Review? 491. What Do You Eat During the School Day?

Holidays & Seasons

492. How Do You Celebrate Your Birthday? 493. How Much Scare Can You Handle in Your Halloween Entertainment? 494. Did You Take Part in Any Thanksgiving or Post-Holiday Traditions? 495. What Will You Talk About on Thanksgiving? 496. What Has Been Your Most Memorable Thanksgiving? 497. What Do You Look Forward to Most — and Least — During the Holiday Season? 498. What Are Your Tips for Enjoying the Holiday Season? 499. What Does Santa Claus Mean to You? 500. How Do You Fight the Winter Blues? 501. How Do You Feel About Valentine’s Day? 502. What Would Your Ideal Summer Camp Be Like? 503. What’s Your Favorite Summer Food? 504. Do You Choose Summer Activities to Look Good on Applications? 505. What’s the Most Memorable Thing That Happened to You This Summer?

Animals & Pets

506. What Are the Animals in Your Life? 507. What Have You Learned From Animals? 508. What’s Your Relationship Like With Your Pet? 509. What Are Your Thoughts on Cats? 510. Would You Want to Hang Out at a Cat Cafe? 511. How Do You Feel About the Spiders, Insects and Other Tiny Creatures in Your Home?

Environment

512. How Concerned Are You About Climate Change? 513. How Do You Try to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment? 514. Do You Ever Feel Guilty About What, or How Much, You Throw Away? 515. How Much Food Does Your Family Waste? 516. What Could You Live Without? 517. Would You Change Your Eating Habits to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint? 518. Could You Live ‘Plastic Free’?

History, Politics & Current Events

519. What Event in the Past Do You Wish You Could Have Witnessed? 520. What National or International Events That You Lived Through Do You Remember Best? 521. Is Your Online World Just a ‘Filter Bubble’ of People With the Same Opinions? 522. Do You Ever Get the ‘Bad News Blues’? 523. Have You Ever Changed Your Mind About a Hot-Button Issue? 524. What Do American Values Mean to You? 525. How Much Do You Know About the Rest of the World?

526. Would You Want to Live Forever? 527. Would You Want to Live a Life Without Ever Feeling Pain? 528. If You Had an Extra Billion Dollars, What Cause Would You Support With Your Philanthropy? 529. Are You Hopeful About the Future? 530. If the World Was Ending, What Would You Want to Say? 531. Would You Like to Be Famous? 532. Would You Like to Be Cryogenically Preserved (Frozen!) Upon Your Death? 533. Would You Like to Be a Farmer? 534. What Items Would You Place in a Time Capsule for Future Generations? 535. What Fantasy Invention Would You Want to Exist in Reality? 536. What Do You Want to Be Known for After Your Death? 537. Do You Like Your First Name? Would You Change It if You Could? 538. What Would You Do if You Won the Lottery? 539. What Era Do You Wish You Had Lived In? 540. Would You Want to Be a Child Prodigy? 541. What Kind of Robot Would You Want? 542. What Would You Outsource if You Could? 543. What Would You Like to Learn on Your Own? 544. What Would You Be Willing to Wait in a Really Long Line For? 545. Do You Want to Live to 100? 546. Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate? 547. What Scientific Mysteries Do You Want Solved? 548. What Idea Do You Have That Is Ahead of Its Time? 549. How Would Your Life Be Different if You Had Better Listening Skills? 550. What Do You Want Your Obituary to Say?

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 3 great narrative essay examples + tips for writing.

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A narrative essay is one of the most intimidating assignments you can be handed at any level of your education. Where you've previously written argumentative essays that make a point or analytic essays that dissect meaning, a narrative essay asks you to write what is effectively a story .

But unlike a simple work of creative fiction, your narrative essay must have a clear and concrete motif —a recurring theme or idea that you’ll explore throughout. Narrative essays are less rigid, more creative in expression, and therefore pretty different from most other essays you’ll be writing.

But not to fear—in this article, we’ll be covering what a narrative essay is, how to write a good one, and also analyzing some personal narrative essay examples to show you what a great one looks like.

What Is a Narrative Essay?

At first glance, a narrative essay might sound like you’re just writing a story. Like the stories you're used to reading, a narrative essay is generally (but not always) chronological, following a clear throughline from beginning to end.  Even if the story jumps around in time, all the details will come back to one specific theme, demonstrated through your choice in motifs.

Unlike many creative stories, however, your narrative essay should be based in fact. That doesn’t mean that every detail needs to be pure and untainted by imagination, but rather that you shouldn’t wholly invent the events of your narrative essay. There’s nothing wrong with inventing a person’s words if you can’t remember them exactly, but you shouldn’t say they said something they weren’t even close to saying.

Another big difference between narrative essays and creative fiction—as well as other kinds of essays—is that narrative essays are based on motifs. A motif is a dominant idea or theme, one that you establish before writing the essay. As you’re crafting the narrative, it’ll feed back into your motif to create a comprehensive picture of whatever that motif is.

For example, say you want to write a narrative essay about how your first day in high school helped you establish your identity. You might discuss events like trying to figure out where to sit in the cafeteria, having to describe yourself in five words as an icebreaker in your math class, or being unsure what to do during your lunch break because it’s no longer acceptable to go outside and play during lunch. All of those ideas feed back into the central motif of establishing your identity.

The important thing to remember is that while a narrative essay is typically told chronologically and intended to read like a story, it is not purely for entertainment value. A narrative essay delivers its theme by deliberately weaving the motifs through the events, scenes, and details. While a narrative essay may be entertaining, its primary purpose is to tell a complete story based on a central meaning.

Unlike other essay forms, it is totally okay—even expected—to use first-person narration in narrative essays. If you’re writing a story about yourself, it’s natural to refer to yourself within the essay. It’s also okay to use other perspectives, such as third- or even second-person, but that should only be done if it better serves your motif. Generally speaking, your narrative essay should be in first-person perspective.

Though your motif choices may feel at times like you’re making a point the way you would in an argumentative essay, a narrative essay’s goal is to tell a story, not convince the reader of anything. Your reader should be able to tell what your motif is from reading, but you don’t have to change their mind about anything. If they don’t understand the point you are making, you should consider strengthening the delivery of the events and descriptions that support your motif.

Narrative essays also share some features with analytical essays, in which you derive meaning from a book, film, or other media. But narrative essays work differently—you’re not trying to draw meaning from an existing text, but rather using an event you’ve experienced to convey meaning. In an analytical essay, you examine narrative, whereas in a narrative essay you create narrative.

The structure of a narrative essay is also a bit different than other essays. You’ll generally be getting your point across chronologically as opposed to grouping together specific arguments in paragraphs or sections. To return to the example of an essay discussing your first day of high school and how it impacted the shaping of your identity, it would be weird to put the events out of order, even if not knowing what to do after lunch feels like a stronger idea than choosing where to sit. Instead of organizing to deliver your information based on maximum impact, you’ll be telling your story as it happened, using concrete details to reinforce your theme.

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3 Great Narrative Essay Examples

One of the best ways to learn how to write a narrative essay is to look at a great narrative essay sample. Let’s take a look at some truly stellar narrative essay examples and dive into what exactly makes them work so well.

A Ticket to the Fair by David Foster Wallace

Today is Press Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and I’m supposed to be at the fairgrounds by 9:00 A.M. to get my credentials. I imagine credentials to be a small white card in the band of a fedora. I’ve never been considered press before. My real interest in credentials is getting into rides and shows for free. I’m fresh in from the East Coast, for an East Coast magazine. Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish. I think they asked me to do this because I grew up here, just a couple hours’ drive from downstate Springfield. I never did go to the state fair, though—I pretty much topped out at the county fair level. Actually, I haven’t been back to Illinois for a long time, and I can’t say I’ve missed it.

Throughout this essay, David Foster Wallace recounts his experience as press at the Illinois State Fair. But it’s clear from this opening that he’s not just reporting on the events exactly as they happened—though that’s also true— but rather making a point about how the East Coast, where he lives and works, thinks about the Midwest.

In his opening paragraph, Wallace states that outright: “Why exactly they’re interested in the Illinois State Fair remains unclear to me. I suspect that every so often editors at East Coast magazines slap their foreheads and remember that about 90 percent of the United States lies between the coasts, and figure they’ll engage somebody to do pith-helmeted anthropological reporting on something rural and heartlandish.”

Not every motif needs to be stated this clearly , but in an essay as long as Wallace’s, particularly since the audience for such a piece may feel similarly and forget that such a large portion of the country exists, it’s important to make that point clear.

But Wallace doesn’t just rest on introducing his motif and telling the events exactly as they occurred from there. It’s clear that he selects events that remind us of that idea of East Coast cynicism , such as when he realizes that the Help Me Grow tent is standing on top of fake grass that is killing the real grass beneath, when he realizes the hypocrisy of craving a corn dog when faced with a real, suffering pig, when he’s upset for his friend even though he’s not the one being sexually harassed, and when he witnesses another East Coast person doing something he wouldn’t dare to do.

Wallace is literally telling the audience exactly what happened, complete with dates and timestamps for when each event occurred. But he’s also choosing those events with a purpose—he doesn’t focus on details that don’t serve his motif. That’s why he discusses the experiences of people, how the smells are unappealing to him, and how all the people he meets, in cowboy hats, overalls, or “black spandex that looks like cheesecake leotards,” feel almost alien to him.

All of these details feed back into the throughline of East Coast thinking that Wallace introduces in the first paragraph. He also refers back to it in the essay’s final paragraph, stating:

At last, an overarching theory blooms inside my head: megalopolitan East Coasters’ summer treats and breaks and literally ‘getaways,’ flights-from—from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the stress of too many sensory choices….The East Coast existential treat is escape from confines and stimuli—quiet, rustic vistas that hold still, turn inward, turn away. Not so in the rural Midwest. Here you’re pretty much away all the time….Something in a Midwesterner sort of actuates , deep down, at a public event….The real spectacle that draws us here is us.

Throughout this journey, Wallace has tried to demonstrate how the East Coast thinks about the Midwest, ultimately concluding that they are captivated by the Midwest’s less stimuli-filled life, but that the real reason they are interested in events like the Illinois State Fair is that they are, in some ways, a means of looking at the East Coast in a new, estranging way.

The reason this works so well is that Wallace has carefully chosen his examples, outlined his motif and themes in the first paragraph, and eventually circled back to the original motif with a clearer understanding of his original point.

When outlining your own narrative essay, try to do the same. Start with a theme, build upon it with examples, and return to it in the end with an even deeper understanding of the original issue. You don’t need this much space to explore a theme, either—as we’ll see in the next example, a strong narrative essay can also be very short.

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Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window-pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

In this essay, Virginia Woolf explains her encounter with a dying moth. On surface level, this essay is just a recounting of an afternoon in which she watched a moth die—it’s even established in the title. But there’s more to it than that. Though Woolf does not begin her essay with as clear a motif as Wallace, it’s not hard to pick out the evidence she uses to support her point, which is that the experience of this moth is also the human experience.

In the title, Woolf tells us this essay is about death. But in the first paragraph, she seems to mostly be discussing life—the moth is “content with life,” people are working in the fields, and birds are flying. However, she mentions that it is mid-September and that the fields were being plowed. It’s autumn and it’s time for the harvest; the time of year in which many things die.

In this short essay, she chronicles the experience of watching a moth seemingly embody life, then die. Though this essay is literally about a moth, it’s also about a whole lot more than that. After all, moths aren’t the only things that die—Woolf is also reflecting on her own mortality, as well as the mortality of everything around her.

At its core, the essay discusses the push and pull of life and death, not in a way that’s necessarily sad, but in a way that is accepting of both. Woolf begins by setting up the transitional fall season, often associated with things coming to an end, and raises the ideas of pleasure, vitality, and pity.

At one point, Woolf tries to help the dying moth, but reconsiders, as it would interfere with the natural order of the world. The moth’s death is part of the natural order of the world, just like fall, just like her own eventual death.

All these themes are set up in the beginning and explored throughout the essay’s narrative. Though Woolf doesn’t directly state her theme, she reinforces it by choosing a small, isolated event—watching a moth die—and illustrating her point through details.

With this essay, we can see that you don’t need a big, weird, exciting event to discuss an important meaning. Woolf is able to explore complicated ideas in a short essay by being deliberate about what details she includes, just as you can be in your own essays.

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Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

On the twenty-ninth of July, in 1943, my father died. On the same day, a few hours later, his last child was born. Over a month before this, while all our energies were concentrated in waiting for these events, there had been, in Detroit, one of the bloodiest race riots of the century. A few hours after my father’s funeral, while he lay in state in the undertaker’s chapel, a race riot broke out in Harlem. On the morning of the third of August, we drove my father to the graveyard through a wilderness of smashed plate glass.

Like Woolf, Baldwin does not lay out his themes in concrete terms—unlike Wallace, there’s no clear sentence that explains what he’ll be talking about. However, you can see the motifs quite clearly: death, fatherhood, struggle, and race.

Throughout the narrative essay, Baldwin discusses the circumstances of his father’s death, including his complicated relationship with his father. By introducing those motifs in the first paragraph, the reader understands that everything discussed in the essay will come back to those core ideas. When Baldwin talks about his experience with a white teacher taking an interest in him and his father’s resistance to that, he is also talking about race and his father’s death. When he talks about his father’s death, he is also talking about his views on race. When he talks about his encounters with segregation and racism, he is talking, in part, about his father.

Because his father was a hard, uncompromising man, Baldwin struggles to reconcile the knowledge that his father was right about many things with his desire to not let that hardness consume him, as well.

Baldwin doesn’t explicitly state any of this, but his writing so often touches on the same motifs that it becomes clear he wants us to think about all these ideas in conversation with one another.

At the end of the essay, Baldwin makes it more clear:

This fight begins, however, in the heart and it had now been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, I wished that he had been beside me so that I could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now.

Here, Baldwin ties together the themes and motifs into one clear statement: that he must continue to fight and recognize injustice, especially racial injustice, just as his father did. But unlike his father, he must do it beginning with himself—he must not let himself be closed off to the world as his father was. And yet, he still wishes he had his father for guidance, even as he establishes that he hopes to be a different man than his father.

In this essay, Baldwin loads the front of the essay with his motifs, and, through his narrative, weaves them together into a theme. In the end, he comes to a conclusion that connects all of those things together and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of completion—though the elements may have been initially disparate, in the end everything makes sense.

You can replicate this tactic of introducing seemingly unattached ideas and weaving them together in your own essays. By introducing those motifs, developing them throughout, and bringing them together in the end, you can demonstrate to your reader how all of them are related. However, it’s especially important to be sure that your motifs and clear and consistent throughout your essay so that the conclusion feels earned and consistent—if not, readers may feel mislead.

5 Key Tips for Writing Narrative Essays

Narrative essays can be a lot of fun to write since they’re so heavily based on creativity. But that can also feel intimidating—sometimes it’s easier to have strict guidelines than to have to make it all up yourself. Here are a few tips to keep your narrative essay feeling strong and fresh.

Develop Strong Motifs

Motifs are the foundation of a narrative essay . What are you trying to say? How can you say that using specific symbols or events? Those are your motifs.

In the same way that an argumentative essay’s body should support its thesis, the body of your narrative essay should include motifs that support your theme.

Try to avoid cliches, as these will feel tired to your readers. Instead of roses to symbolize love, try succulents. Instead of the ocean representing some vast, unknowable truth, try the depths of your brother’s bedroom. Keep your language and motifs fresh and your essay will be even stronger!

Use First-Person Perspective

In many essays, you’re expected to remove yourself so that your points stand on their own. Not so in a narrative essay—in this case, you want to make use of your own perspective.

Sometimes a different perspective can make your point even stronger. If you want someone to identify with your point of view, it may be tempting to choose a second-person perspective. However, be sure you really understand the function of second-person; it’s very easy to put a reader off if the narration isn’t expertly deployed.

If you want a little bit of distance, third-person perspective may be okay. But be careful—too much distance and your reader may feel like the narrative lacks truth.

That’s why first-person perspective is the standard. It keeps you, the writer, close to the narrative, reminding the reader that it really happened. And because you really know what happened and how, you’re free to inject your own opinion into the story without it detracting from your point, as it would in a different type of essay.

Stick to the Truth

Your essay should be true. However, this is a creative essay, and it’s okay to embellish a little. Rarely in life do we experience anything with a clear, concrete meaning the way somebody in a book might. If you flub the details a little, it’s okay—just don’t make them up entirely.

Also, nobody expects you to perfectly recall details that may have happened years ago. You may have to reconstruct dialog from your memory and your imagination. That’s okay, again, as long as you aren’t making it up entirely and assigning made-up statements to somebody.

Dialog is a powerful tool. A good conversation can add flavor and interest to a story, as we saw demonstrated in David Foster Wallace’s essay. As previously mentioned, it’s okay to flub it a little, especially because you’re likely writing about an experience you had without knowing that you’d be writing about it later.

However, don’t rely too much on it. Your narrative essay shouldn’t be told through people explaining things to one another; the motif comes through in the details. Dialog can be one of those details, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

Use Sensory Descriptions

Because a narrative essay is a story, you can use sensory details to make your writing more interesting. If you’re describing a particular experience, you can go into detail about things like taste, smell, and hearing in a way that you probably wouldn’t do in any other essay style.

These details can tie into your overall motifs and further your point. Woolf describes in great detail what she sees while watching the moth, giving us the sense that we, too, are watching the moth. In Wallace’s essay, he discusses the sights, sounds, and smells of the Illinois State Fair to help emphasize his point about its strangeness. And in Baldwin’s essay, he describes shattered glass as a “wilderness,” and uses the feelings of his body to describe his mental state.

All these descriptions anchor us not only in the story, but in the motifs and themes as well. One of the tools of a writer is making the reader feel as you felt, and sensory details help you achieve that.

What’s Next?

Looking to brush up on your essay-writing capabilities before the ACT? This guide to ACT English will walk you through some of the best strategies and practice questions to get you prepared!

Part of practicing for the ACT is ensuring your word choice and diction are on point. Check out this guide to some of the most common errors on the ACT English section to be sure that you're not making these common mistakes!

A solid understanding of English principles will help you make an effective point in a narrative essay, and you can get that understanding through taking a rigorous assortment of high school English classes ! 

Need more help with this topic? Check out Tutorbase!

Our vetted tutor database includes a range of experienced educators who can help you polish an essay for English or explain how derivatives work for Calculus. You can use dozens of filters and search criteria to find the perfect person for your needs.

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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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  • How to Write Dazzlingly Brilliant Essays: Sharp Advice for Ambitious Students

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Rachel McCombie, a graduate of St John’s College, Oxford, shares actionable tips on taking your essays from “Good” to “Outstanding.”

For ambitious students, essays are a chance to showcase academic flair, demonstrate original thinking and impress with advanced written English skills.

The best students relish the challenge of writing essays because they’re a chance to exercise academic research skills and construct interesting arguments. Essays allow you to demonstrate your knowledge, understanding and intelligence in a creative and relatively unrestricted way – provided you keep within the word count! But when lots of other people are answering the same essay question as you, how do you make yours stand out from the crowd? In this article, we’re going to show you the secret of writing a truly brilliant essay.

What are essays actually for?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to write an outstanding essay, we need to go right back to basics and think about what essays are actually designed to test. Only by understanding the purpose of an essay can you really begin to understand what it is that tutors are looking for when they read your work. No matter what the academic level of the student is, essays are designed to test many things: – Knowledge – fundamentally, essays test and help consolidate what you’ve read and learned, making them an important part of the learning process, particularly for humanities subjects. –  Comprehension – they test your ability to make sense of and clearly explain complex concepts and issues. – They test your ability to understand the question and produce a considered response to it. – They evaluate your ability to absorb and condense information from a variety of sources , which will probably mean covering a lot of material in a short space of time; this necessitates appraisal of which bits of material are relevant and which are not. – They test your ability to write a balanced and coherent argument that considers a number of points of view. – They showcase your level of written English skills. – They even put your time management to the test – essays are a part of your workload that must be planned, prioritised and delivered to a high standard, to deadline.

Characteristics of the perfect essay

Now that we know why we’re asked to write essays, what are the characteristics that define the essays that impress? The tutors marking your essays may have their own preferences and things they look for in outstanding essays, but let’s take a look at a few of the irrefutable traits of the best.

Original thinking

The hallmark of the truly brilliant essay is original thinking. That doesn’t have to mean coming up with an entirely new theory; most of, if not all, the topics you’ll be studying at GCSE , A-level or even undergraduate level have been thought about in so much depth and by so many people that virtually every possible angle will have been thought of already. But what it does mean is that the essay stands out from those of other students in that it goes beyond the obvious and takes an original approach – perhaps approaching the topic from a different angle, coming up with a different hypothesis from what you’ve been discussing in class, or introducing new evidence and intelligent insights from material not included on the reading list.

Solid, in-depth knowledge and understanding

It goes without saying that the brilliant essay should demonstrate a strong knowledge of the facts, and not just knowledge but sound comprehension of the concepts or issues being discussed and why they matter. The perfect essay demonstrates an ability to deploy relevant facts and use them to form the basis of an argument or hypothesis. It covers a wide range of material and considers every point of view, confidently making use of and quoting from a variety of sources.

Clear structure with intelligent debate

The perfect essay provides a coherent discussion of both sides of the story, developing a balanced argument throughout, and with a conclusion that weighs up the evidence you’ve covered and perhaps provides your own intelligent opinion on how the topic should be interpreted based on the evidence covered.

No superfluous information

Everything written in the perfect essay serves a purpose – to inform and persuade. There’s no rambling or going off at tangents – it sticks to the point and doesn’t waste the reader’s time. This goes back to our earlier point about sorting the relevant facts from the irrelevant material; including material that isn’t relevant shows that you’ve not quite grasped the real heart of the matter.

Exceptional English

The words in the perfect essay flow effortlessly, and the reader feels in safe hands. Sentences need never be read more than once to be understood, and each follows logically on from the next, with no random jumping about from topic to topic from one paragraph to the next. Spelling and grammar are flawless, with no careless typos. So how do you go about writing this mythical Perfect Essay? Read on to find out!

Put in extra background work

Committed students always read beyond what the reading list tells them to read. Guaranteed to impress, wide reading gives you deeper knowledge than your peers and gives you the extra knowledge and insights you need to make your essay stand out. If you’re studying English, for example, don’t just read the set text! Here are some ideas to widen your reading and give you a good range of impressive quotes to include in your essay: – Other works by the same author – how do they compare with your set text? – Works by contemporary authors – does your set text fit into a wider movement, or is it very different from what was being written at the time? – Works by the author’s predecessors – what works inspired the author of your set text? How do you see them shining through in the text you’re studying, and how have they been developed? – Literary criticism – gauge the range of opinions about your set text by reading what the literary critics have to say. Whose opinion do you most agree with, and why? – Background history – so that you can appreciate and refer to the context in which the author was writing (we’ll come back to this last point a little later). It sounds like a lot of extra work, but you don’t necessarily have to read everything in full. It’s fine to dip into these other resources providing you don’t inadvertently take points out of context.

Know what you want to say before you start writing

You’re probably sick of hearing this particular piece of advice, but it’s important to start out with a clear idea in your mind of what you want to say in your essay and how you will structure your arguments. The easiest way to do this is to write an essay plan. This needn’t be a big deal, or time-consuming; all you need to do is to open a new document on your computer, type out the ideas you want to cover and drag and drop them into a logical order. From there, you simply start typing your essay directly into the plan itself. Your essay should include an introduction, a series of paragraphs that develop an argument rather than just jumping from topic to topic, and a conclusion that weighs up the evidence.

Answer the question you’ve been set, not the question you want to answer

A common problem with students’ responses to essays is that rather than answering the question they’ve been set , they try to mould the question to what they’d prefer to write about, because that’s what they feel most comfortable with. Be very careful not to do this! You could end up writing a brilliant essay, but if didn’t actually answer the question then it’s not going to be well received by the person marking it.

Give a balanced argument…

Good essays give both sides of an argument, presenting information impartially and considering multiple points of view. One-sided arguments won’t impress, as you need to show that you’ve thought about the evidence comprehensively.

…but your opinion and interpretation matter too

Show that you’ve made your own mind up based on your weighing up of the evidence. This shows that you’re not just hiding behind what other people say about the topic, but that you’ve had the independence of mind to form your own intelligent opinion about it.

Quote liberally

Use quotations from academic works and sources to back up points you want to make. Doing so strengthens your argument by providing evidence for your statements, as well as demonstrating that you’ve read widely around your subject. However, don’t go too far and write an essay that’s essentially just a list of what other people say about the subject. Quoting too much suggests that you don’t have the confidence or knowledge to explain things in your own words, so have to hide behind those of other people. Make your own mind up about what you’re writing about – as already mentioned, it’s fine to state your own opinion if you’ve considered the arguments and presented the evidence.

Context matters

As we’ve already touched on, if you can demonstrate knowledge of the context of the subject you’re writing about, this will show that you’ve considered possible historical influences that may have shaped a work or issue. This shows that you haven’t simply taken the essay question at face value and demonstrates your ability to think beyond the obvious. An ability to look at the wider picture marks you out as an exceptional student, as many people can’t see the wood for the trees and have a very narrow focus when it comes to writing essays. If you’re an English student, for instance, an author’s work should be considered not in isolation but in the context of the historical events and thinking that helped define the period in which the author was writing. You can’t write about Blake’s poetry without some knowledge and discussion of background events such as the Industrial Revolution, and the development of the Romantic movement as a whole.

Include images and diagrams

You know what they say – a picture speaks a thousand words. What matters in an essay is effective and persuasive communication, and if a picture or diagram will help support a point you’re making, include it. As well as helping to communicate, visuals also make your essay more enjoyable to read for the person marking it – and if they enjoy reading it, the chances are you’ll get better marks! Don’t forget to ensure that you include credits for any images and diagrams you include.

Use full academic citations and a bibliography

Show you mean business by including a full set of academic citations, with a bibliography at the end, even if you haven’t been told to. The great thing about this is that it not only makes you look organised and scholarly, but it also gives you the opportunity to show off just how many extra texts you’ve studied to produce your masterpiece of an essay! Make use of the footnote feature in your word processor and include citations at the bottom of each page, with a main bibliography at the end of the essay. There are different accepted forms for citing an academic reference, but the main thing to remember is to pick one format and be consistent. Typically the citation will include the title and author of the work, the date of publication and the page number(s) of the point or quotation you’re referring to. Here’s an example: 1. Curta, F. (2007) – “Some remarks on ethnicity in medieval archaeology” in Early Medieval Europe 15 (2), pp. 159-185

Before you ask, no, a spell check isn’t good enough! How many times have you typed “form” instead of “from”? That’s just one of a huge number of errors that spell check would simply miss. Your English should be impeccable if you want to be taken seriously, and that means clear and intelligent sentence structures, no misplaced apostrophes, no typos and no grammar crimes. Include your name at the top of each page of your essay, and number the pages. Also, make sure you use a font that’s easy to read, such as Times New Roman or Arial. The person marking your essay won’t appreciate having to struggle through reading a fancy Gothic font, even if it does happen to match the Gothic literature you’re studying!

Meet the deadline

You don’t need us to tell you that, but for the sake of being comprehensive, we’re including it anyway. You could write the best essay ever, but if you deliver it late, it won’t be looked upon favourably! Don’t leave writing your essay until the last minute – start writing with plenty of time to spare, and ideally leave time to sleep on it before you submit it. Allowing time for it to sink in may result in you having a sudden brilliant revelation that you want to include. So there we have it – everything you need to know in order to write an essay to impress. If you want to get ahead, you might also want to think about attending an English summer school .

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What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

What is a Narrative Essay? How to Write It (with Examples)

Narrative essays are a type of storytelling in which writers weave a personal experience into words to create a fascinating and engaging narrative for readers. A narrative essay explains a story from the author’s point of view to share a lesson or memory with the reader. Narrative essays, like descriptive essays , employ figurative language to depict the subject in a vivid and creative manner to leave a lasting impact on the readers’ minds. In this article, we explore the definition of narrative essays, list the key elements to be included, and provide tips on how to craft a narrative that captivates your audience.

Table of Contents

What is a narrative essay, choosing narrative essay topics, key elements in a narrative essay, creating a narrative essay outline, types of narrative essays, the pre-writing stage, the writing stage, the editing stage, narrative essay example, frequently asked questions.

Narrative essays are often based on one’s personal experience which allows the author to express himself/herself in compelling ways for the reader. They employ storytelling elements to convey the plot and captivate the reader while disclosing the story’s theme or purpose. The author must always have a purpose or theme in mind when writing a narrative essay. These essays may be assigned to high school students to assess their ability to create captivating stories based on personal experiences, or they may be required as part of a college application to assess the applicant’s personal traits. Narrative essays might be based on true events with minor tweaks for dramatic purposes, or they can be adapted from a fictional scenario. Whatever the case maybe, the goal is to tell a story, a good story!

In narrative essays, the emphasis is not so much on the narrative itself as it is on how you explain it. Narrative essay topics cover a range of experiences, from noteworthy to mundane, but when storytelling elements are used well, even a simple account can have weight. Notably, the skills required for narrative writing differ significantly from those needed for formal academic essays, and we will delve deeper into this in the next section.

You can talk about any narrative, but consider whether it is fascinating enough, has enough twists and turns, or teaches a lesson (It’s a plus if the story contains an unexpected twist at the end). The potential topics for a narrative essay are limitless—a triumphant story, a brief moment of introspection, or a voyage of self-discovery. These essays provide writers with the opportunity to share a fragment of their lives with the audience, enriching both the writer’s and the reader’s experiences. Narrative essay examples could be a write-up on “What has been your biggest achievement in life so far and what did it teach you?” or “Describe your toughest experience and how you dealt with it?”.

interesting story essay

While narrative essays allow you to be creative with your ideas, language, and format, they must include some key components to convey the story clearly, create engaging content and build reader interest. Follow these guidelines when drafting your essay:   

  • Tell your story using the first person to engage users.
  • Use sufficient sensory information and figurative language.
  • Follow an organized framework so the story flows chronologically.
  • Include interesting plot components that add to the narrative.
  • Ensure clear language without grammar, spelling, or word choice errors.

Narrative essay outlines serve as the foundational structure for essay composition, acting as a framework to organize thoughts and ideas prior to the writing process. These outlines provide writers with a means to summarize the story, and help in formulating the introduction and conclusion sections and defining the narrative’s trajectory.

Unlike conventional essays that strictly adhere to the five-paragraph structure, narrative essays allow for more flexibility as the organization is dictated by the flow of the story. The outline typically encompasses general details about the events, granting writers the option to prioritize writing the body sections first while deferring the introduction until later stages of the writing process. This approach allows for a more organic and fluid writing process. If you’re wondering how to start writing a narrative essay outline, here is a sample designed to ensure a compelling and coherent narrative:

Introduction

  • Hook/Opening line: The introduction should have an opening/hook sentence that is a captivating quote, question, or anecdote that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • Background: Briefly introduce the setting, time, tone, and main characters.
  • Thesis statement: State clearly the main theme or lesson acquired from the experience.
  • Event 1 (according to occurrence): Describe the first major event in detail. Introduce the primary characters and set the story context; include sensory elements to enrich the narrative and give the characters depth and enthusiasm.
  • Event 2: Ensure a smooth transition from one event to the next. Continue with the second event in the narrative. For more oomph, use suspense or excitement, or leave the plot with cliffhanger endings. Concentrate on developing your characters and their relationships, using dialog to bring the story to life.
  • Event 3: If there was a twist and suspense, this episode should introduce the climax or resolve the story. Keep the narrative flowing by connecting events logically and conveying the feelings and reactions of the characters.
  • Summarize the plot: Provide a concise recap of the main events within the narrative essay. Highlight the key moments that contribute to the development of the storyline. Offer personal reflections on the significance of the experiences shared, emphasizing the lasting impact they had on the narrator. End the story with a clincher; a powerful and thought-provoking sentence that encapsulates the essence of the narrative. As a bonus, aim to leave the reader with a memorable statement or quote that enhances the overall impact of the narrative. This should linger in the reader’s mind, providing a satisfying and resonant conclusion to the essay.

There are several types of narrative essays, each with their own unique traits. Some narrative essay examples are presented in the table below.

How to write a narrative essay: Step-by-step guide

A narrative essay might be inspired by personal experiences, stories, or even imaginary scenarios that resonate with readers, immersing them in the imaginative world you have created with your words. Here’s an easy step-by-step guide on how to write a narrative essay.

  • Select the topic of your narrative

If no prompt is provided, the first step is to choose a topic to write about. Think about personal experiences that could be given an interesting twist. Readers are more likely to like a tale if it contains aspects of humor, surprising twists, and an out-of-the-box climax. Try to plan out such subjects and consider whether you have enough information on the topic and whether it meets the criteria of being funny/inspiring, with nice characters/plot lines, and an exciting climax. Also consider the tone as well as any stylistic features (such as metaphors or foreshadowing) to be used. While these stylistic choices can be changed later, sketching these ideas early on helps you give your essay a direction to start.

  • Create a framework for your essay

Once you have decided on your topic, create an outline for your narrative essay. An outline is a framework that guides your ideas while you write your narrative essay to keep you on track. It can help with smooth transitions between sections when you are stuck and don’t know how to continue the story. It provides you with an anchor to attach and return to, reminding you of why you started in the first place and why the story matters.

interesting story essay

  • Compile your first draft

A perfect story and outline do not work until you start writing the draft and breathe life into it with your words. Use your newly constructed outline to sketch out distinct sections of your narrative essay while applying numerous linguistic methods at your disposal. Unlike academic essays, narrative essays allow artistic freedom and leeway for originality so don’t stop yourself from expressing your thoughts. However, take care not to overuse linguistic devices, it’s best to maintain a healthy balance to ensure readability and flow.

  • Use a first-person point of view

One of the most appealing aspects of narrative essays is that traditional academic writing rules do not apply, and the narration is usually done in the first person. You can use first person pronouns such as I and me while narrating different scenarios. Be wary of overly using these as they can suggest lack of proper diction.

  • Use storytelling or creative language

You can employ storytelling tactics and linguistic tools used in fiction or creative writing, such as metaphors, similes, and foreshadowing, to communicate various themes. The use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense is encouraged in narrative essays.

  • Follow a format to stay organized

There’s no fixed format for narrative essays, but following a loose format when writing helps in organizing one’s thoughts. For example, in the introduction part, underline the importance of creating a narrative essay, and then reaffirm it in the concluding paragraph. Organize your story chronologically so that the reader can follow along and make sense of the story.

  • Reread, revise, and edit

Proofreading and editing are critical components of creating a narrative essay, but it can be easy to become weighed down by the details at this stage. Taking a break from your manuscript before diving into the editing process is a wise practice. Stepping away for a day or two, or even just a few hours, provides valuable time to enhance the plot and address any grammatical issues that may need correction. This period of distance allows for a fresh perspective, enabling you to approach the editing phase with renewed clarity and a more discerning eye.

One suggestion is to reconsider the goals you set out to cover when you started the topic. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a distinct beginning and end to your story?
  • Does your essay have a topic, a memory, or a lesson to teach?
  • Does the tone of the essay match the intended mood?

Now, while keeping these things in mind, modify and proofread your essay. You can use online grammar checkers and paraphrase tools such as Paperpal to smooth out any rough spots before submitting it for publication or submission.

It is recommended to edit your essay in the order it was written; here are some useful tips:

  • Revise the introduction

After crafting your narrative essay, review the introduction to ensure it harmonizes with the developed narrative. Confirm that it adeptly introduces the story and aligns seamlessly with the conclusion.

  • Revise the conclusion and polish the essay

The conclusion should be the final element edited to ensure coherence and harmony in the entire narrative. It must reinforce the central theme or lesson outlined initially.

  • Revise and refine the entire article

The last step involves refining the article for consistent tone, style, and tense as well as correct language, grammar, punctuation, and clarity. Seeking feedback from a mentor or colleague can offer an invaluable external perspective at this stage.

Narrative essays are true accounts of the writer’s personal experiences, conveyed in figurative language for sensory appeal. Some narrative essay topic examples include writing about an unforgettable experience, reflecting on mistakes, or achieving a goal. An example of a personal narrative essay is as follows:

Title: A Feline Odyssey: An Experience of Fostering Stray Kittens

Introduction:

It was a fine summer evening in the year 2022 when a soft meowing disrupted the tranquility of my terrace. Little did I know that this innocent symphony would lead to a heartwarming journey of compassion and companionship. Soon, there was a mama cat at my doorstep with four little kittens tucked behind her. They were the most unexpected visitors I had ever had.

The kittens, just fluffs of fur with barely open eyes, were a monument to life’s fragility. Their mother, a street-smart feline, had entrusted me with the care of her precious offspring. The responsibility was sudden and unexpected, yet there was an undeniable sense of purpose in the air , filling me with delight and enthusiasm.

As the days unfolded, my terrace transformed into a haven for the feline family. Cardboard boxes became makeshift cat shelters and my once solitary retreat was filled with purrs and soothing meows. The mother cat, Lily, who initially observ ed me from a safe distance, gradually began to trust my presence as I offered food and gentle strokes.

Fostering the kittens was a life-changing , enriching experience that taught me the true joy of giving as I cared for the felines. My problems slowly faded into the background as evenings were spent playing with the kittens. Sleepless nights turned into a symphony of contented purring, a lullaby filled with the warmth of trust and security . Although the kittens were identical, they grew up to have very distinct personalities, with Kuttu being the most curious and Bobo being the most coy . Every dawn ushered in a soothing ritual of nourishing these feline companions, while nights welcomed their playful antics — a daily nocturnal delight.

Conclusion:

As the kittens grew, so did the realization that our paths were destined to part. Finally, the day arrived when the feline family, now confident and self-reliant, bid farewell to my terrace. It was a bittersweet moment, filled with a sense of love and accomplishment and a tinge of sadness.

Fostering Kuttu, Coco, Lulu, and Bobo became one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Their arrival had brought unexpected joy, teaching me about compassion and our species’ ability to make a difference in the world through love and understanding. The terrace, once a quiet retreat, now bore the echoes of a feline symphony that had touched my heart in ways I could have never imagined.

interesting story essay

The length of a narrative essay may vary, but it is typically a brief to moderate length piece. Generally, the essay contains an introductory paragraph, two to three body paragraphs (this number can vary), and a conclusion. The entire narrative essay could be as short as five paragraphs or much longer, depending on the assignment’s requirements or the writer’s preference.

You can write a narrative essay when you have a personal experience to share, or a story, or a series of events that you can tell in a creative and engaging way. Narrative essays are often assigned in academic settings as a form of writing that allows students to express themselves and showcase their storytelling skills. However, you can also write a narrative essay for personal reflection, entertainment, or to communicate a message.

A narrative essay usually follows a three-part structure: – Introduction (To set the stage for the story) – Body paragraphs (To describe sequence of events with details, descriptions, and dialogue) – Conclusion (To summarize the story and reflect on the significance)

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interesting story essay

The 10 Best Essay Collections of the Decade

Ever tried. ever failed. no matter..

Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some damn fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.

So, as is our hallowed duty as a literary and culture website—though with full awareness of the potentially fruitless and endlessly contestable nature of the task—in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the best and most important (these being not always the same) books of the decade that was. We will do this, of course, by means of a variety of lists. We began with the best debut novels , the best short story collections , the best poetry collections , and the best memoirs of the decade , and we have now reached the fifth list in our series: the best essay collections published in English between 2010 and 2019.

The following books were chosen after much debate (and several rounds of voting) by the Literary Hub staff. Tears were spilled, feelings were hurt, books were re-read. And as you’ll shortly see, we had a hard time choosing just ten—so we’ve also included a list of dissenting opinions, and an even longer list of also-rans. As ever, free to add any of your own favorites that we’ve missed in the comments below.

The Top Ten

Oliver sacks, the mind’s eye (2010).

Toward the end of his life, maybe suspecting or sensing that it was coming to a close, Dr. Oliver Sacks tended to focus his efforts on sweeping intellectual projects like On the Move (a memoir), The River of Consciousness (a hybrid intellectual history), and Hallucinations (a book-length meditation on, what else, hallucinations). But in 2010, he gave us one more classic in the style that first made him famous, a form he revolutionized and brought into the contemporary literary canon: the medical case study as essay. In The Mind’s Eye , Sacks focuses on vision, expanding the notion to embrace not only how we see the world, but also how we map that world onto our brains when our eyes are closed and we’re communing with the deeper recesses of consciousness. Relaying histories of patients and public figures, as well as his own history of ocular cancer (the condition that would eventually spread and contribute to his death), Sacks uses vision as a lens through which to see all of what makes us human, what binds us together, and what keeps us painfully apart. The essays that make up this collection are quintessential Sacks: sensitive, searching, with an expertise that conveys scientific information and experimentation in terms we can not only comprehend, but which also expand how we see life carrying on around us. The case studies of “Stereo Sue,” of the concert pianist Lillian Kalir, and of Howard, the mystery novelist who can no longer read, are highlights of the collection, but each essay is a kind of gem, mined and polished by one of the great storytellers of our era.  –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (2011)

The American essay was having a moment at the beginning of the decade, and Pulphead was smack in the middle. Without any hard data, I can tell you that this collection of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s magazine features—published primarily in GQ , but also in The Paris Review , and Harper’s —was the only full book of essays most of my literary friends had read since Slouching Towards Bethlehem , and probably one of the only full books of essays they had even heard of.

Well, we all picked a good one. Every essay in Pulphead is brilliant and entertaining, and illuminates some small corner of the American experience—even if it’s just one house, with Sullivan and an aging writer inside (“Mr. Lytle” is in fact a standout in a collection with no filler; fittingly, it won a National Magazine Award and a Pushcart Prize). But what are they about? Oh, Axl Rose, Christian Rock festivals, living around the filming of One Tree Hill , the Tea Party movement, Michael Jackson, Bunny Wailer, the influence of animals, and by god, the Miz (of Real World/Road Rules Challenge fame).

But as Dan Kois has pointed out , what connects these essays, apart from their general tone and excellence, is “their author’s essential curiosity about the world, his eye for the perfect detail, and his great good humor in revealing both his subjects’ and his own foibles.” They are also extremely well written, drawing much from fictional techniques and sentence craft, their literary pleasures so acute and remarkable that James Wood began his review of the collection in The New Yorker with a quiz: “Are the following sentences the beginnings of essays or of short stories?” (It was not a hard quiz, considering the context.)

It’s hard not to feel, reading this collection, like someone reached into your brain, took out the half-baked stuff you talk about with your friends, researched it, lived it, and represented it to you smarter and better and more thoroughly than you ever could. So read it in awe if you must, but read it.  –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

Aleksandar Hemon, The Book of My Lives (2013)

Such is the sentence-level virtuosity of Aleksandar Hemon—the Bosnian-American writer, essayist, and critic—that throughout his career he has frequently been compared to the granddaddy of borrowed language prose stylists: Vladimir Nabokov. While it is, of course, objectively remarkable that anyone could write so beautifully in a language they learned in their twenties, what I admire most about Hemon’s work is the way in which he infuses every essay and story and novel with both a deep humanity and a controlled (but never subdued) fury. He can also be damn funny. Hemon grew up in Sarajevo and left in 1992 to study in Chicago, where he almost immediately found himself stranded, forced to watch from afar as his beloved home city was subjected to a relentless four-year bombardment, the longest siege of a capital in the history of modern warfare. This extraordinary memoir-in-essays is many things: it’s a love letter to both the family that raised him and the family he built in exile; it’s a rich, joyous, and complex portrait of a place the 90s made synonymous with war and devastation; and it’s an elegy for the wrenching loss of precious things. There’s an essay about coming of age in Sarajevo and another about why he can’t bring himself to leave Chicago. There are stories about relationships forged and maintained on the soccer pitch or over the chessboard, and stories about neighbors and mentors turned monstrous by ethnic prejudice. As a chorus they sing with insight, wry humor, and unimaginable sorrow. I am not exaggerating when I say that the collection’s devastating final piece, “The Aquarium”—which details his infant daughter’s brain tumor and the agonizing months which led up to her death—remains the most painful essay I have ever read.  –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013)

Of every essay in my relentlessly earmarked copy of Braiding Sweetgrass , Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s gorgeously rendered argument for why and how we should keep going, there’s one that especially hits home: her account of professor-turned-forester Franz Dolp. When Dolp, several decades ago, revisited the farm that he had once shared with his ex-wife, he found a scene of destruction: The farm’s new owners had razed the land where he had tried to build a life. “I sat among the stumps and the swirling red dust and I cried,” he wrote in his journal.

So many in my generation (and younger) feel this kind of helplessness–and considerable rage–at finding ourselves newly adult in a world where those in power seem determined to abandon or destroy everything that human bodies have always needed to survive: air, water, land. Asking any single book to speak to this helplessness feels unfair, somehow; yet, Braiding Sweetgrass does, by weaving descriptions of indigenous tradition with the environmental sciences in order to show what survival has looked like over the course of many millennia. Kimmerer’s essays describe her personal experience as a Potawotami woman, plant ecologist, and teacher alongside stories of the many ways that humans have lived in relationship to other species. Whether describing Dolp’s work–he left the stumps for a life of forest restoration on the Oregon coast–or the work of others in maple sugar harvesting, creating black ash baskets, or planting a Three Sisters garden of corn, beans, and squash, she brings hope. “In ripe ears and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship,” she writes of the Three Sisters, which all sustain one another as they grow. “This is how the world keeps going.”  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Hilton Als, White Girls (2013)

In a world where we are so often reduced to one essential self, Hilton Als’ breathtaking book of critical essays, White Girls , which meditates on the ways he and other subjects read, project and absorb parts of white femininity, is a radically liberating book. It’s one of the only works of critical thinking that doesn’t ask the reader, its author or anyone he writes about to stoop before the doorframe of complete legibility before entering. Something he also permitted the subjects and readers of his first book, the glorious book-length essay, The Women , a series of riffs and psychological portraits of Dorothy Dean, Owen Dodson, and the author’s own mother, among others. One of the shifts of that book, uncommon at the time, was how it acknowledges the way we inhabit bodies made up of variously gendered influences. To read White Girls now is to experience the utter freedom of this gift and to marvel at Als’ tremendous versatility and intelligence.

He is easily the most diversely talented American critic alive. He can write into genres like pop music and film where being part of an audience is a fantasy happening in the dark. He’s also wired enough to know how the art world builds reputations on the nod of rich white patrons, a significant collision in a time when Jean-Michel Basquiat is America’s most expensive modern artist. Als’ swerving and always moving grip on performance means he’s especially good on describing the effect of art which is volatile and unstable and built on the mingling of made-up concepts and the hard fact of their effect on behavior, such as race. Writing on Flannery O’Connor for instance he alone puts a finger on her “uneasy and unavoidable union between black and white, the sacred and the profane, the shit and the stars.” From Eminem to Richard Pryor, André Leon Talley to Michael Jackson, Als enters the life and work of numerous artists here who turn the fascinations of race and with whiteness into fury and song and describes the complexity of their beauty like his life depended upon it. There are also brief memoirs here that will stop your heart. This is an essential work to understanding American culture.  –John Freeman, Executive Editor

Eula Biss, On Immunity (2014)

We move through the world as if we can protect ourselves from its myriad dangers, exercising what little agency we have in an effort to keep at bay those fears that gather at the edges of any given life: of loss, illness, disaster, death. It is these fears—amplified by the birth of her first child—that Eula Biss confronts in her essential 2014 essay collection, On Immunity . As any great essayist does, Biss moves outward in concentric circles from her own very private view of the world to reveal wider truths, discovering as she does a culture consumed by anxiety at the pervasive toxicity of contemporary life. As Biss interrogates this culture—of privilege, of whiteness—she interrogates herself, questioning the flimsy ways in which we arm ourselves with science or superstition against the impurities of daily existence.

Five years on from its publication, it is dismaying that On Immunity feels as urgent (and necessary) a defense of basic science as ever. Vaccination, we learn, is derived from vacca —for cow—after the 17th-century discovery that a small application of cowpox was often enough to inoculate against the scourge of smallpox, an etymological digression that belies modern conspiratorial fears of Big Pharma and its vaccination agenda. But Biss never scolds or belittles the fears of others, and in her generosity and openness pulls off a neat (and important) trick: insofar as we are of the very world we fear, she seems to be suggesting, we ourselves are impure, have always been so, permeable, vulnerable, yet so much stronger than we think.  –Jonny Diamond, Editor-in-Chief 

Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions (2016)

When Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” was published in 2008, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon unlike almost any other in recent memory, assigning language to a behavior that almost every woman has witnessed—mansplaining—and, in the course of identifying that behavior, spurring a movement, online and offline, to share the ways in which patriarchal arrogance has intersected all our lives. (It would also come to be the titular essay in her collection published in 2014.) The Mother of All Questions follows up on that work and takes it further in order to examine the nature of self-expression—who is afforded it and denied it, what institutions have been put in place to limit it, and what happens when it is employed by women. Solnit has a singular gift for describing and decoding the misogynistic dynamics that govern the world so universally that they can seem invisible and the gendered violence that is so common as to seem unremarkable; this naming is powerful, and it opens space for sharing the stories that shape our lives.

The Mother of All Questions, comprised of essays written between 2014 and 2016, in many ways armed us with some of the tools necessary to survive the gaslighting of the Trump years, in which many of us—and especially women—have continued to hear from those in power that the things we see and hear do not exist and never existed. Solnit also acknowledges that labels like “woman,” and other gendered labels, are identities that are fluid in reality; in reviewing the book for The New Yorker , Moira Donegan suggested that, “One useful working definition of a woman might be ‘someone who experiences misogyny.'” Whichever words we use, Solnit writes in the introduction to the book that “when words break through unspeakability, what was tolerated by a society sometimes becomes intolerable.” This storytelling work has always been vital; it continues to be vital, and in this book, it is brilliantly done.  –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends (2017)

The newly minted MacArthur fellow Valeria Luiselli’s four-part (but really six-part) essay  Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions  was inspired by her time spent volunteering at the federal immigration court in New York City, working as an interpreter for undocumented, unaccompanied migrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Written concurrently with her novel  Lost Children Archive  (a fictional exploration of the same topic), Luiselli’s essay offers a fascinating conceit, the fashioning of an argument from the questions on the government intake form given to these children to process their arrivals. (Aside from the fact that this essay is a heartbreaking masterpiece, this is such a  good  conceit—transforming a cold, reproducible administrative document into highly personal literature.) Luiselli interweaves a grounded discussion of the questionnaire with a narrative of the road trip Luiselli takes with her husband and family, across America, while they (both Mexican citizens) wait for their own Green Card applications to be processed. It is on this trip when Luiselli reflects on the thousands of migrant children mysteriously traveling across the border by themselves. But the real point of the essay is to actually delve into the real stories of some of these children, which are agonizing, as well as to gravely, clearly expose what literally happens, procedural, when they do arrive—from forms to courts, as they’re swallowed by a bureaucratic vortex. Amid all of this, Luiselli also takes on more, exploring the larger contextual relationship between the United States of America and Mexico (as well as other countries in Central America, more broadly) as it has evolved to our current, adverse moment.  Tell Me How It Ends  is so small, but it is so passionate and vigorous: it desperately accomplishes in its less-than-100-pages-of-prose what centuries and miles and endless records of federal bureaucracy have never been able, and have never cared, to do: reverse the dehumanization of Latin American immigrants that occurs once they set foot in this country.  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

Zadie Smith, Feel Free (2018)

In the essay “Meet Justin Bieber!” in Feel Free , Zadie Smith writes that her interest in Justin Bieber is not an interest in the interiority of the singer himself, but in “the idea of the love object”. This essay—in which Smith imagines a meeting between Bieber and the late philosopher Martin Buber (“Bieber and Buber are alternative spellings of the same German surname,” she explains in one of many winning footnotes. “Who am I to ignore these hints from the universe?”). Smith allows that this premise is a bit premise -y: “I know, I know.” Still, the resulting essay is a very funny, very smart, and un-tricky exploration of individuality and true “meeting,” with a dash of late capitalism thrown in for good measure. The melding of high and low culture is the bread and butter of pretty much every prestige publication on the internet these days (and certainly of the Twitter feeds of all “public intellectuals”), but the essays in Smith’s collection don’t feel familiar—perhaps because hers is, as we’ve long known, an uncommon skill. Though I believe Smith could probably write compellingly about anything, she chooses her subjects wisely. She writes with as much electricity about Brexit as the aforementioned Beliebers—and each essay is utterly engrossing. “She contains multitudes, but her point is we all do,” writes Hermione Hoby in her review of the collection in The New Republic . “At the same time, we are, in our endless difference, nobody but ourselves.”  –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

Tressie McMillan Cottom, Thick: And Other Essays (2019)

Tressie McMillan Cottom is an academic who has transcended the ivory tower to become the sort of public intellectual who can easily appear on radio or television talk shows to discuss race, gender, and capitalism. Her collection of essays reflects this duality, blending scholarly work with memoir to create a collection on the black female experience in postmodern America that’s “intersectional analysis with a side of pop culture.” The essays range from an analysis of sexual violence, to populist politics, to social media, but in centering her own experiences throughout, the collection becomes something unlike other pieces of criticism of contemporary culture. In explaining the title, she reflects on what an editor had said about her work: “I was too readable to be academic, too deep to be popular, too country black to be literary, and too naïve to show the rigor of my thinking in the complexity of my prose. I had wanted to create something meaningful that sounded not only like me, but like all of me. It was too thick.” One of the most powerful essays in the book is “Dying to be Competent” which begins with her unpacking the idiocy of LinkedIn (and the myth of meritocracy) and ends with a description of her miscarriage, the mishandling of black woman’s pain, and a condemnation of healthcare bureaucracy. A finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction, Thick confirms McMillan Cottom as one of our most fearless public intellectuals and one of the most vital.  –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Dissenting Opinions

The following books were just barely nudged out of the top ten, but we (or at least one of us) couldn’t let them pass without comment.

Elif Batuman, The Possessed (2010)

In The Possessed Elif Batuman indulges her love of Russian literature and the result is hilarious and remarkable. Each essay of the collection chronicles some adventure or other that she had while in graduate school for Comparative Literature and each is more unpredictable than the next. There’s the time a “well-known 20th-centuryist” gave a graduate student the finger; and the time when Batuman ended up living in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, for a summer; and the time that she convinced herself Tolstoy was murdered and spent the length of the Tolstoy Conference in Yasnaya Polyana considering clues and motives. Rich in historic detail about Russian authors and literature and thoughtfully constructed, each essay is an amalgam of critical analysis, cultural criticism, and serious contemplation of big ideas like that of identity, intellectual legacy, and authorship. With wit and a serpentine-like shape to her narratives, Batuman adopts a form reminiscent of a Socratic discourse, setting up questions at the beginning of her essays and then following digressions that more or less entreat the reader to synthesize the answer for herself. The digressions are always amusing and arguably the backbone of the collection, relaying absurd anecdotes with foreign scholars or awkward, surreal encounters with Eastern European strangers. Central also to the collection are Batuman’s intellectual asides where she entertains a theory—like the “problem of the person”: the inability to ever wholly capture one’s character—that ultimately layer the book’s themes. “You are certainly my most entertaining student,” a professor said to Batuman. But she is also curious and enthusiastic and reflective and so knowledgeable that she might even convince you (she has me!) that you too love Russian literature as much as she does. –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (2014)

Roxane Gay’s now-classic essay collection is a book that will make you laugh, think, cry, and then wonder, how can cultural criticism be this fun? My favorite essays in the book include Gay’s musings on competitive Scrabble, her stranded-in-academia dispatches, and her joyous film and television criticism, but given the breadth of topics Roxane Gay can discuss in an entertaining manner, there’s something for everyone in this one. This book is accessible because feminism itself should be accessible – Roxane Gay is as likely to draw inspiration from YA novels, or middle-brow shows about friendship, as she is to introduce concepts from the academic world, and if there’s anyone I trust to bridge the gap between high culture, low culture, and pop culture, it’s the Goddess of Twitter. I used to host a book club dedicated to radical reads, and this was one of the first picks for the club; a week after the book club met, I spied a few of the attendees meeting in the café of the bookstore, and found out that they had bonded so much over discussing  Bad Feminist  that they couldn’t wait for the next meeting of the book club to keep discussing politics and intersectionality, and that, in a nutshell, is the power of Roxane. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

Rivka Galchen, Little Labors (2016)

Generally, I find stories about the trials and tribulations of child-having to be of limited appeal—useful, maybe, insofar as they offer validation that other people have also endured the bizarre realities of living with a tiny human, but otherwise liable to drift into the musings of parents thrilled at the simple fact of their own fecundity, as if they were the first ones to figure the process out (or not). But Little Labors is not simply an essay collection about motherhood, perhaps because Galchen initially “didn’t want to write about” her new baby—mostly, she writes, “because I had never been interested in babies, or mothers; in fact, those subjects had seemed perfectly not interesting to me.” Like many new mothers, though, Galchen soon discovered her baby—which she refers to sometimes as “the puma”—to be a preoccupying thought, demanding to be written about. Galchen’s interest isn’t just in her own progeny, but in babies in literature (“Literature has more dogs than babies, and also more abortions”), The Pillow Book , the eleventh-century collection of musings by Sei Shōnagon, and writers who are mothers. There are sections that made me laugh out loud, like when Galchen continually finds herself in an elevator with a neighbor who never fails to remark on the puma’s size. There are also deeper, darker musings, like the realization that the baby means “that it’s not permissible to die. There are days when this does not feel good.” It is a slim collection that I happened to read at the perfect time, and it remains one of my favorites of the decade. –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

Charlie Fox, This Young Monster (2017)

On social media as in his writing, British art critic Charlie Fox rejects lucidity for allusion and doesn’t quite answer the Twitter textbox’s persistent question: “What’s happening?” These days, it’s hard to tell.  This Young Monster  (2017), Fox’s first book,was published a few months after Donald Trump’s election, and at one point Fox takes a swipe at a man he judges “direct from a nightmare and just a repulsive fucking goon.” Fox doesn’t linger on politics, though, since most of the monsters he looks at “embody otherness and make it into art, ripping any conventional idea of beauty to shreds and replacing it with something weird and troubling of their own invention.”

If clichés are loathed because they conform to what philosopher Georges Bataille called “the common measure,” then monsters are rebellious non-sequiturs, comedic or horrific derailments from a classical ideal. Perverts in the most literal sense, monsters have gone astray from some “proper” course. The book’s nine chapters, which are about a specific monster or type of monster, are full of callbacks to familiar and lesser-known media. Fox cites visual art, film, songs, and books with the screwy buoyancy of a savant. Take one of his essays, “Spook House,” framed as a stage play with two principal characters, Klaus (“an intoxicated young skinhead vampire”) and Hermione (“a teen sorceress with green skin and jet-black hair” who looks more like The Wicked Witch than her namesake). The chorus is a troupe of trick-or-treaters. Using the filmmaker Cameron Jamie as a starting point, the rest is free association on gothic decadence and Detroit and L.A. as cities of the dead. All the while, Klaus quotes from  Artforum ,  Dazed & Confused , and  Time Out. It’s a technical feat that makes fictionalized dialogue a conveyor belt for cultural criticism.

In Fox’s imagination, David Bowie and the Hydra coexist alongside Peter Pan, Dennis Hopper, and the maenads. Fox’s book reaches for the monster’s mask, not really to peel it off but to feel and smell the rubber schnoz, to know how it’s made before making sure it’s still snugly set. With a stylistic blend of arthouse suavity and B-movie chic,  This Young Monster considers how monsters in culture are made. Aren’t the scariest things made in post-production? Isn’t the creature just duplicity, like a looping choir or a dubbed scream? –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

Elena Passarello, Animals Strike Curious Poses (2017)

Elena Passarello’s collection of essays Animals Strike Curious Poses picks out infamous animals and grants them the voice, narrative, and history they deserve. Not only is a collection like this relevant during the sixth extinction but it is an ambitious historical and anthropological undertaking, which Passarello has tackled with thorough research and a playful tone that rather than compromise her subject, complicates and humanizes it. Passarello’s intention is to investigate the role of animals across the span of human civilization and in doing so, to construct a timeline of humanity as told through people’s interactions with said animals. “Of all the images that make our world, animal images are particularly buried inside us,” Passarello writes in her first essay, to introduce us to the object of the book and also to the oldest of her chosen characters: Yuka, a 39,000-year-old mummified woolly mammoth discovered in the Siberian permafrost in 2010. It was an occasion so remarkable and so unfathomable given the span of human civilization that Passarello says of Yuka: “Since language is epically younger than both thought and experience, ‘woolly mammoth’ means, to a human brain, something more like time.” The essay ends with a character placing a hand on a cave drawing of a woolly mammoth, accompanied by a phrase which encapsulates the author’s vision for the book: “And he becomes the mammoth so he can envision the mammoth.” In Passarello’s hands the imagined boundaries between the animal, natural, and human world disintegrate and what emerges is a cohesive if baffling integrated history of life. With the accuracy and tenacity of a journalist and the spirit of a storyteller, Elena Passarello has assembled a modern bestiary worthy of contemplation and awe. –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

Esmé Weijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias (2019)

Esmé Weijun Wang’s collection of essays is a kaleidoscopic look at mental health and the lives affected by the schizophrenias. Each essay takes on a different aspect of the topic, but you’ll want to read them together for a holistic perspective. Esmé Weijun Wang generously begins The Collected Schizophrenias by acknowledging the stereotype, “Schizophrenia terrifies. It is the archetypal disorder of lunacy.” From there, she walks us through the technical language, breaks down the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual ( DSM-5 )’s clinical definition. And then she gets very personal, telling us about how she came to her own diagnosis and the way it’s touched her daily life (her relationships, her ideas about motherhood). Esmé Weijun Wang is uniquely situated to write about this topic. As a former lab researcher at Stanford, she turns a precise, analytical eye to her experience while simultaneously unfolding everything with great patience for her reader. Throughout, she brilliantly dissects the language around mental health. (On saying “a person living with bipolar disorder” instead of using “bipolar” as the sole subject: “…we are not our diseases. We are instead individuals with disorders and malfunctions. Our conditions lie over us like smallpox blankets; we are one thing and the illness is another.”) She pinpoints the ways she arms herself against anticipated reactions to the schizophrenias: high fashion, having attended an Ivy League institution. In a particularly piercing essay, she traces mental illness back through her family tree. She also places her story within more mainstream cultural contexts, calling on groundbreaking exposés about the dangerous of institutionalization and depictions of mental illness in television and film (like the infamous Slender Man case, in which two young girls stab their best friend because an invented Internet figure told them to). At once intimate and far-reaching, The Collected Schizophrenias is an informative and important (and let’s not forget artful) work. I’ve never read a collection quite so beautifully-written and laid-bare as this. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

Ross Gay, The Book of Delights (2019)

When Ross Gay began writing what would become The Book of Delights, he envisioned it as a project of daily essays, each focused on a moment or point of delight in his day. This plan quickly disintegrated; on day four, he skipped his self-imposed assignment and decided to “in honor and love, delight in blowing it off.” (Clearly, “blowing it off” is a relative term here, as he still produced the book.) Ross Gay is a generous teacher of how to live, and this moment of reveling in self-compassion is one lesson among many in The Book of Delights , which wanders from moments of connection with strangers to a shade of “red I don’t think I actually have words for,” a text from a friend reading “I love you breadfruit,” and “the sun like a guiding hand on my back, saying everything is possible. Everything .”

Gay does not linger on any one subject for long, creating the sense that delight is a product not of extenuating circumstances, but of our attention; his attunement to the possibilities of a single day, and awareness of all the small moments that produce delight, are a model for life amid the warring factions of the attention economy. These small moments range from the physical–hugging a stranger, transplanting fig cuttings–to the spiritual and philosophical, giving the impression of sitting beside Gay in his garden as he thinks out loud in real time. It’s a privilege to listen. –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

Honorable Mentions

A selection of other books that we seriously considered for both lists—just to be extra about it (and because decisions are hard).

Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings (2010) · Joyce Carol Oates, In Rough Country (2010) · Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011) · Christopher Hitchens, Arguably (2011) ·  Roberto Bolaño, tr. Natasha Wimmer, Between Parentheses (2011) · Dubravka Ugresic, tr. David Williams, Karaoke Culture (2011) · Tom Bissell, Magic Hours (2012)  · Kevin Young, The Grey Album (2012) · William H. Gass, Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts (2012) · Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012) · Herta Müller, tr. Geoffrey Mulligan, Cristina and Her Double (2013) · Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams (2014)  · Meghan Daum, The Unspeakable (2014)  · Daphne Merkin, The Fame Lunches (2014)  · Charles D’Ambrosio, Loitering (2015) · Wendy Walters, Multiply/Divide (2015) · Colm Tóibín, On Elizabeth Bishop (2015) ·  Renee Gladman, Calamities (2016)  · Jesmyn Ward, ed. The Fire This Time (2016)  · Lindy West, Shrill (2016)  · Mary Oliver, Upstream (2016)  · Emily Witt, Future Sex (2016)  · Olivia Laing, The Lonely City (2016)  · Mark Greif, Against Everything (2016)  · Durga Chew-Bose, Too Much and Not the Mood (2017)  · Sarah Gerard, Sunshine State (2017)  · Jim Harrison, A Really Big Lunch (2017)  · J.M. Coetzee, Late Essays: 2006-2017 (2017) · Melissa Febos, Abandon Me (2017)  · Louise Glück, American Originality (2017)  · Joan Didion, South and West (2017)  · Tom McCarthy, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish (2017)  · Hanif Abdurraqib, They Can’t Kill Us Until they Kill Us (2017)  · Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power (2017)  ·  Samantha Irby, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life (2017)  · Alexander Chee, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (2018)  · Alice Bolin, Dead Girls (2018)  · Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here? (2018)  · Lorrie Moore, See What Can Be Done (2018)  · Maggie O’Farrell, I Am I Am I Am (2018)  · Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race (2018)  · Rachel Cusk, Coventry (2019)  · Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror (2019)  · Emily Bernard, Black is the Body (2019)  · Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard (2019)  · Margaret Renkl, Late Migrations (2019)  ·  Rachel Munroe, Savage Appetites (2019)  · Robert A. Caro,  Working  (2019) · Arundhati Roy, My Seditious Heart (2019).

Emily Temple

Emily Temple

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How to Write a Life Story Essay

Last Updated: May 28, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Alicia Cook . Alicia Cook is a Professional Writer based in Newark, New Jersey. With over 12 years of experience, Alicia specializes in poetry and uses her platform to advocate for families affected by addiction and to fight for breaking the stigma against addiction and mental illness. She holds a BA in English and Journalism from Georgian Court University and an MBA from Saint Peter’s University. Alicia is a bestselling poet with Andrews McMeel Publishing and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets including the NY Post, CNN, USA Today, the HuffPost, the LA Times, American Songwriter Magazine, and Bustle. She was named by Teen Vogue as one of the 10 social media poets to know and her poetry mixtape, “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” was a finalist in the 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards. There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 100,198 times.

A life story essay involves telling the story of your life in a short, nonfiction format. It can also be called an autobiographical essay. In this essay, you will tell a factual story about some element of your life, perhaps for a college application or for a school assignment.

Preparing to Write Your Essay

Step 1 Determine the goal of your essay.

  • If you are writing a personal essay for a college application, it should serve to give the admissions committee a sense of who you are, beyond the basics of your application file. Your transcript, your letters of recommendation, and your resume will provide an overview of your work experience, interests, and academic record. Your essay allows you to make your application unique and individual to you, through your personal story. [2] X Research source
  • The essay will also show the admissions committee how well you can write and structure an essay. Your essay should show you can create a meaningful piece of writing that interests your reader, conveys a unique message, and flows well.
  • If you are writing a life story for a specific school assignment, such as in a composition course, ask your teacher about the assignment requirements.

Step 2 Make a timeline of your life.

  • Include important events, such as your birth, your childhood and upbringing, and your adolescence. If family member births, deaths, marriages, and other life moments are important to your story, write those down as well.
  • Focus on experiences that made a big impact on you and remain a strong memory. This may be a time where you learned an important life lesson, such as failing a test or watching someone else struggle and succeed, or where you felt an intense feeling or emotion, such as grief over someone’s death or joy over someone’s triumph.

Alicia Cook

  • Have you faced a challenge in your life that you overcame, such as family struggles, health issues, a learning disability, or demanding academics?
  • Do you have a story to tell about your cultural or ethnic background, or your family traditions?
  • Have you dealt with failure or life obstacles?
  • Do you have a unique passion or hobby?
  • Have you traveled outside of your community, to another country, city, or area? What did you take away from the experience and how will you carry what you learned into a college setting?

Step 4 Go over your resume.

  • Remind yourself of your accomplishments by going through your resume. Think about any awards or experiences you would like spotlight in your essay. For example, explaining the story behind your Honor Roll status in high school, or how you worked hard to receive an internship in a prestigious program.
  • Remember that your resume or C.V. is there to list off your accomplishments and awards, so your life story shouldn't just rehash them. Instead, use them as a jumping-off place to explain the process behind them, or what they reflect (or do not reflect) about you as a person.

Step 5 Read some good examples.

  • The New York Times publishes stellar examples of high school life story essays each year. You can read some of them on the NYT website. [8] X Research source

Writing Your Essay

Step 1 Structure your essay around a key experience or theme.

  • For example, you may look back at your time in foster care as a child or when you scored your first paying job. Consider how you handled these situations and any life lessons you learned from these lessons. Try to connect past experiences to who you are now, or who you aspire to be in the future.
  • Your time in foster care, for example, may have taught you resilience, perseverance and a sense of curiosity around how other families function and live. This could then tie into your application to a Journalism program, as the experience shows you have a persistent nature and a desire to investigate other people’s stories or experiences.

Step 2 Avoid familiar themes.

  • Certain life story essays have become cliche and familiar to admission committees. Avoid sports injuries stories, such as the time you injured your ankle in a game and had to find a way to persevere. You should also avoid using an overseas trip to a poor, foreign country as the basis for your self transformation. This is a familiar theme that many admission committees will consider cliche and not unique or authentic. [11] X Research source
  • Other common, cliche topics to avoid include vacations, "adversity" as an undeveloped theme, or the "journey". [12] X Research source

Step 3 Brainstorm your thesis...

  • Try to phrase your thesis in terms of a lesson learned. For example, “Although growing up in foster care in a troubled neighborhood was challenging and difficult, it taught me that I can be more than my upbringing or my background through hard work, perseverance, and education.”
  • You can also phrase your thesis in terms of lessons you have yet to learn, or seek to learn through the program you are applying for. For example, “Growing up surrounded by my mother’s traditional cooking and cultural habits that have been passed down through the generations of my family, I realized I wanted to discover and honor the traditions of other, ancient cultures with a career in archaeology.”
  • Both of these thesis statements are good because they tell your readers exactly what to expect in clear detail.

Step 4 Start with a hook.

  • An anecdote is a very short story that carries moral or symbolic weight. It can be a poetic or powerful way to start your essay and engage your reader right away. You may want to start directly with a retelling of a key past experience or the moment you realized a life lesson.
  • For example, you could start with a vivid memory, such as this from an essay that got its author into Harvard Business School: "I first considered applying to Berry College while dangling from a fifty-food Georgia pine tree, encouraging a high school classmate, literally, to make a leap of faith." [15] X Research source This opening line gives a vivid mental picture of what the author was doing at a specific, crucial moment in time and starts off the theme of "leaps of faith" that is carried through the rest of the essay.
  • Another great example clearly communicates the author's emotional state from the opening moments: "Through seven-year-old eyes I watched in terror as my mother grimaced in pain." This essay, by a prospective medical school student, goes on to tell about her experience being at her brother's birth and how it shaped her desire to become an OB/GYN. The opening line sets the scene and lets you know immediately what the author was feeling during this important experience. It also resists reader expectations, since it begins with pain but ends in the joy of her brother's birth.
  • Avoid using a quotation. This is an extremely cliche way to begin an essay and could put your reader off immediately. If you simply must use a quotation, avoid generic quotes like “Spread your wings and fly” or “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’”. Choose a quotation that relates directly to your experience or the theme of your essay. This could be a quotation from a poem or piece of writing that speaks to you, moves you, or helped you during a rough time.

Step 5 Let your personality and voice come through.

  • Always use the first person in a personal essay. The essay should be coming from you and should tell the reader directly about your life experiences, with “I” statements.
  • For example, avoid something such as “I had a hard time growing up. I was in a bad situation.” You can expand this to be more distinct, but still carry a similar tone and voice. “When I was growing up in foster care, I had difficulties connecting with my foster parents and with my new neighborhood. At the time, I thought I was in a bad situation I would never be able to be free from.”

Step 6 Use vivid detail.

  • For example, consider this statement: "I am a good debater. I am highly motivated and have been a strong leader all through high school." This gives only the barest detail, and does not allow your reader any personal or unique information that will set you apart from the ten billion other essays she has to sift through.
  • In contrast, consider this one: "My mother says I'm loud. I say you have to speak up to be heard. As president of my high school's debate team for the past three years, I have learned to show courage even when my heart is pounding in my throat. I have learned to consider the views of people different than myself, and even to argue for them when I passionately disagree. I have learned to lead teams in approaching complicated issues. And, most importantly for a formerly shy young girl, I have found my voice." This example shows personality, uses parallel structure for impact, and gives concrete detail about what the author has learned from her life experience as a debater.

Step 7 Use the active voice.

  • An example of a passive sentence is: “The cake was eaten by the dog.” The subject (the dog) is not in the expected subject position (first) and is not "doing" the expected action. This is confusing and can often be unclear.
  • An example of an active sentence is: “The dog ate the cake.” The subject (the dog) is in the subject position (first), and is doing the expected action. This is much more clear for the reader and is a stronger sentence.

Step 8 Apply the Into, Through, and Beyond approach.

  • Lead the reader INTO your story with a powerful beginning, such as an anecdote or a quote.
  • Take the reader THROUGH your story with the context and key parts of your experience.
  • End with the BEYOND message about how the experience has affected who you are now and who you want to be in college and after college.

Editing Your Essay

Step 1 Put your first draft aside for a few days.

  • For example, a sentence like “I struggled during my first year of college, feeling overwhelmed by new experiences and new people” is not very strong because it states the obvious and does not distinguish you are unique or singular. Most people struggle and feel overwhelmed during their first year of college. Adjust sentences like this so they appear unique to you.
  • For example, consider this: “During my first year of college, I struggled with meeting deadlines and assignments. My previous home life was not very structured or strict, so I had to teach myself discipline and the value of deadlines.” This relates your struggle to something personal and explains how you learned from it.

Step 3 Proofread your essay.

  • It can be difficult to proofread your own work, so reach out to a teacher, a mentor, a family member, or a friend and ask them to read over your essay. They can act as first readers and respond to any proofreading errors, as well as the essay as a whole.

Expert Q&A

Alicia Cook

You Might Also Like

Write About Yourself

  • ↑ http://education.seattlepi.com/write-thesis-statement-autobiographical-essay-1686.html
  • ↑ https://study.com/learn/lesson/autobiography-essay-examples-steps.html
  • ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201101/writing-compelling-life-story-in-500-words-or-less
  • ↑ Alicia Cook. Professional Writer. Expert Interview. 11 December 2020.
  • ↑ https://mycustomessay.com/blog/how-to-write-an-autobiography-essay.html
  • ↑ http://www.ahwatukee.com/community_focus/article_c79b33da-09a5-11e3-95a8-001a4bcf887a.html
  • ↑ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/10/your-money/four-stand-out-college-essays-about-money.html
  • ↑ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY9AdFx0L4s
  • ↑ https://www.medina-esc.org/Downloads/Practical%20Advice%20Writing%20College%20App%20Essay.pdf
  • ↑ http://www.businessinsider.com/successful-harvard-business-school-essays-2012-11?op=1
  • ↑ http://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/passive_sentences.htm

About This Article

Alicia Cook

A life story essay is an essay that tells the story of your life in a short, nonfiction format. Start by coming up with a thesis statement, which will help you structure your essay. For example, your thesis could be about the influence of your family's culture on your life or how you've grown from overcoming challenging circumstances. You can include important life events that link to your thesis, like jobs you’ve worked, friendships that have influenced you, or sports competitions you’ve won. Consider starting your essay with an anecdote that introduces your thesis. For instance, if you're writing about your family's culture, you could start by talking about the first festival you went to and how it inspired you. Finish by writing about how the experiences have affected you and who you want to be in the future. For more tips from our Education co-author, including how to edit your essay effectively, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Rafal Reyzer

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40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips)

Author: Rafal Reyzer

I wanted to improve my writing skills. I thought that reading the forty best essays of all time would bring me closer to my goal.

I had little money (buying forty collections of essays was out of the question) so I’ve found them online instead. I’ve hacked through piles of them, and finally, I’ve found the great ones. Now I want to share the whole list with you (with the addition of my notes about writing). Each item on the list has a direct link to the essay, so please click away and indulge yourself. Also, next to each essay, there’s an image of the book that contains the original work.

About this essay list:

Reading essays is like indulging in candy; once you start, it’s hard to stop. I sought out essays that were not only well-crafted but also impactful. These pieces genuinely shifted my perspective. Whether you’re diving in for enjoyment or to hone your writing, these essays promise to leave an imprint. It’s fascinating how an essay can resonate with you, and even if details fade, its essence remains. I haven’t ranked them in any way; they’re all stellar. Skim through, explore the summaries, and pick up some writing tips along the way. For more essay gems, consider “Best American Essays” by Joyce Carol Oates or “101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think” curated by Brianna Wiest.

George Orwell Typing

40 Best Essays of All Time (With Links And Writing Tips)

1. david sedaris – laugh, kookaburra.

david sedaris - the best of me essay collection

A great family drama takes place against the backdrop of the Australian wilderness. And the Kookaburra laughs… This is one of the top essays of the lot. It’s a great mixture of family reminiscences, travel writing, and advice on what’s most important in life. You’ll also learn an awful lot about the curious culture of the Aussies.

Writing tips from the essay:

  • Use analogies (you can make it funny or dramatic to achieve a better effect): “Don’t be afraid,” the waiter said, and he talked to the kookaburra in a soothing, respectful voice, the way you might to a child with a switchblade in his hand”.
  • You can touch a few cognate stories in one piece of writing . Reveal the layers gradually. Intertwine them and arrange for a grand finale where everything is finally clear.
  • Be on the side of the reader. Become their friend and tell the story naturally, like around the dinner table.
  • Use short, punchy sentences. Tell only as much as is required to make your point vivid.
  • Conjure sentences that create actual feelings: “I had on a sweater and a jacket, but they weren’t quite enough, and I shivered as we walked toward the body, and saw that it was a . . . what, exactly?”
  • You may ask a few tough questions in a row to provoke interest and let the reader think.

2. Charles D’Ambrosio – Documents

Charles D'Ambrosio - Loitering - New and Collected Essays

Do you think your life punches you in the face all too often? After reading this essay, you will change your mind. Reading about loss and hardships often makes us sad at first, but then enables us to feel grateful for our lives . D’Ambrosio shares his documents (poems, letters) that had a major impact on his life, and brilliantly shows how not to let go of the past.

  • The most powerful stories are about your family and the childhood moments that shaped your life.
  • You don’t need to build up tension and pussyfoot around the crux of the matter. Instead, surprise the reader by telling it like it is: “The poem was an allegory about his desire to leave our family.” Or: “My father had three sons. I’m the eldest; Danny, the youngest, killed himself sixteen years ago”.
  • You can use real documents and quotes from your family and friends. It makes it so much more personal and relatable.
  • Don’t cringe before the long sentence if you know it’s a strong one.
  • At the end of the essay, you may come back to the first theme to close the circuit.
  • Using slightly poetic language is acceptable, as long as it improves the story.

3. E. B. White – Once more to the lake

E.B. White - Essays

What does it mean to be a father? Can you see your younger self, reflected in your child? This beautiful essay tells the story of the author, his son, and their traditional stay at a placid lake hidden within the forests of Maine. This place of nature is filled with sunshine and childhood memories. It also provides for one of the greatest meditations on nature and the passing of time.

  • Use sophisticated language, but not at the expense of readability.
  • Use vivid language to trigger the mirror neurons in the reader’s brain: “I took along my son, who had never had any fresh water up his nose and who had seen lily pads only from train windows”.
  • It’s important to mention universal feelings that are rarely talked about (it helps to create a bond between two minds): “You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing. I guess I remembered clearest of all the early mornings when the lake was cool and motionless”.
  • Animate the inanimate: “this constant and trustworthy body of water”.
  • Mentioning tales of yore is a good way to add some mystery and timelessness to your piece.
  • Using double, or even triple “and” in one sentence is fine. It can make the sentence sing.

4. Zadie Smith – Fail Better

Zadie Smith - Changing My Mind

Aspiring writers feel tremendous pressure to perform. The daily quota of words often turns out to be nothing more than gibberish. What then? Also, should the writer please the reader or should she be fully independent? What does it mean to be a writer, anyway? This essay is an attempt to answer these questions, but its contents are not only meant for scribblers. Within it, you’ll find some great notes about literary criticism, how we treat art , and the responsibility of the reader.

  • A perfect novel ? There’s no such thing.
  • The novel always reflects the inner world of the writer. That’s why we’re fascinated with writers.
  • Writing is not simply about craftsmanship, but about taking your reader to the unknown lands. In the words of Christopher Hitchens: “Your ideal authors ought to pull you from the foundering of your previous existence, not smilingly guide you into a friendly and peaceable harbor.”
  • Style comes from your unique personality and the perception of the world. It takes time to develop it.
  • Never try to tell it all. “All” can never be put into language. Take a part of it and tell it the best you can.
  • Avoid being cliché. Try to infuse new life into your writing .
  • Writing is about your way of being. It’s your game. Paradoxically, if you try to please everyone, your writing will become less appealing. You’ll lose the interest of the readers. This rule doesn’t apply in the business world where you have to write for a specific person (a target audience).
  • As a reader, you have responsibilities too. According to the critics, every thirty years, there’s just a handful of great novels. Maybe it’s true. But there’s also an element of personal connection between the reader and the writer. That’s why for one person a novel is a marvel, while for the other, nothing special at all. That’s why you have to search and find the author who will touch you.

5. Virginia Woolf – Death of the Moth

Virginia Woolf - Essays

Amid an ordinary day, sitting in a room of her own, Virginia Woolf tells about the epic struggle for survival and the evanescence of life. This short essay is truly powerful. In the beginning, the atmosphere is happy. Life is in full force. And then, suddenly, it fades away. This sense of melancholy would mark the last years of Woolf’s life.

  • The melody of language… A good sentence is like music: “Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow- underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us”.
  • You can show the grandest in the mundane (for example, the moth at your window and the drama of life and death).
  • Using simple comparisons makes the style more lucid: “Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure”.

6. Meghan Daum – My Misspent Youth

Meghan Daum - My Misspent Youth - Essays

Many of us, at some point or another, dream about living in New York. Meghan Daum’s take on the subject differs slightly from what you might expect. There’s no glamour, no Broadway shows, and no fancy restaurants. Instead, there’s the sullen reality of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. You’ll get all the juicy details about credit cards, overdue payments, and scrambling for survival. It’s a word of warning. But it’s also a great story about shattered fantasies of living in a big city. Word on the street is: “You ain’t promised mañana in the rotten manzana.”

  • You can paint a picture of your former self. What did that person believe in? What kind of world did he or she live in?
  • “The day that turned your life around” is a good theme you may use in a story. Memories of a special day are filled with emotions. Strong emotions often breed strong writing.
  • Use cultural references and relevant slang to create a context for your story.
  • You can tell all the details of the story, even if in some people’s eyes you’ll look like the dumbest motherfucker that ever lived. It adds to the originality.
  • Say it in a new way: “In this mindset, the dollars spent, like the mechanics of a machine no one bothers to understand, become an abstraction, an intangible avenue toward self-expression, a mere vehicle of style”.
  • You can mix your personal story with the zeitgeist or the ethos of the time.

7. Roger Ebert – Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Roger Ebert - The Great Movies

Probably the greatest film critic of all time, Roger Ebert, tells us not to rage against the dying of the light. This essay is full of courage, erudition, and humanism. From it, we learn about what it means to be dying (Hitchens’ “Mortality” is another great work on that theme). But there’s so much more. It’s a great celebration of life too. It’s about not giving up, and sticking to your principles until the very end. It brings to mind the famous scene from Dead Poets Society where John Keating (Robin Williams) tells his students: “Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary”.

  • Start with a powerful sentence: “I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.”
  • Use quotes to prove your point -”‘Ask someone how they feel about death’, he said, ‘and they’ll tell you everyone’s gonna die’. Ask them, ‘In the next 30 seconds?’ No, no, no, that’s not gonna happen”.
  • Admit the basic truths about reality in a childlike way (especially after pondering quantum physics) – “I believe my wristwatch exists, and even when I am unconscious, it is ticking all the same. You have to start somewhere”.
  • Let other thinkers prove your point. Use quotes and ideas from your favorite authors and friends.

8. George Orwell – Shooting an Elephant

George Orwell - A collection of Essays

Even after one reading, you’ll remember this one for years. The story, set in British Burma, is about shooting an elephant (it’s not for the squeamish). It’s also the most powerful denunciation of colonialism ever put into writing. Orwell, apparently a free representative of British rule, feels to be nothing more than a puppet succumbing to the whim of the mob.

  • The first sentence is the most important one: “In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me”.
  • You can use just the first paragraph to set the stage for the whole piece of prose.
  • Use beautiful language that stirs the imagination: “I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains.” Or: “I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have.”
  • If you’ve ever been to war, you will have a story to tell: “(Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.)”
  • Use simple words, and admit the sad truth only you can perceive: “They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching”.
  • Share words of wisdom to add texture to the writing: “I perceived at this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his freedom that he destroys.”
  • I highly recommend reading everything written by Orwell, especially if you’re looking for the best essay collections on Amazon or Goodreads.

9. George Orwell – A Hanging

George Orwell - Essays

It’s just another day in Burma – time to hang a man. Without much ado, Orwell recounts the grim reality of taking another person’s life. A man is taken from his cage and in a few minutes, he’s going to be hanged. The most horrible thing is the normality of it. It’s a powerful story about human nature. Also, there’s an extraordinary incident with the dog, but I won’t get ahead of myself.

  • Create brilliant, yet short descriptions of characters: “He was a Hindu, a puny wisp of a man, with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes. He had a thick, sprouting mustache, absurdly too big for his body, rather like the mustache of a comic man on the films”.
  • Understand and share the felt presence of a unique experience: “It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man”.
  • Make your readers hear the sound that will stay with them forever: “And then when the noose was fixed, the prisoner began crying out on his god. It was a high, reiterated cry of “Ram! Ram! Ram! Ram!”
  • Make the ending original by refusing the tendency to seek closure or summing it up.

10. Christopher Hitchens – Assassins of The Mind

Christopher Hitchens - Arguably - Essays

In one of the greatest essays written in defense of free speech, Christopher Hitchens shares many examples of how modern media kneel to the explicit threats of violence posed by Islamic extremists. He recounts the story of his friend, Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses who, for many years, had to watch over his shoulder because of the fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini. With his usual wit, Hitchens shares various examples of people who died because of their opinions and of editors who refuse to publish anything related to Islam because of fear (and it was written long before the Charlie Hebdo massacre). After reading the essay, you realize that freedom of expression is one of the most precious things we have and that we have to fight for it. I highly recommend all essay collections penned by Hitchens, especially the ones written for Vanity Fair.

  • Assume that the readers will know the cultural references. When they do, their self-esteem goes up – they are a part of an insider group.
  • When proving your point, give a variety of real-life examples from eclectic sources. Leave no room for ambiguity or vagueness. Research and overall knowledge are essential here.
  • Use italics to emphasize a specific word or phrase (here I use the underlining): “We live now in a climate where every publisher and editor and politician has to weigh in advance the possibility of violent Muslim reprisal. In consequence, several things have not happened.”
  • Think about how to make it sound more original: “So there is now a hidden partner in our cultural and academic and publishing and the broadcasting world: a shadowy figure that has, uninvited, drawn up a chair to the table.”

11. Christopher Hitchens – The New Commandments

Christopher Hitchens - Essays

It’s high time to shatter the tablets and amend the biblical rules of conduct. Watch, as Christopher Hitchens slays one commandment after the other on moral, as well as historical grounds. For example, did you know that there are many versions of the divine law dictated by God to Moses which you can find in the Bible? Aren’t we thus empowered to write our version of a proper moral code? If you approach it with an open mind, this essay may change the way you think about the Bible and religion.

  • Take the iconoclastic approach. Have a party on the hallowed soil.
  • Use humor to undermine orthodox ideas (it seems to be the best way to deal with an established authority).
  • Use sarcasm and irony when appropriate (or not): “Nobody is opposed to a day of rest. The international Communist movement got its start by proclaiming a strike for an eight-hour day on May 1, 1886, against Christian employers who used child labor seven days a week”.
  • Defeat God on legal grounds: “Wise lawmakers know that it is a mistake to promulgate legislation that is impossible to obey”.
  • Be ruthless in the logic of your argument. Provide evidence.

12. Phillip Lopate – Against Joie de Vivre

Philip Lopate - The Art Of Personal Essay

While reading this fantastic essay, this quote from Slavoj Žižek kept coming back to me: “I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves”. I can bear the onus of happiness or joie de vivre for some time. But this force enables me to get free and wallow in the sweet feelings of melancholy and nostalgia. By reading this work of Lopate, you’ll enter into the world of an intelligent man who finds most social rituals a drag. It’s worth exploring.

  • Go against the grain. Be flamboyant and controversial (if you can handle it).
  • Treat the paragraph like a group of thoughts on one theme. Next paragraph, next theme.
  • Use references to other artists to set the context and enrich the prose: “These sunny little canvases with their talented innocence, the third-generation spirit of Montmartre, bore testimony to a love of life so unbending as to leave an impression of rigid narrow-mindedness as extreme as any Savonarola. Their rejection of sorrow was total”.
  • Capture the emotions in life that are universal, yet remain unspoken.
  • Don’t be afraid to share your intimate experiences.

13. Philip Larkin – The Pleasure Principle

Philip Larkin - Jazz Writings, and other essays

This piece comes from the Required Writing collection of personal essays. Larkin argues that reading in verse should be a source of intimate pleasure – not a medley of unintelligible thoughts that only the author can (or can’t?) decipher. It’s a sobering take on modern poetry and a great call to action for all those involved in it. Well worth a read.

  • Write about complicated ideas (such as poetry) simply. You can change how people look at things if you express yourself enough.
  • Go boldly. The reader wants a bold writer: “We seem to be producing a new kind of bad poetry, not the old kind that tries to move the reader and fails, but one that does not even try”.
  • Play with words and sentence length. Create music: “It is time some of you playboys realized, says the judge, that reading a poem is hard work. Fourteen days in stir. Next case”.
  • Persuade the reader to take action. Here, direct language is the most effective.

14. Sigmund Freud – Thoughts for the Times on War and Death

Sigmund Freud - On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia

This essay reveals Freud’s disillusionment with the whole project of Western civilization. How the peaceful European countries could engage in a war that would eventually cost over 17 million lives? What stirs people to kill each other? Is it their nature, or are they puppets of imperial forces with agendas of their own? From the perspective of time, this work by Freud doesn’t seem to be fully accurate. Even so, it’s well worth your time.

  • Commence with long words derived from Latin. Get grandiloquent, make your argument incontrovertible, and leave your audience discombobulated.
  • Use unending sentences, so that the reader feels confused, yet impressed.
  • Say it well: “In this way, he enjoyed the blue sea and the grey; the beauty of snow-covered mountains and green meadowlands; the magic of northern forests and the splendor of southern vegetation; the mood evoked by landscapes that recall great historical events, and the silence of untouched nature”.
  • Human nature is a subject that never gets dry.

15. Zadie Smith – Some Notes on Attunement

“You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing” – Francis Dolarhyde. This one is about the elusiveness of change occurring within you. For Zadie, it was hard to attune to the vibes of Joni Mitchell – especially her Blue album. But eventually, she grew up to appreciate her genius, and all the other things changed as well. This top essay is all about the relationship between humans, and art. We shouldn’t like art because we’re supposed to. We should like it because it has an instantaneous, emotional effect on us. Although, according to Stansfield (Gary Oldman) in Léon, liking Beethoven is rather mandatory.

  • Build an expectation of what’s coming: “The first time I heard her I didn’t hear her at all”.
  • Don’t be afraid of repetition if it feels good.
  • Psychedelic drugs let you appreciate things you never appreciated.
  • Intertwine a personal journey with philosophical musings.
  • Show rather than tell: “My friends pitied their eyes. The same look the faithful give you as you hand them back their “literature” and close the door in their faces”.
  • Let the poets speak for you: “That time is past, / And all its aching joys are now no
  • more, / And all its dizzy raptures”.
  • By voicing your anxieties, you can heal the anxieties of the reader. In that way, you say: “I’m just like you. I’m your friend in this struggle”.
  • Admit your flaws to make your persona more relatable.

16. Annie Dillard – Total Eclipse

Annie Dillard - Teaching A stone to talk

My imagination was always stirred by the scene of the solar eclipse in Pharaoh, by Boleslaw Prus. I wondered about the shock of the disoriented crowd when they saw how their ruler could switch off the light. Getting immersed in this essay by Annie Dillard has a similar effect. It produces amazement and some kind of primeval fear. It’s not only the environment that changes; it’s your mind and the perception of the world. After the eclipse, nothing is going to be the same again.

  • Yet again, the power of the first sentence draws you in: “It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass”.
  • Don’t miss the extraordinary scene. Then describe it: “Up in the sky, like a crater from some distant cataclysm, was a hollow ring”.
  • Use colloquial language. Write as you talk. Short sentences often win.
  • Contrast the numinous with the mundane to enthrall the reader.

17. Édouard Levé – When I Look at a Strawberry, I Think of a Tongue

Édouard Levé - Suicide

This suicidally beautiful essay will teach you a lot about the appreciation of life and the struggle with mental illness. It’s a collection of personal, apparently unrelated thoughts that show us the rich interior of the author. You look at the real-time thoughts of another person, and then recognize the same patterns within yourself… It sounds like a confession of a person who’s about to take their life, and it’s striking in its originality.

  • Use the stream-of-consciousness technique and put random thoughts on paper. Then, polish them: “I have attempted suicide once, I’ve been tempted four times to attempt it”.
  • Place the treasure deep within the story: “When I look at a strawberry, I think of a tongue, when I lick one, of a kiss”.
  • Don’t worry about what people might think. The more you expose, the more powerful the writing. Readers also take part in the great drama. They experience universal emotions that mostly stay inside.  You can translate them into writing.

18. Gloria E. Anzaldúa – How to Tame a Wild Tongue

Gloria Anzaldúa - Reader

Anzaldúa, who was born in south Texas, had to struggle to find her true identity. She was American, but her culture was grounded in Mexico. In this way, she and her people were not fully respected in either of the countries. This essay is an account of her journey of becoming the ambassador of the Chicano (Mexican-American) culture. It’s full of anecdotes, interesting references, and different shades of Spanish. It’s a window into a new cultural dimension that you’ve never experienced before.

  • If your mother tongue is not English, but you write in English, use some of your unique homeland vocabulary.
  • You come from a rich cultural heritage. You can share it with people who never heard about it, and are not even looking for it, but it is of immense value to them when they discover it.
  • Never forget about your identity. It is precious. It is a part of who you are. Even if you migrate, try to preserve it. Use it to your best advantage and become the voice of other people in the same situation.
  • Tell them what’s really on your mind: “So if you want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity – I am my language”.

19. Kurt Vonnegut – Dispatch From A Man Without a Country

Kurt Vonnegut - A man without a country

In terms of style, this essay is flawless. It’s simple, conversational, humorous, and yet, full of wisdom. And when Vonnegut becomes a teacher and draws an axis of “beginning – end”, and, “good fortune – bad fortune” to explain literature, it becomes outright hilarious. It’s hard to find an author with such a down-to-earth approach. He doesn’t need to get intellectual to prove a point. And the point could be summed up by the quote from Great Expectations – “On the Rampage, Pip, and off the Rampage, Pip – such is Life!”

  • Start with a curious question: “Do you know what a twerp is?”
  • Surprise your readers with uncanny analogies: “I am from a family of artists. Here I am, making a living in the arts. It has not been a rebellion. It’s as though I had taken over the family Esso station.”
  • Use your natural language without too many special effects. In time, the style will crystalize.
  • An amusing lesson in writing from Mr. Vonnegut: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college”.
  • You can put actual images or vignettes between the paragraphs to illustrate something.

20. Mary Ruefle – On Fear

Mary Ruefle - Madness, rack and honey

Most psychologists and gurus agree that fear is the greatest enemy of success or any creative activity. It’s programmed into our minds to keep us away from imaginary harm. Mary Ruefle takes on this basic human emotion with flair. She explores fear from so many angles (especially in the world of poetry-writing) that at the end of this personal essay, you will look at it, dissect it, untangle it, and hopefully be able to say “f**k you” the next time your brain is trying to stop you.

  • Research your subject thoroughly. Ask people, have interviews, get expert opinions, and gather as much information as possible. Then scavenge through the fields of data, and pull out the golden bits that will let your prose shine.
  • Use powerful quotes to add color to your story: “The poet who embarks on the creation of the poem (as I know by experience), begins with the aimless sensation of a hunter about to embark on a night hunt through the remotest of forests. Unaccountable dread stirs in his heart”. – Lorca.
  • Writing advice from the essay: “One of the fears a young writer has is not being able to write as well as he or she wants to, the fear of not being able to sound like X or Y, a favorite author. But out of fear, hopefully, is born a young writer’s voice”.

21. Susan Sontag – Against Interpretation

Susan Sontag - Against Interpretation

In this highly intellectual essay, Sontag fights for art and its interpretation. It’s a great lesson, especially for critics and interpreters who endlessly chew on works that simply defy interpretation. Why don’t we just leave the art alone? I always hated it when at school they asked me: “What did the author have in mind when he did X or Y?” Iēsous Pantocrator! Hell if I know! I will judge it through my subjective experience!

  • Leave the art alone: “Today is such a time, when the project of interpretation is reactionary, stifling. Like the fumes of the automobile and heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities”.
  • When you have something really important to say, style matters less.
  • There’s no use in creating a second meaning or inviting interpretation of our art. Just leave it be and let it speak for itself.

22. Nora Ephron – A Few Words About Breasts

Nora Ephron - The most of Nora Ephron

This is a heartwarming, coming-of-age story about a young girl who waits in vain for her breasts to grow. It’s simply a humorous and pleasurable read. The size of breasts is a big deal for women. If you’re a man, you may peek into the mind of a woman and learn many interesting things. If you’re a woman, maybe you’ll be able to relate and at last, be at peace with your bosom.

  • Touch an interesting subject and establish a strong connection with the readers (in that case, women with small breasts). Let your personality shine through the written piece. If you are lighthearted, show it.
  • Use hyphens to create an impression of real talk: “My house was full of apples and peaches and milk and homemade chocolate chip cookies – which were nice, and good for you, but-not-right-before-dinner-or-you’ll-spoil-your-appetite.”
  • Use present tense when you tell a story to add more life to it.
  • Share the pronounced, memorable traits of characters: “A previous girlfriend named Solange, who was famous throughout Beverly Hills High School for having no pigment in her right eyebrow, had knitted them for him (angora dice)”.

23. Carl Sagan – Does Truth Matter – Science, Pseudoscience, and Civilization

Carl Sagan - The Demon Haunted World

Carl Sagan was one of the greatest proponents of skepticism, and an author of numerous books, including one of my all-time favorites – The Demon-Haunted World . He was also a renowned physicist and the host of the fantastic Cosmos: A Personal Voyage series, which inspired a whole generation to uncover the mysteries of the cosmos. He was also a dedicated weed smoker – clearly ahead of his time. The essay that you’re about to read is a crystallization of his views about true science, and why you should check the evidence before believing in UFOs or similar sorts of crap.

  • Tell people the brutal truth they need to hear. Be the one who spells it out for them.
  • Give a multitude of examples to prove your point. Giving hard facts helps to establish trust with the readers and show the veracity of your arguments.
  • Recommend a good book that will change your reader’s minds – How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life

24. Paul Graham – How To Do What You Love

Paul Graham - Hackers and Painters

How To Do What You Love should be read by every college student and young adult. The Internet is flooded with a large number of articles and videos that are supposed to tell you what to do with your life. Most of them are worthless, but this one is different. It’s sincere, and there’s no hidden agenda behind it. There’s so much we take for granted – what we study, where we work, what we do in our free time… Surely we have another two hundred years to figure it out, right? Life’s too short to be so naïve. Please, read the essay and let it help you gain fulfillment from your work.

  • Ask simple, yet thought-provoking questions (especially at the beginning of the paragraph) to engage the reader: “How much are you supposed to like what you do?”
  • Let the readers question their basic assumptions: “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like”.
  • If you’re writing for a younger audience, you can act as a mentor. It’s beneficial for younger people to read a few words of advice from a person with experience.

25. John Jeremiah Sullivan – Mister Lytle

John Jeremiah Sullivan - Pulphead

A young, aspiring writer is about to become a nurse of a fading writer – Mister Lytle (Andrew Nelson Lytle), and there will be trouble. This essay by Sullivan is probably my favorite one from the whole list. The amount of beautiful sentences it contains is just overwhelming. But that’s just a part of its charm. It also takes you to the Old South which has an incredible atmosphere. It’s grim and tawny but you want to stay there for a while.

  • Short, distinct sentences are often the most powerful ones: “He had a deathbed, in other words. He didn’t go suddenly”.
  • Stay consistent with the mood of the story. When reading Mister Lytle you are immersed in that southern, forsaken, gloomy world, and it’s a pleasure.
  • The spectacular language that captures it all: “His French was superb, but his accent in English was best—that extinct mid-Southern, land-grant pioneer speech, with its tinges of the abandoned Celtic urban Northeast (“boned” for burned) and its raw gentility”.
  • This essay is just too good. You have to read it.

26. Joan Didion – On Self Respect

Joan Didion - The white album

Normally, with that title, you would expect some straightforward advice about how to improve your character and get on with your goddamn life – but not from Joan Didion. From the very beginning, you can feel the depth of her thinking, and the unmistakable style of a true woman who’s been hurt. You can learn more from this essay than from whole books about self-improvement . It reminds me of the scene from True Detective, where Frank Semyon tells Ray Velcoro to “own it” after he realizes he killed the wrong man all these years ago. I guess we all have to “own it”, recognize our mistakes, and move forward sometimes.

  • Share your moral advice: “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs”.
  • It’s worth exploring the subject further from a different angle. It doesn’t matter how many people have already written on self-respect or self-reliance – you can still write passionately about it.
  • Whatever happens, you must take responsibility for it. Brave the storms of discontent.

27. Susan Sontag – Notes on Camp

Susan Sontag - Essays of the 1960 and 1970

I’ve never read anything so thorough and lucid about an artistic current. After reading this essay, you will know what camp is. But not only that – you will learn about so many artists you’ve never heard of. You will follow their traces and go to places where you’ve never been before. You will vastly increase your appreciation of art. It’s interesting how something written as a list could be so amazing. All the listicles we usually see on the web simply cannot compare with it.

  • Talking about artistic sensibilities is a tough job. When you read the essay, you will see how much research, thought and raw intellect came into it. But that’s one of the reasons why people still read it today, even though it was written in 1964.
  • You can choose an unorthodox way of expression in the medium for which you produce. For example, Notes on Camp is a listicle – one of the most popular content formats on the web. But in the olden days, it was uncommon to see it in print form.
  • Just think about what is camp: “And third among the great creative sensibilities is Camp: the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalization of experience. Camp refuses both the harmonies of traditional seriousness and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling”.

28. Ralph Waldo Emerson – Self-Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Self Reliance and other essays

That’s the oldest one from the lot. Written in 1841, it still inspires generations of people. It will let you understand what it means to be self-made. It contains some of the most memorable quotes of all time. I don’t know why, but this one especially touched me: “Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design, and posterity seems to follow his steps as a train of clients”. Now isn’t it purely individualistic, American thought? Emerson told me (and he will tell you) to do something amazing with my life. The language it contains is a bit archaic, but that just adds to the weight of the argument. You can consider it to be a meeting with a great philosopher who shaped the ethos of the modern United States.

  • You can start with a powerful poem that will set the stage for your work.
  • Be free in your creative flow. Do not wait for the approval of others: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness”.
  • Use rhetorical questions to strengthen your argument: “I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly say a new and spontaneous word?”

29. David Foster Wallace – Consider The Lobster

David Foster Wallece - Consider the lobster and other essays

When you want simple field notes about a food festival, you needn’t send there the formidable David Foster Wallace. He sees right through the hypocrisy and cruelty behind killing hundreds of thousands of innocent lobsters – by boiling them alive. This essay uncovers some of the worst traits of modern American people. There are no apologies or hedging one’s bets. There’s just plain truth that stabs you in the eye like a lobster claw. After reading this essay, you may reconsider the whole animal-eating business.

  • When it’s important, say it plainly and stagger the reader: “[Lobsters] survive right up until they’re boiled. Most of us have been in supermarkets or restaurants that feature tanks of live lobster, from which you can pick out your supper while it watches you point”.
  • In your writing, put exact quotes of the people you’ve been interviewing (including slang and grammatical errors). It makes it more vivid, and interesting.
  • You can use humor in serious situations to make your story grotesque.
  • Use captions to expound on interesting points of your essay.

30. David Foster Wallace – The Nature of the Fun

David Foster Wallece - a supposedly fun thing I'll never do again

The famous novelist and author of the most powerful commencement speech ever done is going to tell you about the joys and sorrows of writing a work of fiction. It’s like taking care of a mutant child that constantly oozes smelly liquids. But you love that child and you want others to love it too. It’s a very humorous account of what it means to be an author. If you ever plan to write a novel, you should read that one. And the story about the Chinese farmer is just priceless.

  • Base your point on a chimerical analogy. Here, the writer’s unfinished work is a “hideously damaged infant”.
  • Even in expository writing, you may share an interesting story to keep things lively.
  • Share your true emotions (even when you think they won’t interest anyone). Often, that’s exactly what will interest the reader.
  • Read the whole essay for marvelous advice on writing fiction.

31. Margaret Atwood – Attitude

Margaret Atwood - Writing with Intent - Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005

This is not an essay per se, but I included it on the list for the sake of variety. It was delivered as a commencement speech at The University of Toronto, and it’s about keeping the right attitude. Soon after leaving university, most graduates have to forget about safety, parties, and travel and start a new life – one filled with a painful routine that will last until they drop. Atwood says that you don’t have to accept that. You can choose how you react to everything that happens to you (and you don’t have to stay in that dead-end job for the rest of your days).

  • At times, we are all too eager to persuade, but the strongest persuasion is not forceful. It’s subtle. It speaks to the heart. It affects you gradually.
  • You may be tempted to talk about a subject by first stating what it is not, rather than what it is. Try to avoid that.
  • Simple advice for writers (and life in general): “When faced with the inevitable, you always have a choice. You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it”.

32. Jo Ann Beard – The Fourth State of Matter

Jo Ann Beard - The boys of my youth

Read that one as soon as possible. It’s one of the most masterful and impactful essays you’ll ever read. It’s like a good horror – a slow build-up, and then your jaw drops to the ground. To summarize the story would be to spoil it, so I recommend that you just dig in and devour this essay in one sitting. It’s a perfect example of “show, don’t tell” writing, where the actions of characters are enough to create the right effect. No need for flowery adjectives here.

  • The best story you will tell is going to come from your personal experience.
  • Use mysteries that will nag the reader. For example, at the beginning of the essay, we learn about the “vanished husband” but there’s no explanation. We have to keep reading to get the answer.
  • Explain it in simple terms: “You’ve got your solid, your liquid, your gas, and then your plasma”. Why complicate?

33. Terence McKenna – Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness

Terrence McKenna - Food of gods

To me, Terence McKenna was one of the most interesting thinkers of the twentieth century. His many lectures (now available on YouTube) attracted millions of people who suspect that consciousness holds secrets yet to be unveiled. McKenna consumed psychedelic drugs for most of his life and it shows (in a positive way). Many people consider him a looney, and a hippie, but he was so much more than that. He dared to go into the abyss of his psyche and come back to tell the tale. He also wrote many books (the most famous being Food Of The Gods ), built a huge botanical garden in Hawaii , lived with shamans, and was a connoisseur of all things enigmatic and obscure. Take a look at this essay, and learn more about the explorations of the subconscious mind.

  • Become the original thinker, but remember that it may require extraordinary measures: “I call myself an explorer rather than a scientist because the area that I’m looking at contains insufficient data to support even the dream of being a science”.
  • Learn new words every day to make your thoughts lucid.
  • Come up with the most outlandish ideas to push the envelope of what’s possible. Don’t take things for granted or become intellectually lazy. Question everything.

34. Eudora Welty – The Little Store

Eudora Welty - The eye of the story

By reading this little-known essay, you will be transported into the world of the old American South. It’s a remembrance of trips to the little store in a little town. It’s warm and straightforward, and when you read it, you feel like a child once more. All these beautiful memories live inside of us. They lay somewhere deep in our minds, hidden from sight. The work by Eudora Welty is an attempt to uncover some of them and let you get reacquainted with some smells and tastes of the past.

  • When you’re from the South, flaunt it. It’s still good old English but sometimes it sounds so foreign. I can hear the Southern accent too: “There were almost tangible smells – licorice recently sucked in a child’s cheek, dill-pickle brine that had leaked through a paper sack in a fresh trail across the wooden floor, ammonia-loaded ice that had been hoisted from wet Croker sacks and slammed into the icebox with its sweet butter at the door, and perhaps the smell of still-untrapped mice”.
  • Yet again, never forget your roots.
  • Childhood stories can be the most powerful ones. You can write about how they shaped you.

35. John McPhee – The Search for Marvin Gardens

John Mc Phee - The John Mc Phee reader

The Search for Marvin Gardens contains many layers of meaning. It’s a story about a Monopoly championship, but also, it’s the author’s search for the lost streets visible on the board of the famous board game. It also presents a historical perspective on the rise and fall of civilizations, and on Atlantic City, which once was a lively place, and then, slowly declined, the streets filled with dirt and broken windows.

  • There’s nothing like irony: “A sign- ‘Slow, Children at Play’- has been bent backward by an automobile”.
  • Telling the story in apparently unrelated fragments is sometimes better than telling the whole thing in a logical order.
  • Creativity is everything. The best writing may come just from connecting two ideas and mixing them to achieve a great effect. Shush! The muse is whispering.

36. Maxine Hong Kingston – No Name Woman

Maxine Hong Kingston - Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston

A dead body at the bottom of the well makes for a beautiful literary device. The first line of Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name Is Red delivers it perfectly: “I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well”. There’s something creepy about the idea of the well. Just think about the “It puts the lotion in the basket” scene from The Silence of the Lambs. In the first paragraph of Kingston’s essay, we learn about a suicide committed by uncommon means of jumping into the well. But this time it’s a real story. Who was this woman? Why did she do it? Read the essay.

  • Mysterious death always gets attention. The macabre details are like daiquiris on a hot day – you savor them – you don’t let them spill.
  • One sentence can speak volumes: “But the rare urge west had fixed upon our family, and so my aunt crossed boundaries not delineated in space”.
  • It’s interesting to write about cultural differences – especially if you have the relevant experience. Something normal for us is unthinkable for others. Show this different world.
  • The subject of sex is never boring.

37. Joan Didion – On Keeping A Notebook

Joan Didion - We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is one of the most famous collections of essays of all time. In it, you will find a curious piece called On Keeping A Notebook. It’s not only a meditation about keeping a journal. It’s also Didion’s reconciliation with her past self. After reading it, you will seriously reconsider your life’s choices and look at your life from a wider perspective.

  • When you write things down in your journal, be more specific – unless you want to write a deep essay about it years later.
  • Use the beauty of the language to relate to the past: “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be; one of them, a seventeen-year-old, presents little threat, although it would be of some interest to me to know again what it feels like to sit on a river levee drinking vodka-and-orange-juice and listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford and their echoes sing ‘How High the Moon’ on the car radio”.
  • Drop some brand names if you want to feel posh.

38. Joan Didion – Goodbye To All That

Joan Didion - Slouching Towards Bethlehem

This one touched me because I also lived in New York City for a while. I don’t know why, but stories about life in NYC are so often full of charm and this eerie-melancholy-jazz feeling. They are powerful. They go like this: “There was a hard blizzard in NYC. As the sound of sirens faded, Tony descended into the dark world of hustlers and pimps.” That’s pulp literature but in the context of NYC, it always sounds cool. Anyway, this essay is amazing in too many ways. You just have to read it.

  • Talk about New York City. They will read it.
  • Talk about the human experience: “It did occur to me to call the desk and ask that the air conditioner be turned off, I never called, because I did not know how much to tip whoever might come—was anyone ever so young?”
  • Look back at your life and reexamine it. Draw lessons from it.

39. George Orwell – Reflections on Gandhi

George Orwell could see things as they were. No exaggeration, no romanticism – just facts. He recognized totalitarianism and communism for what they were and shared his worries through books like 1984 and Animal Farm . He took the same sober approach when dealing with saints and sages. Today, we regard Gandhi as one of the greatest political leaders of the twentieth century – and rightfully so. But did you know that when asked about the Jews during World War II, Gandhi said that they should commit collective suicide and that it: “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” He also recommended utter pacifism in 1942, during the Japanese invasion, even though he knew it would cost millions of lives. But overall he was a good guy. Read the essay and broaden your perspective on the Bapu of the Indian Nation.

  • Share a philosophical thought that stops the reader for a moment: “No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid”.
  • Be straightforward in your writing – no mannerisms, no attempts to create ‘style’, and no invocations of the numinous – unless you feel the mystical vibe.

40. George Orwell – Politics and the English Language

Let Mr. Orwell give you some writing tips. Written in 1946, this essay is still one of the most helpful documents on writing in English. Orwell was probably the first person who exposed the deliberate vagueness of political language. He was very serious about it and I admire his efforts to slay all unclear sentences (including ones written by distinguished professors). But it’s good to make it humorous too from time to time. My favorite examples of that would be the immortal Soft Language sketch by George Carlin or the “Romans Go Home” scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Overall, it’s a great essay filled with examples from many written materials. It’s a must-read for any writer.

  • Listen to the master: “This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose.” Do something about it.
  • This essay is all about writing better, so go to the source if you want the goodies.

The thinker

Other Essays You May Find Interesting

The list that I’ve prepared is by no means complete. The literary world is full of exciting essays and you’ll never know which one is going to change your life. I’ve found reading essays very rewarding because sometimes, a single one means more than reading a whole book. It’s almost like wandering around and peeking into the minds of the greatest writers and thinkers that ever lived. To make this list more comprehensive, below I included more essays you may find interesting.

Oliver Sacks – On Libraries

One of the greatest contributors to the knowledge about the human mind, Oliver Sacks meditates on the value of libraries and his love of books.

Noam Chomsky – The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Chomsky did probably more than anyone else to define the role of the intelligentsia in the modern world . There is a war of ideas over there – good and bad – intellectuals are going to be those who ought to be fighting for the former.

Sam Harris – The Riddle of The Gun

Sam Harris, now a famous philosopher and neuroscientist, takes on the problem of gun control in the United States. His thoughts are clear of prejudice. After reading this, you’ll appreciate the value of logical discourse overheated, irrational debate that more often than not has real implications on policy.

Tim Ferriss – Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide

This piece was written as a blog post , but it’s worth your time. The author of the NYT bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek shares an emotional story about how he almost killed himself, and what can you do to save yourself or your friends from suicide.

Edward Said – Reflections on Exile

The life of Edward Said was a truly fascinating one. Born in Jerusalem, he lived between Palestine and Egypt and finally settled down in the United States, where he completed his most famous work – Orientalism. In this essay, he shares his thoughts about what it means to be in exile.

Richard Feynman – It’s as Simple as One, Two, Three…

Richard Feynman is one of the most interesting minds of the twentieth century. He was a brilliant physicist, but also an undeniably great communicator of science, an artist, and a traveler. By reading this essay, you can observe his thought process when he tries to figure out what affects our perception of time. It’s a truly fascinating read.

Rabindranath Tagore – The Religion of The Forest

I like to think about Tagore as my spiritual Friend. His poems are just marvelous. They are like some of the Persian verses that praise love, nature, and the unity of all things. By reading this short essay, you will learn a lot about Indian philosophy and its relation to its Western counterpart.

Richard Dawkins – Letter To His 10-Year-Old Daughter

Every father should be able to articulate his philosophy of life to his children. With this letter that’s similar to what you find in the Paris Review essays , the famed atheist and defender of reason, Richard Dawkins, does exactly that. It’s beautifully written and stresses the importance of looking at evidence when we’re trying to make sense of the world.

Albert Camus – The Minotaur (or, The Stop In Oran)

Each person requires a period of solitude – a period when one’s able to gather thoughts and make sense of life. There are many places where you may attempt to find quietude. Albert Camus tells about his favorite one.

Koty Neelis – 21 Incredible Life Lessons From Anthony Bourdain

I included it as the last one because it’s not really an essay, but I just had to put it somewhere. In this listicle, you’ll find the 21 most original thoughts of the high-profile cook, writer, and TV host, Anthony Bourdain. Some of them are shocking, others are funny, but they’re all worth checking out.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca – On the Shortness of Life

It’s similar to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam because it praises life. Seneca shares some of his stoic philosophy and tells you not to waste your time on stupidities. Drink! – for once dead you shall never return.

Bertrand Russell – In Praise of Idleness

This old essay is a must-read for modern humans. We are so preoccupied with our work, our phones, and all the media input we drown in our business. Bertrand Russell tells you to chill out a bit – maybe it will do you some good.

James Baldwin – Stranger in the Village

It’s an essay on the author’s experiences as an African-American in a Swiss village, exploring race, identity, and alienation while highlighting the complexities of racial dynamics and the quest for belonging.

Bonus – More writing tips from two great books

The mission to improve my writing skills took me further than just going through the essays. I’ve come across some great books on writing too. I highly recommend you read them in their entirety. They’re written beautifully and contain lots of useful knowledge. Below you’ll find random (but useful) notes that I took from The Sense of Style and On Writing.

The Sense of Style – By Steven Pinker

  • Style manuals are full of inconsistencies. Following their advice might not be the best idea. They might make your prose boring.
  • Grammarians from all eras condemn students for not knowing grammar. But it just evolves. It cannot be rigid.
  • “Nothing worth learning can be taught” – Oscar Wilde. It’s hard to learn to write from a manual – you have to read, write, and analyze.
  • Good writing makes you imagine things and feel them for yourself – use word pictures.
  • Don’t fear using voluptuous words.
  • Phonesthetics – or how the words sound.
  • Use parallel language (consistency of tense).
  • Good writing finishes strong.
  • Write to someone. Never write for no one in mind. Try to show people your view of the world.
  • Don’t tell everything you are going to say in summary (signposting) – be logical, but be conversational.
  • Don’t be pompous.
  • Don’t use quotation marks where they don’t “belong”. Be confident about your style.
  • Don’t hedge your claims (research first, and then tell it like it is).
  • Avoid clichés and meta-concepts (concepts about concepts). Be more straightforward!
  • Not prevention – but prevents or prevented – don’t use dead nouns.
  • Be more vivid while using your mother tongue – don’t use passive where it’s not needed. Direct the reader’s gaze to something in the world.
  • The curse of knowledge – the reader doesn’t know what you know – beware of that.
  • Explain technical terms.
  • Use examples when you explain a difficult term.
  • If you ever say “I think I understand this” it probably means you don’t.
  • It’s better to underestimate the lingo of your readers than to overestimate it.
  • Functional fixedness – if we know some object (or idea) well, we tend to see it in terms of usage, not just as an object.
  • Use concrete language instead of an abstraction.
  • Show your work to people before you publish (get feedback!).
  • Wait for a few days and then revise, revise, revise. Think about clarity and the sound of sentences. Then show it to someone. Then revise one more time. Then publish (if it’s to be serious work).
  • Look at it from the perspective of other people.
  • Omit needless words.
  • Put the heaviest words at the end of the sentence.
  • It’s good to use the passive, but only when appropriate.
  • Check all text for cohesion. Make sure that the sentences flow gently.
  • In expository work, go from general to more specific. But in journalism start from the big news and then give more details.
  • Use the paragraph break to give the reader a moment to take a breath.
  • Use the verb instead of a noun (make it more active) – not “cancellation”, but “canceled”. But after you introduce the action, you can refer to it with a noun.
  • Avoid too many negations.
  • If you write about why something is so, don’t spend too much time writing about why it is not.

On Writing Well – By William Zinsser

  • Writing is a craft. You need to sit down every day and practice your craft.
  • You should re-write and polish your prose a lot.
  • Throw out all the clutter. Don’t keep it because you like it. Aim for readability.
  • Look at the best examples of English literature . There’s hardly any needless garbage there.
  • Use shorter expressions. Don’t add extra words that don’t bring any value to your work.
  • Don’t use pompous language. Use simple language and say plainly what’s going on (“because” equals “because”).
  • The media and politics are full of cluttered prose (because it helps them to cover up for their mistakes).
  • You can’t add style to your work (and especially, don’t add fancy words to create an illusion of style). That will look fake. You need to develop a style.
  • Write in the “I” mode. Write to a friend or just for yourself. Show your personality. There is a person behind the writing.
  • Choose your words carefully. Use the dictionary to learn different shades of meaning.
  • Remember about phonology. Make music with words .
  • The lead is essential. Pull the reader in. Otherwise, your article is dead.
  • You don’t have to make the final judgment on any topic. Just pick the right angle.
  • Do your research. Not just obvious research, but a deep one.
  • When it’s time to stop, stop. And finish strong. Think about the last sentence. Surprise them.
  • Use quotations. Ask people. Get them talking.
  • If you write about travel, it must be significant to the reader. Don’t bother with the obvious. Choose your words with special care. Avoid travel clichés at all costs. Don’t tell that the sand was white and there were rocks on the beach. Look for the right detail.
  • If you want to learn how to write about art, travel, science, etc. – read the best examples available. Learn from the masters.
  • Concentrate on one big idea (“Let’s not go peeing down both legs”).
  • “The reader has to feel that the writer is feeling good.”
  • One very helpful question: “What is the piece really about?” (Not just “What the piece is about?”)

Now immerse yourself in the world of essays

By reading the essays from the list above, you’ll become a better writer , a better reader, but also a better person. An essay is a special form of writing. It is the only literary form that I know of that is an absolute requirement for career or educational advancement. Nowadays, you can use an AI essay writer or an AI essay generator that will get the writing done for you, but if you have personal integrity and strong moral principles, avoid doing this at all costs. For me as a writer, the effect of these authors’ masterpieces is often deeply personal. You won’t be able to find the beautiful thoughts they contain in any other literary form. I hope you enjoy the read and that it will inspire you to do your writing. This list is only an attempt to share some of the best essays available online. Next up, you may want to check the list of magazines and websites that accept personal essays .

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Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay Topics

Caleb S.

Best Narrative Essay Topics 2023 for Students

Published on: Jun 19, 2018

Last updated on: Nov 16, 2023

Narrative Essay Topics

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Are you a student in 2023, looking for some awesome narrative essay topics that are easy to grasp and fun to write about? 

You're in luck! Narrative essays let you share your stories, making them a perfect choice for students. 

In this guide, we've put together a list of the best narrative essay topics for 2023. 

Whether you're an experienced writer searching for fresh ideas or a student hunting for an exciting topic for your next assignment, we've got your back. These topics will ignite your imagination and captivate your readers. 

So, let's dive in!

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Narrative Essay Topics for Students

If you're a student looking for a diverse range of topics, we've got you covered with a diverse selection of narrative essay topics. 

Narrative Essay Topics for Grade 5

  • My First Day at a New School
  • The Time I Learned to Ride a Bike
  • A Visit to a Haunted House
  • The Day I Met a Real-Life Superhero
  • My Most Memorable Family Vacation
  • A Surprising Encounter with an Animal
  • The Mystery of the Missing Homework
  • The Best Birthday Party I Ever Had
  • When I Lost a Tooth
  • My Adventure in a Fantasy World

Narrative Essay Topics for Grade 6

  • An Unforgettable Camping Trip
  • The Day I Discovered a Hidden Talent
  • A Mysterious Letter and Its Consequences
  • A Time I Had to Stand Up for What's Right
  • The Thrilling Mystery of a Forgotten Diary
  • A Memorable Encounter with a Famous Person
  • My Journey Through a Fantasy Land
  • The Day I Learned a Valuable Life Lesson
  • An Unexpected Act of Kindness
  • A Secret Adventure in an Abandoned Place

Narrative Essay Topics for Grade 7

  • The Most Exciting Adventure of My Life
  • The Day I Overcame a Fear
  • A Memorable School Field Trip
  • The Strangest Mystery I Ever Encountered
  • An Unforgettable Encounter with Wildlife
  • A Life-Changing Decision I Had to Make
  • The Best Book I Ever Read and Why
  • A Day in the Life of a Time Traveler
  • The Importance of Friendship in My Life
  • A Valuable Lesson Learned from a Mistake

Narrative Essay Topics for Grade 8 

  • A Time I Faced a Difficult Moral Dilemma
  • The Most Memorable Summer Vacation
  • The Impact of a Life-Altering Decision
  • An Unexpected Act of Kindness I Received
  • The Day I Stepped Out of My Comfort Zone
  • A Historical Event I Would Like to Witness
  • A Special Family Tradition and Its Significance
  • A Personal Achievement I'm Proud Of
  • A Challenging Obstacle I Overcame
  • A Journey Through My Creative Imagination

Narrative Essay Topics for Grade 9

  • The Transition to High School: Challenges and Triumphs
  • A Life-Changing Encounter with an Inspiring Mentor
  • My First Part-Time Job and What I Learned
  • The Day I Realized the Power of Empathy
  • The Impact of a Personal Passion or Hobby
  • An Unforgettable Travel Experience Abroad
  • A Meaningful Community Service Project I Participated In
  • The Role of Technology in My Life
  • A Defining Moment in My Cultural Identity
  • My Vision for the Future: Dreams and Aspirations

Narrative Essay Topics for O-Levels 

  • The Day I Took a Leap of Faith
  • An Unforgettable Journey into the Unknown
  • A Life-Altering Decision I Made in High School
  • An Encounter with a Stranger That Changed My Perspective
  • The Role of Resilience in Overcoming a Personal Challenge
  • The Impact of a Cultural Exchange Experience
  • A Lesson Learned from a Unique Life Experience
  • The Importance of Perseverance in Achieving a Goal
  • My Most Memorable Academic Achievement
  • A Glimpse into My Future: Aspirations and Ambitions

Narrative Essay Topics for Highschool

  • The Moment I Discovered My Passion
  • A Life-Changing Journey Abroad
  • A Challenging Decision That Shaped My Future
  • An Unexpected Act of Kindness That Touched My Heart
  • The Role of Resilience in Overcoming Adversity
  • A Personal Experience That Shaped My Values
  • The Impact of Technology on My Generation
  • A Time I Took a Stand for a Cause I Believe In
  • A Memorable Leadership Role I Assumed
  • A Glimpse into My Ideal Future: Aspirations and Goals

Narrative Essay Topics for College

  • The Journey to Finding My Academic Passion
  • A Life-Altering Study Abroad Experience
  • The Transformational Impact of a Challenging Decision
  • Navigating the Transition from College to the Professional World
  • An Unforgettable Encounter with a Mentor or Role Model
  • The Role of Adversity in Shaping My Personal Growth
  • A Significant Ethical Dilemma I Faced in College
  • How My College Experiences Have Shaped My Worldview
  • The Impact of Technology on My College Education
  • A Personal Reflection on My Career Aspirations and Goals

Narrative Essay Topics for University

  • The Evolution of My Academic and Career Goals at University
  • An Eye-Opening Internship Experience That Impacted My Future
  • A Transformative Study Abroad Journey
  • Navigating the Complexities of Balancing Work, Academics, and Social Life at University
  • The Role of a Unique Research Project in My Academic Growth
  • A Personal Account of Overcoming a Significant Academic Challenge
  • A Meaningful Leadership Role in a University Organization
  • The Journey of Self-Discovery Through Elective Courses at University
  • The Impact of Peer Relationships and Networking at University
  • How My University Education Has Shaped My Perspective on Global Issues

Unique Narrative Essay Topics for Students

We've gathered distinct narrative topic ideas to fuel your creativity. Let’s look at some personal narrative ideas to inspire your narrative writing.

Descriptive Narrative Essay Topics

  • A Peaceful Day by the Riverside
  • Exploring a Haunted House
  • My Favorite Childhood Memory
  • A Walk Through an Ancient Forest
  • The Perfect Winter Wonderland
  • An Evening at a Carnival
  • A Visit to a Vibrant Art Gallery
  • The Spectacular Colors of Autumn
  • A Day in the Life of a Beach
  • An Exciting Night in the City

Personal Narrative Essay Topics

  • A Life-Changing Decision I Made
  • A Moment of Personal Triumph
  • Overcoming My Greatest Fear
  • A Meaningful Lesson from a Personal Challenge
  • The Role of a Special Friend in My Life
  • A Time When I Broke a Personal Record
  • The Impact of a Mentor on My Life
  • My Journey to Self-Discovery

Literacy Narrative Essay Topics

  • My Earliest Memory of Learning to Read
  • The Book That Sparked My Love for Reading
  • A Life-Changing Experience in a Library
  • The Impact of a Special Teacher on My Writing Skills
  • How Technology Has Shaped My Writing Habits
  • A Personal Reflection on My Writing Journey
  • The Role of Literature in Shaping My Perspective
  • Writing as a Tool for Self-Expression and Healing
  • How I Overcame Writer's Block
  • The Significance of Storytelling in My Life

Engaging Narrative Essay Topics

  • The Mystery of a Lost Treasure Map
  • An Unlikely Friendship That Changed My Life
  • A Day in the Life of a Professional Athlete
  • The Journey of Starting My Own Business
  • A Haunting Experience in a Historic Place
  • A Memorable Road Trip with Friends
  • My Encounter with a Famous Celebrity
  • The Day I Conquered My Greatest Fear
  • An Adventure in a Foreign Land
  • A Life-Altering Decision at a Crossroads

How to Choose a Topic for a Narrative Essay?

Choosing the right topic for your narrative essay can be a daunting task. Before you start writing, it is important to invest some time in researching and brainstorming. 

Here are a few tips to help guide you in selecting an interesting and engaging narrative essay topic: 

  • Reflect on Your Personal Experiences: If you are writing about a personal narrative topic, consider the impactful moments in your life and think about experiences that have left a strong impression on you.
  • Identify a Clear Message or Theme: Determine the central idea or theme of your narrative. Decide what lesson, insight, or emotion you want to convey.
  • Engage Your Audience: Consider your target audience and what will resonate with them. Choose a topic that captures their interest and keeps them engaged.
  • Play with Different Perspectives: Explore the option of incorporating different viewpoints. Combining personal and external perspectives can add depth to your narrative.
  • Test Your Idea: Get feedback from a friend or classmate. Assess if your chosen topic is likely to resonate with your audience.
  • Stay True to Your Voice: Balance considering your audience with being authentic. Let your unique voice and storytelling style shine through in your writing

Tips for Writing Narrative Essays

Once you have selected a topic for your narrative essay, it is time to start writing. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you write your story: 

  • Start with a Strong Hook: Begin your narrative essay with a captivating hook, such as an engaging anecdote, a thought-provoking question, or a vivid description. 
  • Follow a Clear Structure: Organize your narrative essay outline with a clear structure. Most narratives follow a chronological order, but you can also use flashbacks or nonlinear storytelling when it serves your narrative. 
  • Build Tension and Conflict:  Create tension and conflict in your narrative to add depth and maintain reader engagement. Whether it's a personal struggle, a moral dilemma, or an external challenge, these obstacles will keep readers eagerly anticipating what comes next.
  • Revise and Edit:  After completing your first draft, take the time to revise and edit your work. Review it for grammar and spelling errors, but also examine the overall structure and flow of your narrative.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice:  Like any form of writing, improving your narrative essay skills takes practice. Keep writing and experimenting with different topics, styles, and approaches to develop your storytelling abilities.

Before you start writing, make sure you read some narrative essay examples to learn how to organize your thoughts and structure your story.

In summary, no matter the type of essay you are writing about, you need a topic to start with. Our collection of narrative essay topics offers fresh, distinct ideas. 

These topics are crafted to ignite your creativity and captivate your audience. They cover a diverse range of experiences, making it easier for you to connect with your readers on a personal level.

Still, struggling to write a compelling narrative essay? Our narrative essay writing service is here to help you out!

MyPerfectWords.com stands as a legitimate essay writing service with a specialized focus on crafting exceptional essays designed for high school and college students. Our customer support team is also available 24/7, so don't hesitate to reach out whenever you need assistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are narrative essay topics different from other essay types.

Narrative essay topics are usually based on personal experiences, so they are more emotional and creative than other types of essays. Also, they are often more open-ended, so you have more freedom to choose what to write about. 

Where can I find good narrative essay topics?

There are a few ways to find good topics for your narrative essay. You can look through books or magazines for ideas, or search online for inspiration. You can also brainstorm with friends or family members to come up with ideas. 

What do I write a narrative essay about?

You can write a narrative essay about anything, but it is usually based on personal experience. Try to recall interesting incidents from your life to develop a narrative about. 

Caleb S. (Literature, Marketing)

Caleb S. has been providing writing services for over five years and has a Masters degree from Oxford University. He is an expert in his craft and takes great pride in helping students achieve their academic goals. Caleb is a dedicated professional who always puts his clients first.

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The Write Practice

Top 100 Short Story Ideas

by Joe Bunting | 128 comments

Do you want to write but just need a great story idea? Or perhaps you have too many ideas and can’t choose the best one? Well, good news. We’ve got you covered.

Below are one hundred short story ideas for all your favorite genres. You can use them as a book idea, as writing prompts for writing contests , for stories to publish in literary magazines , or just for fun!

Use these 100 story ideas to get your creative writing started now.

Editor’s note: This is a recurring guide, regularly updated with ideas and information.

100 Top Short Story Ideas

If you're in a hurry, here's my 10 best story ideas in brief, or scroll down for the full version.

Top 10 Story Ideas

  • Tell the story of a scar.
  • A group of children discover a dead body.
  • A young prodigy becomes orphaned.
  • A middle-aged woman discovers a ghost.
  • A woman who is deeply in love is crushed when her fiancé breaks up with her.
  • A talented young man's deepest fear is holding his life back. 
  • A poor young boy or girl comes into an unexpected fortune.
  • A shy, young woman unexpectedly bumps into her soulmate.
  • A long journey is interrupted by a disaster.
  • A young couple run into the path of a psychopath.

The Write Structure

Why Creative Writing Prompts Are Helpful

Below, you'll find our best creative writing prompts and plot ideas for every genre, but first, why do we use prompts? Is it just a waste of time, or can they actually help you? Here are three reasons we  love writing prompts at The Write Practice:

1. Practice the Language!

Even for those of us who are native English speakers, we're all on a language journey to go from beginners to skilled writers. To make progress on this language journey, you have to practice, and at The Write Practice, believe it or not, we're really into practice! Creative writing prompts are easy, fun ways to practice.

Use the prompts below to practice your storytelling and use of language. The more you practice, the better of a writer you'll become.

2. When you have no ideas and are stuck.

Sometimes, you want to write, but you can't think up any ideas. You could either just sit there, staring at a blank page, or you could find a few ideas to help you get started. Even better if the list of ideas is curated from our best plot ideas over the last decade that we've been publishing lessons, writing exercises, and prompts.

Use the story ideas below to get your writing started. Then when your creativity is warmed up, you'll start to come up with your own ideas!

3. To develop your own ideas.

Maybe you do have an idea already, but you're not sure it's good. Or maybe you feel like it's just missing some small piece to make it better. By reading other ideas, and incorporating your favorites into your   story, you can fill your plot holes and generate creative ideas of your own.

Use the story ideas below to develop your own ideas.

4. They're fun!

Thousands of writers use the prompts below every month, some at home, some in classrooms, and even a few pros at their writing “office.” Why? Because writing prompts can be fun. They get your creativity started, help you come up with new ideas of your own, and often take your writing in new, unexpected directions.

Use the plot ideas to have more fun with writing!

How to Write a Story

One last thing before we get to the 100 story ideas, let’s talk about how to write a great short story . (Already know how to write a great story? No problem. Just skip down to the ideas below.)

  • First, read stories. If you’ve never read a story, you’re going to have a hard time writing one. Where do you find great stories? There are a lot of places, but check out our list of  46 Literary Magazines  we’ve curated over here .
  • Write your story in a single sitting. Write the first draft of your story in as short a time as possible, and if you’re writing a short story , try to write it in one sitting. Trust me, this works. Everyone hates being interrupted when they’re telling compelling stories. Use that to your advantage and don’t stop writing until you’ve finished telling yours.
  • Read your draft. Read your story through once, without changing anything. This will give you a sense of what work it needs going forward.
  • Write a premise. After reading your first draft, get your head around the main idea behind your story by summarizing your story in a one sentence premise. Your premise should contain four things: a character, a goal, a situation, and a special sauce. Not sure what that means or how to actually do that? Here’s a full premise writing guide .
  • Write, edit, write, and edit. Good writing is rewriting. Use your second draft to fill in the plot holes and cut out the extraneous scenes and characters you discovered when you read the first draft in step #2. Then, polish up your final draft on the next round of edits.
  • Submit! Real writers don’t keep their writing all to themselves. They share it. Submit your story to a literary magazine , an anthology series , enter it into a writing contest , or even share it with a small group of friends. And if it gets rejected, don’t feel bad. You’ll be in good company.

Want to know more? Learn more about how to write a great short story here .

Our 100 Best Short Story Ideas, Plot Ideas, and Creative Writing Prompts

Ready to get writing? Here are our 100 best short story ideas to kickstart your writing. Enjoy!

10 Best General Short Story Ideas

Our first batch of plot ideas are for any kind of story, whether a spy thriller or a memoir of your personal life story. Here are the best story ideas:

  • Tell the story of a scar, whether a physical scar or emotional one. To be a writer, said Stephen King, “The only requirement is the ability to  remember every scar .”
  • A group of children discover a dead body. Good writers don’t turn away from death, which is, after all, the  universal human experience. Instead, they look it directly into its dark face and describe what they see on the page.
  • A young prodigy becomes orphaned. Orphans are uniquely vulnerable, and as such, they have the most potential for growth.
  • A middle-aged woman discovers a ghost. What do Edgar Allen Poe, Ron Weasley, King Saul from the Bible, Odysseus, and Ebenezer Scrooge have in common? They all encountered ghosts!
  • A woman who is deeply in love is crushed when her fiancé breaks up with her. “In life every ending is just a new beginning,” says Dakota Fanning’s character in Uptown Girls.
  • A talented young man’s deepest fear is holding his life back. Your character’s biggest fear is your story’s secret weapon. Don’t run from it, write about it.
  • A poor young boy or girl comes into an unexpected fortune. Not all fortunes are good. Sometimes discovering a fortune will destroy your life.
  • A shy, young woman unexpectedly bumps into her soulmate (literally bumps into him). In film, this is called the “meet cute,” when the hero bumps into the heroine in the coffee shop or the department store or the hallway, knocking her books to the floor, and forcing them into conversation.
  • A long journey is interrupted by a disaster. Who hasn’t been longing to get to a destination only to be delayed by something unexpected? This is the plot of  Gravity ,  The Odyssey , and even  Lord of the Rings .
  • A young couple run into the path of a psychopath. Monsters, whether people who do monstrous things or scaly beasts or a monster of a natural disaster, reveal what’s really inside a person. Let your character fall into the path of a monster and see how they handle themselves.

Now that you have an idea, learn exactly what to do with it.  Check out my new book The Write Structure which helps writers take their ideas and write books readers love. Click to check out  The Write Structure  here.

More Short Story Ideas Based on Genre

Need more ideas? Here are ideas based on whichever literary genre you write. Use them as character inspiration, to start your own story, or borrow pieces to generate your own ideas. The only rule is, have fun writing!

By the way,  for more story writing tips for each these plot types, check out our full guide to the 10 types of stories here .

10 Thriller Story Ideas

A thriller is any story that “thrills” the reader—i.e., gets adrenaline pumping, the heart racing, and the emotions piqued.

Thrillers come in all shapes and forms, dipping freely into other genres. In other words, expect the unexpected!

Here are a few of my favorite thriller story ideas :

Rosa Rivera-Ortiz is an up-and-coming lawyer in a San Diego firm. Held back by her ethnicity and her gender, she works twice as hard as her colleagues, and she’s as surprised as anyone when she’s requested specifically for a high-profile case. Bron Welty, an A-list actor and action star, has been arrested for the murder of his live-in housekeeper. The cop heading the case is older, ex-military, a veteran of more than one war, and an occasional sufferer of PTSD. Rosa’s hired to defend the movie star; and it seems like an easy win until she uncovers some secrets that not only make her believe her client is guilty, but may be one of the worst serial killers in the past two decades… and he knows she found out .

It’s the Cold War. Sergei, a double-agent for the CIA working in Berlin, is about to retire when he’s given one final mission: he’s been asked to “defect” to the USSR to help find and assassinate a suspected double-agent for the Kremlin. Sergei is highly trusted, and he’s given to understand that this mission is need-to-know only between him and very few superior officers. But as he falls deeper into the folds of the Iron Curtain, he begins to suspect that his superior officer might just be the mole, and the mark Sergei’s been sent to kill is on the cusp of exposing the leak.

It is 1800. A lighthouse on a barren cliff in Canada. Two lighthouse keepers, German immigrants, are alone for the winter and effectively cut off from the rest of the world until the ice thaws. Both Wilhelm and Matthias are settled in for the long haul with warm clothes, canned goods, and matches a-plenty. Then Wilhelm starts hearing voices. His personal belongings disappear from where he’d placed them, only to reappear in strange spots—like the catwalk, or dangling beneath the spiral stair knotted in brown twine. Matthias begs innocence. Little by little, Wilhelm grows convinced that Matthias is trying to convince him (Wilhelm) to kill himself. Is the insanity real, or is this really Matthias’ doing? And if it is real, what will he do to defend himself? There are so many months until the thaw. 

thriller story ideas

20 Mystery Story Ideas

Enjoy a good whodunit? Then you’ll love these mystery story ideas .

Here are a few of my favorites:

Ever hear the phrase, “It is not who fired the shot but who paid for the bullet?” This is a philosophy Tomoe Gozen lives by. Brave and clever, Tomoe follows clues until she learns who ordered the murder: Emperor Antoku himself. But why would the emperor of Japan want to kill a lowly soldier?

Mystery writer Dan Rodriguez takes the subway every day. Every day, nothing happens. He wears earbuds and a hoodie; he’s ignored, and he ignores. Then one evening, on his way home from a stressful meeting with his publisher, Dan is startled out of his funk when a frantic Middle-Eastern man knocks him over at a dead run, then races up the stairs—pursued by several other thugs. The Middle-Eastern man is shot; and Dan discovers a mysterious package in the front pocket of his hoodie. What’s inside, and what does he need to do to survive the answer?

A headless corpse is found in a freshly-dug grave in Arkansas. The local police chief, Arley Socket, has never had to deal with more than missing gas cans and treed cats. His exploration of this weird murder digs up a mystery older than the 100-year-old town of Jericho that harkens all the way back to a European blood-feud.

story ideas

20 Romance Story Ideas

Ready to write a love story? Or perhaps you want to create a subplot with a secondary character? We've got ideas for you!

Hint: When it comes to romance, a sense of humor is always a good idea. Have fun! Here are a few of my favorite love story ideas :

She’s a cop. He’s the owner of a jewelry store. A sudden rash of break-ins brings her to his store over and over and over again, until it becomes obvious that he might be tripping the alarm on purpose—just to see her. That’s illegal—but she’s kind of falling for him, too. Write the moment she realizes she has to do something about this crazy illicit courtship.

Colorado Animal Rescue has never been more challenging than after that zoo caught on fire. Sally Cougar (no jokes on the name, or she’ll kill you) tracks down three missing tiger cubs, only to find they’ve been adopted by millionaire Bryce Champion. Thanks to an antiquated law on the books, he legally has the right to keep them. It’s going to take everything Sally has to get those tiger cubs back.

He’s a museum curator with a fetish for perfection. No one’s ever gotten close to him; how could they? They’re never as perfect as the portraits, the sculptures, the art that never changes. Then one day, an intern is hired on—a young, messy, disorganized intern, whose hair and desk are in a constant state of disarray. The curator is going half-mad with this walking embodiment of chaos; so why can’t the he stand the thought of the intern leaving at the end of their assistantship?

20 romance story ideas

20 Sci-Fi Story Ideas

From the minimum-wage-earning, ancient-artifact-hunting time traveller to the space-exploring, sentient dinosaurs, these sci-fi writing prompts will get you set loose your inner nerd.

Here are a few of my favorite sci-fi ideas :

In a future society, neural implants translate music into physical pleasure, and earphones (“jacking in”) are now the drug of choice. Write either from the perspective of a music addict, OR the Sonforce agent (sonance + enforcer) who has the job of cracking down.

It’s the year 5000. Our planet was wrecked in the great Crisis of 3500, and remaining human civilization survives only in a half dozen giant domed cities. There are two unbreakable rules: strict adherence to Life Quality (recycling doesn’t even begin to cover these laws), and a complete ban on reproduction (only the “worthy” are permitted to create new humans). Write from the perspective of a young woman who just discovered she’s been chosen to reproduce—but she has no interest in being a mother.

So yeah, ancient Egypt really was “all that” after all, and the pyramids turn out to be fully functional spaceships (the limestone was to preserve the electronics hidden inside). Write from the perspective of the tourist exploring the ancient society who accidentally turns one on.

sci-fi story ideas

20 Fantasy Story Ideas

Need a dose of sword-in-the-stone, hero and/or heroine packed coming-of-age glory?  We love fantasy stories!

Here are a few of my favorite fantasy story ideas:

Bored teenaged wizards throwing a graduation celebration.

Uncomfortable wedding preparation between a magic wielding family tree and those more on the Muggle side of things.

A fairy prince who decides to abandon his responsibilities to become a street musician.

Just try to not have fun writing (or even just reading!) these fantasy writing prompts.

fantasy story ideas

The Secret to Choosing the Best Story Idea

Stories, more than any other artistic expression, have the power to make people care. Stories have the ability to change people’s lives.

But to write a great story, a life-changing story, don’t just write about what your characters did, said, and saw. Ask yourself, “Where do I fit in to this story? What is my personal connection to this story?”

Robert Frost said this:

If you can connect your personal story to the story you’re writing, you will not only be more motivated to finish your story, you might just be able to change the lives of your readers.

Next Step: Write Your Best Story

No matter how good your idea, writing a story or a book can be a long difficult process. How do you create an outline, come up with a great plot, and then actually  finish  it?

My new book  The Write Structure  will help. You'll learn how to take your idea and structure a strong plot around it. Then you'll be guided through the exact process I've used to write dozens of short stories and over fifteen books.

You can learn more about   The Write Structure  and get your copy here.

Get The Write Structure here »

Have a great short story idea?  We'd love to hear it. Share it in the comments !

Choose one of these ideas and write a short story in one sitting (aim for 1,000 words or less!). When you're finished, share your story in the practice box below (or our latest writing contest ) for feedback from the community. And if you share, please be sure to comment on a few stories by other writers.

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Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris , a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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interesting story essay

Narrative Essay Topics: 200 Best Ideas for You

interesting story essay

Envision being enclosed in a time capsule with an AI chauffeur posing the question, "Which of your memories would you like to revisit?” This scenario perfectly aligns with the essence of a narrative essay, where your story, voice, and writing style set it apart. 

In this article, you will get a proper definition of a narrative essay, as well as a list of 200 narrative essay topics for college to get your creative juices flowing abundantly! If you’re in a hurry or overloaded with other tasks, feel free to consult our essay service – expert writers know how to help.

Bring your stories to life with EssayPro . Select from a vast array of narrative essay topics and let our professionals help you weave your tales into captivating essays. Whether it's adventure, reflection, or imagination, we're here to assist.

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Best Narrative Essay Topics: How to Choose the One That Resonates 

A narrative essay is a form of writing that recounts a personal experience or tells a story, often incorporating elements like characters, plot, setting, and a chronological sequence of events. The primary purpose of a narrative essay is to engage the reader emotionally and convey a specific message or insight through the retelling of a significant experience.

Students engage in writing narrative essays as part of their academic curriculum for various reasons. First and foremost, this type of essay serves as a means for personal expression, allowing students to convey their unique experiences, thoughts, and emotions creatively. Additionally, the process of crafting a narrative essay contributes to the development of essential writing skills, such as structuring ideas coherently and organizing thoughts effectively. 

How to Choose Narrative Essay Topics

Selecting compelling narrative essay ideas involves considering personal experiences, interests, and the potential for engaging storytelling. Here's a guide on how to choose narrative essay topics:

  • Reflect on Personal Experiences: Identify significant experiences in your life that have had a lasting impact. Consider moments of personal growth, challenges overcome, or lessons learned.
  • Explore Interests and Passions: Choose topics related to your hobbies, interests, or areas of expertise. Writing about something you are passionate about can make the narrative more captivating.
  • Consider Audience Interest: Think about the interests and preferences of your intended audience. Choose topics that resonate with a broader audience if the essay is for a class or publication.
  • Focus on a Specific Event or Detail: Narrow down your topic to a specific event or detail to make the narrative more focused and impactful. Avoid overly broad topics that may be challenging to cover thoroughly in a short essay.
  • Look for Universal Themes: Explore themes that have universal appeal, such as love, resilience, or personal transformation. Connecting with readers on a universal level enhances the relevance of your narrative.
  • Brainstorm and Freewrite: Generate a list of potential topics through brainstorming. Freewriting, where you write without constraints for a set period, can help unearth compelling ideas.
  • Consider Narrative Techniques: Think about the storytelling techniques you want to employ (e.g., flashback, foreshadowing) and choose a topic that complements those techniques.
  • Seek Feedback: Share your ideas with friends, peers, or instructors to get feedback on the potential impact and interest of your chosen topics.
  • Evaluate Emotional Significance: Assess the emotional significance of each potential topic. Topics that evoke strong emotions, whether joy, sadness, or excitement, often make for compelling narratives.
  • Ensure Personal Connection: Select a topic that you can connect with on a personal level. Your enthusiasm and connection to the subject matter will enhance the authenticity of the narrative.

Once you've discovered a topic that aligns with your mood, engage in brainstorming. Jot down all conceivable scenarios on paper and structure them into a distinctive outline for your narrative essay. Adhere to your professor's instructions diligently, as they likely address most of your inquiries. For added assistance, you can always turn to our narrative essay writing service and receive timely support. 

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Ideas for Narrative Essay Topics

Having examined the writing experiences of students in crafting narrative paragraphs, we have curated a collection of narrative essay topics tailored for both college and school students. This comprehensive list encompasses a diverse array of subjects, so feel free to choose one that resonates with you! If you’d like to see how to develop a topic in written form, please consult our narrative essay example guide. 

Literacy Narrative Essay Topics for College Students

What about exploring intriguing literacy narrative essay topics tailored for college-level writing? Sounds great!

  • Discovering the transformative power of literature during a challenging period in my life.
  • Navigating the complexities of multilingualism and its impact on my identity.
  • The profound influence of a childhood book that ignited my love for reading.
  • Overcoming dyslexia and finding my unique voice in the world of written expression.
  • Exploring the cultural significance of storytelling within my family heritage.
  • The evolution of my writing style through encounters with diverse literary genres.
  • Unraveling the mysteries of decoding language as a non-native English speaker.
  • The role of digital technology in shaping my approach to reading and writing.
  • The empowering journey of embracing academic literacy in a foreign language.
  • Capturing the essence of my academic growth through reflective writing assignments.
  • The intersection of personal and academic literacies in shaping my worldview.
  • The impact of a memorable teacher on my development as a critical reader.
  • Confronting stereotypes through literacy: Redefining narratives about my culture.
  • How my relationship with writing evolved through participation in online communities.
  • The role of literature in fostering empathy and understanding diverse perspectives.
  • Unveiling the hidden narratives in everyday life through observational writing.
  • The challenges and triumphs of maintaining a personal writing practice in college.
  • Exploring the connection between literacy and social justice advocacy.
  • Reflecting on the influence of literature on my personal and professional aspirations.
  • The unexpected lessons learned from failed attempts at creative writing projects.

Personal Narrative Essay Topics on Relationships

Reflect on your past experiences and share compelling personal narratives through these essay ideas. 

  • Navigating the complexities of a long-distance relationship: How did distance shape our connection?
  • The transformative impact of a friendship that withstood the test of time.
  • Lessons learned from a mentor-mentee relationship that transcended professional boundaries.
  • The role of sibling dynamics in shaping my understanding of interpersonal relationships.
  • Exploring the impact of cultural differences on friendships and romantic connections.
  • How did a childhood friendship influence my views on trust and loyalty in relationships?
  • The evolving dynamics of a family relationship during a significant life transition.
  • Unveiling the complexities of parent-child relationships through moments of conflict and resolution.
  • The unique challenges and rewards of maintaining relationships in a digital age.
  • Investigating the influence of societal expectations on romantic relationships.
  • The unexpected connections forged during a group travel experience.
  • How did a challenging breakup contribute to personal growth and self-discovery?
  • The role of shared hobbies and interests in building meaningful connections.
  • Reflecting on the impact of past relationships on my present-day perspectives.
  • Navigating workplace relationships and the balance between professionalism and camaraderie.
  • How have my experiences with peer relationships shaped my sense of belonging?
  • The significance of forgiveness and reconciliation in repairing strained relationships.
  • The influence of role models on my understanding of healthy and fulfilling relationships.
  • Exploring the complexities of friendships that transition into romantic involvement.
  • How do online interactions and social media influence the nature of modern relationships?

Best Narrative Essay Topics on Education and Learning

Think about sharing your personal experiences and emotions in a captivating manner with these ideas for personal narrative essays.

  • How overcoming academic challenges in high school shaped my approach to learning.
  • The transformative impact of a teacher who inspired a lifelong love for a particular subject.
  • Investigating the role of extracurricular activities in shaping a well-rounded educational experience.
  • How a cultural exchange program broadened my understanding of global education.
  • The challenges and rewards of navigating a bilingual education environment.
  • Exploring the influence of technology on modern classroom dynamics.
  • The role of peer collaboration in fostering a positive learning environment.
  • How did a personal learning style assessment impact my study habits and academic performance?
  • The importance of inclusive education in fostering empathy and understanding.
  • Reflecting on the impact of a particular book or literary work on my educational journey.
  • The role of mentors and role models in guiding educational and career aspirations.
  • Investigating the impact of standardized testing on students' mental health and academic success.
  • How do study abroad experiences contribute to a well-rounded education?
  • The challenges and triumphs of pursuing a non-traditional educational path.
  • The role of community service and volunteerism in shaping a sense of social responsibility.
  • How has the integration of technology changed the landscape of classroom learning?
  • The impact of cultural diversity on classroom discussions and collaborative projects.
  • Exploring the role of education in fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • The influence of socioeconomic factors on educational opportunities and outcomes.
  • How can experiential learning enhance traditional classroom education?

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Personal Narrative Essay Ideas on Reflection on Life

We recommend sparking your creativity with a variety of narrative essay topics, ranging from special moments to everyday experiences.

  • How a personal setback became a catalyst for self-discovery and resilience.
  • Reflecting on the impact of a major life decision and the lessons learned.
  • Exploring the role of cultural heritage in shaping my identity and worldview.
  • The significance of small, everyday moments in fostering gratitude and mindfulness.
  • How facing a fear transformed my perspective on courage and personal growth.
  • Investigating the influence of family traditions on personal values and beliefs.
  • What does success mean to me, and how has that definition evolved over time?
  • Reflecting on the role of friendships in providing support during challenging times.
  • The impact of travel experiences on broadening my understanding of the world.
  • How personal hobbies and passions contribute to a sense of fulfillment.
  • Exploring the relationship between self-love and mental health.
  • How adversity can lead to unexpected opportunities for personal development.
  • Reflecting on the importance of setting and achieving personal goals.
  • What have been the defining moments in my journey toward self-acceptance?
  • Investigating the role of forgiveness in overcoming personal conflicts.
  • How do cultural or societal expectations influence my perception of success?
  • Reflecting on the role of self-care in maintaining physical and emotional well-being.
  • Exploring the impact of technology on the way I connect with others and the world.
  • The lessons learned from navigating a crossroads in life and making a tough decision.
  • How do personal beliefs and values guide my decision-making and life choices?

Ideas for a Narrative Essay on Culture and Society

It’s always a smart move to engage your readers with narrative essays on culture and society, exploring captivating ideas.

  • How cultural diversity in my community has enriched my perspective on the world.
  • Exploring the impact of technology on communication within contemporary society.
  • The role of traditional customs in preserving cultural identity amid globalization.
  • How social media has influenced societal perceptions of beauty and self-worth.
  • Investigating the effects of popular culture on shaping individual values and beliefs.
  • What cultural traditions and rituals contribute to a sense of belonging in my life?
  • Reflecting on the intersection of art and culture in shaping societal narratives.
  • How does socioeconomic status impact individuals' access to education and opportunities?
  • The evolving role of gender norms and equality in today's changing society.
  • Exploring the impact of immigration on cultural exchange and adaptation.
  • What role does storytelling play in preserving and passing down cultural heritage?
  • The influence of historical events on the collective memory of a community.
  • How do language and communication styles reflect cultural diversity?
  • Investigating the effects of globalization on local cultures and traditions.
  • The impact of social movements on challenging societal norms and fostering change.
  • How does media representation influence perceptions of different cultural groups?
  • Reflecting on the role of education in promoting cultural awareness and tolerance.
  • What challenges do individuals face in navigating a multicultural society?
  • Exploring the role of fashion and trends in expressing cultural identity.
  • How do cultural stereotypes affect interpersonal relationships and understanding?

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Narrative Writing Topics on Hobbies and Interests

Impress your readers by transforming your passions and hobbies into thought-provoking narrative essay topics.

  • How my passion for photography has shaped the way I perceive the world.
  • Exploring the joy of discovering new recipes and the art of culinary experimentation.
  • What challenges have I faced and overcome in pursuing my favorite outdoor activities?
  • Reflecting on the transformative power of literature in my life.
  • How has my interest in astronomy influenced my perspective on the universe?
  • What life lessons have I learned through my dedication to martial arts?
  • The role of music in capturing and expressing the essence of personal experiences.
  • How does my love for hiking connect me with nature and promote well-being?
  • Investigating the world of gaming and its impact on my problem-solving skills.
  • What role do artistic expressions, such as painting or drawing, play in my self-discovery?
  • The thrill and challenges of exploring different styles of dance as a form of self-expression.
  • How has my interest in technology and coding opened new possibilities for creativity?
  • What motivates my commitment to environmental sustainability and eco-friendly practices?
  • Exploring the excitement and camaraderie of participating in team sports.
  • The journey of cultivating a green thumb and finding joy in gardening.
  • How do travel and exploration contribute to my personal growth and worldview?
  • Reflecting on the satisfaction derived from building and creating with hands-on crafts.
  • Investigating the cultural and historical aspects of collecting unique artifacts or memorabilia.
  • What sparks my curiosity in the world of science and scientific inquiry?
  • How does my dedication to a specific hobby foster a sense of discipline and dedication?

Narrative Essay Titles on Life-Changing Moments

Life's unpredictability often leads to transformative moments. Consider these narrative essay titles for stories that forever changed your life.

  • Unearthing a hidden passion that illuminated my world.
  • Choosing courage over comfort: A pivotal day in my life.
  • Navigating unexpected turns: Embracing life's spontaneous changes.
  • Can a solitary decision truly reshape the trajectory of a lifetime?
  • Embracing transformative opportunities: The power of saying 'yes'.
  • A chance encounter that forever altered my perspective.
  • Confronting fears head-on: Discovering the strength within.
  • Resilience in adversity: Rising above setbacks with determination.
  • Defining moments that reshaped the very core of my identity.
  • At life's crossroads: Choosing destinies beyond expectations.
  • The ripple effect of decision-making: Small choices, big changes.
  • Losing and finding myself: A journey to rediscover my true identity.
  • Breaking free from self-imposed limitations: The sweet taste of liberation.
  • Piecing together a new narrative amidst life's intricate challenges.
  • Finding silver linings in heartbreak: Transformative growth revealed.
  • Harmony amid chaos: Gracefully dancing through life's constant changes.
  • Thriving beyond comfort zones: Exploring uncharted territories.
  • The journey to success: Failure as a vital stepping stone.
  • Letting go and embracing fresh beginnings: The art of renewal.
  • Discovering purpose in the unpredictable moments of life.

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Good Narrative Topics on Travel and Adventure

Compose captivating personal narrative essay ideas titles by delving into exciting travel adventures.

  • Exploring the vibrant markets of Marrakech.
  • Hiking the untamed trails of Patagonia.
  • A spontaneous road trip through the American Southwest.
  • Can the thrill of paragliding over the Swiss Alps be surpassed?
  • Navigating the chaos of Tokyo's bustling streets.
  • How does volunteering in a remote village in Cambodia change perspectives?
  • Camping under the Northern Lights in Lapland.
  • What wildlife encounters await on an African safari?
  • How do diverse landscapes shape the experience of backpacking across Nepal?
  • What stories lie in the historic streets of Rome during a solo journey?
  • Chasing sunsets on the cliffs of Santorini.
  • What wonders lie beneath the crystal-clear waters of the Maldives for snorkeling?
  • How does getting lost in the ancient alleyways of Istanbul unravel surprises?
  • Exploring the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.
  • What tales unfold while hitchhiking along the scenic coastal roads of New Zealand?
  • Embracing the serenity of a secluded mountain retreat.
  • Capturing the essence of a bustling Asian street market.
  • How does bungee jumping off a bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand, feel?
  • What culinary delights await while savoring street food in Bangkok?
  • What stories emerge from surfing the waves of the Pacific Coast?

Narrative Essay Topic Ideas on Career and Work Experience

College students can find compelling narrative essay topics by exploring potential career paths or revisiting past job experiences.

  • Navigating challenges while climbing the corporate ladder.
  • Managing multiple roles in a fast-paced workplace.
  • Experiencing a pivotal career moment in transition.
  • Can mentorship shape a career more than formal education?
  • Learning valuable lessons from job loss.
  • Embarking on the entrepreneurial journey: Building a startup from scratch.
  • Understanding the impact of networking on professional growth.
  • Assessing remote work and its influence on productivity from a desk with a view.
  • Evolving from intern to leader: The workplace roles' progression.
  • Can a passion-aligned career pay the bills?
  • Examining the influence of a positive work culture on employee satisfaction.
  • Strategies for overcoming impostor syndrome and thriving in professional spaces.
  • Navigating freelance challenges in the gig economy.
  • Striking a balance at the crossroads of work and family.
  • Exploring how effective communication shapes careers during negotiations.
  • Resilience in the workplace: Turning setbacks into comebacks.
  • Paving the way for success outside traditional careers through the unconventional path.
  • Examining the role of failure as a necessary detour in career development.
  • Breaking glass ceilings and challenging norms: Women in the workplace.
  • Can work-life integration achieve harmony, replacing the pursuit of balance?

Interesting Narrative Essay Topics about Challenges and Obstacles

If you're feeling uncertain about your narrative essay topic, reflect on challenging moments you've faced and how you overcame them.

  • Overcoming fear through confronting phobias.
  • Navigating challenges in a complex career transition.
  • Scaling personal obstacles for self-discovery.
  • Juggling multiple responsibilities in modern life.
  • Recovering from physical injuries and emotional trauma.
  • How do you deal with life-altering decisions at unexpected crossroads?
  • Unraveling knots: Rebuilding relationships after betrayal.
  • What is the personal tale of overcoming depression?
  • Weathering the storm: Surviving and rebuilding after natural disasters.
  • Adapting to a new culture: Foreign ground, familiar struggles.
  • How do you confront invisible illnesses in a judgmental world?
  • Rising from rock bottom to resilience against addiction.
  • Forging a unique path against societal expectations.
  • Embracing self-acceptance amidst societal pressures.
  • Juggling life responsibilities on the tightrope of balance.
  • Finding a voice in the midst of personal challenges.
  • How do you navigate life-altering decisions at crossroads?
  • Self-discovery through overcoming personal flaws.
  • Rebuilding relationships after a period of estrangement.
  • Repairing connections after a falling out on bridges over troubled waters.

Final Remarks

As we conclude, our compilation of 200 narrative essay topics aims to provide you with a solid foundation for your upcoming writing endeavors! Whether you're recounting a significant event, cherishing a childhood memory, or expressing a profound realization, a meticulously crafted narrative essay possesses the potential to deeply resonate with readers.

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50 Must-Read Contemporary Essay Collections

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Liberty Hardy

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

View All posts by Liberty Hardy

I feel like essay collections don’t get enough credit. They’re so wonderful! They’re like short story collections, but TRUE. It’s like going to a truth buffet. You can get information about sooooo many topics, sometimes in one single book! To prove that there are a zillion amazing essay collections out there, I compiled 50 great contemporary essay collections, just from the last 18 months alone.  Ranging in topics from food, nature, politics, sex, celebrity, and more, there is something here for everyone!

I’ve included a brief description from the publisher with each title. Tell us in the comments about which of these you’ve read or other contemporary essay collections that you love. There are a LOT of them. Yay, books!

Must-Read Contemporary Essay Collections

They can’t kill us until they kill us  by hanif abdurraqib.

“In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s is a voice that matters. Whether he’s attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown’s grave, or discussing public displays of affection at a Carly Rae Jepsen show, he writes with a poignancy and magnetism that resonates profoundly.”

Would Everybody Please Stop?: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas  by Jenny Allen

“Jenny Allen’s musings range fluidly from the personal to the philosophical. She writes with the familiarity of someone telling a dinner party anecdote, forgoing decorum for candor and comedy. To read  Would Everybody Please Stop?  is to experience life with imaginative and incisive humor.”

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Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex and Nigerian Taste Buds  by Yemisi Aribisala

“A sumptuous menu of essays about Nigerian cuisine, lovingly presented by the nation’s top epicurean writer. As well as a mouth-watering appraisal of Nigerian food,  Longthroat Memoirs  is a series of love letters to the Nigerian palate. From the cultural history of soup, to fish as aphrodisiac and the sensual allure of snails,  Longthroat Memoirs  explores the complexities, the meticulousness, and the tactile joy of Nigerian gastronomy.”

Beyond Measure: Essays  by Rachel Z. Arndt

“ Beyond Measure  is a fascinating exploration of the rituals, routines, metrics and expectations through which we attempt to quantify and ascribe value to our lives. With mordant humor and penetrating intellect, Arndt casts her gaze beyond event-driven narratives to the machinery underlying them: judo competitions measured in weigh-ins and wait times; the significance of the elliptical’s stationary churn; the rote scripts of dating apps; the stupefying sameness of the daily commute.”

Magic Hours  by Tom Bissell

“Award-winning essayist Tom Bissell explores the highs and lows of the creative process. He takes us from the set of  The Big Bang Theory  to the first novel of Ernest Hemingway to the final work of David Foster Wallace; from the films of Werner Herzog to the film of Tommy Wiseau to the editorial meeting in which Paula Fox’s work was relaunched into the world. Originally published in magazines such as  The Believer ,  The New Yorker , and  Harper’s , these essays represent ten years of Bissell’s best writing on every aspect of creation—be it Iraq War documentaries or video-game character voices—and will provoke as much thought as they do laughter.”

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession  by Alice Bolin

“In this poignant collection, Alice Bolin examines iconic American works from the essays of Joan Didion and James Baldwin to  Twin Peaks , Britney Spears, and  Serial , illuminating the widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster men’s stories. Smart and accessible, thoughtful and heartfelt, Bolin investigates the implications of our cultural fixations, and her own role as a consumer and creator.”

Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life  by Jenny Boully

“Jenny Boully’s essays are ripe with romance and sensual pleasures, drawing connections between the digression, reflection, imagination, and experience that characterizes falling in love as well as the life of a writer. Literary theory, philosophy, and linguistics rub up against memory, dreamscapes, and fancy, making the practice of writing a metaphor for the illusory nature of experience.  Betwixt and Between  is, in many ways, simply a book about how to live.”

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun

“In  Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give , Ada Calhoun presents an unflinching but also loving portrait of her own marriage, opening a long-overdue conversation about the institution as it truly is: not the happy ending of a love story or a relic doomed by high divorce rates, but the beginning of a challenging new chapter of which ‘the first twenty years are the hardest.’”

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays  by Alexander Chee

“ How to Write an Autobiographical Novel  is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel,  Edinburgh , and the election of Donald Trump.”

Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays  by Durga Chew-Bose

“ Too Much and Not the Mood is a beautiful and surprising exploration of what it means to be a first-generation, creative young woman working today. On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her entry in A Writer’s Diary with the words ‘too much and not the mood’ to describe her frustration with placating her readers, what she described as the ‘cramming in and the cutting out.’ She wondered if she had anything at all that was truly worth saying. The attitude of that sentiment inspired Durga Chew-Bose to gather own writing in this lyrical collection of poetic essays that examine personhood and artistic growth. Drawing inspiration from a diverse group of incisive and inquiring female authors, Chew-Bose captures the inner restlessness that keeps her always on the brink of creative expression.”

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy  by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“‘We were eight years in power’ was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s ‘first white president.’”

Look Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crosley

“In  Look Alive Out There,  whether it’s scaling active volcanoes, crashing shivas, playing herself on  Gossip Girl,  befriending swingers, or squinting down the barrel of the fertility gun, Crosley continues to rise to the occasion with unmatchable nerve and electric one-liners. And as her subjects become more serious, her essays deliver not just laughs but lasting emotional heft and insight. Crosley has taken up the gauntlets thrown by her predecessors—Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, David Sedaris—and crafted something rare, affecting, and true.”

Fl â neuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London  by Lauren Elkin

“Part cultural meander, part memoir,  Flâneuse  takes us on a distinctly cosmopolitan jaunt that begins in New York, where Elkin grew up, and transports us to Paris via Venice, Tokyo, and London, all cities in which she’s lived. We are shown the paths beaten by such  flâneuses  as the cross-dressing nineteenth-century novelist George Sand, the Parisian artist Sophie Calle, the wartime correspondent Martha Gellhorn, and the writer Jean Rhys. With tenacity and insight, Elkin creates a mosaic of what urban settings have meant to women, charting through literature, art, history, and film the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes fraught relationship that women have with the metropolis.”

Idiophone  by Amy Fusselman

“Leaping from ballet to quiltmaking, from the The Nutcracker to an Annie-B Parson interview,  Idiophone  is a strikingly original meditation on risk-taking and provocation in art and a unabashedly honest, funny, and intimate consideration of art-making in the context of motherhood, and motherhood in the context of addiction. Amy Fusselman’s compact, beautifully digressive essay feels both surprising and effortless, fueled by broad-ranging curiosity, and, fundamentally, joy.”

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture  by Roxane Gay

“In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are ‘routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied’ for speaking out.”

Sunshine State: Essays  by Sarah Gerard

“With the personal insight of  The Empathy Exams , the societal exposal of  Nickel and Dimed , and the stylistic innovation and intensity of her own break-out debut novel  Binary Star , Sarah Gerard’s  Sunshine State  uses the intimately personal to unearth the deep reservoirs of humanity buried in the corners of our world often hardest to face.”

The Art of the Wasted Day  by Patricia Hampl

“ The Art of the Wasted Day  is a picaresque travelogue of leisure written from a lifelong enchantment with solitude. Patricia Hampl visits the homes of historic exemplars of ease who made repose a goal, even an art form. She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of ‘retirement’ in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne—the hero of this book—who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.”

A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life  by Jim Harrison

“Jim Harrison’s legendary gourmandise is on full display in  A Really Big Lunch . From the titular  New Yorker  piece about a French lunch that went to thirty-seven courses, to pieces from  Brick ,  Playboy , Kermit Lynch Newsletter, and more on the relationship between hunter and prey, or the obscure language of wine reviews,  A Really Big Lunch  is shot through with Harrison’s pointed aperçus and keen delight in the pleasures of the senses. And between the lines the pieces give glimpses of Harrison’s life over the last three decades.  A Really Big Lunch  is a literary delight that will satisfy every appetite.”

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me  by Bill Hayes

“Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city’s incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera.”

Would You Rather?: A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out  by Katie Heaney

“Here, for the first time, Katie opens up about realizing at the age of twenty-eight that she is gay. In these poignant, funny essays, she wrestles with her shifting sexuality and identity, and describes what it was like coming out to everyone she knows (and everyone she doesn’t). As she revisits her past, looking for any ‘clues’ that might have predicted this outcome, Katie reveals that life doesn’t always move directly from point A to point B—no matter how much we would like it to.”

Tonight I’m Someone Else: Essays  by Chelsea Hodson

“From graffiti gangs and  Grand Theft Auto  to sugar daddies, Schopenhauer, and a deadly game of Russian roulette, in these essays, Chelsea Hodson probes her own desires to examine where the physical and the proprietary collide. She asks what our privacy, our intimacy, and our own bodies are worth in the increasingly digital world of liking, linking, and sharing.”

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.: Essays  by Samantha Irby

“With  We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. , ‘bitches gotta eat’ blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making ‘adult’ budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette—she’s ’35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something’—detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms—hang in there for the Costco loot—she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.”

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America  by Morgan Jerkins

“Doubly disenfranchised by race and gender, often deprived of a place within the mostly white mainstream feminist movement, black women are objectified, silenced, and marginalized with devastating consequences, in ways both obvious and subtle, that are rarely acknowledged in our country’s larger discussion about inequality. In  This Will Be My Undoing , Jerkins becomes both narrator and subject to expose the social, cultural, and historical story of black female oppression that influences the black community as well as the white, male-dominated world at large.”

Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays  by Fenton Johnson

“Part retrospective, part memoir, Fenton Johnson’s collection  Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays  explores sexuality, religion, geography, the AIDS crisis, and more. Johnson’s wanderings take him from the hills of Kentucky to those of San Francisco, from the streets of Paris to the sidewalks of Calcutta. Along the way, he investigates questions large and small: What’s the relationship between artists and museums, illuminated in a New Guinean display of shrunken heads? What’s the difference between empiricism and intuition?”

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays  by Scaachi Koul

“In  One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter , Scaachi Koul deploys her razor-sharp humor to share all the fears, outrages, and mortifying moments of her life. She learned from an early age what made her miserable, and for Scaachi anything can be cause for despair. Whether it’s a shopping trip gone awry; enduring awkward conversations with her bikini waxer; overcoming her fear of flying while vacationing halfway around the world; dealing with Internet trolls, or navigating the fears and anxieties of her parents. Alongside these personal stories are pointed observations about life as a woman of color: where every aspect of her appearance is open for critique, derision, or outright scorn; where strict gender rules bind in both Western and Indian cultures, leaving little room for a woman not solely focused on marriage and children to have a career (and a life) for herself.”

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions  by Valeria Luiselli and jon lee anderson (translator)

“A damning confrontation between the American dream and the reality of undocumented children seeking a new life in the U.S. Structured around the 40 questions Luiselli translates and asks undocumented Latin American children facing deportation,  Tell Me How It Ends  (an expansion of her 2016 Freeman’s essay of the same name) humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradiction between the idea of America as a fiction for immigrants and the reality of racism and fear—both here and back home.”

All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers  by Alana Massey

“Mixing Didion’s affected cool with moments of giddy celebrity worship, Massey examines the lives of the women who reflect our greatest aspirations and darkest fears back onto us. These essays are personal without being confessional and clever in a way that invites readers into the joke. A cultural critique and a finely wrought fan letter, interwoven with stories that are achingly personal, All the Lives I Want is also an exploration of mental illness, the sex industry, and the dangers of loving too hard.”

Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays  by Tom McCarthy

“Certain points of reference recur with dreamlike insistence—among them the artist Ed Ruscha’s  Royal Road Test , a photographic documentation of the roadside debris of a Royal typewriter hurled from the window of a traveling car; the great blooms of jellyfish that are filling the oceans and gumming up the machinery of commerce and military domination—and the question throughout is: How can art explode the restraining conventions of so-called realism, whether aesthetic or political, to engage in the active reinvention of the world?”

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America  by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

“When 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, how can women unite in Trump’s America? Nasty Women includes inspiring essays from a diverse group of talented women writers who seek to provide a broad look at how we got here and what we need to do to move forward.”

Don’t Call Me Princess: Essays on Girls, Women, Sex, and Life  by Peggy Orenstein

“Named one of the ’40 women who changed the media business in the last 40 years’ by  Columbia Journalism Review , Peggy Orenstein is one of the most prominent, unflinching feminist voices of our time. Her writing has broken ground and broken silences on topics as wide-ranging as miscarriage, motherhood, breast cancer, princess culture and the importance of girls’ sexual pleasure. Her unique blend of investigative reporting, personal revelation and unexpected humor has made her books bestselling classics.”

When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments  by Kelly Oxford

“Kelly Oxford likes to blow up the internet. Whether it is with the kind of Tweets that lead  Rolling Stone  to name her one of the Funniest People on Twitter or with pictures of her hilariously adorable family (human and animal) or with something much more serious, like creating the hashtag #NotOkay, where millions of women came together to share their stories of sexual assault, Kelly has a unique, razor-sharp perspective on modern life. As a screen writer, professional sh*t disturber, wife and mother of three, Kelly is about everything but the status quo.”

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman  by Anne Helen Petersen

“You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated—too much. She’s the unruly woman, and she embodies one of the most provocative and powerful forms of womanhood today. In  Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud , Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of ‘unruliness’ to explore the ascension of pop culture powerhouses like Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian, exploring why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures. With its brisk, incisive analysis,  Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud  will be a conversation-starting book on what makes and breaks celebrity today.”

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist  by Franchesca Ramsey

“In her first book, Ramsey uses her own experiences as an accidental activist to explore the many ways we communicate with each other—from the highs of bridging gaps and making connections to the many pitfalls that accompany talking about race, power, sexuality, and gender in an unpredictable public space…the internet.”

Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls  by Elizabeth Renzetti

“Drawing upon Renzetti’s decades of reporting on feminist issues,  Shrewed  is a book about feminism’s crossroads. From Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign to the quest for equal pay, from the lessons we can learn from old ladies to the future of feminism in a turbulent world, Renzetti takes a pointed, witty look at how far we’ve come—and how far we have to go.”

What Are We Doing Here?: Essays  by Marilynne Robinson

“In this new essay collection she trains her incisive mind on our modern political climate and the mysteries of faith. Whether she is investigating how the work of great thinkers about America like Emerson and Tocqueville inform our political consciousness or discussing the way that beauty informs and disciplines daily life, Robinson’s peerless prose and boundless humanity are on full display.”

Double Bind: Women on Ambition  by Robin Romm

“‘A work of courage and ferocious honesty’ (Diana Abu-Jaber),  Double Bind  could not come at a more urgent time. Even as major figures from Gloria Steinem to Beyoncé embrace the word ‘feminism,’ the word ‘ambition’ remains loaded with ambivalence. Many women see it as synonymous with strident or aggressive, yet most feel compelled to strive and achieve—the seeming contradiction leaving them in a perpetual double bind. Ayana Mathis, Molly Ringwald, Roxane Gay, and a constellation of ‘nimble thinkers . . . dismantle this maddening paradox’ ( O, The Oprah Magazine ) with candor, wit, and rage. Women who have made landmark achievements in fields as diverse as law, dog sledding, and butchery weigh in, breaking the last feminist taboo once and for all.”

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life  by Richard Russo

“In these nine essays, Richard Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to the story of how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain’s value, to his harrowing journey accompanying a dear friend as she pursued gender-reassignment surgery,  The Destiny Thief  reflects the broad interests and experiences of one of America’s most beloved authors. Warm, funny, wise, and poignant, the essays included here traverse Russo’s writing life, expanding our understanding of who he is and how his singular, incredibly generous mind works. An utter joy to read, they give deep insight into the creative process from the prospective of one of our greatest writers.”

Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race by Naben Ruthnum

“Curry is a dish that doesn’t quite exist, but, as this wildly funny and sharp essay points out, a dish that doesn’t properly exist can have infinite, equally authentic variations. By grappling with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own upbringing, Naben Ruthnum depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. With the sardonic wit of Gita Mehta’s  Karma Cola  and the refined, obsessive palette of Bill Buford’s  Heat , Ruthnum sinks his teeth into the story of how the beloved flavor calcified into an aesthetic genre that limits the imaginations of writers, readers, and eaters.”

The River of Consciousness  by Oliver Sacks

“Sacks, an Oxford-educated polymath, had a deep familiarity not only with literature and medicine but with botany, animal anatomy, chemistry, the history of science, philosophy, and psychology.  The River of Consciousness  is one of two books Sacks was working on up to his death, and it reveals his ability to make unexpected connections, his sheer joy in knowledge, and his unceasing, timeless project to understand what makes us human.”

All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World: Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom (Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God)  by Deborah Santana and America Ferrera

“ All the Women in My Family Sing  is an anthology documenting the experiences of women of color at the dawn of the twenty-first century. It is a vital collection of prose and poetry whose topics range from the pressures of being the vice-president of a Fortune 500 Company, to escaping the killing fields of Cambodia, to the struggles inside immigration, identity, romance, and self-worth. These brief, trenchant essays capture the aspirations and wisdom of women of color as they exercise autonomy, creativity, and dignity and build bridges to heal the brokenness in today’s turbulent world.”

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America  by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page

“For some, ‘passing’ means opportunity, access, or safety. Others don’t willingly pass but are ‘passed’ in specific situations by someone else.  We Wear the Mask , edited by  Brando Skyhorse  and  Lisa Page , is an illuminating and timely anthology that examines the complex reality of passing in America. Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he learned who he really is. Page shares how her white mother didn’t tell friends about her black ex-husband or that her children were, in fact, biracial.”

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

“Since she burst spectacularly into view with her debut novel almost two decades ago, Zadie Smith has established herself not just as one of the world’s preeminent fiction writers, but also a brilliant and singular essayist. She contributes regularly to  The New Yorker  and the  New York Review of Books  on a range of subjects, and each piece of hers is a literary event in its own right.”

The Mother of All Questions: Further Reports from the Feminist Revolutions  by Rebecca Solnit

“In a timely follow-up to her national bestseller  Men Explain Things to Me , Rebecca Solnit offers indispensable commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more. In characteristic style, Solnit mixes humor, keen analysis, and powerful insight in these essays.”

The Wrong Way to Save Your Life: Essays  by Megan Stielstra

“Whether she’s imagining the implications of open-carry laws on college campuses, recounting the story of going underwater on the mortgage of her first home, or revealing the unexpected pains and joys of marriage and motherhood, Stielstra’s work informs, impels, enlightens, and embraces us all. The result is something beautiful—this story, her courage, and, potentially, our own.”

Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms  by Michelle Tea

“Delivered with her signature honesty and dark humor, this is Tea’s first-ever collection of journalistic writing. As she blurs the line between telling other people’s stories and her own, she turns an investigative eye to the genre that’s nurtured her entire career—memoir—and considers the price that art demands be paid from life.”

A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause  by Shawn Wen

“In precise, jewel-like scenes and vignettes,  A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause  pays homage to the singular genius of a mostly-forgotten art form. Drawing on interviews, archival research, and meticulously observed performances, Wen translates the gestural language of mime into a lyric written portrait by turns whimsical, melancholic, and haunting.”

Acid West: Essays  by Joshua Wheeler

“The radical evolution of American identity, from cowboys to drone warriors to space explorers, is a story rooted in southern New Mexico.  Acid West  illuminates this history, clawing at the bounds of genre to reveal a place that is, for better or worse, home. By turns intimate, absurd, and frightening,  Acid West  is an enlightening deep-dive into a prophetic desert at the bottom of America.”

Sexographies  by Gabriela Wiener and Lucy Greaves And jennifer adcock (Translators)

“In fierce and sumptuous first-person accounts, renowned Peruvian journalist Gabriela Wiener records infiltrating the most dangerous Peruvian prison, participating in sexual exchanges in swingers clubs, traveling the dark paths of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in the company of transvestites and prostitutes, undergoing a complicated process of egg donation, and participating in a ritual of ayahuasca ingestion in the Amazon jungle—all while taking us on inward journeys that explore immigration, maternity, fear of death, ugliness, and threesomes. Fortunately, our eagle-eyed voyeur emerges from her narrative forays unscathed and ready to take on the kinks, obsessions, and messiness of our lives.  Sexographies  is an eye-opening, kamikaze journey across the contours of the human body and mind.”

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative  by Florence Williams

“From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to eucalyptus groves in California, Florence Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. Delving into brand-new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.”

Can You Tolerate This?: Essays  by Ashleigh Young

“ Can You Tolerate This?  presents a vivid self-portrait of an introspective yet widely curious young woman, the colorful, isolated community in which she comes of age, and the uneasy tensions—between safety and risk, love and solitude, the catharsis of grief and the ecstasy of creation—that define our lives.”

What are your favorite contemporary essay collections?

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interesting story essay

University of Georgia Essay Example by an Accepted Student

interesting story essay

The University of Georgia is a large public research institute and one of the top public schools in the nation. If it is one of your school choices, it’s important to write strong essays to help your application stand out. In this post, we’ll share an essay a real student has submitted to the University of Georgia. (Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved).

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our University of Georgia es say breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.

Prompt: Tell us an interesting or amusing story about yourself from your high school years.

Cooking is one of those activities at which people are either extremely talented or completely inept. Personally, I’ve found that I fall right in the middle, with neither prodigal nor abhorrent talents. After all, it’s just following instructions, right? Unfortunately, one disastrous night in my kitchen has me questioning that logic.

The task was simple enough: cook a turkey stir fry. In theory, it’s an extremely simple dish. However, almost immediately, things went awry. While I was cutting onions, I absentmindedly rubbed at my eyes and smeared my mascara. (Keep this in mind; it’ll come into play later.) I then proceeded to add the raw turkey to the vegetable pot. Now, as any good chef knows, this means that either the vegetables will burn or the turkey will be raw. I am admittedly not a good chef.

After a taste test, I decided to take a page out of the Spice Girls’ book and “spice up my life”, adding some red chili paste. This was my fatal mistake. The bottle spilled everywhere. Pot, counter, floor, I mean everywhere . While trying to clean up the mess, my hands ended up covered in sauce.

Foolishly, I decided to taste my ruined meal anyway. My tongue felt like it was on fire and I sprinted to the bathroom to rinse my mouth. I looked in the mirror and, noticing the raccoon eyes formed by my mascara, grabbed a tissue. What I had neglected to realize was that chili paste had transferred to the tissue—the tissue which I was using to wipe my eyes. I don’t know if you’ve ever put chili paste anywhere near your eyes, but here’s a word of advice: don’t. Seriously, don’t .

I fumbled blindly for the sink handle, mouth still on fire, eyes burning, presumably looking like a character out of a Tim Burton film. After I rinsed my face, I sat down and stared at my bowl of still-too-spicy and probably-somewhat-raw stir fry, wondering what ancient god had decided to take their anger out on me that night, and hoping I would never incur their wrath ever again.

What the Essay Did Well

This is a great essay for the prompt! Don’t assume that the admissions committee wants deep, personal stories with hard-earned lessons in every essay. They are people too, and they want to be engaged with  amusing stories. This essay does a great job of being light, playful, and funny, while still revealing a lot about the student who wrote it.

Starting off with the story the student chose, it works so well because it is so specific. Focusing the essay on a short period of time—making dinner—allows the student to include a lot of details that wouldn’t have fit in an essay that tried to explain their entire history with cooking. This is proof that zeroing in on what might seem like a mundane experience can make for a really strong essay.

Another thing this essay does really well is structure the story in a clear, sequential manner. The essay starts by setting expectations for the student’s cooking abilities, which builds anticipation for the reader. Then, the essay follows the various steps of the cooking process almost like following a recipe. The beginning of each paragraph establishes each new step of the story—”The task was simple enough”; “After a taste test”; “Foolishly, I decided to taste my ruined meal anyway”; “I fumbled blindly for the sink handle”—which creates momentum for the essay that makes reading it quick and easy.

Perhaps what makes this essay so stellar is how much the student’s voice shines through. This student is unapologetically themselves and admits to their shortcomings as a chef. By sharing a funny and embarrassing story, the admissions committee reading the essay gets a much better sense of the student’s character and personality than if they had shared a story about the time they scored the winning goal at the soccer game. The language is casual and informal and it feels much more like the student is telling a story than writing an essay, which should be the goal of any college essay.

Another aspect of this essay that really allows the student’s voice to shine and makes it so enjoyable to read is the humor. Including humor into essays can sometimes be hard, but when it’s done successfully it give the reader a sense of your personality and can brighten their day. Including interjections like “(Keep this in mind; it’ll come into play later.)” and references to pop culture like “I decided to take a page out of the Spice Girls’ book and ‘spice up my life'” gave the audiences little chuckles as they read. Especially for a prompt that wants an amusing story, the humorous tone and inclusion of jokes throughout the essay really made this essay stand out.

What Could Be Improved

There isn’t much this student could do to improve the essay. It’s very well-written and a perfect response to the prompt. However, to really strengthen the essay, the student could remove the first paragraph. The first paragraph isn’t bad, and it starts to introduce some of the humor seen throughout the essay, but it doesn’t directly relate to the story being told. Removing the first paragraph would allow the student to jump right into the action of the story and have more words to add details and more jokes during the rest of the essay.

Where to Get Your University of Georgia Essays Edited

Do you want feedback on your University of Georgia  essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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34 English Short Stories with Big Ideas for Thoughtful English Learners

What if you could understand big ideas in English with just a little bit of text?

You don’t need to read an entire English book to learn. A good English short story is often enough!

Stories are all about going beyond reality, and these classics will not only improve your English reading but also open your mind to different worlds.

1. “The Tortoise and the Hare” by Aesop

2. “the ant and the grasshopper” by aesop, 3. “white wing: the tale of the doves and the hunter”, 4. “royal servant”, 5. “emily’s secret”, 6. “the bogey beast” by flora annie steel, 7. “love is in the air”, 8. “the tale of johnny town-mouse” by beatrix potter, 9. “paul bunyan” adapted by george grow, 10. “cinderella” by charles perrault, 11. “little red riding hood” adapted by the british council, 12. “the lottery” by shirley jackson, 13. “the happy prince” by oscar wilde.

  • 14. “The Night Train at Deoli” by Ruskin Bond

15. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury

  • 16. “Orientation” by Daniel Orozco

17. “Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu

18. “the missing mail” by r.k. narayan, 19. “harrison bergeron” by kurt vonnegut.

  • 20. “The School” by Donald Barthelme

21. “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

22. “rikki-tikki-tavi” by rudyard kipling, 23. excerpt from “little dorrit” by charles dickens, 24. “to build a fire” by jack london, 25. “miracles” by lucy corin.

  • 26. “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal

27. “The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce 

28. “the monkey’s paw” by w.w. jacobs, 29. “a tiny feast” by chris adrian, 30. “the story of an hour” by kate chopin, 31. “the zero meter diving team” by jim shepherd, 32. “the velveteen rabbit” by margery williams, 33. “the friday everything changed” by anne hart, 34. “hills like white elephants” by ernest hemingway, how to use short stories to improve your english, and one more thing....

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

The Tortoise and the Hare

This classic fable (story) is about a very slow tortoise (turtle) and a speedy hare (rabbit). The tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare laughs at the idea that a tortoise could run faster than him, but the race ends with a surprising result.

Have you ever heard the English expression, “Slow and steady wins the race”? This story is the basis for that common phrase . You can read it for free , along with a number of other stories in this list!

very short english stories

This is another great story that teaches a lesson that’s written for kids but adults can enjoy, too . The story tells of a grasshopper who lounges around all summer while his friend the ant prepares for the winter. When winter comes, the two friends end up in very different situations!

The moral is that those who save up during the good times will get to enjoy the benefits when times are bad.

White Wing The Tale of the Doves and the Hunter

This very short story from India was originally written in Sanskrit (an ancient language). When a group of doves is caught in a hunter’s net, they must work together as a team to escape from the hunter’s clutches.

You can listen to a reading of the story as you read along on this website.

very short english stories

In this story, an old man sets out to ask an African king to dig some wells in his village when their water runs dry. But first, he teaches the king a lesson in humility by showing him how all people help each other. Read the story to see how the clever old man gets the king to do as he asks!

very short english stories

This is a modern-day story about a little girl with a big secret she can’t tell anyone about. When her teacher finds out her secret, they work together to fix the issue.

This story is a good choice for absolute beginners, because it uses only the present tense. It’s also written in very basic English with simple vocabulary and short sentences.

english short stories

The woman in this story finds a pot of treasure on her walk home. As she carries it home, the treasure keeps changing, becoming things of lesser value.

However, the woman’s enthusiasm makes her see only the positive after each change, which would have upset anyone else. Her positive personality tries to make every negative situation seem like a gift!

This story shows how important it is to look at things from a positive point of view. Instead of being disappointed in what we don’t have, this story reminds us to view what we do have as blessings.

very short english stories

This modern story is about a young woman named Penny who is anxious about going to her family’s annual reunion barbecue. But despite screaming children and arguing cousins, Penny ends up happy that she came to the reunion when she starts a conversation with a handsome man.

The story is written in simple English, using only the present tense, so it’s perfect for beginners.

The Tale of Johnny Town-mouse (Peter Rabbit)

This classic children’s story is about two mice, one from the country and one from the city. Both mice think that the other mouse is so lucky to live in what they think is a wonderful place!

The two mice decide to visit each other in their homes. It turns out that the country mouse has a difficult time in the city, and the city mouse struggles in the country.

In the end, they realize that they believed the old English saying: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” In other words, each mouse thought the other had a better life, only to discover that they actually preferred their own life!

Paul Bunyan

The story of Paul Bunyan has been around in the United States for many years. He’s the symbol of American frontier life, showing the ideal strength, work ethic and good morality that Americans work hard to imitate.

Paul Bunyan is considered a legend, so stories about him are full of unusual details, such as eating 50 eggs in one day and being so big that he caused an earthquake. It can be a pretty funny read, with characters such as a blue ox and a reversible dog.

This version of the story is also meant to be read out loud, so it’s fast-paced and entertaining. This website has an audio recording with the story, which you can play at slower or faster speeds.

Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper

You may already know the story of Cinderella, whether you saw the Disney movie or read a children’s book of it.

However, there are actually many different versions of “Cinderella.” This one by Charles Perrault is the most well-known and is often the version told to children.

“Cinderella” is a beloved story because it describes how a kind and hard-working person was able to get a happy ending. Even though Cinderella’s stepsisters treated her awfully, Cinderella herself remained gentle and humble. It goes to show that even though you may experience hardships, it’s important to stay kind, forgiving and mindful.

Little Red Riding Hood

This is a story that every English-speaking child knows. It’s about a little girl who meets a wolf in the forest while going to see her sick grandmother. The wolf pretends to be her grandmother in order to trick the little girl.

This story is presented by the British Council as a video with the text clearly spoken. You can then play a game to rearrange the sentences below the video into the correct order, read the text of the story in a PDF file and answer some activity questions (then check your answers with the provided answer sheet.

This website has many other stories you can read and listen to, like “Circus Story” by Sue Clarke, which is an excellent option for learning animal vocabulary, and even adaptations of Shakespeare plays for younger readers.

The Lottery and Other Stories (FSG Classics)

Every year, the small town in this story holds an event known as “The Lottery.” During this event, someone from the community is randomly chosen.

What are they chosen for? You’ll have to read the story to find out.

You may have heard of the term “mob mentality” and how it can allow for some pretty surprising (and terrible) things to happen. This classic story looks at society, and how much evil people are willing to overlook to keep their society stable.

This is considered to be one of the most famous short stories in American literature. It’s a great example of what is known as a dystopian society, where people live in a frightening way. To learn more, check out this TED-Ed video that tells you how to recognize a dystopia.

English short stories

Since the story is old, much of the English is outdated (not used in modern English). Still, if you have a good grasp of the English language, you can use this story to give yourself a great reading challenge.

14. “The Night Train at Deoli”  by Ruskin Bond

The Night Train at Deoli

Ruskin Bond used to spend summers at his grandmother’s house in Dehradun, India. While taking the train, he always had to pass through a small station called Deoli. No one used to get down at the station and nothing happened there.

Until one day, when he sees a girl selling fruit and is unable to forget her.

Ruskin Bond is a writer who can communicate deep feelings in a simple way. This story is about our attachment to strangers and why we cherish (value or appreciate deeply) them even though we might never meet them again.

There Will Come Soft Rains

The title is taken from a poem that describes how nature will continue its work long after humanity is gone. But in this story, we see that nature plays a supporting role and the machines are the ones who have taken its place.

They continue their work without any human or natural assistance. This shows how technology has replaced nature in our lives and how it can both destroy us and carry on without humanity itself.

16. “Orientation”  by Daniel Orozco

Orientation and Other Stories

This is a humorous story in which the speaker explains the office policies to a new employee while gossiping about the staff. It’s extremely easy to read, as the sentences are short and the vocabulary is simple.

Many working English learners will relate to this story, as it explains the silly, nonsensical moments of modern office life. Modern workplaces often feel like theaters where we pretend to work rather than get actual work done. The speaker exposes this reality that few would ever admit to.

He over-explains everything from the view out the office window to the intimate details of everyone’s life—from the overweight loner to the secret serial killer. It talks about the things that go unsaid; how people at the office know about the deep secrets of our home life, but don’t discuss them.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

Jack’s mother can make paper animals come to life. In the beginning, Jack loves them and spends hours with his mom. But once he grows up, his mother’s inability to speak English keeps Jack from talking to her.

When his mother tries to talk to him through her creations, he kills them and collects them in a box. After a tragic loss, he finally gets to know her story through a hidden message that he should have read a long time ago.

The story is a simple narration that touches on complex issues, like leaving your home country and the conflicts that can occur within families when different cultures and languages collide.

The Missing Mail in Malgudi Days

Thanappa is the village mailman, who is good friends with Ramanujam and his family. He learns about a failed marriage and helps Ramanujam’s daughter get engaged to a suitable match.

Just before the wedding, Thanappa receives a tragic letter about Ramanujam’s brother. To spare them heartache, he decides not to deliver the letter.

The story explores the idea that despite the best of intentions, our actions can cause more harm to our loved ones than we ever intended. If you like this and want to read more by R.K. Narayan, check out the other stories in the author’s “ Malgudi Days” short story collection.

Harrison Bergeron in Welcome to the Monkey House

The year is 2081, and everyone has been made equal by force. Every person who is superior in any way has been handicapped (something that prevents a person’s full use of their abilities) by the government. Intelligent people are distracted by disturbing noises. Good dancers have to wear weights so that they don’t dance too well. Attractive people wear ugly masks so they don’t look better than anyone else.

However, one day there is a rebellion, and everything changes for a brief instant.

Technology is always supposed to make us better. But in this case, we see that it can be used to disable our talents. Moreover, the writer shows us how the mindless use of a single value like equality can create more suffering for everyone.

20. “The School”  by Donald Barthelme

easy English short stories

And that’s just the beginning of the series of unfortunate events at the school in this short story, narrated by a teacher. The story is absurd (ridiculous to the point of being silly), even though the topic is serious. By the end, the kids start asking difficult questions about death that the adults don’t quite know how to answer.

This story leaves a lot of things unsaid, which means you’ll need to “read between the lines,” or look closer at the text to understand what’s really happening.

english short stories

In “Girl,” a mother tells her daughter how to live her life properly. The mother instructs the girl to do all the household chores, in very specific ways, making it seem like that’s her only duty in life.

Sometimes the mother tells the girl how to attract attention, not to talk to boys and to always keep away from men. Other times, the mother hints that the girl will need to be attractive to men to live a good life.

This story doesn’t feel like a story. There’s no plot, and nothing really happens. But read closely, and you’ll see an important message about how girls are taught to live restricted lives since childhood.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is a classic tale about a Mongoose who regularly visits a family in India. The family feeds him and lets him explore their house, but they worry that he might bite their son, Teddy.

One day, when a snake is about to attack Teddy, the Mongoose kills it. This event helps the family accept the mongoose into their family.

This is a simple story about humans and animals living together as friends. It’s old, but the language is fairly easy to understand. It reminds us that animals can also experience feelings of love and, like humans, they will also protect the ones they love.

“Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” is part of Kipling’s short story collection “The Jungle Book,” which was famously made into a movie by Disney.

Little Dorrit (Penguin Classics)

Dorrit is a child whose father has been in prison ever since she could remember. Unable to pay their debts, the whole family is forced to spend their days in a cell. Dorrit dreams of seeing the world outside their little cell.

This excerpt (short part of a larger work) introduces you to the family and their life in prison. The novel is about how they manage to get out and how Dorrit never forgets the kindness of the people who helped her.

Injustice in law is often reserved for the poor. “Little Dorrit” shows the government jailing people for not being able to return their loans, a historical practice the writer hated since his own father was punished in a similar way.

To Build a Fire and Other Tales of the North

A man travels to a freezing, isolated place called Yukon with only his dog for company. Throughout his journey, he ignores the advice other people have given him and takes his life for granted.

Finally, he realizes the real power of nature and how fragile (easily broken) human life actually is.

Nature is often seen as a powerful force that should be feared and respected. The animal in this story is the one who’s cautious and sensible in this dangerous situation. By the end, readers wonder who is really intelligent—the man who could not deal with nature, or the dog who could survive?

This is a modern-day story that describes a group of children gathering around their father to watch little spiders hatch out of their eggs. But the story gets a different meaning as it nears the end. What do you think happened?

26. “Evil Robot Monkey ” by Mary Robinette Kowal

english short stories

Sly is a character who doesn’t fit into society. He’s too smart for the other chimps, but humans don’t accept him. He is punished for acting out his natural emotions.

But the way he handles his rage, in the end, makes him look more mature than most human beings. Nominated for the  Hugo award , many readers have connected with Sly since they can see similarities in their own lives.

“The Boarded Window” is a horror story about a man who has to deal with his wife’s death. The setting is a remote cabin in the wilderness in Cincinnati, and he feels helpless as she gets sick.

There’s an interesting twist to this story, and the ending will get you thinking (and maybe feeling a bit disturbed!).

If you enjoy older stories with a little suspense, this will be a good challenge for you. It talks about the event that made a hermit decide to live alone for decades, with a mysterious window boarded up in his cabin. It also uses a lot of psychology and symbolism, so you may want to read the story more than once to understand everything it has to say.

The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre

Be careful what you wish for! One man finds this out the hard way when he brings a magical monkey’s paw home from India. This paw is supposed to grant three wishes to three people. People start to wish on it, only to realize that our wishes can have severe consequences.

The characters in this story immediately regret when their wishes come true. Even though they get what they wanted, it comes at a large cost!

This short story is from the early 1900s and uses some outdated English, but it’s still easy to follow. It reminds us that there are no shortcuts in life, and to be wary if something seems too good to be true.

This story centers around Titania and Oberon, two fairy characters from Shakespeare’s famous play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The two fairies are having a rough time in their marriage when they find a human child. They decide to adopt him, hoping that he’ll help them save their relationship. However, the child develops a deadly, modern disease and the fairies have no idea what to do since they have never known illness or death.

This is a tragic tale about how they try to understand something they’ve never seen before and their deep love for a stranger who is so unlike them. The story explores the grief of parenthood and the uncertainty of knowing whether your child will ever even know you.

The Story Of An Hour

This story, written by a woman, is a sad look inside an unhappy marriage. Mrs. Mallard is a woman with heart troubles. When her husband dies, the people who come to give her this news tell it to her gently, so she doesn’t have a shock.

Mrs. Mallard busts into tears and locks herself in her room. At first, she’s upset by the news. But the more she considers it, the more excited she becomes about the idea of the freedom that would come from her husband’s death.

What happens, then, when her husband comes home after an hour, alive and well?

The story explores the conflicting range of the human emotions of grief and hope in a short span, and the impact it can have on a person’s mind and body.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was one of the deadliest accidents of the twentieth century. This is a story about that event seen through the eyes of a father and his sons, who were all unfortunate enough to be close to the disaster area.

The story exposes the whole system of corruption that led to a massive explosion taking innocent lives and poisoning multiple generations. The technical vocabulary and foreign words make this text a little more difficult. However, its plot is relatively easy to follow.

The story is divided into small parts that make it both easy and exciting to read. Its various events show what it was like to live in the former Soviet Union . And just like any other good story, it’s also about human relationships and how they change due to historic events.

The Velveteen Rabbit

A simple, stuffed rabbit toy is given to a young boy as a Christmas present. At first, the rabbit isn’t noticed, as the boy is distracted by much fancier gifts. While being ignored, the rabbit begins to wonder what it means to be “real.”

One day, a certain event brings the rabbit into contact with the boy, and changes the toy’s life forever.

Have you ever loved a toy or doll so much, that you treated it as if it were alive? This story shows the power of love from a very unexpected viewpoint: that of a fluffy stuffed rabbit. It also highlights the importance of self-value, being true to yourself and finding strength in those who love you.

Tradition is important in this school, where the boys always go to fetch water for the class. The girls are teased for being “weaker,” and are last to get other privileges, like having the first choice of magazines. One day, a girl asks the teacher why girls aren’t allowed to get the water, as well. This one question causes a big reaction and leads to a huge change.

The girl’s courage surprises everyone, but it also inspires other girls to stand up for themselves. One act from one brave person can lead to change and inspire others. The story reflects on gender equality and how important it is to fight for fairness. Just because something is accepted as “normal,” doesn’t mean it is right!

Hills Like White Elephants

At a Spanish train station, an American man and a young woman wait for a train that would take them to the city of Madrid. The woman sees some faraway hills and compares them to “white elephants.” This starts a conversation between the two of them, but what they discuss seems to have a deeper meaning.

This is another very well-known story that asks you to “read between the lines” to find the hidden meaning behind the text. Much of the story is a back-and-forth dialogue between two people, but you can tell a lot about them just from what they say to each other.

There’s a lot of symbolism that you can analyze in this story, along with context clues. Once you realize what the real topic of the characters’ conversation is, you can figure out the quiet, sadder meaning behind it.

Short stories are effective in helping English learners to practice all four aspects of language learning: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Here’s how you can make the most out of short stories as an English learner:

  • Use illustrations to enhance your experience: Some short stories come with illustrations that you can use to guess what the story is about. You can even write your own caption or description of the picture. When you finish the story, go back to your image description. How did you do?

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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  • Explore stories related to a theme: Do you like ghost stories? Science fiction? Romance? If you’re learning about food or cooking, find a short story with a lot of food vocabulary .
  • Choose the right reading level: Make sure that you always challenge yourself! One easy way to tell if a story is just right for you is to use the “five-finger test.” Hold up your fist as you read a paragraph, and put up one finger for each word you don’t know. If you have all five fingers up before the end of the paragraph, try to find an easier text.
  • Practice “active reading”: Your reading will only help you learn if you read actively . You’re reading actively when you’re paying very close attention to the story, its words and its meanings. Writing with a notebook nearby and in a place with no distractions can help you focus on active reading.
  • Choose only a few words to look up: You may be tempted to stop at every unknown word, but it’s actually better to try to figure out its meaning from context clues. This means looking at everything else in the sentence or paragraph to try and guess the meaning of the word. Only look up words that you can’t figure out even with context clues.
  • Summarize the story: When you’ve finished reading the story, retell it in your own words or write a summary of it. This will help you to practice any new words you learned, and make sure that you understood the story well. If you’re struggling, read the story again and take notes as you read.
  • Take breaks: Just because these stories are short, doesn’t mean you need to read them in one sitting! If you find it hard to focus or you’re struggling to understand the story, take a break. It’s okay to read it one paragraph at a time.

I hope you have fun with these English short stories while improving your English language skills.

Happy reading!

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials , as you can see here:

learn-english-with-videos

If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.

learn-english-with-subtitled-television-show-clips

FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:

learn-conversational-english-with-interactive-captioned-dialogue

FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

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FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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"I was eight years old the first time I heard his name." Shifting in the hard plastic seat, my wrists are shackled to a metal chain link at the center of the table, limiting my mobility.The officer observes my discomfort passively, already impatient and annoyed with my recollection of events."I was thinking a little more recent, Miss Clark. Like why you were caught standing outside his home with a bloody—""No, no, you d...

“ What Kind of Mother ” by Danielle Barr

🏆 Winner of Contest #216

Trigger Warning: infant/child loss, drowning The day my daughter died, I became the villain of my own life story. When your child dies of cancer, there are fundraisers and flower delivery vans and friends taking shifts sitting up with you through the long black nights and washing your hair. When your child dies and it’s your fault, there are no homemade casseroles filling y...

“ Departed, Return ” by Emily Holding

🏆 Winner of Contest #215

“And then there was another Mark,” Dad recalls, sending the table into an encore of laughter.  “Stop it!” Hannah pleads, tears rolling over sun-reddened cheeks. She perches opposite him, one leg hiked on the serrated bistro chair, a rum and coke bubbling in her left hand, the right clutching her stomach. She is 18, the spit of her mother – so she’s told – and will be off to university in two mont...

“ The Porcelain Village ” by Jonathan Page

🏆 Winner of Contest #214

My clay hands are becoming solid porcelain. I have always had potter’s hands. The throwing water absorbs the moisturizing oils of the skin. Leaves the hands rough. The clay paste dries and cracks the skin. Leaving it red. But now my hands are hardening. In the bisque firing, my hands harden like porous greenware. The cremated carbon and sulfur escape, exhuming my soul from the earthen clay, little by little, drawing it back to its source. The soul stews out in a boiling whistl...

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Atlantic Ocean is headed for a tipping point − once melting glaciers shut down the Gulf Stream, we would see extreme climate change within decades, study shows

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Disclosure statement

René van Westen receives funding from the European Research Council (ERC-AdG project 101055096, TAOC).

Henk A. Dijkstra receives funding from the European Research Council (ERC-AdG project 101055096, TAOC, PI: Dijkstra).

Michael Kliphuis does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Superstorms, abrupt climate shifts and New York City frozen in ice. That’s how the blockbuster Hollywood movie “ The Day After Tomorrow ” depicted an abrupt shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation and the catastrophic consequences.

While Hollywood’s vision was over the top, the 2004 movie raised a serious question: If global warming shuts down the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, which is crucial for carrying heat from the tropics to the northern latitudes, how abrupt and severe would the climate changes be?

Twenty years after the movie’s release, we know a lot more about the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation. Instruments deployed in the ocean starting in 2004 show that the Atlantic Ocean circulation has observably slowed over the past two decades, possibly to its weakest state in almost a millennium . Studies also suggest that the circulation has reached a dangerous tipping point in the past that sent it into a precipitous, unstoppable decline, and that it could hit that tipping point again as the planet warms and glaciers and ice sheets melt.

In a new study using the latest generation of Earth’s climate models, we simulated the flow of fresh water until the ocean circulation reached that tipping point.

The results showed that the circulation could fully shut down within a century of hitting the tipping point, and that it’s headed in that direction. If that happened, average temperatures would drop by several degrees in North America, parts of Asia and Europe, and people would see severe and cascading consequences around the world.

We also discovered a physics-based early warning signal that can alert the world when the Atlantic Ocean circulation is nearing its tipping point.

The ocean’s conveyor belt

Ocean currents are driven by winds, tides and water density differences .

In the Atlantic Ocean circulation, the relatively warm and salty surface water near the equator flows toward Greenland. During its journey it crosses the Caribbean Sea, loops up into the Gulf of Mexico, and then flows along the U.S. East Coast before crossing the Atlantic.

Two illustrations show how the AMOC looks today and its weaker state in the future

This current, also known as the Gulf Stream, brings heat to Europe. As it flows northward and cools, the water mass becomes heavier. By the time it reaches Greenland, it starts to sink and flow southward. The sinking of water near Greenland pulls water from elsewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and the cycle repeats, like a conveyor belt .

Too much fresh water from melting glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet can dilute the saltiness of the water, preventing it from sinking, and weaken this ocean conveyor belt . A weaker conveyor belt transports less heat northward and also enables less heavy water to reach Greenland, which further weakens the conveyor belt’s strength. Once it reaches the tipping point , it shuts down quickly.

What happens to the climate at the tipping point?

The existence of a tipping point was first noticed in an overly simplified model of the Atlantic Ocean circulation in the early 1960s . Today’s more detailed climate models indicate a continued slowing of the conveyor belt’s strength under climate change. However, an abrupt shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean circulation appeared to be absent in these climate models.

This is where our study comes in. We performed an experiment with a detailed climate model to find the tipping point for an abrupt shutdown by slowly increasing the input of fresh water.

We found that once it reaches the tipping point, the conveyor belt shuts down within 100 years. The heat transport toward the north is strongly reduced, leading to abrupt climate shifts.

The result: Dangerous cold in the North

Regions that are influenced by the Gulf Stream receive substantially less heat when the circulation stops. This cools the North American and European continents by a few degrees.

The European climate is much more influenced by the Gulf Stream than other regions. In our experiment, that meant parts of the continent changed at more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) per decade – far faster than today’s global warming of about 0.36 F (0.2 C) per decade. We found that parts of Norway would experience temperature drops of more than 36 F (20 C). On the other hand, regions in the Southern Hemisphere would warm by a few degrees.

Two maps show US and Europe both cooling by several degrees if the AMOC stops.

These temperature changes develop over about 100 years. That might seem like a long time, but on typical climate time scales, it is abrupt.

The conveyor belt shutting down would also affect sea level and precipitation patterns, which can push other ecosystems closer to their tipping points . For example, the Amazon rainforest is vulnerable to declining precipitation . If its forest ecosystem turned to grassland, the transition would release carbon to the atmosphere and result in the loss of a valuable carbon sink, further accelerating climate change.

The Atlantic circulation has slowed significantly in the distant past . During glacial periods when ice sheets that covered large parts of the planet were melting, the influx of fresh water slowed the Atlantic circulation, triggering huge climate fluctuations.

So, when will we see this tipping point?

The big question – when will the Atlantic circulation reach a tipping point – remains unanswered. Observations don’t go back far enough to provide a clear result. While a recent study suggested that the conveyor belt is rapidly approaching its tipping point , possibly within a few years, these statistical analyses made several assumptions that give rise to uncertainty.

Instead, we were able to develop a physics-based and observable early warning signal involving the salinity transport at the southern boundary of the Atlantic Ocean. Once a threshold is reached, the tipping point is likely to follow in one to four decades.

A line chart of circulation strength shows a quick drop-off after the amount of freshwater in the ocean hits a tipping point.

The climate impacts from our study underline the severity of such an abrupt conveyor belt collapse. The temperature, sea level and precipitation changes will severely affect society, and the climate shifts are unstoppable on human time scales.

It might seem counterintuitive to worry about extreme cold as the planet warms, but if the main Atlantic Ocean circulation shuts down from too much meltwater pouring in, that’s the risk ahead.

This article was updated on Feb. 11, 2024, to fix a typo: The experiment found temperatures in parts of Europe changed by more than 5 F per decade.

  • Climate change
  • Global warming
  • Extreme weather
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Climate models
  • Greenland ice sheet
  • Ocean circulation

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The Death of Alexey Navalny, Putin’s Most Formidable Opponent

By Masha Gessen

A blackandwhite portrait of Alexey Navalny.

Alexey Navalny spent at least a decade standing up to the Kremlin when it seemed impossible. He was jailed and released. He was poisoned, and survived. He was warned to stay away from Russia and didn’t. He was arrested in front of dozens of cameras, with millions of people watching. In prison, he was defiant and consistently funny. For three years, his jailers put him in solitary confinement, cut off his access to and arrested his lawyers, piled on sentence after sentence, sent him all the way across the world’s largest country to serve out his time in the Arctic, and still, when he appeared on video in court, he laughed at his jailers. Year after year, he faced down the might of one of the world’s cruellest states and the vengeance of one of the world’s cruellest men. His promise was that he would outlive them and lead what he called the Beautiful Russia of the Future. On Friday, they killed him. He was forty-seven years old.

Hours after the news of his death broke, his widow, Yulia Navalnaya, addressed the Munich Security Conference. “I don’t know whether to believe the news, the terrible news, which we are only getting from state-controlled sources in Russia,” she said, from the conference’s main stage. “As you all know, for many years we’ve been unable to believe Putin and his government. They always lie. But, if it is true, I want Putin and everyone around him, his friends and his government, to know that they will be held responsible for what they have done to our country, to my family, and to my husband. The day of reckoning will come very soon.”

In Russia, Vladimir Putin was visiting an industrial park in Chelyabinsk, in the Urals. He took questions from staff and students, who were seated a safe distance from the Russian President on what appeared to be the plant floor. Putin seemed to be in an unusually good mood. He bantered and flirted with the audience. He boasted that Western sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine had boosted industrial production inside Russia. He hadn’t seemed so jovial in public in years.

In exactly a month, Russia will hold a ritual that it calls an election. With no actual alternative to Putin, who has total control of the media and the so-called electoral institutions, the current Russian President will be crowned for another six-year term, extending his time in power to thirty-one years. Navalny tried to run against Putin six years ago, but the rigged system stopped him. His very name was banished from the airwaves. Still, even when the system shut him out, and, later, when it put him in prison, Navalny remained Putin’s most formidable opponent.

Putin could only envy Navalny’s ability to mobilize Russians. In July, 2013, as the political crackdown that accompanied the beginning of Putin’s third official Presidential term intensified, a court in the provincial city of Kirov sentenced Navalny to five years behind bars on trumped-up embezzlement charges. That evening, thousands of people risked arrest by taking to the streets in Moscow in a rare spontaneous protest. The following morning, Navalny was summarily released from prison, in violation of established legal procedure. Putin had long been terrified of mass protests. Now he had to be equally afraid of Navalny, a man whose very existence seemed to make people capable of overcoming their own fears.

It’s tempting to see Navalny’s apparent murder, as some American analysts have, as a sign of weakness on the part of Putin. But a dictator’s ability to annihilate what he fears is a measure of his hold on power, as is his ability to choose the time to strike. Putin appears to be feeling optimistic about his own future. As he sees it, Donald Trump is poised to become the next President of the U.S. and to give Putin free rein in Ukraine and beyond . Even before the U.S. Presidential election, American aid to Ukraine is stalled, and Ukraine’s Army is starved for troops and nearing a supply crisis. Last week, Putin got to lecture millions of Americans by granting an interview to Tucker Carlson . At the end of the interview, Carlson asked Putin if he would release Evan Gershkovich , a Wall Street Journal reporter held on espionage charges in Russia. Putin proposed that Gershkovich could be traded for “a person, who out of patriotic sentiments liquidated a bandit in one of the European capitals.” It was a reference to Vadim Krasikov, probably the only Russian assassin who has been caught and convicted in the West; he is held in Germany. A week after the interview aired, Russia has shown the world what can happen to a person in a Russian prison. It’s also significant that Navalny was killed on the first day of the Munich conference. In 2007, Putin chose the conference as his stage for declaring what would become his war against the West. Now, with this war in full swing, Putin has been excluded from the conference, but the actions of his regime—the murders committed by his regime—dominate the proceedings.

Russian prison authorities have said that Navalny felt ill after returning from his daily walk, lost consciousness, and could not be revived. They have ascribed his death to a pulmonary embolism. Anna Karetnikova, a prisoners’-rights activist and a former member of the civilian-oversight body of Russia’s prison system, has said that prison authorities routinely use embolism as a catchall term. Sergey Nemalevich, a journalist with the Russian Service of Radio Liberty, noticed that the ostensible timing of the death didn’t seem to jibe with Navalny’s recent description of his schedule in solitary confinement: he had said that his daily walk took place at six-thirty in the morning, but prison authorities claimed that, on the day of his death, he returned to his cell in the afternoon. Nemalevich suggested that Navalny was dead long before an ambulance—which authorities said took a mere seven minutes to travel twenty-two miles to the prison—was called to declare him dead.

Navalny, who was educated as a lawyer, became active in politics in the early two-thousands and emerged as a public figure around 2010. His early politics were ethno-nationalist, at times overtly xenophobic, and libertarian. He advocated for gun rights and a crackdown on migrants. But he found his agenda and his political voice in documenting corruption. He built a movement based on the premise that citizens, even in Russia, could and should exercise control over the way that government money is spent. In the ensuing years, he evolved from an ethno-nationalist to a civic nationalist, from a libertarian to a social democrat. He learned new languages, read incessantly, and incorporated new ideas into his program. He focussed, increasingly, not only on political power but on social welfare. During the past three years, he used the pulpit provided by an endless series of court hearings to air his political views. In a courtroom speech on February 20, 2021, he outlined a vision for a country with a better health-care system and a more equitable distribution of wealth. He proposed changing the slogan of his political movement from “Russia will be free” to “Russia will be happy.” He continued to assert this hopeful agenda, even as he grew more and more gaunt and even as he was forced to appear in court on a video screen, separated from his audience by glass, a grate, and thousands of miles.

Navalny’s public voice was full of irony without being cynical. He saw the targets of his investigations as ridiculous men with large yachts, small egos, and staggeringly bad taste. He took their abuses seriously by cutting them down to size. This was half of his charisma. The other half was his love story. More than anything else in the world, it seemed, he wanted to impress Yulia. Confined to a cube in a courtroom, he put his hands in the shape of a heart, gesturing at her. He sent love notes from prison, which were posted to social-media for him. On her birthday last July, he posted,

You know, Yulia, I’ve made several attempts at writing the story of our meeting. But every time after I write a couple of sentences, I stopped in terror and couldn’t keep going. I am terrified that it could have not happened. I mean, it was a coincidence. I could have looked in the other direction, you could have turned away. The one second that determined the course of my life, could have turned out differently. Everything would have been different. I probably would have been the saddest person on earth. How awesome is it that we looked at each other back then and that now I can shake my head, drive away these thoughts, rub my forehead, and say, “Phew, what a weird nightmare.”

This seemed the only thing that could have scared him. Reading his wildly popular social-media accounts felt like watching a romantic comedy, but one that starred a superhero.

A year after the Kremlin’s attempt to put Navalny away failed, Putin took a hostage: Alexey’s brother Oleg was jailed on trumped-up charges. It was an old reliable tactic. The henchmen assumed that, with Oleg behind bars, Alexey would cease his political activities to keep his brother safe. But the brothers made a pact to keep going. Alexey built a sprawling organization that expanded far beyond documenting corruption. He ran for mayor of Moscow. He built a network of political offices that could have enabled a Presidential race if such a thing as elections actually existed. He grew frustrated that journalists weren’t following his leads or undertaking investigations of their own, and so he founded his own media: YouTube shows and Telegram channels that publicized the results of his group’s investigations. Navalny’s work spawned an entire generation of independent Russian investigative media, many of which continue working in exile, documenting not only criminal assets but also war crimes and the activities of Russia’s assassins at home and abroad.

The state harassed Navalny, placed him under house arrest, pushed the organization out of its offices, jailed some of its activists and forced the rest into exile, declared them “extremists,” and started going after people who had donated even a small amount of money to the group. Then, in August, 2020, the F.S.B. poisoned Navalny with Novichok , a chemical weapon. He was meant to die on a plane. But the pilot made an emergency landing, doctors administered essential first aid, and Yulia took over the superhero role, pressuring the authorities to let her take Alexey to Germany for treatment.

After weeks in a coma, Navalny emerged and teamed up with another investigator, Christo Grozev, a Bulgarian journalist then working with Bellingcat. Grozev got the receipts: the flight manifests that showed that Navalny had been trailed by a group of F.S.B. agents, some of whom also happened to be chemists. Navalny supplied the performative flair. He called his would-be murderers on the phone and managed to get a guileless confession out of one, complete with the detail of where the poison had been placed: in the crotch area of Navalny’s boxer shorts. The scene would later be incorporated into the film “ Navalny ,” which won an Oscar for Best Documentary, but, before that, Navalny put it in his own made-for-YouTube movie, titled “I Called My Killer. He Confessed.” It was released on December 21, 2020.

A month later, Navalny flew back to Moscow . His friends had tried to talk him out of it. He wouldn’t hear of staying in exile and becoming politically irrelevant. He imagined himself as Russia’s Nelson Mandela: he would outlive Putin’s reign and become President. Perhaps he believed that the men he was fighting were capable of embarrassment and wouldn’t dare to kill him after he’d proved that they had tried to. He and I had argued, over the years, about the fundamental nature of Putin and his regime: he said that they were “crooks and thieves”; I said that they were murderers and terrorists. After he came out of his coma, I asked him if he had finally been convinced that they were murderers. No, he said. They kill to protect their wealth. Fundamentally, they are just greedy.

He thought too highly of them. They are, in fact, murderers.

All over Russia on Friday, people were laying flowers in memory of Navalny. In the few cities where memorials exist to past victims of Russian totalitarianism, these monuments became the destinations. Police were breaking up gatherings, throwing out flowers, and detaining journalists. ♦

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Elon Musk’s Shadow Rule

By Ronan Farrow

In the Shadow of the Holocaust

By Adam Rasgon

What Happened to San Francisco, Really?

By Nathan Heller

Opinion: We know how voters feel about Trump and Biden. But how do the experts rank their presidencies?

Wax figures of nine American presidents.

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Presidents Day occurs at a crucial moment this year, with the presidency on the cusp of crisis as we inexorably shuffle toward a rematch between the incumbent and his predecessor. It’s the sort of contest we haven’t seen since the 19th century, and judging by public opinion of President Biden and former President Trump, most Americans would have preferred to keep it that way.

But the third installment of our Presidential Greatness Project , a poll of presidential experts released this weekend, shows that scholars don’t share American voters’ roughly equal distaste for both candidates.

Biden, in fact, makes his debut in our rankings at No. 14, putting him in the top third of American presidents. Trump, meanwhile, maintains the position he held six years ago: dead last, trailing such historically calamitous chief executives as James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson. In that and other respects, Trump’s radical departure from political, institutional and legal norms has affected knowledgeable assessments not just of him but also of Biden and several other presidents.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump greets supporters as he arrives at a campaign stop in Londonderry, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Opinion: Panicking over polls showing Donald Trump ahead of President Biden? Please stop

Like Biden, Obama and Reagan had rough reelection polls. Too many journalists treat polls as predictive, but political professionals use them to inform campaigns.

Jan. 24, 2024

The overall survey results reveal stability as well as change in the way scholars assess our nation’s most important and controversial political office. Great presidents have traditionally been viewed as those who presided over moments of national transformation, led the country through major crises and expanded the institution of the presidency. Military victories, economic growth, assassinations and scandals also affect expert assessments of presidential performance.

The presidents at the top of our rankings, and others like ours, reflect this. Hallowed leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Washington consistently lead the list.

Our latest rankings also show that the experts’ assessments are driven not only by traditional notions of greatness but also by the evolving values of our time.

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Las Vegas.

Op-Ed: Worst. President. Ever.

President Trump’s final grade will be in the hands of scholars. It doesn’t look good.

Jan. 13, 2021

One example is the continuing decline in esteem for two important presidents, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson. Their reputations have consistently suffered in recent years as modern politics lead scholars to assess their early 19th and 20th century presidencies ever more harshly, especially their unacceptable treatment of marginalized people.

More acutely, this survey has seen a pronounced partisan dynamic emerge, arguably in response to the Trump presidency and the Trumpification of presidential politics.

Proponents of the Biden presidency have strong arguments in their arsenal, but his high placement within the top 15 suggests a powerful anti-Trump factor at work. So far, Biden’s record does not include the military victories or institutional expansion that have typically driven higher rankings, and a family scandal such as the one involving his son Hunter normally diminishes a president’s ranking.

Biden’s most important achievements may be that he rescued the presidency from Trump, resumed a more traditional style of presidential leadership and is gearing up to keep the office out of his predecessor’s hands this fall.

Trump’s position at the bottom of our rankings, meanwhile, puts him behind not only Buchanan and Johnson but also such lowlights as Franklin Pierce, Warren Harding and William Henry Harrison, who died a mere 31 days after taking office.

Trump’s impact goes well beyond his own ranking and Biden’s. Every contemporary Democratic president has moved up in the ranks — Barack Obama (No. 7), Bill Clinton (No. 12) and even Jimmy Carter (No. 22).

Yes, these presidents had great accomplishments such as expanding healthcare access and working to end conflict in the Middle East, and they have two Nobel Prizes among them. But given their shortcomings and failures, their rise seems to be less about reassessments of their administrations than it is a bonus for being neither Trump nor a member of his party.

Indeed, every modern Republican president has dropped in the survey, including the transformational Ronald Reagan (No. 16) and George H.W. Bush (No. 19), who led the nation’s last decisive military victory.

Academics do lean left, but that hasn’t changed since our previous surveys. What these results suggest is not just an added emphasis on a president’s political affiliation, but also the emergence of a president’s fealty to political and institutional norms as a criterion for what makes a president “great” to the scholars who study them.

As for the Americans casting a ballot for the next president, they are in the historically rare position of knowing how both candidates have performed in the job. Whether they will consider each president’s commitment to the norms of presidential leadership, and come to rate them as differently as our experts, remains to be seen.

Justin Vaughn is an associate professor of political science at Coastal Carolina University. Brandon Rottinghaus is a professor of political science at the University of Houston.

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FILE - President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden leave Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Johns Island, S.C., after attending a Mass on Aug. 13, 2022. Biden is in Kiawah Island with his family on vacation. An IRS special agent is seeking whistleblower protection to disclose information regarding what the agent contends is mishandling of an investigation into President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. That is according to a letter to Congress obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Abcarian: MAGA Republicans pushing to impeach President Biden don’t seem to notice the egg on their faces

Hollywood, California February 22, 2024-Jovette Cutaiar, 49, who has been homeless for five years, eats marshmallows at a homeless encampment under the 101 freeway on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

In Hollywood, homeless encampments fuel neighborhood frustration with Bass and Raman

FILE - Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Aug. 5, 2022. The Board of Supervisors in rural Cochise County in southeastern Arizona on Monday, Oct. 24 were debating a hand count of all ballots in the midterm election. A federal judge in August dismissed a lawsuit by Lake and Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for secretary of state, to require the state's officials to count ballots by hand in November because of unfounded claims of voting machine problems. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Column: Kari Lake talked smack about John McCain. Now she wants to take it back

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David Nield

17 Tips to Take Your ChatGPT Prompts to the Next Level

5 blue balls riding on 5 randomly arranged curved black tubes against a bright green backdrop

ChatGPT, Google Gemini, and other tools like them are making artificial intelligence available to the masses. We can now get all sorts of responses back on almost any topic imaginable. These chatbots can compose sonnets, write code, get philosophical, and automate tasks.

However, while you can just type anything you like into ChatGPT and get it to understand you. There are ways of getting more interesting and useful results out of the bot. This "prompt engineering" is becoming a specialized skill of its own.

Sometimes all it takes is the addition of a few more words or an extra line of instruction and you can get ChatGPT responses that are a level above what everyone else is seeing—and we've included several examples below.

While there's lots you can do with the free version of ChatGPT, a few of these prompts require a paid ChatGPT Plus subscription —where that's the case, we've noted it in the tip.

ChatGPT can give you responses in the form of a table if you ask. This is particularly helpful for getting information or creative ideas. For example, you could tabulate meal ideas and ingredients, or game ideas and equipment, or the days of the week and how they're said in a few different languages.

Using follow-up prompts and natural language, you can have ChatGPT make changes to the tables it has drawn and even produce the tables in a standard format that can be understood by another program (such as Microsoft Excel).

If you provide ChatGPT with a typed list of information, it can respond in a variety of ways. Maybe you want it to create anagrams from a list of names, or sort a list of products into alphabetical order, or turn all the items in a list into upper case. If needed, you can then click the copy icon (the small clipboard) at the end of an answer to have the processed text sent to the system clipboard.

Screenshot of ChatGPT

Get ChatGPT to respond as your favorite author.

With some careful prompting, you can get ChatGPT out of its rather dull, matter-of-fact, default tone and into something much more interesting—such as the style of your favorite author, perhaps.

You could go for the searing simplicity of an Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver story, the lyrical rhythm of a Shakespearean play, or the density of a Dickens novel. The resulting prose won't come close to the genius of the actual authors themselves, but it's another way of getting more creative with the output you generate.

ChatGPT can really impress when it's given restrictions to work within, so don't be shy when it comes to telling the bot to limit its responses to a certain number of words or a certain number of paragraphs.

It could be everything from condensing the information in four paragraphs down into one, or even asking for answers with words of seven characters or fewer (just to keep it simple). If ChatGPT doesn't follow your responses properly, you can correct it, and it'll try again.

Another way of tweaking the way ChatGPT responds is to tell it who the intended audience is for its output. You might have seen WIRED's videos in which complex subjects are explained to people with different levels of understanding. This works in a similar way.

For example, you can tell ChatGPT that you are speaking to a bunch of 10-year-olds or to an audience of business entrepreneurs and it will respond accordingly. It works well for generating multiple outputs along the same theme.

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Tell ChatGPT the audience it's writing for.

ChatGPT is a very capable prompt engineer itself. If you ask it to come up with creative and effective inputs for artificial intelligence engines such as Dall-E and Midjourney , you'll get text you can then input into other AI tools you're playing around with. You're even able to ask for tips with prompts for ChatGPT itself.

When it comes to generating prompts, the more detailed and specific you are about what you're looking for the better: You can get the chatbot to extend and add more detail to your sentences, you can get it to role-play as a prompt generator for a specific AI tool, and you can tell it to refine its answers as you add more and more information.

While ChatGPT is based around text, you can get it to produce pictures of a sort by asking for ASCII art. That's the art made up of characters and symbols rather than colors. The results won't win you any prizes, but it's pretty fun to play around with.

The usual ChatGPT rules apply, in that the more specific you are in your prompt the better, and you can get the bot to add new elements and take elements away as you go. Remember the limitations of the ASCII art format though—this isn't a full-blown image editor.

Screenshot of ChatGPT

A ChatGPT Plus subscription comes with image generation.

If you use ChatGPT Plus , it's got the DALL-E image generator right inside it, so you can ask for any kind of photo, drawing, or illustration you like. As with text, try to be as explicit as possible about what it is you want to see, and how it's shown; do you want something that looks like a watercolor painting, or like it was taken by a DSLR camera? You can have some real fun with this: Put Columbo in a cyberpunk setting, or see how Jurassic Park would look in the Victorian era. The possibilities are almost endless.

You don't have to do all the typing yourself when it comes to ChatGPT. Copy and paste is your friend, and there's no problem with pasting in text from other sources. While the input limit tops out at around 4,000 words, you can easily split the text you're sending the bot into several sections and get it to remember what you've previously sent.

Perhaps one of the best ways of using this approach is to get ChatGPT to simplify text that you don't understand—the explanation of a difficult scientific concept, for instance. You can also get it to translate text into different languages, write it in a more engaging or fluid style, and so on.

If you want to go exploring, ask ChatGPT to create a text-based choose-your-own adventure game. You can specify the theme and the setting of the adventure, as well as any other ground rules to put in place. When we tried this out, we found ourselves wandering through a spooky castle, with something sinister apparently hiding in the shadows.

Screenshot of ChatGPT

ChatGPT is able to create text-based games for you to play.

Another way to improve the responses you get from ChatGPT is to give it some data to work with before you ask your question. For instance, you could give it a list of book summaries together with their genre, then ask it to apply the correct genre label to a new summary. Another option would be to tell ChatGPT about activities you enjoy and then get a new suggestion.

There's no magic combination of words you have to use here. Just use natural language as always, and ChatGPT will understand what you're getting at. Specify that you're providing examples at the start of your prompt, then tell the bot that you want a response with those examples in mind.

You can ask ChatGPT for feedback on any of your own writing, from the emails you're sending to friends, to the short story you're submitting to a competition, to the prompts you're typing into the AI bot. Ask for pointers on spelling, grammar, tone, readability, or anything else you want to scrutinize.

ChatGPT cleared the above paragraph as being clear and effective, but said it could use a call to action at the end. Try this prompt today!

Screenshot of ChatGPT

Get ChatGPT to give you feedback on your own writing.

In the same way that ChatGPT can mimic the style of certain authors that it knows about, it can also play a role: a frustrated salesman, an excitable teenager (you'll most likely get a lot of emoji and abbreviations back), or the iconic western film star John Wayne.

There are countless roles you can play around with. These prompts might not score highly in terms of practical applications, but they're definitely a useful insight into the potential of these AI chatbots.

You can type queries into ChatGPT that you might otherwise type into Google, looking for answers: Think "how much should I budget for a day of sightseeing in London?" or "what are the best ways to prepare for a job interview?" for example. Almost anything will get a response of some sort—though as always, don't take AI responses as being 100 percent accurate 100 percent of the time.

If you're using the paid ChatGPT Plus tool, it will actually search the web (with Bing) and provide link references for the answers it gives. If you're using the free version of ChatGPT, it'll mine the data its been trained on for answers, so they might be a little out of date or less reliable.

Your answers can be seriously improved if you give ChatGPT some ingredients to work with before asking for a response. They could be literal ingredients—suggest a dish from what's left in the fridge—or they could be anything else.

So don't just ask for a murder mystery scenario. Also list out the characters who are going to appear. Don't just ask for ideas of where to go in a city; specify the city you're going to, the types of places you want to see, and the people you'll have with you.

Your prompts don't always have to get ChatGPT to generate something from scratch: You can start it off with something, and then let the AI finish it off. The model will take clues from what you've already written and build on it.

This can come in handy for everything from coding a website to composing a poem—and you can then get ChatGPT to go back and refine its answer as well.

You've no doubt noticed how online arguments have tended toward the binary in recent years, so get ChatGPT to help add some gray between the black and the white. It's able to argue both sides of an argument if you ask it to, including both pros and cons.

From politics and philosophy to sports and the arts, ChatGPT is able to sit on the fence quite impressively—not in a vague way, but in a way that can help you understand tricky issues from multiple perspectives.

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