In previous articles, we’ve covered a broad overview of the different types of essays you may encounter as a freelancer. But, as promised, we’d like to continue by explaining in more detail what each of these essays entails.
The narrative essay is one of the most commonly written types of essays. These are usually very subjective, and recount a personal experience. If you’re interested in including a narrative essay on your freelancing portfolio, read on.
What is a Narrative Essay?
A narrative essay is an anecdotal work which tells a story. That’s the long and short of it. You’ll come across narrative essays in print and online publications, and including one in your portfolio is a great way to let clients know a little more about you.
You probably won’t find too many clients who will reach out to you, seeking this kind of essay. But that doesn’t mean they can’t earn you money. Many websites and magazines will pay quite well for your narrative essay, sometimes called a personal essay.
Some of the most well known publications which accept narrative essays are Salon.com (not electric shavers and hair advice, but news and politics) and the New York Times. Payment for these essays can range from $.10 per word to $300 per accepted submission. Do realize, however, that everyone has a story. Your submission will be in competition with hundreds of other writers who seek that same payment, so you’ll need to know exactly what to include in your own narrative essay submission. So are you ready? Here’s what you need to know.
Tell It Like a Story
When you write your narrative essay, be sure that it includes all of the parts of a story. You’ll need character development and a reasonable amount of character and setting description. Your narrative essay will need a plot, and will need a conflict. You’ll need to develop a climax to your narrative essay, and then finally you’ll end your essay with a conclusion.
Most publications will accept narrative essays between 1,000 and 2,000 words. With that in mind, realize that you’re not writing a book. There is such thing as too much description. Keep your essay concise, and only include the most important facts.
Finally, know the publication to which you’re submitting. If you have a love story to share, don’t submit it to a technology magazine. Similarly, if you want to tell the world about your battle with cancer, it’s best not to submit it to Better Homes & Gardens.
What’s Your Point?
Your narrative essay should have a clearly defined point. Let’s put it this way – if you drone on for 1,700 words about how you met your boyfriend in college, no one will care. That story’s great to tell your kids and your grandkids, but the vast majority of publications won’t pay for it.
Every narrative essay should have a purpose for existence. What lesson did you learn? Did you realize something about death, or witness an act of kindness? Use your words to describe not only the events which taught you that lesson, but how that lesson made you feel. Hint at or briefly describe your perspective prior to the incident, and tell the world how the incident changed that perspective.
If you have any questions about whether your story would make a good narrative essay, run it by a friend. Better yet, run it by your mom, as you know she’ll always tell you the truth. Conversely, if you’ve told the story to others in the past, and they’ve turned blue with boredom, it’s probably not going to be a selling submission. That’s okay, you can try again with another narrative essay.
Know Your Point of View
Narrative essays are almost always written in the first person. The story happened to you, so why shouldn’t it? However, it’s important that you don’t abuse this first person perspective. In the same way that no one wants to hear about your run of the mill love story, no one also wants to hear you repeat, “I, I, I.” We’re not trying to sound mean. We’re trying to help you sell your narrative essays.
With that said, it’s not necessary to exclude your personal experience and emotion from your essay. Quite the opposite, in fact. Readers are more willing to learn from your experiences than they are to learn from you witnessing someone else’s experiences. Don’t go overboard, but show your readers a bit of yourself.
If you do choose to write your narrative essay from the perspective of an observer, you’ll need to follow the same rule. Be sure that your words capture the emotions you felt while you were witnessing the event. Did you feel sad? Angry? Excited? Chances are you felt that way because you put yourself in the place of the participants. Let your readers do that, too.
Narrative Essay Tips
If you’ve decided to include a narrative essay on your portfolio or to submit one for publication, these tips should help you. But there are a few other things to remember in order to make your essay a sure sell.
First of all, be concise. It bears repeating. You’re not writing a novella, you’re writing an essay. It’s with that in mind that you should choose the right story. If your narrative needs a lot of information about things which happened two decades ago, it’s probably not a good bet. There’s likely no way that you can concisely include all that information. Choose something which will capture the reader’s attention but doesn’t require so much backstory.
Secondly, avoid flowery language. Would you walk into a grocery store and ask for a carton of milk? Or would you ask for an opaque receptacle containing an aqueous ivory elixir? Milk. Too many writers sound like they just ate a thesaurus, and it’s not good for sales. Keep it descriptive, but don’t go hog wild. There’s a time and a place for poetry, and that’s when you’re writing poetry.
Finally, stay true to the story. It’s okay to embellish a little bit, but those embellishments should be minor details. “A tall man approached my Pontiac” is okay if you can’t remember what you were driving. But narrative essays are non-fiction; if you can’t remember important details, don’t make them up. Instead, choose a different story.
While you probably won’t have too many narrative essay gigs as a freelancer, it’s still important to know how to write one. If nothing else, typing out a narrative essay is a great way to cure writer’s block. Consider using one on your writer’s portfolio, and let your clients get to know you better.