Stories: The structure of a narrative essay

What makes humans different from other animals? Tool use? Many other animals–chimpanzees, for example–use simple tools. Communication? My cat communicates with me very well. I think it’s that humans are storytellers. The stories we tell help us to make sense of the world. They also help other people understand us. But how does this exactly work?


Now is your chance to tell a story from your life in English. We will first look at the structure of a story. A traditional story is comprised of six basic parts:

  1. Setting,
  2. Beginning,
  3. Reaction,
  4. Attempt,
  5. Outcome, and
  6. Ending.

The Setting introduces the time and place where a “protagonist” (main character) appears. In the Beginning, the protagonist faces a certain problem. The Reaction shows what he/she thinks and how he/she feels about the problem. The Attempt shows what and how he/she does to solve the problem. The Outcome represents the result of his/her attempt. Finally, the Ending tells what happens after the main action.

Setting Long ago, a man whose name was Bill lived alone. His house was made by wood near the house, and there were one railway and a big tree.
Beginning One day, he walked along the railway and found the tree lying on the railway.
Reaction Then Bill thought that people who were driving a train would not notice about this. If it were truth, it would be so dangerous.
Attempt He climbed over the tunnel, and the train was just coming. He stood on the railway and shouted to let the driver notice him waving his hands.
Outcome Fortunately, he managed to stop the train and prevented the accident and saved many lives.
Ending Three days later, he was awarded by the President in front of thousands of people. They gave a big applause to Bill.

Write an original story using this structure. (It can be a true story from your past, or an entirely made up story.) Be sure to include all six parts. For example:

A Christmas Lie

Setting When I was four years old, I sometimes liked to play underneath my parents’ bed. I liked it because it was quiet and I could hide under there and no one could see me.
Beginning One day, I went under the bed as usual, but was surprised to find a little toy town on a green-painted board. There were little wooden houses, little plastic trees, and a little railroad that ran all around the town.
Reaction All at once, I knew several things were true. One, that my parents had made this for my Christmas present. Two, that there was no Santa Claus. And three, that if I told them that I had found the present, they would be angry and very sad.
Attempt When Christmas morning came, I ran out to the tree and tried very hard to act surprised by the present “Santa” had given me in the night. It was the first lie I can remember telling.
Outcome My parents believed me. They, too, acted surprised at what “Santa” had brought and seemed very happy. My father asked if he could play with the toy town too. Of course, I said yes.
Ending I never told them that I had found the present they had made. When I look back on that memory, I realize they made the toy town for me because we were poor and they could not buy me a present. It makes me value the memory even more. But I also think that this is when my childhood started to end. It’s not a happy memory, but an important one.


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