A narrative essay is a format in which the author tells, or narrates, a story. They are non-fictional and deal with the author's personal development. Unlike other forms of writing, using the first person is acceptable in narrative essays.
Narrative essays are different from short stories, which are fictional; the author is free to change the plot, add characters or rewrite the ending of a short story to better fit a narrative arc. With a narrative essay, the author must pull a cohesive narrative arc from her memory of true events. Narrative essays must include a thesis statement and the essay is used to support this. Short stories do not require a thesis statement.
Narrative essays often overlap with other forms of writing. Non-fiction narrative essays are considered a form of creative non-fiction, a genre that combines the truth-telling aspects of journalism with literary styles found in traditional fiction. Memoirs are similar to narrative essays. An organized collection of non-fiction narrative essays constitutes a memoir, but a single non-fiction narrative essay cannot be considered such. An autobiography is distinct from both a memoir and a narrative essay because it chronicles the events of a person's entire lifetime, rather than focusing on specific experiences.