A narrative essay is one that tells a story—you can remember an experience which changed you for the better, for example, or tell, as one of my students did one time to a great effect—an experience which you thought would be different than it actually was and how the real experience differed from it, for example. My student recounted what he thought would be a simple experience—laying laminate flooring, and the horror that followed, and his realization from having this experience.
The biggest problem students have with narrative essays are finding a way to create a thesis for a narrative essay and trying to structure a narrative essay. I tell them to use this trick—do not give any blow by blow accounts of the experience. For example, my student with the tile, you need to analyze the experience from a distance, not give a detailed “and then . . . and then . . . and then this happened” kind of account. This will set you up for a dull, repetitive essay that the reader does not really care about at all.
So analyze the experience from a distance but give an account of it. For example, you could say something like “when I went to get my materials to lay the floor I was excited . . . the smell of the new laminate promised a rewarding experience. Plus I would be able to walk on this floor every day knowing that I laid it.” Now that is much much different from saying, wrongly that “first I went to get the nails. Then I unpacked my materials, then I began hammering the boards into the floor one by one. Then I ran into problems. See how different that is. You want to analyze the experience and only the details that will most add something to your story—even if you have to bend the truth a bit in a believable way.
This is where a sample can come in handy—a sample of a good narrative essay. Models can be a great idea. They can inspire you to write better than you normally would and in this instance, can give you a great, working idea of how to structure your essay and to stay in analytical narrative mode instead of mere narrative mode.