what is narrative writing brainly

Understanding Narrative Writing (Examples, Prompts, and More)

narrative writing

Narrative writing is a writing style that helps to tell stories with more emphasis. It contrasts with descriptive and persuasive writing styles. Learn everything you need to know about narrative writing in this comprehensive guide.

What is narrative writing?

We have all read stories- both fictional and non-fictional. Narrative writing is exactly that- it is storytelling. While most narrative-style writing has a main character or protagonist, sometimes narratives can be about humanizing inanimate objects or abstract feelings.

Whatever happens to the said character or protagonist is called the story or the plot. Like most stories, narrative writing has conflict, resolution, and observation, and is in short- a story you would want to read.

Narrative writing is just one of the writing styles among others, namely expository, descriptive and persuasive writing . While all of the listed styles are very distinct, it is easy to confuse them for another. Hence, it is important to know the difference between each.

Descriptive Writing

A descriptive style of writing focuses on rich imagery and sensory description of smells, sights, and sounds. It is usually used in screenplays, essays, and poems. It serves the purpose of immersion- where the reader can actively imagine themselves being transported to the place or situation that the author describes.

  • Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing is much like a political or philosophical text where one side attempts to establish its stance. Being persuasive in your writing style is a needed skill for reviewers and political columnists. Especially since they give essential takes on situations and decisions where the reader is persuaded by the text to agree or disagree with a certain argument. This style of writing is also applied in speeches, slogans, editorials, and opinion pieces.

How is narrative writing different from the expository style of writing?

To know that we must first know what the expository style of writing is. Expository writing is more about facts than fiction. Think textbooks, neutral news articles, etc. Anything that states facts without sensationalizing them is an exposition. This is in direct contrast with narrative writing which is more about storytelling than about facts.

What is a personal narrative?

As the name suggests, a personal narrative is about a person. Usually, this person is you. A personal narrative helps see things from your personal perspective. Personal narratives are used where intimacy is required.

Because they offer a window into the writers’ beliefs, methods, and emotions, memoirs, autobiographies, and deeply personal story pieces captivate us as readers. However, publishing your whole life story is not necessary to produce a personal narrative.

A cover letter or an admissions essay may be written by a student, or you may be attempting to describe your relevant qualifications. Your story will center on personal development, thoughts, and experiences irrespective of your goal.

Because of its digestible style and the fact that humans are empathic beings, personal tales enable us to relate to the experiences of others.

Narrative writing

Types of narrative writing

1. viewpoint narrative.

Viewpoint narrative tells the story from the eyes of the protagonist. This lends a unique lens to the story as the reader journeys through the paragraphs to see it unfold in real-time as the protagonist goes through the events.

For instance, Moby Dick by Herman Melville utilized viewpoint narrative to make Ishmael’s motives in the story hit home for the reader.

2. Descriptive Narrative

This is usually written in the third person as the descriptive narrative style entails a descriptive account of a situation, person, or place. But, many descriptive style narratives are written in the first person too. Usually, it uses vivid imagery and sensory words that help the reader immerse in the story.

3. Linear and Non-Linear Narrative

If the progression of the events in the plot happens one after the other, then it is a linear narrative style of writing. For example, in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, everything happens in a linear chronological order. Whereas in a book like The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, there are multiple competing timelines that occur simultaneously. Such a style of narrative writing is non-linear.

Components/Devices needed to craft a narrative

1. Descriptive communication : Instead of explaining facts straight, this form of language elicits sentiments. Imagery, personification, similes, and metaphors are examples of descriptive linguistic devices.

2. Characters: A narrative may have a small cast of characters or a large one. The narrator is sometimes the lone character to appear in certain narratives. The tale is being recounted from the perspective of the narrator, who may or may not engage with the other characters.

  • Protagonist: Almost every story requires a protagonist among the characters. The figure whose tale is being recounted as they strive to accomplish a goal or overcome a struggle is the protagonist. He/She is sometimes referred to as the central character as well.
  • Antagonist: The adversary is a figure that appears in almost every story. The villain is just the person or thing that the protagonist must face in order to triumph over hurdles; they are not always the “bad guy.” The adversary can be a person, a natural force, the protagonist’s community, or even a characteristic of the protagonist’s nature in many stories.

3. Plot: The sequence of events that take place in your tale makes up the plot. A storyline might be straightforward with just one or two key events, or it can be intricate and have several layers.

4. Structure: Each narrative, even those that are nonlinear, is ordered in some fashion. This is how the central protagonist chases their objective or responds to a problem. No matter how you arrange your story, there are three main sections:

  • Beginning: The moment the reader encounters your words is the start of your narrative. This is important to grab the reader’s attention so that they continue to read through the rest of what you have to say.
  • Middle: The middle is the body, where the conflict occurs, and the story sets up the obstacle that needs to be overcome by our protagonist in order to attain something of importance.
  • End: The ending is the resolution where the result of our protagonist’s efforts is declared. It could either end positively, negatively or vaguely- where the ultimate fate of the characters is left up to the reader’s imagination.

5. Theme: Each narrative has a theme whether you intend it to be or not. For instance, Harry Potter is about magic, Little Women is about female adolescence, and To Kill a Mockingbird is about racism and childhood trauma.

What do you need to write a narrative?

Narrative writers have most if not all of the following skills:

Organization:

Narratives require a structure, even if it is non-linear and complex, with multiple parallel timelines. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a chronological narrative where the older protagonist narrates a story that happened during her childhood.

Having interesting beginnings:

The start captures the readers and encourages them to keep reading. Hence, it is important to craft interesting beginnings for stories.

For example, George Orwell’s iconic sci-fi novel 1984 opens with the sentence , ‘It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.’

It’s an incredible opening to set the mood for a book that is about surveillance and the dystopian future of commodifying privacy.

Description:

Description is like salt- it is necessary, but if overdone, can ruin the story. If what you are describing is not of the essence to the plot, it can get very boring for readers to go through paragraphs of descriptions of meadows(a la Tolkien).

For instance, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess does a wonderful job of letting the description and detail be an effective plot device. It isn’t overdone nor is it left fully to the readers. It is immersive enough for the reader to be engrossed but relevant enough for the reader to want to keep reading.

Suspense is a great technique to make the reader turn pages. It is a tried and true way to win a reader’s interest. There is simply no way to talk about suspense without mentioning Agatha Cristie. Her 1939 novel And Then There Were None displays the mastery of Cristie. She keeps the reader engaged till the very end to find out who is the killer on the island where a band of vacationers mysteriously die off.

Stretch the main event:

Pacing is incredibly important in storytelling. If you spend 3 chapters setting up a conflict that gets solved in one page, it is not as gratifying of an ending. Hence, it is important that the main event is identified and written about in a way that uses action, description, and ample establishment prior to its reveal.

For example, let’s look at The Hound of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle:

The wagonette swung round into a side road, and we curved upward through deep lanes worn by centuries of wheels, high banks on either side, heavy with dripping moss and fleshy hart’s-tongue ferns. Bronzing bracken and mottled bramble gleamed in the light of the sinking sun. Still steadily rising, we passed over a narrow granite bridge and skirted a noisy stream that gushed swiftly down, foaming and roaring amid the gray boulders. Both road and stream wound up through a valley dense with scrub oak and fir.

At every turn Baskerville gave an exclamation of delight, looking eagerly about him and asking countless questions. To his eyes, all seemed beautiful, but to me , a tinge of melancholy lay upon the countryside, which bore so clearly the mark of the waning year. Yellow leaves carpeted the lanes and fluttered down upon us as we passed. The rattle of our wheels died away as we drove through drifts of rotting vegetation. Sad gifts, as it seemed to me, for Nature to throw before the carriage of the returning heir of the Baskervilles.

The majority of the chapter’s first half was made up of rather fast-paced conversation. But the action slows down when the protagonists approach the moor. Doyle uses a couple of techniques to maintain this slower tempo. The wording grows increasingly detailed as the phrases lengthen and become more complicated. This is a great example of good pacing while describing the main events.

Good endings:

Good endings don’t mean that the end needs to be a happy one. It just means that it has to make sense and leave the reader with a feeling of something intense. It can be happiness, sadness, anger, or even hopefulness. What the reader shouldn’t feel are boredom and predictability. In many cases of good stories, even if the ending is predictable, it is done in a way that makes sense and leaves the reader wanting more.

Narrative writing prompts to use:

  • Finish this story: The pirates set sail on their ship in search of . . .
  • Write about a time you wished you were somewhere/someone else
  • Write a story that ends with: ‘Our paths were different, but our destination was the same.’
  • Write a story using the following words: elephant, diaper, rose, house

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About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

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What is narrative writing? And how do I use it?

Dive into the world of narrative writing, a powerful tool to captivate and engage your audience. This comprehensive guide breaks down the concept, its importance, and how to effectively use it in your writing.

Craft Author: Sam Baldwin

What is narrative writing?

Narrative writing is, in essence, story-telling. It's a style of writing that tells a story in a structured and engaging manner, and it’s perhaps more familiar to us than we realize. Most of the books we read, the movies we watch, and the TV shows we binge on follow this narrative writing style. This article will examine the narrative writing style more closely and break down what it is, what its key features are, and some tips for getting started with narrative writing both in creative writing and in the work environment.

The features of narrative writing

Narrative writing is characterized by several distinct features, each playing a crucial role in constructing an engaging and immersive story:

1. Orientation

This provides the backdrop to your narrative. It's the "setting the stage" phase, introducing the reader to the story's environment, time, and place. For example, in a fairy tale, the classic opening "Once upon a time in a land far, far away..." sets the orientation.

A narrative isn't a random series of events. Instead, it's a logically connected sequence of occurrences that propels the narrative forward. The plot is the heartbeat of your narrative; it's the central thread around which all other story elements revolve. It should keep your reader engaged and invested in what's coming next.

3. Characters

Characters are the lifeblood of your narrative. They could be humans, animals, or even inanimate objects. The characters provide the story with its emotional core, as readers often empathize and connect with them. Remember, characters don't have to be perfect; in fact, complex characters with strengths and flaws often feel more real and relatable.

4. Conflict

The conflict is the narrative's central tension or obstacle that the characters need to overcome. It's what keeps the reader invested, adding intrigue and suspense. The conflict can be internal (within a character's mind) or external (between characters or against larger forces or environment).

5. Resolution

The resolution, or denouement, is where the story's conflicts and tensions get resolved, providing a satisfying conclusion. However, not all narratives neatly tie up every loose end; some intentionally leave aspects open to interpretation, prompting readers to engage with the story beyond its pages.

6. Narrative point of view

This is the lens through which the story unfolds. It could be first person, where the narrator is a character in the story, or third person, where the narrator is an outsider. The chosen point of view significantly influences how readers perceive the story and characters.

Understanding these features is the first step to mastering narrative writing. They act as the skeleton structure around which the flesh of your unique story is built.

Narrative writing examples

1. novels and short stories.

Novels like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "The Great Gatsby" are excellent examples of narrative writing. They include characters, conflicts, and resolutions, all woven into a captivating plot.

2. Business storytelling

A company sharing its origin story on their "About Us" page uses narrative writing to engage their audience. It gives the company a human touch and allows customers to connect on a personal level.

3. Personal essays

Personal essays often tell a story from the author's life experience, illustrating a particular point or theme.

Tips for Great Narrative Writing

Creating a captivating narrative requires more than understanding its core elements. Here are some practical tips to elevate your narrative writing:

1. Plan your story

Rather than diving in headfirst, spend time crafting a clear outline. A robust framework helps maintain a logical flow and ensures you don't overlook key events or details.

📖 Read more: Popular indie author, Adam Eccles, uses Craft to create his story plans.

2. Character development

Invest time in building your characters. Make them multidimensional with strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations. The more relatable they are, the more emotionally invested your reader becomes.

3. Descriptive language

Use vivid, sensory language to paint a picture in the reader's mind. Instead of just stating "the cake was delicious," try something like, "the cake melted in my mouth, releasing a burst of sweet vanilla and tart cherry flavors."

4. Incorporate conflict

Conflict is what keeps your narrative engaging. Whether it's an external conflict with another character or an internal struggle, challenges keep your audience hooked.

5. Dialogue

Dialogue is more than characters speaking; it's a tool to reveal their personality, express their feelings, and move the plot forward. Ensure it sounds natural and contributes to the narrative progression.

6. Show, don’t tell

This is a very popular piece of advice amongst writers. Instead of explicitly telling your reader what's happening or how a character feels, demonstrate it through actions or dialogue. "His hands trembled as he held the letter" is more powerful than simply stating, “He was nervous.”

Narrative Writing at Work

Narrative writing isn't just for fiction; it has numerous applications in a professional setting too:

1. Marketing and advertising

Successful ad campaigns often tell a story. They draw the customer in, creating a connection between them and the product. For example, Nike's advertising narratives often tell stories of perseverance and triumph, aligning their brand with these inspirational themes.

2. Corporate communication

Companies use narrative writing to share their mission, values, or history. An engaging narrative can humanize a corporation, helping stakeholders connect with it on a deeper level. Airbnb, for instance, often shares stories of hosts and travelers to build a sense of community.

3. Case studies and reports

Narrative elements can make case studies and reports more engaging. Instead of presenting dry facts, weave them into a story. Describe the challenge, the strategies used, the struggles, and the ultimate resolution. This approach makes the information more digestible and memorable.

4. Presentations and speeches

Great speakers know the power of a good story. Incorporating narrative elements into your presentations can help to engage your audience, making your message more impactful and memorable.

🎓 How to improve your presentation skills: 10 tips for exceptional presentations

Remember, narrative writing is an art form that can be honed with practice. Keep these tips in mind, and with time, your narratives will captivate your audience, whether they're colleagues, clients, or readers.

More writing resources

Craft Resource: How to become a better writer: A practical guide for professional growth

Literacy Ideas

Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students

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MASTERING THE CRAFT OF NARRATIVE WRITING

Narratives build on and encourage the development of the fundamentals of writing. They also require developing an additional skill set: the ability to tell a good yarn, and storytelling is as old as humanity.

We see and hear stories everywhere and daily, from having good gossip on the doorstep with a neighbor in the morning to the dramas that fill our screens in the evening.

Good narrative writing skills are hard-won by students even though it is an area of writing that most enjoy due to the creativity and freedom it offers.

Here we will explore some of the main elements of a good story: plot, setting, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution . And we will look too at how best we can help our students understand these elements, both in isolation and how they mesh together as a whole.

Visual Writing Prompts

WHAT IS A NARRATIVE?

What is a narrative?

A narrative is a story that shares a sequence of events , characters, and themes. It expresses experiences, ideas, and perspectives that should aspire to engage and inspire an audience.

A narrative can spark emotion, encourage reflection, and convey meaning when done well.

Narratives are a popular genre for students and teachers as they allow the writer to share their imagination, creativity, skill, and understanding of nearly all elements of writing.  We occasionally refer to a narrative as ‘creative writing’ or story writing.

The purpose of a narrative is simple, to tell the audience a story.  It can be written to motivate, educate, or entertain and can be fact or fiction.

A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING NARRATIVE WRITING

narrative writing | narrative writing unit 1 2 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

Teach your students to become skilled story writers with this HUGE   NARRATIVE & CREATIVE STORY WRITING UNIT . Offering a  COMPLETE SOLUTION  to teaching students how to craft  CREATIVE CHARACTERS, SUPERB SETTINGS, and PERFECT PLOTS .

Over 192 PAGES of materials, including:

TYPES OF NARRATIVE WRITING

There are many narrative writing genres and sub-genres such as these.

We have a complete guide to writing a personal narrative that differs from the traditional story-based narrative covered in this guide. It includes personal narrative writing prompts, resources, and examples and can be found here.

narrative writing | how to write quest narratives | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

As we can see, narratives are an open-ended form of writing that allows you to showcase creativity in many directions. However, all narratives share a common set of features and structure known as “Story Elements”, which are briefly covered in this guide.

Don’t overlook the importance of understanding story elements and the value this adds to you as a writer who can dissect and create grand narratives. We also have an in-depth guide to understanding story elements here .

CHARACTERISTICS OF NARRATIVE WRITING

Narrative structure.

ORIENTATION (BEGINNING) Set the scene by introducing your characters, setting and time of the story. Establish your who, when and where in this part of your narrative

COMPLICATION AND EVENTS (MIDDLE) In this section activities and events involving your main characters are expanded upon. These events are written in a cohesive and fluent sequence.

RESOLUTION (ENDING) Your complication is resolved in this section. It does not have to be a happy outcome, however.

EXTRAS: Whilst orientation, complication and resolution are the agreed norms for a narrative, there are numerous examples of popular texts that did not explicitly follow this path exactly.

NARRATIVE FEATURES

LANGUAGE: Use descriptive and figurative language to paint images inside your audience’s minds as they read.

PERSPECTIVE Narratives can be written from any perspective but are most commonly written in first or third person.

DIALOGUE Narratives frequently switch from narrator to first-person dialogue. Always use speech marks when writing dialogue.

TENSE If you change tense, make it perfectly clear to your audience what is happening. Flashbacks might work well in your mind but make sure they translate to your audience.

THE PLOT MAP

narrative writing | structuring a narrative | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

This graphic is known as a plot map, and nearly all narratives fit this structure in one way or another, whether romance novels, science fiction or otherwise.

It is a simple tool that helps you understand and organise a story’s events. Think of it as a roadmap that outlines the journey of your characters and the events that unfold. It outlines the different stops along the way, such as the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, that help you to see how the story builds and develops.

Using a plot map, you can see how each event fits into the larger picture and how the different parts of the story work together to create meaning. It’s a great way to visualize and analyze a story.

Be sure to refer to a plot map when planning a story, as it has all the essential elements of a great story.

THE 5 KEY STORY ELEMENTS OF A GREAT NARRATIVE (6-MINUTE TUTORIAL VIDEO)

This video we created provides an excellent overview of these elements and demonstrates them in action in stories we all know and love.

Story Elements for kids

HOW TO WRITE A NARRATIVE

How to write a Narrative

Now that we understand the story elements and how they come together to form stories, it’s time to start planning and writing your narrative.

In many cases, the template and guide below will provide enough details on how to craft a great story. However, if you still need assistance with the fundamentals of writing, such as sentence structure, paragraphs and using correct grammar, we have some excellent guides on those here.

USE YOUR WRITING TIME EFFECTIVELY: Maximize your narrative writing sessions by spending approximately 20 per cent of your time planning and preparing.  This ensures greater productivity during your writing time and keeps you focused and on task.

Use tools such as graphic organizers to logically sequence your narrative if you are not a confident story writer.  If you are working with reluctant writers, try using narrative writing prompts to get their creative juices flowing.

Spend most of your writing hour on the task at hand, don’t get too side-tracked editing during this time and leave some time for editing. When editing a  narrative, examine it for these three elements.

  • Spelling and grammar ( Is it readable?)
  • Story structure and continuity ( Does it make sense, and does it flow? )
  • Character and plot analysis. (Are your characters engaging? Does your problem/resolution work? )

1. SETTING THE SCENE: THE WHERE AND THE WHEN

narrative writing | aa156ee009d91a57894348652da98b58 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

The story’s setting often answers two of the central questions in the story, namely, the where and the when. The answers to these two crucial questions will often be informed by the type of story the student is writing.

The story’s setting can be chosen to quickly orient the reader to the type of story they are reading. For example, a fictional narrative writing piece such as a horror story will often begin with a description of a haunted house on a hill or an abandoned asylum in the middle of the woods. If we start our story on a rocket ship hurtling through the cosmos on its space voyage to the Alpha Centauri star system, we can be reasonably sure that the story we are embarking on is a work of science fiction.

Such conventions are well-worn clichés true, but they can be helpful starting points for our novice novelists to make a start.

Having students choose an appropriate setting for the type of story they wish to write is an excellent exercise for our younger students. It leads naturally onto the next stage of story writing, which is creating suitable characters to populate this fictional world they have created. However, older or more advanced students may wish to play with the expectations of appropriate settings for their story. They may wish to do this for comic effect or in the interest of creating a more original story. For example, opening a story with a children’s birthday party does not usually set up the expectation of a horror story. Indeed, it may even lure the reader into a happy reverie as they remember their own happy birthday parties. This leaves them more vulnerable to the surprise element of the shocking action that lies ahead.

Once the students have chosen a setting for their story, they need to start writing. Little can be more terrifying to English students than the blank page and its bare whiteness stretching before them on the table like a merciless desert they must cross. Give them the kick-start they need by offering support through word banks or writing prompts. If the class is all writing a story based on the same theme, you may wish to compile a common word bank on the whiteboard as a prewriting activity. Write the central theme or genre in the middle of the board. Have students suggest words or phrases related to the theme and list them on the board.

You may wish to provide students with a copy of various writing prompts to get them started. While this may mean that many students’ stories will have the same beginning, they will most likely arrive at dramatically different endings via dramatically different routes.

narrative writing | story elements | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

A bargain is at the centre of the relationship between the writer and the reader. That bargain is that the reader promises to suspend their disbelief as long as the writer creates a consistent and convincing fictional reality. Creating a believable world for the fictional characters to inhabit requires the student to draw on convincing details. The best way of doing this is through writing that appeals to the senses. Have your student reflect deeply on the world that they are creating. What does it look like? Sound like? What does the food taste like there? How does it feel like to walk those imaginary streets, and what aromas beguile the nose as the main character winds their way through that conjured market?

Also, Consider the when; or the time period. Is it a future world where things are cleaner and more antiseptic? Or is it an overcrowded 16th-century London with human waste stinking up the streets? If students can create a multi-sensory installation in the reader’s mind, then they have done this part of their job well.

Popular Settings from Children’s Literature and Storytelling

  • Fairytale Kingdom
  • Magical Forest
  • Village/town
  • Underwater world
  • Space/Alien planet

2. CASTING THE CHARACTERS: THE WHO

Now that your student has created a believable world, it is time to populate it with believable characters.

In short stories, these worlds mustn’t be overpopulated beyond what the student’s skill level can manage. Short stories usually only require one main character and a few secondary ones. Think of the short story more as a small-scale dramatic production in an intimate local theater than a Hollywood blockbuster on a grand scale. Too many characters will only confuse and become unwieldy with a canvas this size. Keep it simple!

Creating believable characters is often one of the most challenging aspects of narrative writing for students. Fortunately, we can do a few things to help students here. Sometimes it is helpful for students to model their characters on actual people they know. This can make things a little less daunting and taxing on the imagination. However, whether or not this is the case, writing brief background bios or descriptions of characters’ physical personality characteristics can be a beneficial prewriting activity. Students should give some in-depth consideration to the details of who their character is: How do they walk? What do they look like? Do they have any distinguishing features? A crooked nose? A limp? Bad breath? Small details such as these bring life and, therefore, believability to characters. Students can even cut pictures from magazines to put a face to their character and allow their imaginations to fill in the rest of the details.

Younger students will often dictate to the reader the nature of their characters. To improve their writing craft, students must know when to switch from story-telling mode to story-showing mode. This is particularly true when it comes to character. Encourage students to reveal their character’s personality through what they do rather than merely by lecturing the reader on the faults and virtues of the character’s personality. It might be a small relayed detail in the way they walk that reveals a core characteristic. For example, a character who walks with their head hanging low and shoulders hunched while avoiding eye contact has been revealed to be timid without the word once being mentioned. This is a much more artistic and well-crafted way of doing things and is less irritating for the reader. A character who sits down at the family dinner table immediately snatches up his fork and starts stuffing roast potatoes into his mouth before anyone else has even managed to sit down has revealed a tendency towards greed or gluttony.

Understanding Character Traits

Again, there is room here for some fun and profitable prewriting activities. Give students a list of character traits and have them describe a character doing something that reveals that trait without ever employing the word itself.

It is also essential to avoid adjective stuffing here. When looking at students’ early drafts, adjective stuffing is often apparent. To train the student out of this habit, choose an adjective and have the student rewrite the sentence to express this adjective through action rather than telling.

When writing a story, it is vital to consider the character’s traits and how they will impact the story’s events. For example, a character with a strong trait of determination may be more likely to overcome obstacles and persevere. In contrast, a character with a tendency towards laziness may struggle to achieve their goals. In short, character traits add realism, depth, and meaning to a story, making it more engaging and memorable for the reader.

Popular Character Traits in Children’s Stories

  • Determination
  • Imagination
  • Perseverance
  • Responsibility

We have an in-depth guide to creating great characters here , but most students should be fine to move on to planning their conflict and resolution.

3. NO PROBLEM? NO STORY! HOW CONFLICT DRIVES A NARRATIVE

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This is often the area apprentice writers have the most difficulty with. Students must understand that without a problem or conflict, there is no story. The problem is the driving force of the action. Usually, in a short story, the problem will center around what the primary character wants to happen or, indeed, wants not to happen. It is the hurdle that must be overcome. It is in the struggle to overcome this hurdle that events happen.

Often when a student understands the need for a problem in a story, their completed work will still not be successful. This is because, often in life, problems remain unsolved. Hurdles are not always successfully overcome. Students pick up on this.

We often discuss problems with friends that will never be satisfactorily resolved one way or the other, and we accept this as a part of life. This is not usually the case with writing a story. Whether a character successfully overcomes his or her problem or is decidedly crushed in the process of trying is not as important as the fact that it will finally be resolved one way or the other.

A good practical exercise for students to get to grips with this is to provide copies of stories and have them identify the central problem or conflict in each through discussion. Familiar fables or fairy tales such as Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Cinderella, etc., are great for this.

While it is true that stories often have more than one problem or that the hero or heroine is unsuccessful in their first attempt to solve a central problem, for beginning students and intermediate students, it is best to focus on a single problem, especially given the scope of story writing at this level. Over time students will develop their abilities to handle more complex plots and write accordingly.

Popular Conflicts found in Children’s Storytelling.

  • Good vs evil
  • Individual vs society
  • Nature vs nurture
  • Self vs others
  • Man vs self
  • Man vs nature
  • Man vs technology
  • Individual vs fate
  • Self vs destiny

Conflict is the heart and soul of any good story. It’s what makes a story compelling and drives the plot forward. Without conflict, there is no story. Every great story has a struggle or a problem that needs to be solved, and that’s where conflict comes in. Conflict is what makes a story exciting and keeps the reader engaged. It creates tension and suspense and makes the reader care about the outcome.

Like in real life, conflict in a story is an opportunity for a character’s growth and transformation. It’s a chance for them to learn and evolve, making a story great. So next time stories are written in the classroom, remember that conflict is an essential ingredient, and without it, your story will lack the energy, excitement, and meaning that makes it truly memorable.

4. THE NARRATIVE CLIMAX: HOW THINGS COME TO A HEAD!

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The climax of the story is the dramatic high point of the action. It is also when the struggles kicked off by the problem come to a head. The climax will ultimately decide whether the story will have a happy or tragic ending. In the climax, two opposing forces duke things out until the bitter (or sweet!) end. One force ultimately emerges triumphant. As the action builds throughout the story, suspense increases as the reader wonders which of these forces will win out. The climax is the release of this suspense.

Much of the success of the climax depends on how well the other elements of the story have been achieved. If the student has created a well-drawn and believable character that the reader can identify with and feel for, then the climax will be more powerful.

The nature of the problem is also essential as it determines what’s at stake in the climax. The problem must matter dearly to the main character if it matters at all to the reader.

Have students engage in discussions about their favorite movies and books. Have them think about the storyline and decide the most exciting parts. What was at stake at these moments? What happened in your body as you read or watched? Did you breathe faster? Or grip the cushion hard? Did your heart rate increase, or did you start to sweat? This is what a good climax does and what our students should strive to do in their stories.

The climax puts it all on the line and rolls the dice. Let the chips fall where the writer may…

Popular Climax themes in Children’s Stories

  • A battle between good and evil
  • The character’s bravery saves the day
  • Character faces their fears and overcomes them
  • The character solves a mystery or puzzle.
  • The character stands up for what is right.
  • Character reaches their goal or dream.
  • The character learns a valuable lesson.
  • The character makes a selfless sacrifice.
  • The character makes a difficult decision.
  • The character reunites with loved ones or finds true friendship.

5. RESOLUTION: TYING UP LOOSE ENDS

After the climactic action, a few questions will often remain unresolved for the reader, even if all the conflict has been resolved. The resolution is where those lingering questions will be answered. The resolution in a short story may only be a brief paragraph or two. But, in most cases, it will still be necessary to include an ending immediately after the climax can feel too abrupt and leave the reader feeling unfulfilled.

An easy way to explain resolution to students struggling to grasp the concept is to point to the traditional resolution of fairy tales, the “And they all lived happily ever after” ending. This weather forecast for the future allows the reader to take their leave. Have the student consider the emotions they want to leave the reader with when crafting their resolution.

While the action is usually complete by the end of the climax, it is in the resolution that if there is a twist to be found, it will appear – think of movies such as The Usual Suspects. Pulling this off convincingly usually requires considerable skill from a student writer. Still, it may well form a challenging extension exercise for those more gifted storytellers among your students.

Popular Resolutions in Children’s Stories

  • Our hero achieves their goal
  • The character learns a valuable lesson
  • A character finds happiness or inner peace.
  • The character reunites with loved ones.
  • Character restores balance to the world.
  • The character discovers their true identity.
  • Character changes for the better.
  • The character gains wisdom or understanding.
  • Character makes amends with others.
  • The character learns to appreciate what they have.

Once students have completed their story, they can edit for grammar, vocabulary choice, spelling, etc., but not before!

As mentioned, there is a craft to storytelling, as well as an art. When accurate grammar, perfect spelling, and immaculate sentence structures are pushed at the outset, they can cause storytelling paralysis. For this reason, it is essential that when we encourage the students to write a story, we give them license to make mechanical mistakes in their use of language that they can work on and fix later.

Good narrative writing is a very complex skill to develop and will take the student years to become competent. It challenges not only the student’s technical abilities with language but also her creative faculties. Writing frames, word banks, mind maps, and visual prompts can all give valuable support as students develop the wide-ranging and challenging skills required to produce a successful narrative writing piece. But, at the end of it all, as with any craft, practice and more practice is at the heart of the matter.

TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT NARRATIVE

  • Start your story with a clear purpose: If you can determine the theme or message you want to convey in your narrative before starting it will make the writing process so much simpler.
  • Choose a compelling storyline and sell it through great characters, setting and plot: Consider a unique or interesting story that captures the reader’s attention, then build the world and characters around it.
  • Develop vivid characters that are not all the same: Make your characters relatable and memorable by giving them distinct personalities and traits you can draw upon in the plot.
  • Use descriptive language to hook your audience into your story: Use sensory language to paint vivid images and sequences in the reader’s mind.
  • Show, don’t tell your audience: Use actions, thoughts, and dialogue to reveal character motivations and emotions through storytelling.
  • Create a vivid setting that is clear to your audience before getting too far into the plot: Describe the time and place of your story to immerse the reader fully.
  • Build tension: Refer to the story map earlier in this article and use conflict, obstacles, and suspense to keep the audience engaged and invested in your narrative.
  • Use figurative language such as metaphors, similes, and other literary devices to add depth and meaning to your narrative.
  • Edit, revise, and refine: Take the time to refine and polish your writing for clarity and impact.
  • Stay true to your voice: Maintain your unique perspective and style in your writing to make it your own.

NARRATIVE WRITING EXAMPLES (Student Writing Samples)

Below are a collection of student writing samples of narratives.  Click on the image to enlarge and explore them in greater detail.  Please take a moment to read these creative stories in detail and the teacher and student guides which highlight some of the critical elements of narratives to consider before writing.

Please understand these student writing samples are not intended to be perfect examples for each age or grade level but a piece of writing for students and teachers to explore together to critically analyze to improve student writing skills and deepen their understanding of story writing.

We recommend reading the example either a year above or below, as well as the grade you are currently working with, to gain a broader appreciation of this text type.

narrative writing | Narrative writing example year 3 1 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

NARRATIVE WRITING PROMPTS (Journal Prompts)

When students have a great journal prompt, it can help them focus on the task at hand, so be sure to view our vast collection of visual writing prompts for various text types here or use some of these.

  • On a recent European trip, you find your travel group booked into the stunning and mysterious Castle Frankenfurter for a single night…  As night falls, the massive castle of over one hundred rooms seems to creak and groan as a series of unexplained events begin to make you wonder who or what else is spending the evening with you. Write a narrative that tells the story of your evening.
  • You are a famous adventurer who has discovered new lands; keep a travel log over a period of time in which you encounter new and exciting adventures and challenges to overcome.  Ensure your travel journal tells a story and has a definite introduction, conflict and resolution.
  • You create an incredible piece of technology that has the capacity to change the world.  As you sit back and marvel at your innovation and the endless possibilities ahead of you, it becomes apparent there are a few problems you didn’t really consider. You might not even be able to control them.  Write a narrative in which you ride the highs and lows of your world-changing creation with a clear introduction, conflict and resolution.
  • As the final door shuts on the Megamall, you realise you have done it…  You and your best friend have managed to sneak into the largest shopping centre in town and have the entire place to yourselves until 7 am tomorrow.  There is literally everything and anything a child would dream of entertaining themselves for the next 12 hours.  What amazing adventures await you?  What might go wrong?  And how will you get out of there scot-free?
  • A stranger walks into town…  Whilst appearing similar to almost all those around you, you get a sense that this person is from another time, space or dimension… Are they friends or foes?  What makes you sense something very strange is going on?   Suddenly they stand up and walk toward you with purpose extending their hand… It’s almost as if they were reading your mind.

NARRATIVE WRITING VIDEO TUTORIAL

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Teaching Resources

Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.

When teaching narrative writing, it is essential that you have a range of tools, strategies and resources at your disposal to ensure you get the most out of your writing time.  You can find some examples below, which are free and paid premium resources you can use instantly without any preparation.

FREE Narrative Graphic Organizer

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THE STORY TELLERS BUNDLE OF TEACHING RESOURCES

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A MASSIVE COLLECTION of resources for narratives and story writing in the classroom covering all elements of crafting amazing stories. MONTHS WORTH OF WRITING LESSONS AND RESOURCES, including:

NARRATIVE WRITING CHECKLIST BUNDLE

writing checklists

OTHER GREAT ARTICLES ABOUT NARRATIVE WRITING

narrative writing | Narrative2BWriting2BStrategies2Bfor2Bjuniors2B28129 | Narrative Writing for Kids: Essential Skills and Strategies | literacyideas.com

Narrative Writing for Kids: Essential Skills and Strategies

narrative writing | narrative writing lessons | 7 Great Narrative Lesson Plans Students and Teachers Love | literacyideas.com

7 Great Narrative Lesson Plans Students and Teachers Love

narrative writing | Top narrative writing skills for students | Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students | literacyideas.com

Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students

narrative writing | how to write a scary horror story | How to Write a Scary Story | literacyideas.com

How to Write a Scary Story

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

8 Narrative Writing

Dr. Karen Palmer

What is Narrative?

Narrative writing is used in almost every longer piece of writing, whether fiction or nonfiction. When an author writes in a narrative style, they are not just trying to impart information, they are trying to construct and communicate a story, complete with characters, conflict, and settings.

Examples of Narrative Writing

  • Oral histories
  • Novels/Novellas
  • Poetry (especially epic sagas or poems)
  • Short Stories

Using Narrative

Mark Twain once wrote, “Don’t say the old lady screamed—bring her on and let her scream.”  What he is really saying is, “Don’t tell, show!” In other words, bring readers into the story so that they can hear the old lady screaming, rather than just telling them what happened.

A narrative essay is usually focused around a single event or person, and is often personal in nature.  A narrative essay is a writing occasion in which you will likely use “I.”  But, a narrative does not necessarily have to be biographical; it could be a story about someone you know, or even an event from popular culture or history.  The important thing is that the story is compelling (if it’s not going to interest your reader, why would you tell it?) and that it makes some kind of point. Remember, even though it is a narrative essay, it is still an essay.  Although a narrative essay is not a traditional argumentative essay, in which you have a thesis and several supporting points, it still has a purpose and tries to get the reader to think a certain way about something; it just seeks to achieve this purpose through a story rather than facts and quotations, etc.

Writing Tips:

  • Choose your topic carefully. A good narrative essay is about an event or a person who inspired or changed you.  Don’t just tell a story to tell a story–it should have significance.
  • Think about why your story matters. What lesson do you want your readers to learn from the story?
  • Think about the plot. How do you want to tell the story? For example, you could start at the beginning and write the story as it happened, or you could start at a different point in the story for dramatic impact. Think like a film-maker–which parts of the story would be filmed? What dialogue would you hear? Which parts would a narrator recount?
  • Use strong details from all five senses, but choose those details carefully. You don’t want to overwhelm readers with a lot of description, but you do want them to feel like they are in the story.
  • Use action verbs.
  • While you should generally show, not tell, in your conclusion, you should spell out what you hope the readers have learned–or at least what you learned or why you think the story is significant enough to share.

The “Who Am I Story” AKA The Memoir

One type of narrative is a memoir. A memoir is a nonfiction story based on the author’s personal memories. A memoir is a bit different from a biography or an autobiography. A biography or autobiography tells the story “of a life,” while a memoir often tells the story of a particular event or time, such as important moments and turning points from the author’s life. Because a memoir is based on the author’s memories, the story might not be completely accurate. However, the assertions made in the work are understood to be factual.

In her book, The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling, Simmons talks about seven different kinds of stories everyone should learn how to tell. One of them is the “Who I Am” story. Simply put, a Who I Am story shows something about its author, and this type of story fits into the genre of memoir or creative nonfiction. Here is an example from Simmons’ book:

Skip looked into the sea of suspicious stockholders and wondered what might convince them to follow his leadership. He was 35, looked 13 and was third generation rich. He could tell they assumed he would be an unholy disaster as a leader.

He decided to tell them a story. “My first job was drawing the electrical engineering plans for a boat building company. The drawings had to be perfect because if the wires were not accurately placed before the fiberglass form was poured, a mistake might cost a million dollars, easy. At 25, I already had two masters’ degrees. I had been on boats all my life and frankly, I found drawing these plans a bit . . . mindless.

One morning I got a call at home from a $6/hour worker asking me ‘are you sure this is right?’ I was incensed. Of course I was sure —‘just pour the damn thing.’ When his supervisor called me an hour later and woke me up again and asked ‘are you sure this is right?’ I had even less patience. ‘I said I was sure an hour ago and I’m still sure.’ It was the phone call from the president of the company that finally got me out of bed and down to the site.

If I had to hold these guys by the hand, so be it. I sought out the worker who had called me first. He sat looking at my plans with his head cocked to one side. With exaggerated patience I began to explain the drawing. But after a few words my voice got weak- er and my head started to cock to the side as well. It seems that I had (being left-handed) transposed starboard and port so that the drawing was an exact mirror image of what it should have been. Thank God this $6/hour worker had caught my mistake before it was too late.

The next day I found this box on my desk. The crew bought me a remedial pair of tennis shoes for future reference. Just in case I got mixed up again— a red left shoe for port, and a green right one for starboard. These shoes don’t just help me remember port and starboard. They help me remember to listen even when I think I know what’s going on.” As he held up the shoe box with one red and one green shoe, there were smiles and smirks. The stockholders relaxed a bit.

If this young upstart had already learned this lesson about arrogance, then he might have learned a few things about running companies, too. (1–2)

This example shows some of the reasons people tell Who I Am stories. Chances are that if Skip had gone into this meeting and said “Look, I know I’m young, but I’ve got a lot of experience, I know what I’m doing, I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes. Just trust me,” he would not have won over his audience.

Think about it…

Characteristics of Narratives

Storytelling, or narration, is a powerful composition strategy that can connect and engage an audience. Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (Toy Story and WALL-E) believes that “Stories can cross the barriers of time–past, present, and future–and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.”1 These connections help make the audience care. And when an audience cares, or is invested in your story, that’s powerful.

Standton, Andrew. “The Clues to a Great Story.” TED2012, Feb. 2012, TED, www.ted.com/talks/andrewstantonthecluestoagreatstory?language=en.

Why Narration?

As writers, we use narration for many purposes and in varying situations. Most often, when people think of narration, they associate it with fiction or novels–storytelling for entertainment. Yes, this is true, but narration can also be very effective in other writing. We may choose to recount a historical event through a first-person narrative. Or we may even use a compelling story to persuade an audience to take action. How and when you use narration depends primarily on your purpose.

Narrative Elements

No matter the purpose or situation, there are common features to narrative writing:

  • Event: What happened? Who was involved? The event or series of events drives your story.
  • Setting: When and where did it happen? Create and build the story world. This helps to establish context for the story.
  • Descriptive Details: What makes the story come alive? Use vivid words, sensory details, and figurative language to build a dominant impression. Try to show, not tell (See Description chapter).
  • First Person: I, we
  • Second Person: you, your
  • Third Person: he, she, it, they
  • Omniscient Third Person: all-knowing
  • Clear Organization: How does the story unfold? The story should flow and have a clear sense order. For clarity, narratives are often written in chronological order (beginning to end). But remember, not all stories start at the beginning. Many stories include flashbacks and flash forwards. Use transitions (finally, next, later, earlier, three days later, as the season changed from fall to winter, a week passed) to clearly guide your audience through the story.
  • Point: Why does the story matter? Before you even begin composing the story, it’s essential to determine the significance of the event and the purpose of sharing the story. Ask yourself: Why am I sharing this story?
  • Drive the plot forward,
  • Reveal information about the characters, and
  • Build tension or introduce conflict.
  • Characters: Generally speaking, authors reveal their characters in two ways: direct and indirect characterization. With direct characterization, the author simply tells the audience something about a character. The line “He was 35, looked 13 and was third generation rich” from the Who I Am story at the beginning of this chapter is an example of direct characterization. With indirect characterization, the audience learns about characters by watching or listening to them. Indirect characterization can also include descriptions of characters.

An Example: Mark Twain “A Cub Pilot on the Mississippi”

Read this excerpt from Mark Twain’s memoir Life on the Mississippi. Then consider the questions that follow.

The figure that comes before me oftenest, out of the shadows of that vanished time, is that of Brown, of the steamer ‘ Pennsylvania ’—the man referred to in a former chapter, whose memory was so good and tiresome. He was a middle-aged, long, slim, bony, smooth-shaven, horse-faced, ignorant, stingy, malicious, snarling, fault hunting, mote-magnifying tyrant. I early got the habit of coming on watch with dread at my heart. No matter how good a time I might have been having with the off-watch below, and no matter how high my spirits might be when I started aloft, my soul became lead in my body the moment I approached the pilot-house.

I still remember the first time I ever entered the presence of that man. The boat had backed out from St. Louis and was ‘straightening down;’ I ascended to the pilot-house in high feather, and very proud to be semi-officially a member of the executive family of so fast and famous a boat. Brown was at the wheel. I paused in the middle of the room, all fixed to make my bow, but Brown did not look around. I thought he took a furtive glance at me out of the corner of his eye, but as not even this notice was repeated, I judged I had been mistaken. By this time he was picking his way among some dangerous ‘breaks’ abreast the woodyards; therefore it would not be proper to interrupt him; so I stepped softly to the high bench and took a seat.

There was silence for ten minutes; then my new boss turned and inspected me deliberately and painstakingly from head to heel for about—as it seemed to me—a quarter of an hour. After which he removed his countenance and I saw it no more for some seconds; then it came around once more, and this question greeted me—

‘Are you Horace Bigsby’s cub?’

‘Yes, sir.’

After this there was a pause and another inspection. Then—

‘What’s your name?’

I told him. He repeated it after me. It was probably the only thing he ever forgot; for although I was with him many months he never addressed himself to me in any other way than ‘Here!’ and then his command followed.

‘Where was you born?’

‘In Florida, Missouri.’

A pause. Then—

‘Dern sight better staid there!’

By means of a dozen or so of pretty direct questions, he pumped my family history out of me.

The leads were going now, in the first crossing. This interrupted the inquest. When the leads had been laid in, he resumed—

‘How long you been on the river?’

I told him. After a pause—

‘Where’d you get them shoes?’

I gave him the information.

‘Hold up your foot!’

I did so. He stepped back, examined the shoe minutely and contemptuously, scratching his head thoughtfully, tilting his high sugar-loaf hat well forward to facilitate the operation, then ejaculated, ‘Well, I’ll be dod derned!’ and returned to his wheel.

What occasion there was to be dod derned about it is a thing which is still as much of a mystery to me now as it was then. It must have been all of fifteen minutes—fifteen minutes of dull, homesick silence—before that long horse-face swung round upon me again—and then, what a change! It was as red as fire, and every muscle in it was working. Now came this shriek—

‘Here!—You going to set there all day?’

I lit in the middle of the floor, shot there by the electric suddenness of the surprise. As soon as I could get my voice I said, apologetically:—‘I have had no orders, sir.’

‘You’ve had no orders ! My, what a fine bird we are! We must have orders ! Our father was a gentleman —owned slaves—and we’ve been to school . Yes, we are a gentleman, too , and got to have orders ! Orders , is it? Orders is what you want! Dod dern my skin, I’ll learn you to swell yourself up and blow around here about your dod-derned orders ! G’way from the wheel!’ (I had approached it without knowing it.)

I moved back a step or two, and stood as in a dream, all my senses stupefied by this frantic assault.

‘What you standing there for? Take that ice-pitcher down to the texas- tender-come, move along, and don’t you be all day about it!’

The moment I got back to the pilot-house, Brown said—

‘Here! What was you doing down there all this time?’

‘I couldn’t find the texas-tender; I had to go all the way to the pantry.’

‘Derned likely story! Fill up the stove.’

I proceeded to do so. He watched me like a cat. Presently he shouted—

‘Put down that shovel! Deadest numskull I ever saw—ain’t even got sense enough to load up a stove.’

All through the watch this sort of thing went on. Yes, and the subsequent watches were much like it, during a stretch of months. As I have said, I soon got the habit of coming on duty with dread. The moment I was in the presence, even in the darkest night, I could feel those yellow eyes upon me, and knew their owner was watching for a pretext to spit out some venom on me. Preliminarily he would say—

‘Here! Take the wheel.’

Two minutes later—

‘ Where in the nation you going to? Pull her down! pull her down!’

After another moment—

‘Say! You going to hold her all day? Let her go—meet her! meet her!’

Then he would jump from the bench, snatch the wheel from me, and meet her himself, pouring out wrath upon me all the time.

George Ritchie was the other pilot’s cub. He was having good times now; for his boss, George Ealer, was as kindhearted as Brown wasn’t. Ritchie had steeled for Brown the season before; consequently he knew exactly how to entertain himself and plague me, all by the one operation. Whenever I took the wheel for a moment on Ealer’s watch, Ritchie would sit back on the bench and play Brown, with continual ejaculations of ‘Snatch her! snatch her! Derndest mud-cat I ever saw!’ ‘Here! Where you going now ? Going to run over that snag?’ ‘Pull her down ! Don’t you hear me? Pull her down !’ ‘There she goes! Just as I expected! I told you not to cramp that reef. G’way from the wheel!’

So I always had a rough time of it, no matter whose watch it was; and sometimes it seemed to me that Ritchie’s good-natured badgering was pretty nearly as aggravating as Brown’s dead-earnest nagging.

I often wanted to kill Brown, but this would not answer. A cub had to take everything his boss gave, in the way of vigorous comment and criticism; and we all believed that there was a United States law making it a penitentiary offense to strike or threaten a pilot who was on duty. However, I could imagine myself killing Brown; there was no law against that; and that was the thing I used always to do the moment I was abed. Instead of going over my river in my mind as was my duty, I threw business aside for pleasure, and killed Brown. I killed Brown every night for months; not in old, stale, commonplace ways, but in new and picturesque ones;—ways that were sometimes surprising for freshness of design and ghastliness of situation and environment.

Brown was always watching for a pretext to find fault; and if he could find no plausible pretext, he would invent one. He would scold you for shaving a shore, and for not shaving it; for hugging a bar, and for not hugging it; for ‘pulling down’ when not invited, and for not pulling down when not invited; for firing up without orders, and for waiting for orders. In a word, it was his invariable rule to find fault with everything you did; and another invariable rule of his was to throw all his remarks (to you) into the form of an insult.

One day we were approaching New Madrid, bound down and heavily laden. Brown was at one side of the wheel, steering; I was at the other, standing by to ‘pull down’ or ‘shove up.’ He cast a furtive glance at me every now and then. I had long ago learned what that meant; viz., he was trying to invent a trap for me. I wondered what shape it was going to take. By and by he stepped back from the wheel and said in his usual snarly way—

‘Here!—See if you’ve got gumption enough to round her to.’

This was simply bound to be a success; nothing could prevent it; for he had never allowed me to round the boat to before; consequently, no matter how I might do the thing, he could find free fault with it. He stood back there with his greedy eye on me, and the result was what might have been foreseen: I lost my head in a quarter of a minute, and didn’t know what I was about; I started too early to bring the boat around, but detected a green gleam of joy in Brown’s eye, and corrected my mistake; I started around once more while too high up, but corrected myself again in time; I made other false moves, and still managed to save myself; but at last I grew so confused and anxious that I tumbled into the very worst blunder of all—I got too far down before beginning to fetch the boat around. Brown’s chance was come.

His face turned red with passion; he made one bound, hurled me across the house with a sweep of his arm, spun the wheel down, and began to pour out a stream of vituperation upon me which lasted till he was out of breath. In the course of this speech he called me all the different kinds of hard names he could think of, and once or twice I thought he was even going to swear—but he didn’t this time. ‘Dod dern’ was the nearest he ventured to the luxury of swearing, for he had been brought up with a wholesome respect for future fire and brimstone.

That was an uncomfortable hour; for there was a big audience on the hurricane deck. When I went to bed that night, I killed Brown in seventeen different ways—all of them new.

T WO TRIPS later, I got into serious trouble. Brown was steering; I was ‘pulling down.’ My younger brother appeared on the hurricane deck, and shouted to Brown to stop at some landing or other a mile or so below. Brown gave no intimation that he had heard anything. But that was his way: he never condescended to take notice of an under clerk. The wind was blowing; Brown was deaf (although he always pretended he wasn’t), and I very much doubted if he had heard the order. If I had two heads, I would have spoken; but as I had only one, it seemed judicious to take care of it; so I kept still.Presently, sure enough, we went sailing by that plantation. Captain Klinefelter appeared on the deck, and said—

‘Let her come around, sir, let her come around. Didn’t Henry tell you to land here?’

‘ No , sir!’

‘I sent him up to do, it.’

‘He did come up; and that’s all the good it done, the dod-derned fool. He never said anything.’

‘Didn’t you hear him?’ asked the captain of me.

Of course I didn’t want to be mixed up in this business, but there was no way to avoid it; so I said—

I knew what Brown’s next remark would be, before he uttered it; it was—

‘Shut your mouth! you never heard anything of the kind.’

I closed my mouth according to instructions. An hour later, Henry entered the pilot-house, unaware of what had been going on. He was a thoroughly inoffensive boy, and I was sorry to see him come, for I knew Brown would have no pity on him. Brown began, straightway—

‘Here! why didn’t you tell me we’d got to land at that plantation?’

‘I did tell you, Mr. Brown.’

‘It’s a lie!’

‘You lie, yourself. He did tell you.’

Brown glared at me in unaffected surprise; and for as much as a moment he was entirely speechless; then he shouted to me—

‘I’ll attend to your case in half a minute!’ then to Henry, ‘And you leave the pilot-house; out with you!’

It was pilot law, and must be obeyed. The boy started out, and even had his foot on the upper step outside the door, when Brown, with a sudden access of fury, picked up a ten-pound lump of coal and sprang after him; but I was between, with a heavy stool, and I hit Brown a good honest blow which stretched-him out.

I had committed the crime of crimes—I had lifted my hand against a pilot on duty! I supposed I was booked for the penitentiary sure, and couldn’t be booked any surer if I went on and squared my long account with this person while I had the chance; consequently I stuck to him and pounded him with my fists a considerable time—I do not know how long, the pleasure of it probably made it seem longer than it really was;—but in the end he struggled free and jumped up and sprang to the wheel: a very natural solicitude, for, all this time, here was this steamboat tearing down the river at the rate of fifteen miles an hour and nobody at the helm! However, Eagle Bend was two miles wide at this bank-full stage, and correspondingly long and deep; and the boat was steering herself straight down the middle and taking no chances. Still, that was only luck—a body might have found her charging into the woods.

Perceiving, at a glance, that the ‘ Pennsylvania ’ was in no danger, Brown gathered up the big spy-glass, war-club fashion, and ordered me out of the pilot-house with more than Comanche bluster. But I was not afraid of him now; so, instead of going, I tarried, and criticized his grammar; I reformed his ferocious speeches for him, and put them into good English, calling his attention to the advantage of pure English over the bastard dialect of the Pennsylvanian collieries whence he was extracted. He could have done his part to admiration in a cross-fire of mere vituperation, of course; but he was not equipped for this species of controversy; so he presently laid aside his glass and took the wheel, muttering and shaking his head; and I retired to the bench. The racket had brought everybody to the hurricane deck, and I trembled when I saw the old captain looking up from the midst of the crowd. I said to myself, ‘Now I am done for!’—For although, as a rule, he was so fatherly and indulgent toward the boat’s family, and so patient of minor shortcomings, he could be stern enough when the fault was worth it.

I tried to imagine what he would do to a cub pilot who had been guilty of such a crime as mine, committed on a boat guard-deep with costly freight and alive with passengers. Our watch was nearly ended. I thought I would go and hide somewhere till I got a chance to slide ashore. So I slipped out of the pilot-house, and down the steps, and around to the texas door—and was in the act of gliding within, when the captain confronted me! I dropped my head, and he stood over me in silence a moment or two, then said impressively—

‘Follow me.’

I dropped into his wake; he led the way to his parlor in the forward end of the texas. We were alone, now. He closed the after door; then moved slowly to the forward one and closed that. He sat down; I stood before him. He looked at me some little time, then said—

‘So you have been fighting Mr. Brown?’

I answered meekly—

‘Do you know that that is a very serious matter?’

‘Are you aware that this boat was plowing down the river fully five minutes with no one at the wheel?’

‘Did you strike him first?’

‘What with?’

‘A stool, sir.’

‘Middling, sir.’

‘Did it knock him down?’

‘He—he fell, sir.’

‘Did you follow it up? Did you do anything further?’

‘What did you do?’

‘Pounded him, sir.’

‘Pounded him?’

‘Did you pound him much?—that is, severely?’

‘One might call it that, sir, maybe.’

‘I’m deuced glad of it! Hark ye, never mention that I said that. You have been guilty of a great crime; and don’t you ever be guilty of it again, on this boat. But —lay for him ashore! Give him a good sound thrashing, do you hear? I’ll pay the expenses. Now go—and mind you, not a word of this to anybody. Clear out with you!—you’ve been guilty of a great crime, you whelp!’

I slid out, happy with the sense of a close shave and a mighty deliverance; and I heard him laughing to himself and slapping his fat thighs after I had closed his door.

When Brown came off watch he went straight to the captain, who was talking with some passengers on the boiler deck, and demanded that I be put ashore in New Orleans—and added—

‘I’ll never turn a wheel on this boat again while that cub stays.’

The captain said—

‘But he needn’t come round when you are on watch, Mr. Brown.

‘I won’t even stay on the same boat with him. One of us has got to go ashore.’

‘Very well,’ said the captain, ‘let it be yourself;’ and resumed his talk with the passengers.

During the brief remainder of the trip, I knew how an emancipated slave feels; for I was an emancipated slave myself. While we lay at landings, I listened to George Ealer’s flute; or to his readings from his two bibles, that is to say, Goldsmith and Shakespeare; or I played chess with him—and would have beaten him sometimes, only he always took back his last move and ran the game out differently.

Consider the following questions:

  • How does Twain set the stage for his story?
  • How does Twain organize his narrative?
  • How does Twain use description? Give at least one example.
  • How does Twain use dialog?
  • What voice/tone does Twain create?
  • What do you think Twain’s overall message is? What did he learn from this experience, and what does he hope the reader will learn?

Attributions

“What is Narrative” from About Writing: A Guide by Robin Jeffrey. Licensed CC BY .

“Who Am I Story” from “ Storytelling, Narration, and the Who Am I story ” by Catherine Ramsdell. Licensed CC BY NC SA .

“Characteristics of Narratives” adapted from Writing Unleashed . Licensed under CC BY NC SA .

“Characters” adapted from “ Storytelling, Narration, and the Who Am I story ” by Catherine Ramsdell. Licensed CC BY NC SA .

“ A Cub Pilot on the Mississippi ” by Mark Twain. Licensed Public Domain.

Narrative Writing Copyright © 2020 by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Narrative Writing

Narrative Writing - Definition, Types, Tips and Techniques

Narrative writing is a style of writing that uses the technique of narration to present a series of events that leads to an expected or unexpected end. In other words, it is a writing style that is used to tell a story. Read through the article to learn more about narrative writing, the types of narrative writing, and the tips and techniques you can use to write a narrative piece.

Table of Contents

What is narrative writing – meaning and definition, characteristics of a narrative – the 7 key elements, types of narrative writing, linear narrative, nonlinear narrative, descriptive narrative, viewpoint narrative, list of narrative forms, how to write a narrative piece – tips and techniques, examples of narrative writing, frequently asked questions on narrative writing.

A narrative gives an account of events that happen at a particular time and place; it can be fictional or non-fictional. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines a narrative in three different ways – “a description of events”, “the part of a novel that tells the story, rather than the dialogue”, and “a way of explaining events to illustrate a set of aims or values”. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms explains ‘narration’ as “the process of relating a sequence of events”, and a ‘narrative’ as “a telling of some true or fictitious event or connected sequence of events, recounted by a narrator to a narratee (although there may be more than one of each)”.

A narrative includes the smallest of details to the most important information. It is a mixture of these that make the narrative interesting, informative and appealing. A narrative, especially when written in the form of a story, must have the following elements.

  • Point of view

Characters refer to the animate and inanimate objects that are involved in the story. They drive the story from the beginning till the end. A narrative story can have just one character or a number of characters, all of them contributing to the process in the most minute or most noticeable way.

Setting refers to the surroundings where the story or the events being narrated happen. It can be any place – a house, a forest, a car, a classroom, a playground, a bus, the middle of the road, etc. The setting of the narrative plays an important role in setting the mood of the entire piece.

Plot refers to all the events that contribute to the story. It has a starting point – the exposition – where the story begins, and the characters and the setting are introduced to the audience. This is followed by the rising action – the point where the main character(s) faces an impediment that disturbs the course of the narrative. Climax comes next and is the turning point in the story, which then leads to the falling action. It is here that the problem starts resolving. This finally leads the story to a conclusion. In simple words, it can be said that the plot is the order in which the events take place.

Conflict is the point of tension in the narrative where a problem arises. This point changes the course of the narrative and leads it to the expected or unexpected end.

Theme refers to the central idea the narrative is based on. The whole piece revolves around it. Popular themes include good and evil, justice, love, friendship, brotherhood, change, music, etc.

Style is characterised by the kind of language used by the writer to narrate, and this differs from genre to genre.

Point of view refers to who tells the story. It can be a first, second or third-person narrative. First-person narration is when a character who is part of what is happening tells the story from their perspective. It is characterised by the usage of pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘mine’, ‘myself’, ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’, ‘ourselves’, ‘ours’, etc. Second-person narration is characterised by the usage of pronouns such as ‘you’, ‘your’, ‘yourself’, and ‘yourselves’. Third-person narration is when there is a narrator (a character who is not part of the story) or a character in the story who narrates what is going on in the story. It is done with the usage of pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘they’, ‘his’, ‘hers’, ‘him’, ‘hers’, ‘their’, ‘theirs’, ‘himself’, ‘herself’, ‘themselves’, etc.

Narratives can include historical pieces, novels, short stories, epics, ballads, etc. Poetry can be narrative too. An example of a narrative poem would be ‘Snake’ by D.H. Lawrence. However, narrative writing can be divided into four main types, namely,

  • Descriptive

In this type of narrative, the writer follows a chronological order of narration. The fictional or non-fictional narrative is presented from the beginning till the end. Bildungsroman (also known as coming-of-age novels) follow the linear narrative style. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain, ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, etc., are some famous examples of linear narratives. Historical pieces, biographies and autobiographies are also forms of writing that follow a narrative style.

The movie ‘Moana’ is a perfect example of a linear narrative. It starts with Moana as a little girl who is taught all about her culture and her duties towards her tribe. This style perfectly supports the theme and the plot. You see that Moana is always drawn to the ocean, identifies the purpose of her life and travels across the ocean to save her people from complete doom.

A nonlinear narrative is one in which the happenings are not narrated chronologically. This is the kind of narrative that includes flashbacks. It starts at a point and goes back and forth. Most suspense thriller novels and movies follow this style of narration. There are also lighter themes that are presented in this fashion. ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, ‘The Sound and the Fury’ by William Faulkner and ‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller are some examples of novels that follow the nonlinear narrative style.

Stream of consciousness is a nonlinear narrative technique that presents all the thoughts and feelings that go on in the mind of the narrator as things happen. Through this technique, one can also portray the character’s flow of thoughts in a realistic manner. James Joyce’s novel ‘Ulysses’ is a well-known example that uses this technique.

The series ‘This Is Us’ is a great example of the nonlinear narrative style. You will see the story of the Pearson family always oscillating between the past and present. Every episode is a series of events that happened on the same day during the different stages of their lives or the same emotion experienced by the different characters. This is an effective way of telling a story as it keeps the viewers always wanting to know more.

This is a narrative style in which the audience is made to see and feel the characters’ world. In a descriptive narrative, the writer uses descriptive words and phrases that create vivid images in the minds of the readers. ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky, ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller, and ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy are some examples of descriptive narrative.

Most of you may have watched both ‘Avatar’ and ‘Avatar: Way of the Water’. The descriptive technique is used in both movies. The way of the Avatar realm is portrayed in a manner that makes the audience feel one with the characters and the setting.

A viewpoint narrative is a style of writing in which there is the presence of a first, second or third-person narrator. The usage of pronouns changes based on who narrates the happenings in the story. The most common viewpoint narratives seen are the first-person narrative and the third-person narrative. Autobiographies are written in the first-person point of view, and biographies in the third-person point of view.

‘The Fault in our Stars’ by John Green and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee are examples of a first-person narrative. ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott and ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison are two among the many examples of third-person narratives. There are not as many books in the second-person narrative as in the first and third-person narratives. However, there are some that are wonderfully presented. ‘Ghost Light’ by Joseph O’ Connor and ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler’ by Italo Calvino are novels written in the second-person narrative. Try reading these novels and analyse the kind of effect the different viewpoints have on the readers.

Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi), the protagonist, narrates throughout the movie, ‘The Life of Pi’, thereby rendering it an example of a first-person narrative. Bagheera, the panther in ‘The Jungle Book’, narrates how Mowgli came to live with the wolves and all that has happened and is happening in the present. This, therefore, can be considered to follow a third-person narrative structure.

The narrative style of writing is commonly employed in the following forms.

  • Short stories
  • Biographies
  • Autobiographies
  • Travelogues

Here are some tips and techniques you can follow to write a good narrative piece.

  • Before you start writing your first draft, brainstorm your ideas.
  • You will not know what will inspire you. So, when you talk to people, pay attention to how they are narrating; read the works of different authors in the genre that you are planning to write; explore the different voices and employ them creatively to suit your characters and narrative on the whole.
  • Jot down who your characters are and how you expect them to be; visualise the setting and lay out the details; think about the point at which you want your narrative to start and end.
  • The point of view you are using to narrate plays a major role. If you want your readers to be a part of what is happening, use the first-person point of view. This will help your readers see and feel it just like you do. If you want your readers to be a spectator and analyse everything, you can use the third-person point of view. Contrary to both, if you want your readers to be a part of everything and have their own experiences, use the second-person narrative.
  • Remember that you can have more than one narrator. Using multiple narrators will help you build different perspectives of a given situation.
  • Use descriptions to give your readers a magnified and clearer view of the setting and characters.
  • Have a strong theme and see to it that it reaches your audience.
  • Bear in mind that every word matters. The diction you choose and the manner in which you employ them to form sentences is what builds the desired effect.
  • Also, remember that you need not stick to one narrative style. For instance, you can write a linear or nonlinear descriptive first-person narrative. Do not limit yourself too much with the style. Choose what suits your narrative best and use them in the best possible way.
  • When you write, you have your freedom. Make up your own techniques, style, and use literary devices to support your writing. Nothing works better than authenticity.
  • Allow your creative mind to work at its own pace. Do not interrupt or force the flow of thoughts.
  • Proofread before you finalise the final draft.

Here is an example of a narrative verse – the first few lines of the poem ‘Snake’ by D.H. Lawrence. See how the poet uses words to narrate the incident of the snake appearing at his water trough and everything that happens further.

“A snake came to my water-trough

On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,

To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree

I came down the steps with my pitcher

And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom

And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over

the edge of the stone trough

And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,

And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,

He sipped with his straight mouth,

Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

This short paragraph given below is an excerpt from the novel, ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler’ by Italo Calvino. See how second-person narrative works. The narrative style makes the reader feel included and one with the characters in the story. In the following example, the writer instructs the reader to get comfortable and do everything that is necessary so as to not be disturbed in between the reading.

“Adjust the light so you won’t strain your eyes. Do it now, because once you’re absorbed in reading there will be no budging you. Make sure the page isn’t in shadow, a clotting of black letters on a gray background, uniform as a pack of mice; but be careful that the light cast on it isn’t too strong, doesn’t glare on the cruel white of the paper, gnawing at the shadows of the letters as in a southern noonday. Try to foresee now everything that might make you interrupt your reading.”

What is narrative writing?

Narrative writing is a style of writing that uses the technique of narration to present a series of events that leads to an expected or unexpected end. It can be fictional or non-fictional.

What is the definition of a narrative?

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines a narrative in three different ways – “a description of events”, “the part of a novel that tells the story, rather than the dialogue”, and “a way of explaining events to illustrate a set of aims or values”. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms explains ‘narration’ as “the process of relating a sequence of events” and a ‘narrative’ as “a telling of some true or fictitious event or connected sequence of events, recounted by a narrator to a narratee (although there may be more than one of each)”.

What are the elements of a narrative?

A narrative, especially when written in the form of a story, must have the following elements.

What are the types of narrative writing?

Narrative writing can be characterised into four categories, namely,

  • Linear narrative
  • Nonlinear narrative
  • Descriptive narrative
  • Viewpoint narrative

List some narrative forms.

Some examples of narrative forms are epics, ballads, short stories, novels, biographies, autobiographies, and travelogues.

what is narrative writing brainly

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Humanities LibreTexts

6.1: The Purpose of Narrative Writing

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  • Amber Kinonen, Jennifer McCann, Todd McCann, & Erica Mead
  • Bay College Library

Narration means the art of storytelling, and the purpose of narrative writing is to tell stories. Any time you tell a story to a friend or family member about an event or incident in your day, you engage in a form of narration. While any narrative essay you write for this class will be nonfiction (i.e. a true story), a narrative can be factual or fictional. A factual story is one that is based on, and tries to be faithful to, actual events as they unfolded in real life. A fictional story is a made-up, or imagined, story; the writer of a fictional story can create characters and events as he or she sees fit.

The big distinction between factual and fictional narratives is based on a writer’s purpose. The writers of factual stories try to recount events as they actually happened, but writers of fictional stories can depart from real people and events because the writers’ intents are not to retell a real-life event. Biographies and memoirs are examples of factual stories, whereas novels and short stories are examples of fictional stories.

Ultimately, whether a story is fact or fiction, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way. You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through laughter, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be.

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Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Jan 02, 2024

Narrative Structure: Definition, Examples, and Writing Tips

As you plot out your novel, story structure will likely be at the top of your mind. But there’s something else you’ll need to consider in addition to that: narrative structure. While story structure is the overall flow of the story, from the exposition to the rising and falling action, narrative structure is the framing that supports it. Let’s take a deeper dive into what that means.

What is narrative structure?

A narrative structure is the order in which a story’s events are presented. It is the framework from which a writer can hang individual scenes and plot points with the aim of maximizing tension, interest, excitement, or mystery.

Traditionally, most stories start at the chronological beginning ("once upon a time") and finish at the end ("and they lived happily ever after"). However, a story can technically be told in any order. Writers can arrange their plot points in a way that creates suspense — by omitting certain details or revealing information out of order, for example. 

Sometimes, storytellers will begin in the middle and literally 'cut to the chase' before revealing the backstory later on. In short, narrative structure is a powerful tool that writers can wield to great effect if handled with care and consideration. 

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Types of narrative structure

There’s a whole branch of literary criticism dedicated to studying narrative structure: narratology. We won’t quite go into academic depth, but it’s important to know the main types of structure available for your narrative so you can best choose the one that serves your story’s purpose. Here are four of the most common types of narrative structure used in books and movies. 

Linear narrative structure is exactly what it sounds like — when a story is told chronologically from beginning to end. Events follow each other logically and you can easily link the causality of one event to another. At no point does the narrative hop into the past or the future. The story is focused purely on what is happening now. It’s one of the most common types of narrative structures seen in most books, movies, or TV shows.

Example: Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie

A great example of a linear narrative is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice . We follow Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy's love story from their first disastrous meeting to when they fall in love and admit their feelings for each other. All of the events are presented in the order that they occur, and we can easily see how one misunderstanding led to another right until the very end. 

2. Nonlinear

On the flip side, a nonlinear narrative is when a story is told out of order — where scenes from the beginning, middle, and end are mixed up, or in some cases, the chronology may be unclear. With this freedom to jump around in time, new information or perspectives can be introduced at the point in the story where they can have maximum impact. A common feature of this type of narrative is the use of extended flashbacks. 

These types of stories tend to be character-centric. Hopping through time allows the author to focus on the emotional states of the characters as they process different events and contrast them against their previous or future selves .

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But why would you choose to tell a whole story in such a confusing way? One thing nonlinear structures allow a writer to do is heighten suspense . Since events don’t necessarily logically follow each other, you never know what will happen next. They can also disorient the audience and leave them feeling off-kilter, which is incredibly useful if you’re writing horror or suspense, though this structure certainly isn’t limited to these genres.

Example: A mores perros

Octavio from Amores perros holding back a large black dog

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2000 film Amores Perros is a prime example of how a nonlinear narrative can heighten suspense and create a character-centric story. The film is a triptych, three stories following different characters in Mexico City whose lives intersect with a car crash shown in the opening scene. 

The first third of the movie flashes back to tell the story of Octavio, a young man involved in underground dog fights who is in love with his brother’s wife. Most of the second story takes place after the crash and centers on Valeria, a Spanish model injured in that wreck, while the final storyline takes place in both timelines and focuses on a hitman, El Chivo, who we first meet in Octavio’s story.

The nonlinear nature of the film allows the director to explore and juxtapose the nuances of each character's struggles. Every character’s story is anchored by the opening. As Octavio, Valeria, and El Chivo move closer to the time of the car crash that will upend their lives, there’s a mounting tension as the audience knows what’s going to happen, but has no idea how it will affect them. 

This is a general type of nonlinear narrative. However, some subtypes are more commonly seen in fiction, such as the parallel narrative. 

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3. Parallel

A parallel narrative is where two or more stories are told concurrently, though they may not always be happening at the same time. This is common in stories with multiple lead characters and viewpoints . They tend to be interconnected, though how they relate may not be immediately obvious. 

Eventually, the story threads in a parallel structure will dovetail, resulting in some kind of plot twist or revelation. As a result, parallel structures are often used in thrillers or historical fiction novels. 

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Example: Gone Girl

Nick and Amy in a bookstore

Gillian Flynn’s best-selling domestic thriller is a masterclass in parallel narratives. The story of suburban teacher Nick’s reaction to his wife’s mysterious disappearance is interspersed with flashbacks taken from Amy’s diary, revealing the shaky state of Nick and Amy's relationship.

The reader is presented with two unreliable narrators : the idealized life Nick presents to the media following Amy’s disappearance stands in stark contrast to the diary entries that reveal Nick's affair and the difficulties of their personal lives. The back and forth of the narrative only increases the tension as the readers try to figure out what’s real, what’s a lie, and what will happen next. 

4. Episodic

You can think of episodic narratives as interconnected short stories that contribute to a larger story arc. Each individual story has a beginning, middle, and end, but the larger arc unites them in some way. Usually, this type of structure follows the same set of characters in a specific setting or situation. You’ll recognize this type of narrative in TV programs like sitcoms and medical dramas, where episodes can, broadly speaking, be watched in any order. 

Example: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The popular 90’s TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is something of a pioneering show, balancing its monster-of-the-week format (“the gang must stop a vampire cheerleader!”) with a slow unraveling of a season-long plot that culminates in a fight against a larger enemy (“the town’s mayor is a demon!”).

While many other episodic TV shows prioritized maintaining the status quo at the end of each episode, one of Buffy’s strengths was its willingness to tell grander stories within the framework of episodic storytelling. With these narrative seeds being planted across 20-plus episodes, its season finales were often more impactful than those of its contemporaries.  

Choosing a structure to fit your story

Now that you have an understanding of some of the most popular narrative structures, you need to decide which one to use for your story. It’s important that the structure you choose works with the kind of story you want to tell and adds something to the overall experience, but that doesn’t mean you need to reinvent the wheel. 

Experimenting with non-traditional structure can be a great way to improve your writing and challenge yourself but if you’re finding it difficult or more confusing than helpful, there’s nothing wrong with using a linear structure. After all, it’s popular for a reason — it works, and many famous and well-regarded stories have been written that way. 

If you do want to try your hand at non-linear structure, consider these tips. 

Identify your beginning, middle, and end

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end, even if you’re telling it out of order. In some cases, the story you’re telling narratively might rely a lot on events outside the plot's main focus. Often, that also means the inciting incident and the climax happen in a compressed amount of time. In that case, a nonlinear structure might be helpful. It will introduce the exposition that’s needed for the “beginning” throughout the story without derailing your plot and pacing . In cases like this, figuring out your chronology is incredibly important — and we recommend mapping it out on paper to avoid confusion.

Find the right place to reveal information

Many stories rely on the careful reveal of information to keep the plot moving and the tension high. In a typical linear narrative, this timing is fairly straightforward — the reader finds out new things at the same time the characters do. However, when using a nonlinear or parallel structure, you’ll need to be even more judicious with how you feed readers this information.

When the reader knows something the character doesn’t, it creates suspense. When the character knows something the reader doesn’t, it creates intrigue. Both of these are great tools for a writer, but they can’t be maintained over a full narrative — that would be tedious and confusing for a reader. Rather, suspense and intrigue should be created and dissipated throughout the story. And if you aren’t sure you’ve done this successfully, you’ll know it’s time to consult beta readers or a professional editor .

Whatever narrative structure you choose, remember that it should work for you and for your story. If you’re not having fun or it’s proving too difficult, changing course and trying another one is alright. Experimentation is all a part of the process. Happy writing!

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    What is narrative writing? Narrative writing is a form of writing that tells a story. It can be about real events or it can be completely fictional. The purpose of narrative writing is to engage ...

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    A narrative essay is usually focused around a single event or person, and is often personal in nature. A narrative essay is a writing occasion in which you will likely use "I.". But, a narrative does not necessarily have to be biographical; it could be a story about someone you know, or even an event from popular culture or history.

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    Narrative writing is a style of writing that uses the technique of narration to present a series of events that leads to an expected or unexpected end. In other words, it is a writing style that is used to tell a story. Read through the article to learn more about narrative writing, the types of narrative writing, and the tips and techniques ...

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