Before you ever knew what narrative writing was, you probably experienced it as a small child listening to a bedtime story. Any writing that tells a story or part of a story is a narrative, whether it is fiction or fact.
Narratives have two main parts, a foreground and a background. The foreground is the crux of the story, presented in chronological order using simple construction and basic past tense verbs. The background uses a wider variety of verb tenses to give the reader an understanding of how the story came to be through describing past events and establishing the personalities of the characters and what shaped them. Reading twelve examples of different types of narratives aimed at audiences at various reading levels will give you an idea of how narratives are constructed.
Elements of a Narrative
Whether a narrative is fictional and takes the form of a short story or novel, tells a true story in a biography, autobiography or essay or relates a tale in a poem or play, it must include certain structural characteristics.
A good narrative has a solid plot structure, preferably incorporated without making the reader or listener conjure up an outline in their head as the story proceeds. The writing should flow from the introduction into rising action, reach a climax, proceed to falling action and conclude with a resolution.
The Meat of the Story
For the narrative to be successful, it has to contain certain elements to engage the reader and lead them through a tale that is cohesive and consistent.
- Conflict: There must be discord, whether it is physical, emotional or psychological. It can concern something as monumental as world peace or as inconsequential as what shoes to wear to the market, but it must exist for the story to have a reason to continue.
- Characterization: Bring the people, animals, insects or fantasy characters to life by giving them personalities that tie in with how they act and react to what happens to and around them.
- Setting: Tell your reader where the characters are to establish why they are in their particular situations. The setting can be as simple as a living room or mountain top or an elaborate scene of an intergalactic conflict, as long as it ties in with the rest of the story.
- Theme: A story needs at least one premise to tie together the characters. They can be working towards diverse or even opposite goals but the general theme should be constant.
- Point of View: For a narrative to be successful, it has to reflect a viewpoint. Whether the characters are working towards achieving good or evil or taking a narrow-minded or non-judgmental approach, it should be clearly conveyed to the reader through dialogue, actions and general character development.
- Sequencing and Transition: The plot has to make sense and proceed in a logical manner. This does not require detailing every action, but rather telling the story in a straightforward manner the reader can follow and find feasible.
Regardless of your target audience, the same grammar guidelines apply. Narratives aimed at readers with lower levels of reading proficiency typically have shorter sentences and use simpler words than those written for older or more advanced audiences, but the grammatical features are generally constant.
- Past Tense Verbs: These verbs are commonly just simple past tenses but can also include past progressive and past perfect tenses to enhance the tempo and content of the narrative’s foreground and background.
- Adverbs: Past time adverbs help the reader clearly understand the chronological order of events.
- Proper Nouns: Most narratives rely on giving place and people names to add credibility to the story, set the scene and keep track of actions and plot developments.
- Personal Pronouns: These types of words eliminate having to clutter the story with constant repetition of proper nouns.
Mastering the Genre
To develop or improve your narrative writing skills, start by writing a story in your own words without getting bogged down in structure and grammar. It can be fictional or just an anecdote describing a personal experience, provided it is long enough for you to critique. Analyze its strengths and weaknesses and keep the areas of needed improvement in mind when you write your next narrative. Before long, you will probably master the elements of a narrative and feel comfortable moving on to hone your creative storytelling skills by writing your first novel.