There are so many types of writing: a scientific, an expository, an analytic, etc. But the narrative one is the oldest and most popular.
People have been creating myths, legends, fairy tales for thousands of years. Human beings need to share ideas, the fruits of their thoughts with other people. Their approaches change, but that passion is something that unites all writers.
Let’s delve deeper to learn more about narrative writing: what is it, how you can develop your skills, and improve academic performance.
What is narrative writing?
This is the type that can be described as a story. In addition to the classic introduction, result and conclusion, it has a plot. This means characters, conflict, and other literary methods.
And narrative definition makes this format very different from other forms. There are a lot of students who consider it pretty easy and inspiring. Preparing an assignment, you can show your creativity and skills and share your ideas. Some quests involve real short stories; others are fiction. The main task is to hook the audience.
But if you have been writing with a particular structure and pattern during school years, it will be a challenge for you. You may analyze data pretty well, but imagination is not your strong point. However, there is nothing impossible. That’s why students are studying: to develop the skills they need.
So, start with finding as much information about this genre as you can to get prepared. We’re ready to provide you with actionable tips!
Main Genres of Narrative Writing
You already know that there are different types of school essays: argumentative, comparisons and contrasts, critical, narrative. Unlike other genres, the latter is not as self-sufficient. It consists of a large number of subgenres, for example:
- Love story;
- Science fiction;
Some of these genres are intertwined. For example, you can find signs of fantasy and drama in the same paper. It is common for most writers to mix styles and experiment with them. As you understand, it is just impossible when it goes about other forms.
Narrative Writing as Fiction
In most cases, the narration is perceived as a work of art. It could be a piece based on imaginary events.
Depending on the subgenre you choose, there are several approaches to creating such a literary masterpiece.
You can use the real world, events from the past, or the present as a background for your story. Or you can create your world and come up with the rules by which it works.
Fiction differs from other styles, not only in the plot. This is where you can use your creativity to its fullest: experiment with language, structure, mix different subgenres, etc.
Narrative Writing Structural Elements
Some structural elements basic and easy to notice, you can’t come up with a text if you miss some of them:
- Characters. This is an integral part of the story, its driving force. As a rule, the whole plot is based on the development of the personages, their movement from point A to point B.
- Plot. This is the meaning of your story: what is happening, where is it going, etc.
- Conflict. Any form of conflict between elements of the setting or heroes is what creates tension.
- The setting of the story determines the genre and the learning curve. The learning curve is what the audience learns about context, how your world differs from the real one. Build your world gradually and accurately because it has a significant impact on storytelling.
- Theme. Of course, there is a central theme with its conclusions. But even if you are not trying to build some other themes into your narrative, they are already built-in by default. Whether you like it or not, you provide some information about your values and worldview.
- The storytelling arc is like an essay outline, the structure of your narrative. During the preparation process, you note such details as the first meeting, the first kiss, betrayal, death, incitement to an incident, etc.
But there are also structural elements that are not so obvious. Regular people without literature education or background have no clue about them; they feel something unexplainable. This is true, but only for them. The author knows what one does. You’ll find some of such elements with a detailed description below.
Mood of Your Story
The mood is that element of the narrative structure of a literary work that creates atmosphere. It is responsible for the emotional environment in which you immerse the reader. It doesn’t matter how much value this piece is when it goes about style, content, or historical contribution. If it does not provide any emotional response, it will not receive feedback.
Several aspects affect the mood of your story.
The tone is how you approach the paper. Your audience is always watching the story through your eyes. They see what you want to show them and feel your real attitude to the events described. This is why the pieces that are based on the author's personal life grab our attention. Your tone can be calm and relaxed, funny, playful, critical, analytical, etc. All this creates a certain mood in the reader. And you should control it.
Diction is the words that you choose to write the text. They can paint events in specific colors, express deep feelings, and show a superficial attitude.
It's essential to use words that fit the entire context. If you write a novel about the events of the 13th century and use modern slang, it will discourage the audience. However, fantasy and science fiction writers often come up with new words and terms. If their world can be unreal, the diction can too.
The voice of the writer is your style. It includes vocabulary, punctuation, syntax, diction, mood, and everything that forms the aftertaste. The voice is the unique personality of a literary work because the author can use different voices for several short stories.
Point of View
A point of view is the perspective from which you tell your story. In most cases, this is the first ("I") or third ("he", "she") person. But there are other options as well:
- Single major character viewpoint. You can tell the story from the first, second, or third person. But only one character does it. If one does not know about some events taking place, the author cannot hint about them. This approach is common for children's literature. But many adult pieces are also written from this perspective because people like to identify themselves with one character.
- Omniscient viewpoint. It is a perspective where the narrator uses a godlike, omnipotent being. It can see the thoughts of each character, reveal some events from the future. It's important to make sure that readers understand the differences between the personages and this creature.
- Multiple viewpoints. This point of view is trendy in modern fiction. On the one hand, only one character tells a story at a time. On the other hand, the author switches between several personages throughout the book. Remember Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The author allowed both spouses to speak out.
- Point of view vs. the narrator. The narrator can be a participant in the plot or an outside observer. In the first case, the narration is most likely going from the first person, in the second case from the third one.
How to Outline Your Narrative Writing
The writing process itself is only a fraction of the entire workload. Before students start pressing keys on the keyboard to form words into sentences, they should take care of the paper outline.
Indicate Where and When the Events Take Place
When you start working with a setting, you need to answer two questions: where and when?
Novice writers can use hardwired clichés as a starting point. For example, start a horror story with an abandoned house. A piece of science fiction could start with events on a spaceship in the distant future.
The further you go, the more interesting it is for you to experiment with different settings. No one can imagine the dramatic ending when the story begins with a happy New Year celebration.
Once you've decided where and when things happen, take a piece of paper and compile a general bank of keywords. Think about what words, phrases, ideas are related to your topic.
Take time to think about your world: what does it look like? How does it sound? How does it smell? What do the heroes eat? The better you represent this reality, the better your setting.
Introduce Your Characters
Now, when you have a believable world ready to fill in, you need to think about the heroes. Most short stories include 1-2 main characters and a few minor ones. Unless you're working on a novel like A Song of Ice and Fire, you don't have to think about different roles and complex family ties. Keep it simple!
What is difficult is creating believable characters. We tend to invent, idealize, fill people with radically different features. Try to model these people based on acquaintances, friends, classmates. At this stage, you may need preparatory work and personality analysis.
If you've chosen someone as the inspiration for your story, ask yourself a few questions: How do they move? What are the distinguishing features of these people? They may be slightly limping or winking when smiling. These small details keep the fiction people alive and believable.
Introducing them to the audience, do it easy and natural. They should be an integral part of your narrative.
Describe Character Traits
Each story gradually reveals the characters, showing the readers the background and motivation of one. At this stage, you will need different artistic techniques.
For example, if you want to show that the person is timid, you don't need to come up with a single line. Just write that one always walks with hunched shoulders and avoids eye contact. Greedy people are always quick to pounce on food, while friendly ones easily make new contacts.
Practice it. Make a list of different personality traits and come up with heroes that do something to indicate that trait. Also, avoid typing adjectives, it is better to focus on specific facts from a fictional biography.
Develop the Problem
After you answered the questions “Where? When? Who?”, it's time to answer “How?” and “Why?”. This is often the stage that aspiring writers struggle with. What is crucial for you to understand now is no problem, no history. All stories have some kind of obstacle for the hero to overcome.
There is an excellent exercise to help students understand the importance of this aspect. Use a few familiar fairy tales, such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, to identify the central problem. This will help you understand that absolutely all stories have it. Sometimes, problems can seem subtle, but once you get used to finding them, you can easily find a few templates for your own story.
Pay attention to methods other authors use to develop problems. How many twists and turns does the plot have? How many mistakes does a person make before reaching the final result?
Create a Powerful Climax
The climax of the story is the most dramatic moment of the action. It ultimately determines the nature of the ending: whether it is happy or tragic.
This phase’s success depends on how well you've done the other elements of your piece. If your readers are imbued with the character's story and identify with one, your climax will matter.
It is essential to take care that it does not start too early or end too quickly. The climax builds up gradually and keeps you in suspense until the very end.
Even if you have already resolved the central conflict, the reader may have some unresolved questions. The ending is where you can provide answers.
Sometimes it's 1-2 paragraphs in which you briefly tell what happened next. But that might sound too harsh.
Another common technique is an open ending. This principle is often used in fairy tales: "And they lived happily ever after."
You can also provide a complete ending, explaining, and summarizing every storyline.
Tips For Successful Narrative
Learn from the experienced writers
The best advice comes from those who have been in a situation where you are now.
Other writers have an inner knowledge that is even more rewarding than those who just teach it. Perhaps their advice will not be so structured and understandable. They may not use pedagogical methodologies. But writers can provide you with food for thought and inspiration.
Communicating with other authors, you will understand how they think, feel, how they come up with worlds and characters.
Fortunately, there are many online resources today with lessons from Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, etc. Such authors as J.K. Rowling, Steven King, Ray Bradbury, Maya Angelou, and Jody Picoult also have essential tips for newbies. You can find them on the Internet absolutely for free.
Keep on reading a lot
If you want to write well, you need to read well.
You can't tell stories without listening to them. Of course, some of them are better than others, but different books open your eyes to new techniques and methods. You analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each piece, notice exciting techniques, and use them.
Don't worry if your stories will mimic the books you read. During the process, you will find your inner voice that will come to the fore.
If your school or college has its book club, don’t miss the opportunity to visit it. Firstly, it is an excellent source of new books you’ve never heard about. And you will get some like-minded people among the fellow students. Who knows, maybe they will become your first audience? Creative writing classes are also a great source of new contacts and knowledge.
Practice every day
Practice makes perfect: it is a universal formula that works equally well for all areas.
If you want to become a good pianist, you should play the piano as often as possible. And if you're going to be a great writer, you need to practice daily. Ten thousand hours is the minimum that will allow you to become a professional.
Moreover, don't expect your first story to be great. It won't. But a few more tries and you will notice that the characters become more believable, the conflicts are more significant, the setting is more interesting, etc.
Make writing your habit. It is more important to be disciplined than motivated. Write every day even if you don’t feel it. You can come up with a couple of lines, but don’t skip this task if you want to progress.
There are several approaches you can take with practice. You can focus your efforts on your strengths, making them more powerful. Or focus on those aspects that you are failing to achieve yet. It may take longer, but the results will be worth it.
Ask for feedback
If short stories creation is just a hobby and you don't plan on expanding your readership, you can skip this tip.
But it matters a lot if you want to create a story for a specific audience. And that means you need the opinion of these people.
Show your first sketches to your friends, family, classmates. It doesn't have to be professional feedback. Your mentor will give you actionable tips. But your potential readers will give you much more: they will honestly evaluate your ideas. You can also start a literary blog online and post your drafts. Many writers have gained popularity in this way. But there is one additional point to consider: you should be ready for critics. It is impossible to create a piece that everybody loves. Try to get the most out of this without wasting time on resentment and reflection.
Movies and TV shows are stories too.
Yes, they are told in a slightly different way, but they have all the components of the story: plot, characters, conflict, etc. Several episodes build up a whole season, like small pieces of the puzzle create one big picture.
Reading books, watching TV shows, and taking notes. Write down everything that may help you. At first, you’ll not mention all the crucial details. But try to look deeper and gain new insights.
How to Improve Your Writing Skills
Write what you want to read
Many startup runners say they built their businesses because they lacked a specific solution. This rule also applies to writers. If you cannot find a book, create it yourself. And if you would not have read this story, you do not need to write it.
Passion is what should move you. If you love this story, every page will show it.
You may have heard some witty advice from advanced writers, but you feel your idea should take off. Try it. If you feel the need for such a piece, many other people can feel it too.
Write what your readers want to read
This is where it gets tricky.
You should remember that you do not write for absolutely everyone in the world. You can have your narrow audience for which you do your best.
Perhaps you want to write about a specific topic. Or your style is innovative. But if you know your audience, you should consider it. Imagine yourself in their shoes. What do your readers like? What have they already read? What do they lack? Do your research, and it will be easier to come up with something new and original.
If you want to create exciting stories that grab the readers' attention, you need to gain more knowledge about human psychology. This will help:
- Create more realistic characters;
- Think over the motives for the main character and the antagonist;
- Manipulate readers' emotions during the story;
- Induce emotional triggers.
If we are talking about scientific literature, it is strict and accurate. But fiction is about emotion. Knowing how to work with them will strengthen your skills.
Don’t rush to edit
If you edit every sentence you make, you will never get to the very end. Most authors are very critical; they want to get rid of every extra word. It's okay if your text contains grammatical and spelling errors. Do not be distracted by them because you can lose the main plot idea.
If you feel inspired, work in a stream of ideas and thoughts, let it flow. Later, you will have the opportunity to revise the paper, it is better to work out its structure and some details. You can also hire a literary editor to get an outside professional perspective.
Narrative Essay Writing
This kind of essay is one of the popular assignments for students.
The most common type of it is a personal statement. It is a paper you provide with an application for some educational programs. It can be the nursing school, the MBA program, or student exchange. The main task of such a paper is to tell your story. As you understand, you already have it. But you also need to create a plot, show your development, etc. Use writing prompts the school provides you with to understand their expectations.
Secondly, you will need a narrative essay if you’re studying at the philological faculty. Such schools require a lot of reading and writing, as well. But it doesn’t mean you can’t write such a paper if you’re a sociologist or a PR manager. These skills and creative thinking are important, regardless of your profession. So, how to write an essay?
Consider the topic
The title of your essay is the first phrase readers start with. It should be clear and understandable, this is not a place for mysteries. You can pick up a specific topic after you finish. This will give you a complete understanding of your piece.
Start with a draft
Don't expect too much of yourself. Every good story has a dozen drafts behind it. Create the first version and only move on to grinding, which will allow you to achieve the desired result. Many famous writers use this method; you can even find photos of their drafts online with marks and blots.
Indicate the elements of the storyline
Although this is an essay and not a novel or other literary work, you also need storyline elements. This will not be a spaceship, but your favorite store, not the distant past, but just your childhood or teenage years.
Consider the point of view
Usually, narrative essays are written in the first person because this is your story. This is good because you can describe all the details, explain your motives, show doubts, etc.
Get rid of unnecessary details
When you're working on a detective novel, every little thing matters. But an academic essay needs to be more precise. List the details that influence the plot.
Use simple words and make sure that your sentences are no more than 15 words. Remember that some things are evident to you, but readers may have no idea what you are writing about.
Read some samples
You can find some successful narrative essay examples to look through their structure and the techniques the authors have used. Write down ideas and insights you have and try to compose your paper. Don’t copy or paraphrase.
Double-check the requirements
If you were assigned to this kind of paper, you should always remember about the requirements and the writing prompts. It can be a particular topic, the number of words or pages, and even some plot details.
The next important issue is the lack of plagiarism. Of course, you can find some sentences that perfectly fit your paper. But don’t make this mistake if you don’t want to break your reputation. Be careful, because some essay format aspects can also be considered as plagiarism.
Read your requirements carefully and make sure your paper is flawless.
Ask for a professional help
It is ok if you’re not a writer by nature. Different people have different talents. It is not a secret that many famous authors even have ghostwriters who are in charge of composing the whole piece.
If you have an academic assignment that blows up your mind, ask for professional assistance. It will save you a lot of time and effort.