10 Essential Items for Your Narrative Writing Checklist

Before you hit “publish” on a narrative piece, check this narrative writing checklist to ensure you have all the necessary elements.

Narrative writing tells a story in narrative form. It may include characters, plot, setting, and dialogue to do it. Narratives are often stories, but they may not have a fully fleshed-out plot like a novel or short story.

Narratives often tell someone’s experiences or talk about an anecdote. They are more personal than informative essays, and they are often more entertaining. This type of writing is a favorite in creative writing classes because it lets the author explore their creativity. 

If you are assigned this type of assignment in high school or are looking to increase your storytelling abilities on your own, this narrative writing checklist is a good starting point. Go through it step-by-step to create an engaging and interesting narrative piece.

Narrative writing checklist

1. A Good Lead

You must grab your reader’s attention from the first sentence of your narrative, so this is the first item in the checklist.

The beginning of narrative writing is always a lead. This shows the reader what is happening and where. Then, it introduces the plot and setting. 

The lead can be fairly short, a sentence or two, but it should be a clear introduction to the narrative. It should also introduce the point of view that is happening in the story.

2. Transitional Words and Phrases

Transition words help show time going by in the story. They take the sequence of events and help them naturally flow from one to the next. Transition words naturally move the reader from one sentence to the next as they move through the story. 

These are words and phrases like:

  • Suddenly
  • Just then
  • After a while
  • A little later
  • A few weeks later
  • Than
  • Afterwards

These transition words move the story along and help the readers understand the action in the narrative essay.

3. A Clear Ending

No one likes to be left hanging. For this reason, part of your checklist is to include an ending. The action, dialogue, and details of your narrative need to draw to a close.

The ending needs to be clear, but it also needs to be connected to the other parts of the story. For example, if you have any dialogue or action in your narrative, it needs to be brought to a conclusion. 

Your reader should never be left wondering if the narrative is over or what happened unless, of course, you intentionally want to leave the story with an open ending. Even so, the work must have a clear, defined ending that brings a sense of closure to the piece.

4. Structure of the Story 

Narrative writing checklist
At a glance, your reader should understand the flow of the narrative, even without reading a single word

The structure of a story is a vital part of a narrative. This doesn’t mean the sentence structure but rather the structure of the words on the page. Make sure that it is clear from the structure what you are trying to convey to your reader.

Use paragraphs, breaks, and the overall formatting of the story to show its structure. At a glance, your reader should understand the flow of the narrative, even without reading a single word.

Make sure that punctuation shows dialog clearly with quotation marks, and ensure that you use proper grammar and capitalization to show sentences and paragraphs.

5. Elaboration

Elaboration refers to giving more details in the story. Remember, a narrative essay is not expository but rather more inspiring. You need to give the story some heart by showing the characters’ actions, dialogue, and reason.

The best way to incorporate elaboration into your piece is to show the thoughts and feelings of your characters. Tell the reader why they did what they did by including thoughts, flashback scenes, and emotions in the story.

6. Varied Vocabulary

As you revise your narrative writing to bring it to a conclusion, make sure you vary your writing. Consider having a word wall or thesaurus you can tap to change out over-used words. If you find yourself over-using any words or phrases, find an alternative that means the same thing or adds more significant meaning to what you are saying.

As you are proofreading, look for words that are too common or generic, and swap them out for more detailed choices. Some examples of over-used and common words include:

  • Very
  • Good
  • Best
  • Many
  • Great
  • Amazing
  • Nice
  • Literally
  • Hard
  • Change
  • Actually
  • Important

Swapping out these words for others with more meaning will make your story more engaging and interesting.

7. Accurate Spelling and Grammar 

As you work through your revising process to complete a final draft, make sure you pay close attention to spelling rules and grammar mistakes. Keep the point of view and the verb tenses consistent throughout the piece, and avoid passive voice whenever possible. Use commas to break up complex sentences and avoid run-ons. 

Consider using an online grammar checker to help with this part of the process. Grammarly and Ginger are both options that provide a free online grammar checking service so you can quickly scan your piece for errors.

You can also have someone else check your piece for grammar or spelling issues you might overlook. The more chances you have to catch grammar and spelling errors, the better your final draft will be.

8. Use Figurative Language When Appropriate

Figurative language is an important part of the English language arts. Simile, personification, and onomatopoeia are all examples of figurative language. Adding these gives the piece more imagery.

When you add these details to your piece, it moves from being purely informational and into a storytelling voice, thus engaging the reader more deeply in your work.

You can also use figurative language to give your piece deeper meaning. Finally, you can provide additional nuances to your story without deviating from the narrative style by using an analogy.

9. Descriptive Details

At the final stage of your narrative writing process, go back through your piece and see if you can add any descriptive details that make it more vibrant. For example, information on the setting can help the reader picture the story more fully. Sensory details that pull in the five senses, for instance, can make your reader feel more connected to the piece.

Let the reader know what they would hear, see, taste, smell or feel if they were physically in the story. Use words that engage the senses to make the story more realistic.

Remember, you are telling a story, not just writing a sequence of events. Details, especially those that vividly describes the scene, make the store more engaging.

10. Engaging Dialogue

Though it is not always necessary, dialogue can help the narrative tale progress. See if your story warrants any dialogue, and if so, weave it in where appropriate. Your readers will benefit from knowing what your characters are saying and thinking.

Whenever you add dialogue, make it clear who is speaking, and use quotation marks to set off the words they say. Don’t confuse your reader with dialogue that isn’t assigned to a character. Similarly, if you are showing a character’s thoughts, put the words in italics, not in quotation marks.

Do not add dialogue just for the sake of having it. Use dialogue only when it makes sense in the story, but don’t be afraid to add it.

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.