Narrative writing tells a story, either in or out of chronological order and often features a personal experience or fictional storyline. We explain more.
The ability to write a narrative essay is crucial for authors. Narrative writing doesn't summarize topics for your reader or give an in-depth critical analysis. Instead, it conveys a point by gradually leading the reader. You can enhance your content by following these essential concepts.
Narrative Writing Defined
Narrative writing can be a fictional story, a nonfiction first-person narrative, a dramatic retelling of historical events, or another kind of piece. As long as it tells the story of something, a piece of writing can be considered a narrative. With excellent writing skills, there are many different ways to create a successful narrative.
Narrative Writing Characteristics
A good narrative essay typically has some or all of the following characteristics:
- A storyline. Every good story has a creative, engaging storyline that is easy for target readers to follow along with.
- A main character. Many narrative essays are written from the point of view of a main character, who the reader gets to know intimately throughout the piece of writing.
- A unique point of view. Good creative writing should come from a unique point of view and ideally bring something entirely new to the table in your genre.
Other important elements of narrative include:
- Fictional characters. Unlike academic writing or another nonfiction piece of writing, a narrative story uses fictional characters to engage readers.
- Sensory details. A narrative essay should include rich, descriptive language that creates nearly tangible sensory details that readers can more vividly imagine.
6 Common Types of Narrative Writing
There are 6 types of narrative writing:
1. Descriptive Narrative
A descriptive essay typically focuses on describing how the scene and characters look, feel, and act. The objective is to completely immerse the reader in the story, as opposed to a viewpoint narrative's objective of immersing the reader's main character's world.
When writing a descriptive narrative, you should explain the topic you're addressing using descriptive storytelling approaches. Leveraging visual details to present specific things and concepts can help readers visualize the various elements of the story.
2. Linear Narrative
A linear narrative is a narrative essay in which the author follows the chronological order of events. Any narrative perspective can be used, including first-person, second, and third-person writing. The aim of linear narratives is to immerse the audience in the protagonist's ordinary existence as they observe the main character's life unfold.
3. Nonlinear Narrative
The elements of a non-linear narrative are usually presented out of chronological order, using flashbacks and other similar literary devices to change the timeline of a story. In many cases, the non-linear narrative is used to accentuate the emotive mentality of a narrative essay or establish thematic links between events within the narrative.
4. Viewpoint Narrative
The purpose of a viewpoint narrative is to communicate the point of view of the main character or supporting characters and their subjective personal experiences. Thoughts, emotions, and other types of sensory details are presented via the narrator's writing, which is frequently expressed as first or third-person narration. A narrator might alternate between various primary characters' points of view and their innermost thoughts.
5. Quest Narrative
A quest narrative is a storyline written in which the protagonist works hard to achieve a certain goal. Pursuing this objective is often destined to become their life's work, and they'll have to overcome nearly impossible challenges along the way. Often, the main character needs to travel great distances or win many battles.
One excellent example of a quest narrative is J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, sets off with a company of dwarves to recover lost riches from a dragon. In the book, their journey takes them through many treacherous places, and they are practically derailed more than once by a series of catastrophes.
6. Historical Narrative
Although a historical narrative can be used in fiction, it's more often used in nonfiction narratives. Historical narratives are typically written in the chronological order that the events happened and may use less creative or descriptive language to talk to the reader.
4 Popular Examples of Narrative
Here are four short narrative essay examples that you can study and apply to your craft:
1. Fairy Tales
“Far out in the ocean the water is as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower and as clear as the purest glass. But it is very deep too. It goes down deeper than any anchor rope will go, and many, many steeples would have to be stacked one on top of another to reach from the bottom to the surface of the sea. It is down there that the sea folk live.”
— Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid
2. Narrative Poems
“Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.”
— Homer, The Iliad
3. Short Stories
“True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.”
— Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell Tale Heart
4. First Person Personal Narrative
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father.”
— J.D. Salinger, The Catcher In the Rye
5 Rules of Narrative Writing
1. Be Clear
Complex vocabulary and syntax can obstruct clarity in a piece of writing and must be avoided at all costs. The distribution of ideas should be roughly equal between paragraphs and sentences.
2. Be Concise
If you can describe something in one word or one sentence instead of two or three when writing a narrative, you should. Be as concise as possible with your story structure and language during the writing process.
3. Don't Use Second Person
Second-person points of view may cause your reader to become less immersed in the story.
4. Chose Dynamic, Descriptive Language
Make sure you don't seem overly clinical, dry, or stiff in your language. Use the same slang, idioms, and phrasing that you would in a normal conversation. Passive voice should be avoided.
5. Reduce Attribution
Most creative writing narratives don't have attribution since they are works of fiction. Therefore, references should be limited if possible. However, if writing a historical or nonfiction narrative, attribution or references may be necessary. Ideally, the fewer the better. If you can get information from one source instead of multiple sources, you should.
Although MLA format advises adding citations in the text, this might be distracting in a narrative essay. If a work proved particularly useful in a narrative, include it in a list of Works Cited or Works Consulted at the end of the piece. Rather than attempting to bring your reader back to an earlier remark, explain yourself as you write the text.
FAQ About Narrative Writing
Can I write a narrative about my personal experience?
Narrative writing is ideal for authors who want to write about their own stories or their personal experiences in real life. In fact, this is the best creative writing format for personal story writing.
Do I need to give attribution in my narrative essay?
Usually, a narrative essay about someone's personal experience or a fiction piece does not require attribution. However, if you are quoting other authors, publishing statistics, or writing a nonfiction piece, you may need to credit other sources you've used to inform your content.
What is the writing process for a narrative essay?
Story writing can be intimidating for many authors, especially nonfiction writers or copywriters who haven't written a good narrative before. The writing process starts with prewriting, brainstorming, building your story structure, and following the writing prompts. Then, the piece of writing is edited and finalized.
How can I best get my reader's attention?
There are many different ways to get the attention of your reader with creative writing. For example, short stories that use flashbacks to describe past events can be much more immersive than the main character simply relating the information to the reader.
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