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How to Engage Readers in Narrative Writing

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

What is the most engaging story you've ever read or heard? What makes a story engaging? In this lesson, we will break down the art of narrative writing and learn how to engage our readers using different strategies and techniques.

What Is Narrative Writing?

What kind of stories do you like to read, and what about these stories makes you like them? Typically, the stories we love are those that grab our attention and make us want to keep reading. So, how can we write our own stories that make others want to keep turning the page?

Read on to learn about the different techniques and strategies used to create an engaging narrative.

Where to Begin?

A narrative is a story, real or imagined, that is written and/or told through a sequence of events. The way in which we format the events helps the reader understand the story being told. While we want our reader to understand our story, we also want to engage them in our writing. This engagement starts with one word: conflict.

All stories rely on the conflict, a problem or a struggle, to move the plot line forward. Without it, there is no purpose in storytelling. If we write about Paige and Trevor talking about the weather, our readers will become bored. But if Paige and Trevor are discussing their impending break up, our readers will connect to their emotions and plight.

To help our readers understand our conflict, we need to think about format. An excellent strategy for formatting is following the plot diagram. A plot diagram contains the parts of a story that help create a complete and comprehensive tale.

The conflict is presented at the base of the plot diagram. It causes the rising action to begin.
Image of plot diagram

After we give some background, we present our conflict. The conflict will start the rising action where we can truly get our readers to invest and engage.

Narration and Characters

Once we have our story line, we need to make an important decision: which type of narration should we use? One of the most popular options is third person omniscient. Third person omniscient means the narrator is separate from your characters. This type of narrator knows everything that's going on in the story and in the characters' minds, which helps to show each character's perspective. However, this is not the only option. You can have a first person narration from a character or you can have several characters narrating depending on the format of your story.

In regards to characters, the most engaging are those that seem real; they feel like they could be real people, maybe even someone we know. An excellent way to select and write about real qualities is to observe yourself and others. Have students watch their peers, write about their family members and themselves. From these exercises, students can begin to break down what it means to be human and write these realistic details.

Details

As mentioned in the previous section, we want to make sure we give enough details related to the story and characters but also the images we are trying to relay. These details help engage our reader in the action putting them directly into the written experience. Here are some tips to help ensure clarity and engagement.

The Fives

There are two ways using the number five that you can help your writing. The first is the 5 Ws. The 5 Ws consist of who, what, when, where, why. This can be a great starting point for a brainstorm or plot diagram. By always asking the 5 Ws, you can ensure you have all parts of the story during important moments to ensure clarity for your reader. For example, let's take Paige and Trevor's break up. The 5 Ws could look like this:

  • Who - Trevor and Paige
  • What - Breaking up
  • When - 4th of July BBQ
  • Where - Central Park during a BBQ with friends and family
  • Why - Paige fell in love with someone else

Next, you can think of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hear. By invoking the senses in your work, you can bring the reader directly into the scene and engage their senses as if they are experiencing them. For example, if we were writing about Paige and Trevor, we could talk about how they smell the hot dogs and hamburgers cooking. We could describe the laughter coming from their friends and family members as they talk. We can describe the trees, and the family playing games, and the picnic tables.

All of these details help to engage your reader by putting them directly into the scene, allowing them to fully feel Paige and Trevor's experiences.

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