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Narratives are works that provide an account of connected events. To put it simply, a narrative is a story. There are many types of literature that are considered narratives, including novels, dramas, fables, folk tales, short stories, and poetry. In addition to literature, narratives are found in cinema, music, and theatre.
Narrative techniques provide deeper meaning for the reader and help the reader use imagination to visualize situations. Narrative literary techniques are also known as literary devices. Before we look too closely at narrative techniques, it's important to understand that literary elements in narratives include such things as the setting, plot, theme, style or structure, characters, and perspective, or voice of the story, since literary techniques are best understood in the context of one of these elements.
There are many literary techniques, but for this lesson, we will examine literary techniques relevant to style, plot, and narrative perspective, or point of view. Common techniques relevant to style, or the language chosen to tell a story, include metaphors, similes, personification, imagery, hyperbole, and alliteration.
Common techniques relevant to plot, which is the sequence of events that make up a narrative, include backstory, flashback, flash-forward, and foreshadowing. Common techniques relevant to narrative perspective, or who is telling the story, include first person, second person, third person, and third-person omniscient.
The style a writer uses is seen in the diction, or the language used. Figurative language is a common element in narrative writing.
Metaphors and similes are expressions used to compare two things in an effort to help the reader have a better understanding of what the writer is attempting to convey. The difference between a simile and a metaphor is the simile uses words like 'as' or 'than' in the comparison, while the metaphor does not utilize these words.
Consider the metaphor: 'It's raining men.' Obviously, this does not mean it is literally raining men, since that is impossible. It simply means that there are a lot of men present. Here you can see an example of a simile: 'It was raining like cats and dogs.' Again, this does not literally mean cats and dogs are coming from the sky; that is impossible. This is an expression that helps the reader understand the rain is very powerful and forceful.
Imagery creates visuals for the reader that appeal to our senses and usually involves figurative language: 'The bar was a dark, gloomy eyesore.' This statement appeals to our senses to help us visualize and feel the negative aspects of this location.
Personification is seen when an inanimate object is given human or animal-like qualities, like: 'The stars danced in the sky.' We know stars cannot dance. This statement is an attempt to help the reader have a better picture of how the stars appeared to move in a dancing fashion.
Hyperbole is an over-exaggeration to make a point. You might have heard someone say: 'My purse weighs a ton.' We know this is not meant to be in the literal sense but is meant to help the reader understand the excessive weight of the purse.
Alliteration is seen when the writer uses the same letters together in a sentence. Here is a classic example: 'Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.' Some writers use alliteration to help readers remember phrases or concepts, while some writers simply use this technique because it is 'catchy' and appealing to readers.
When we think of the common techniques relevant to plots, we think of a certain sequence of events. To present the events, writers use backstory, flashback, flash-forward, and foreshadowing.
Backstory is used when the author feels it is important for the reader to know something that has happened prior to the actual events described in the narrative. For example, in the story of Cinderella, we learn that Cinderella's father has lost his wife and married another woman who has two other daughters. This is important for us to understand why Cinderella is treated so differently from the other daughters. We don't actually experience this event in the story. Instead, the narrator gives us this 'backstory' just before the actual first event that we do experience.
Flashback is used when the narrator or the main character takes the story back in time, and the events go back and forth between the past and the present. Two examples of this include the narratives from The Notebook and Forrest Gump. The narrators often jumped back and forth between several events that occurred in the past to the present.
Flash-forward is seen when the writer allows the reader to see future events. This might be something experienced by the character or it could be future circumstances and situations. A Christmas Carol features a popular example of flash-forward, when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come allows Ebenezer Scrooge to see how the future would be without him.
Foreshadowing is seen when the writer begins with providing some sort of 'clue' about the future events. This usually includes something significant to the story that will later unfold. Foreshadowing is usually very subtle. An example of foreshadowing might be explained in The Wizard of Oz, when the wicked old lady is seen passing on her bicycle after threatening to have Toto taken from Dorothy.
Narrative perspective, also referred to as the narrative voice or point of view, is the perspective from which the writer tells the story. The two most common narrative voices are first-person and third-person viewpoints.
First-person narration is seen when the narrator is a character in the story, and 'I' or 'we' are often used to convey information. The reader is not privy to the thoughts of the other characters in the way the reader is aware of the narrator's thoughts. We see everything through the lens of the narrator.
Third-person narration is seen when the narrator is not a part of the story and is merely telling the story. This type of narration involves a great deal of flexibility and is the most commonly used mode in literature. The characters are referred to as 'she', 'he', and 'they.'
Second-person narration is rarely used in literature. The narrator uses 'you' to refer to the reader as if the reader is a character in the story.
Third-person omniscient narration is also known as the 'all-knowing' point of view. The narrator knows everything that is happening or has happened and everything the characters feel and think. This form of narration is seen as very reliable and objective.
Let's review. In this lesson, we defined narrative techniques used in writing and identified several types and examples for each category. Also known as literary devices, narrative techniques provide deeper meaning for the reader and help the reader to use imagination to visualize situations.
Common techniques relevant to style, or the language chosen to tell a story, include metaphors, similes, personification, imagery, hyperbole, and alliteration. Techniques relevant to plot, which are the sequence of events that make up a narrative, include backstory, flashback, flash-forward, and foreshadowing. And, finally, common techniques relevant to narrative perspective, or who is telling the story, include first person, second person, third person, and third-person omniscient.
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