Sequencing Events in Narrative Writing

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy is a doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying media studies and cultural history.

The lesson examines types of narrative structure in fiction. We will learn about exposition, climax, denouement, and other plot elements, through examples from Lois Lowry's ''The Giver'' (1993).

Beginning, Middle, and End

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Though stories can take many forms and entertain many subjects, they all generally follow a similar pattern. In this lesson, we will examine the traditional plot structure in narrative fiction from beginning to end.

Basic narrative arc
narrative arc

In the Beginning…

The introductory portion of a story is called the exposition. This part introduces setting, characters, and backstory that will be essential information for readers or viewers to understand as the story unfolds. For the reader's purpose, it is important to know that authors usually only include expository information that is crucial and relevant to the story.

Let's take Lois Lowry's The Giver (2003), for example. In the beginning of this novel we learn about the setting, as well as protagonist Jonas' age and circumstances. Lowry gives her readers a general idea of the mood of the village and its population while withholding information about the year and obscuring the exact geographic location of the community. The introductory exposition comes before anything that may seem to have 'happened' in the plot.

Next comes an inciting incident, the moment in which the main conflict of the plot erupts. In The Giver, the inciting incident occurs at the naming ceremony. Jonas is given the job of receiver of memory. This important event establishes the path that will unfold throughout the rest of the story, and may even foreshadow things yet to come. Stated another way, without an inciting incident, the plot would lack conflict, direction, and momentum.

The Middle

Following the introduction, exposition, and inciting incident, the action escalates. In narrative terms, it is referred to as a period of 'rising action'. Major dramatic questions are asked and some are answered.

In The Giver, for example, the rising action occurs as Jonas gets to know the Giver, receives his first few memories, and explores how the new knowledge that he has been given affects his perception of the world and his relationships with his friends and family.

In most cases, the rising action encompasses the bulk of the plot. Heroes and villains dispute. Lessons are learned. Tension, suspense, emotion, and action rise to the breaking point: the climax of the story.

The End

All this leads to the climax of the story. In narrative terms, the climax is intended to give readers/viewers a sense of catharsis: a release of tension. Characters finally make their decisions. The mysteries are revealed. Everything falls into place.

In The Giver, the climax occurs when the baby's life is in danger. Jonas uses the memories he has received from the Giver to contemplate empathy, love, joy, and compassion. He steals the baby and flees the community.

A resolution (AKA denouement, a French word meaning 'untying') follows the narrative climax. Phonetically, it's pronounced day-new-maw. Also known as 'falling action,' the resolution ties up lose ends and gives readers a sense of conclusion. The story is ending. The denouement signals or explains the meaning of the events of everything that has preceded.

Ideally, things turn back to normal. But each narrative genre tells the story in a different way. In a tragedy, people die and mourn. In a romance/comedy, they rejoice and marry.

In The Giver, the denouement/resolution occurs in a tense and suspenseful flight from the community. Jonas flees with the baby out of the village on a long journey. He narrates the changing patterns of the land, the weather, and, under emotional and physical exhaustion, the story reaches an abrupt end as he crosses the barrier of memory and comes in first contact with civilization.

A more complex example of a narrative arc
narrative arc

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