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  • 0:01 What Is a Narrative?
  • 1:07 Content & Structure Choices
  • 2:59 Imagery Choices
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Writing a Narrative Paragraph

Lesson Transcript
Sarah Wilson

Sarah has taught college composition and high school English. A PhD Candidate (English), she has an MA (English) and an MAT (secondary English ed).

Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for six years.

Narrative paragraphs use organizational choices, transition words, and imagery to tell an author's particular version of a story and, if desired, a message or lesson learned from that story. Updated: 05/28/2020

What Is a Narrative?

Imagine that a group of people witness a crime happen on a street corner. When the police interview the observers, each of their accounts differs somewhat. Since only one actual set of events happened, what is going on here?

One way to answer that question is to understand the difference between story and narrative. The story is what actually happened (or would have happened if we are in a fictional world): first A, then B, then C, and finally D. A narrative is one particular person's perspective of the story. A narrative may start by telling D, then go back to A, and end with B (because this person either didn't see C happen or chooses not to report it). In other words, stories are chronological facts, and any given narrative is a unique, perspective-based organization of those facts.

Why is this difference between a story and a narrative important? For the writer of a narrative paragraph, it highlights the number of choices you, as an author, have to make in order to construct a clear narrative for your readers.

Content and Structure Choices

First, you have to decide what story you want to tell. What are the time boundaries of your story: a single breakfast, a whole day, three years, or a lifetime? In general, for a single paragraph, your paragraph will be more successful the shorter your story is since you do not have much space to develop it. As you will see in a minute, specific details help your narrative, and the larger your story is, the fewer details you can include.

Second, you have to choose what the purpose of your paragraph is. Are you simply telling your version of the story or are you drawing some kind of conclusion from your story? If you are writing your paragraph for a school assignment, it is likely that you will need to include some kind of conclusion or lesson learned in your paragraph. If that is the case, then you will probably want to place that lesson at either the beginning or end of the paragraph. At the beginning, it will shape your reader's entire experience of the story; at the end, it will summarize any important message you want your readers to have when they finish your paragraph.

Third, you will want to determine the arrangement of your narrative's plot points. Will you follow a chronological order in that you simply start at the beginning and move to the end? Consider another technique, which is a good technique for getting your readers' attention: start with an exciting or intriguing action. This may mean that you need to start telling a detail from the middle or even the end of the story before looping back to fill in the remaining details.

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Additional Activities

Narrative Paragraph – Writing Your Own

Now that you've learned more about narrative paragraphs: their content, structure, and purpose, you can try writing your own.

Choose a particularly dramatic moment in your life to talk about. This will give you plenty of opportunity to utilize descriptive language and vivid imagery, and it will make your narrative more fun to tell. Remember, if you are descriptive enough, you can make many moments feel more dramatic than they really were. Even something as mundane as sleeping through your alarm in the morning can become a nail-biting story if you use the right combination of description, imagery, and transitions.

Remember, a narrative paragraph is a single paragraph, so make sure your story isn't too complicated.

Things to think about:

  • You don't have to tell your story in chronological order. How does changing the order of events contribute to the suspense and drama of your narrative.
  • Does your narrative have a moral that it is trying to teach? For example, the moral for the sleeping through your alarm narrative might be: "set multiple alarms", or "always go to bed on time". The lesson you want your reader to learn is up to you!
  • Make sure your descriptions are rich and imaginative. Really paint a picture for the reader, so it's like they're actually there.
  • Remember: there is a difference between story and narrative. Make sure you include all elements of a narrative, rather than just telling a story.

Have fun with your narrative! Be as inventive and creative as you like!

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