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Writing a Narrative Paragraph

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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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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: 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).

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.

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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