What is Narrative Writing?

Angela Janovsky
  • Instructor
    Angela Janovsky

    Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

What is narrative writing? This lesson will define narrative, identify characteristics of narrative writing, and provide narrative writing examples. Updated: 07/15/2021

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What is a Narrative?

Narratives show patterns and relate them to one another or to specific ideas or themes. The narrative definition includes spoken or written accounts of connected events. Narrative writing is a type of writing that is told in great detail and focuses solely on the practice of telling stories. Its purpose is to tell readers "the whole story". Unlike textbooks and many non-fiction books, which provide us with information, narrative writing, such as novels and short stories, gives us characters, plots, settings, and conflict.

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  • 0:01 What Is Narrative Writing?
  • 0:30 Narrative Writing as Fiction
  • 1:06 Characteristics
  • 4:20 Types & Examples
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Narrative writing is writing that tells a story.

Image of bookshelves filled with books.

Narrative Synonyms

Narratives can be called other recognizable names, such as:

  • Accounts
  • Stories
  • Fairytales
  • Tales
  • Reports

Narrative Origin

Narratives or storytelling has been around forever and is one of the oldest methods by which people learned to communicate. From cave dwellers, who used pigment to paint on walls to tell stories, to the Egyptians, who carved their stories into walls using hieroglyphics, there have always been stories to tell. The first actual written narratives were in 700 BC and were the "Epic of Gilgamesh" and "The Iliad" by Homer. One of the most famous accounts of oral storytelling that became written stories were the tales written by the Greek slave Aesop. His famous fairytales are loved and read by children all over the world.

Ancient Egyptians carved their stories into walls.

Image of Egyptian storytelling

Because stories were recorded orally or in writing throughout history, they had the ability to be shared with others through time and space. Through these stories, people were able to learn about cultures, traditions, and historical practices as well as time periods and the people who lived in that time period. Without oral and written narratives, parts of history would have disappeared, and there would be limited knowledge about people's ancestors.

Narrative Writing Examples

Narrative writing includes both fictional (stories that are not true) and non-fictional writing (stories that are true like biographies and autobiographies). Narrative writing examples include:

  • Novels: Novels are lengthy pieces of writing divided into chapters or sections and having well-developed characters and plots. Examples include "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins and "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding.
  • Short stories: Short stories are similar to novels but are much shorter. Examples include "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson and "The Gift of the Magi" by O.Henry.
  • Comics: Comics are basically short stories that have graphics and photos to assist with the storytelling. They include modern anime comics as well as more traditional ones that focus on superheroes.
  • Plays and musicals: These types of narratives are written as dialogue. They are often broken up into acts and take place in front of a live audience. Examples include Shakespearan plays and musicals like "Hamilton" and "Cats".
  • Narrative poetry: These refer to poems that tell a story like epic poems that detail heroic feats and adventures. Examples include "The Odyssey" by Homer and "Paradise Lost" by John Milton.

Types of Narrative Writing:

There are many different types of narrative writing including:

  • Descriptive narratives
  • Viewpoint narratives
  • Historical narratives
  • Linear narratives
  • Non-linear narratives

Descriptive Narratives

Descriptive narratives are narratives that create detailed settings and provide insight into the mood and tone of that setting. The key to this narrative is creating a detailed picture for the reader so that they can visualize the place and the characters who live there. Word usage is very important and should be as descriptive as possible.

Viewpoint Narrative

In a viewpoint narrative, the story is presented to the reader via the eyes of the narrator. Readers are given a detailed understanding of the feelings, beliefs, and values of the character or characters whose viewpoint is being represented in the story. For example, in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Jane is the title character and the narrator who tells her own story from her own perspective.

Historical Narrative

A historical narrative details a historical event in order from start to finish. It will describe what caused an event and the effects it had on the people involved. It will also concentrate on a particular time period and try to detail that period with as much accuracy as possible. Examples include "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer and "1776" by David McCullough.

Linear Narrative

In a linear narrative, events are told in the order they happened. The author may detail someone's life from start to finish and show how events in their life helped them become the person they became. For example, Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl details her life via a diary from before the Nazi invasion till her death at their hands. She talks about her everyday life and how that affects her. The reader gets first-hand insight into her hopes for the future and eventually her sorrow at what life has become for her and her family.

Non-Linear Narrative

In a non-linear narrative, things are told out of chronological or logical order. The story basically jumps and back and forth. It can include things like flashbacks, flashforwards, dream sequences, or foreshadowing. One great example of this type of narrative is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. In this novel, multiple flashbacks and flash-forwards are used to detail the characters' lives.

Features of Narrative Writing

All narratives have several common features.

Girl reading book

There are several common narrative features. They include:

  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Conflict
  • Structure
  • Theme
  • Point of view

Plot

The plot refers to the events that take place in the story. It is basically a sequence of events where every event affects the next one and it ties things together.

Characters

Any good narrative will provide detailed descriptions of the characters through their physical descriptions, actions, thoughts, and speech. The reader should also be able to identify the main protagonist (the lead character of the story) and the antagonist (the primary opponent of the antagonist and what stops them from achieving their goals).

Setting

Setting refers to the place and time of the narrative. It allows the reader to get a view of the backdrop of the story and also helps set the mood.

Conflict

Every good story has an element of conflict, which is basically a struggle between opposing forces. Conflict can be internal or external. Internal conflict is when the character struggles with their own beliefs or desires. They basically struggle with themselves. External conflict is when a character struggles with someone or something beyond their control.

Structure

Structure is the general order of the narrative. Generally, there is a set order as follows:

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the definition of narrative writing?

Narrative writing is writing that tells a story. It is a way of connecting a series of events in order to tell a good story.

What is an example of a narrative?

There are many well-known examples of narratives. They include novels, short stories, comics, musicals, and plays. Anything that really has a story could be considered a narrative.

How do you write a narrative story?

A narrative story requires a plot, characters, setting, conflict, structure, theme, and point of view. Use a graphic organizer to roughly draft an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Once that is done, come up with a good hook to begin the story and get the reader interested.

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