What Is Narrative Writing (Definition, How To Write + Examples)

Narrative writing is a writing technique that narrates a story.

What is Narrative Writing

To understand narrative writing one must know what narration is. Narration is the crux of any piece of writing. It is a way any story unfolds. To tell a story is to narrate it, and every story has a narrative.

Oxford defines the word narrative as, "The way in which a story is told; the strategies used to tell a story. In relation to narrative film, Bordwell stresses the spectator's role, narration consists of ‘the organization of a set of cues for the construction of a story’."

It is a writing process and the vital points of the story structure depend on the narration itself. Great literary works use different narrative techniques to experiment with telling stories.

Types of Narrative Writing

Let us quickly discuss 'point of view' to have a better understanding of 'narrative'. When a story is written from a personal point of view, 'I', it has a first-person narrative.

The narrator makes themselves the key viewer of the events unfolding around them. They tell the story from their personal experience and perspective and are often the main characters of the story. The narrator may or may not be synonymous with the author.

When the narrator is omniscient and tells the story of others, it has a third-person narrative. Often these stories or essays are written from an objective point of view. A good narrative should be unbiased and the writer should not try to control the characters or show specific events with their judgement.

Narrative style has evolved through the ages. To understand which technique should be used first one has to determine the goal of the story. Every narrative revolves around a purpose and it is the backbone of storytelling.

Linear Narrative Writing

The linear narrative follows a chronological order. It narrates events one by one, as they have taken place. Linear narrative writing lets the character's life unfold in front of the reader - a better way to put it would be, that the readers start where the narrative starts. The reader takes the journey with the characters.

Most plays have a linear narrative. Macbeth by William Shakespeare has a chronological narrative. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Michael Crichton's Jurrasic Park also have linear plots and also personal narrative.

Linear narratives are simple, easy to follow, and have regular rising and falling action. In the case of a novel, every chapter has either a cliffhanger or a climax. In the case of a short story, the scope of developing a narrative is less, yet writers through the ages have experimented with this form.

Non-Linear Narrative Writing

Non linear narrative writes about connected events but not in chronological order. The timeline is jumbled up, and plots and subplots are irregularly revealed. The narrative point of view can be anything linear as well as a non-linear narrative. This kind of narrative takes the help of literary techniques such as flashbacks, fragmentation, monologues and so on.

The Priory of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon has a non-linear narrative. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez have a non-linear narrative structure, to name a few.

Non-linear narratives are experimental in nature. They have a complex plot structure, uses many literary devices and goes back-and-forth in time. Going through such narratives requires the reader's attention to detail.

Descriptive Narrative Writing

This narrative technique employs a description of the plot, characters, emotional mindset, and other aspects of a story. Descriptive narrative writing immerses the reader into the finer aspects of the writing such as feelings, small details, and time, to give the reader a realistic experience.

In the case of descriptive fiction, the plot, and suspense takes the story forward. In a descriptive essay, the unfolding of an event, or an incident, that is, the five Ws are taken into consideration - what, where, who, when, and why.

Descriptions create a narrative story that catches the reader's attention with rising action, falling action, suspense, and resolution.

Quest Narrative

This is a kind of narrative story where the main character(s) go through a puzzle, a quest, to reach a resolution of the puzzle or the question they were trying to answer. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is a quest narrative story of a person named Siddhartha (modelled on Gautama Buddha) and his spiritual journey through trials and tribuations.

Historical Narrative

Historical narratives pick major historical events as plot, and important personalities as characters. Hilary Mantel, Madeline Miller, Chitra Banerjee write historical narratives.

Viewpoint Narrative Writing

Viewpoint narrative deals with the perspective of an individual. This individual can be the personal narrative of the main character, the personal experience of the narrator, or the author's own life.

This narrative takes into account private thoughts, and personal experiences to tell a story from their viewpoint. The reader watches the narrator's mind open up to the different points of the plot and their reaction to it.

Viewpoint narrative writing does not indicate point of view, that is, whether it is first person or third person narration.

What are narrative writing examples?

Narrative writing techniques can be used in different literary fields - novels, short stories, prose, and even elementary school essays use narrative writing.

Novel

Novels are longer narratives with chapters, each chapter unfolding a small subplot.

Short story

Short stories are slices of stories with lesser narrative scope, but nonetheless are good examples of narrative.

Narrative poetry

Narrative poems are long verses telling a larger-than-life story. These are also called epic poetry. John Milton, Homer, Alexander Pope write narrative poetry.

Comic and Graphic Novels

Comics and graphic novels employ pictorial narrative to tell a story. It is a way to visually appeal to the reader, which ranges from children's comics to grim, realistic setting.

How to use narrative writing in your essay?

Teaching narrative writing is a complex process. The simplest way to put it would be to chronologically arrange your points and frame them with appropriate words. Start writing with different prompts and churn a narrative story out of them.

In the case of essays, jot down the ideas and arrange them in a meaningful way. Even non-fiction writing can tell a story. It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That is the basic crux of any written piece. A good example of a narrative essay is one which has a clear point of view (or purpose), crisp language, good intent and a description of the main events.

Summary

To sum up, we understood what is narrative writing - it is a way of narrating an event, a story, or an idea. There can be a first-person narrative when the narrator speaks from their personal experience. The third-person narrative takes an objective stance on the story - the narrator is not present in the narrative.

Apart from the narrative point of view, there are different types of narrative: linear, non-linear, descriptive, viewpoint, and quest narrative. Narratives help create characters and events that are realistic, and immersive for the reader. Plot, characters, events, thoughts and feelings of characters are aspects of a narrative that takes the action forward towards the resolution.

Narration has been a primary method of writing for thousands of years. Any piece of writing, whether carved on stone walls or written on pamphlets can narrate a story.

SUBSCRIBE

Get More Good Stuff

Subscribe now to receive hand-picked content writing jobs, writing tips, and inspiring interviews with notable writers.