What is narrative writing? And how do I use it?

Dive into the world of narrative writing, a powerful tool to captivate and engage your audience. This comprehensive guide breaks down the concept, its importance, and how to effectively use it in your writing.



Craft Author: Sam Baldwin
Sam Baldwin

What is narrative writing?

Narrative writing is, in essence, story-telling. It's a style of writing that tells a story in a structured and engaging manner, and it’s perhaps more familiar to us than we realize. Most of the books we read, the movies we watch, and the TV shows we binge on follow this narrative writing style. This article will examine the narrative writing style more closely and break down what it is, what its key features are, and some tips for getting started with narrative writing both in creative writing and in the work environment.

The features of narrative writing

Narrative writing is characterized by several distinct features, each playing a crucial role in constructing an engaging and immersive story:

1. Orientation

This provides the backdrop to your narrative. It's the "setting the stage" phase, introducing the reader to the story's environment, time, and place. For example, in a fairy tale, the classic opening "Once upon a time in a land far, far away..." sets the orientation.

2. Plot

A narrative isn't a random series of events. Instead, it's a logically connected sequence of occurrences that propels the narrative forward. The plot is the heartbeat of your narrative; it's the central thread around which all other story elements revolve. It should keep your reader engaged and invested in what's coming next.

3. Characters

Characters are the lifeblood of your narrative. They could be humans, animals, or even inanimate objects. The characters provide the story with its emotional core, as readers often empathize and connect with them. Remember, characters don't have to be perfect; in fact, complex characters with strengths and flaws often feel more real and relatable.

4. Conflict

The conflict is the narrative's central tension or obstacle that the characters need to overcome. It's what keeps the reader invested, adding intrigue and suspense. The conflict can be internal (within a character's mind) or external (between characters or against larger forces or environment).

5. Resolution

The resolution, or denouement, is where the story's conflicts and tensions get resolved, providing a satisfying conclusion. However, not all narratives neatly tie up every loose end; some intentionally leave aspects open to interpretation, prompting readers to engage with the story beyond its pages.

6. Narrative point of view

This is the lens through which the story unfolds. It could be first person, where the narrator is a character in the story, or third person, where the narrator is an outsider. The chosen point of view significantly influences how readers perceive the story and characters.

Understanding these features is the first step to mastering narrative writing. They act as the skeleton structure around which the flesh of your unique story is built.

Narrative writing examples

1. Novels and short stories

Novels like "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "The Great Gatsby" are excellent examples of narrative writing. They include characters, conflicts, and resolutions, all woven into a captivating plot.

2. Business storytelling

A company sharing its origin story on their "About Us" page uses narrative writing to engage their audience. It gives the company a human touch and allows customers to connect on a personal level.

3. Personal essays

Personal essays often tell a story from the author's life experience, illustrating a particular point or theme.

Tips for Great Narrative Writing

Creating a captivating narrative requires more than understanding its core elements. Here are some practical tips to elevate your narrative writing:

1. Plan your story

Rather than diving in headfirst, spend time crafting a clear outline. A robust framework helps maintain a logical flow and ensures you don't overlook key events or details.

2. Character development

Invest time in building your characters. Make them multidimensional with strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations. The more relatable they are, the more emotionally invested your reader becomes.

3. Descriptive language

Use vivid, sensory language to paint a picture in the reader's mind. Instead of just stating "the cake was delicious," try something like, "the cake melted in my mouth, releasing a burst of sweet vanilla and tart cherry flavors."

4. Incorporate conflict

Conflict is what keeps your narrative engaging. Whether it's an external conflict with another character or an internal struggle, challenges keep your audience hooked.

5. Dialogue

Dialogue is more than characters speaking; it's a tool to reveal their personality, express their feelings, and move the plot forward. Ensure it sounds natural and contributes to the narrative progression.

6. Show, don’t tell

This is a very popular piece of advice amongst writers. Instead of explicitly telling your reader what's happening or how a character feels, demonstrate it through actions or dialogue. "His hands trembled as he held the letter" is more powerful than simply stating, “He was nervous.”

Narrative Writing at Work

Narrative writing isn't just for fiction; it has numerous applications in a professional setting too:

1. Marketing and advertising

Successful ad campaigns often tell a story. They draw the customer in, creating a connection between them and the product. For example, Nike's advertising narratives often tell stories of perseverance and triumph, aligning their brand with these inspirational themes.

2. Corporate communication

Companies use narrative writing to share their mission, values, or history. An engaging narrative can humanize a corporation, helping stakeholders connect with it on a deeper level. Airbnb, for instance, often shares stories of hosts and travelers to build a sense of community.

3. Case studies and reports

Narrative elements can make case studies and reports more engaging. Instead of presenting dry facts, weave them into a story. Describe the challenge, the strategies used, the struggles, and the ultimate resolution. This approach makes the information more digestible and memorable.

4. Presentations and speeches

Great speakers know the power of a good story. Incorporating narrative elements into your presentations can help to engage your audience, making your message more impactful and memorable.

Remember, narrative writing is an art form that can be honed with practice. Keep these tips in mind, and with time, your narratives will captivate your audience, whether they're colleagues, clients, or readers.

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