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What Are the Characteristics of Narrative Writing?


Depending upon a writer's intent, each type of writing demands a different approach, tone and word selection. Appropriate writing for a persuasive piece, for example, is not the same as appropriate writing for objective journalism. The intent of narrative writing is to tell a story, which may be factual or fictional, personal or removed. Although narrative writing typically is more open-ended than other kinds of writing in terms of tone and objective, it still adheres to several shared characteristics.

Narrative Structure

Narrative writing is formatted like a story. This means all narrative writing has a setting and plot with characters, conflict and resolution, and a beginning, middle and end. Even pieces that are not themselves stories are written with the same structure. A book report, for example, will discuss those points of the narrative and follow a story that includes the author and reader as characters.

Types of Narrators

Every narrative is told by an individual described as the "narrator." Narrators can be limited or omniscient in their point of view. Omniscient narrators know everything about the setting, characters and events of the story and tell readers what they need to know as the information becomes relevant. Limited narrators know only a subset of what's happening in the story -- often because the narrator is a character within the narrative and subject to human sensory limitations -- and tell only what they know as they know it.

Point of View

Each narrator within a piece of narrative writing has a point of view: first person, second person or third person. A first-person narrator describes events that happened to him or that were related to him by others. He may frequently employ the pronoun "I." A third-person narrator describes the narrative from the perspective of an observer. In second-person narration, the writer directly addresses the reader, as if she were describing events to the reader in a conversation. The device isn't used often. You can find examples of it in the "Choose Your Own Adventure" book series.

An Implicit Message

Like most forms of writing, narratives have a message for the reader. Unlike other forms of writing, this message is usually implied through the events of the story and the decisions or dialogue of the characters rather than explicitly spelled out. Aesop's fables are an exception to this rule, as they illustrate the message implicitly then end the story by explicitly calling that message to the reader's attention.

Using Ethos over Logos

One hallmark of narrative writing is that a story's characters may influence its readers. A successful narrative can make a point or sway opinions only if the readers develop an emotional attachment to the main characters. Characters whose actions are based on some strong moral conviction assume a credibility that can persuade others. Using that credibility as a tool of influence employs the technique known as "ethos." When writers, or their characters, rely on facts and plainly stated logic to advance an argument or stand, the technique is called "logos."

About the Author

Beverlee Brick began writing professionally in 2009, contributing to various websites. Prior to this, she wrote curriculum and business papers in four different languages. As a martial arts and group fitness instructor, she has taught exercise classes in North America, Europe and Asia. She holds master's degrees in French literature and education.