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How to Construct a Narrative


Everyone has a story to tell, whether from their own life or from the depths of their imagination. Such a story, in written form, is called a narrative. To construct a narrative, you must understand the elements that make a story complete. A narrative includes characters, plot, conflict, setting, point of view, and atmosphere, which will work together to share the writer’s intended message.

Establish Your Purpose

Decide first what you want to accomplish in writing your story. This creates a focus for the details that you include. What overall message, theme or feeling do you want to express? Will you be writing a personal narrative from your own experience, retelling a historical event or crafting an original piece of made-up fiction? Do you want to make your readers laugh, cry or tremble? These decisions will guide your story’s theme. A humorous personal narrative, for example, may share an embarrassing experience that reminds your readers that a true friend will laugh with them. Everything you write will work towards that purpose.

Choose Your Characters

Decide who you want your story to be about. You may want one major character with a cast of supporting characters, or you may choose an ensemble cast who share the limelight. If you’re writing a personal narrative, you will likely be the main character. For fiction, you need to create engaging characters of your own. Whoever you choose to write about, give them personalities that will support your purpose and enough detail to make them come to life for your readers.

Craft a Plot

In narrative writing, conflict always drives the plot. With no problems, you have no story. Decide on a central conflict, then outline the basic elements of your plot -- a beginning that leads your characters into their conflict, a sequence of events that complicates the conflict and builds tension, a turning point that brings your conflict to a climax and a sequence of events that leads to the problem’s ultimate resolution. To keep track of your plot, it may be helpful to use a flowchart or write out a quick summary. Ensure that the conflict and its resolution will lead the reader to the message that you’ve planned to share. A story meant to teach tolerance, for example, may focus around a character’s struggle to overcome racial prejudice.

Paint a Backdrop

The setting or a story includes both the time and place of its events. Some plots may lend themselves to a certain setting, such as a mountain for a story of stranded skiers. Consider the time period, the time of year, the weather, the physical location and how these elements may affect the events in your story and enrich the plot and conflict.

Find Your Viewpoint

Plan to write your story either from a first-person point-of-view, narrated by a character and using words like “I” and “we”, or a third-person point-of-view, where an uninvolved narrator tells someone else’s story. For a first-person narrator, decide if you want to have the main character or a peripheral character speaking. Consider how much this narrator will be able to reveal to the audience, as a first-person narrator can share only his own thoughts, feelings, observations and insights about the story's events. With a third-person narrator, decide if you want your speaker to reveal the thoughts and feelings of all of your characters or only those of the main character. This will affect the details that you are able to reveal to your readers.

Create an Atmosphere

Plan details and images throughout your story that create a mood for your reader, such as fear or sadness. This can be done through carefully-placed images like cockroaches and soiled linens in a seedy motel room, or through the details of your characters’ actions and mannerisms, such as an eye twitch or fearful glances over the shoulder. Your atmosphere should always support your story’s purpose, so if your goal is to make your audience laugh, you probably won’t include details that suggest a feeling of gloom.

Fill in the Details

As you flesh out the details and dialogue that complete story, use your original purpose as a guide. Don’t allow yourself to go off track by including too many unnecessary details or rambling descriptions that don’t support your theme. Include enough details to set your mood and make your story interesting and characters engaging, but not so many that your readers’ attention is pulled from the central conflict and its resolution.

About the Author

Bethany Richardson has been an educator in Texas public schools since 2007. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English rhetoric with a professional writing certificate from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

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