Techniques Used in Writing a Narrative

A narrative is a story -- it has a beginning, middle and end. The job of the narrator is to draw the reader in, compel the reader forward and leave the reader satisfied. To do so, the narrator uses plot, setting, characterization and other devices. Each of these can be further broken down into narrower and narrower components. Narratologists are always adding new techniques to the canon of narrative theory.


This happened and as a result that happened, which further resulted in this or that event. The previous sentence sums up plot. It is the sequence of causal events forming the temporal path upon which the narrative progresses. Without a clear plot, there is no narrative. (See the Plot Structure section for further information on the structure.) Plot by itself, however, is as meaningless as a path without surroundings.


The setting of a narrative is the place or surroundings in which the plot occurs. It gives the plot context. Setting can be the physical surroundings, but it can also be the psychological, social, political or other conditions under which the characters move and act. Setting helps to orient the reader and set the mood. Vividly rendered settings give readers the confidence needed to advance through the plot.


The characters in a narrative are the people or other sentient beings who are subject to the plot and setting. They serve as a point of view upon which the readers can focus their attention. Characters are acted upon by outside forces, but they also make choices, act and react in accordance with their characterization.


Characterization is the personality, physicality, psychological makeup and personal background of the characters. Characterization makes readers empathize or identify with the characters. Thus, as the characters move through the plot within the setting, readers are compelled to tag along.

Plot Structure
Narratologists maintain that the drama of a plot should rise, climax, and fall.

Most narratologists maintain that an effective plot should be able to be represented as a mountain-shaped line labeled with the following elements, in exactly this order: 1. Exposition or Information: The basic information that a readers needs in order to understand what is going on. The "Welcome" mat of a plot. 2. Problem, Complication or Catalyst: The issue that kicks off most of the action that will follow. 3. Rising Action: The development of the issue. 4. Climax: The major turning point in which the characters either win or lose through their own conscious efforts. 5. Falling Action or Denouement: The effects of the climax become clear. 6. Resolution or Conclusion: The narrative is resolved, and the catalyst that started the narrative is gone or at least changed.

Mystery and Foreshadowing

Although mystery and foreshadowing are not essential elements of a narrative, they are often used as techniques to compel readers forward. When a narrative hints at what is to come, readers will want to know how it turns out. Mystery and foreshadowing usually occur in the rising action of a plot and then are explained sometime later.


A theme is an issue, value, moral or phenomenon that a narrative is "about." Themes can help to drive a plot forward and unify it. Combined with narrative, themes often give readers new perspective on old ideas. Themes also serve to make a narrative easy to sum up when talking about it to people who have not read it.

About the Author

Will Conley's writing has appeared in print and online since 1999. Publication venues include,, National Journal, Art New England, Pulse of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Daily and Will studied journalism at the University of Minnesota. He is working on four fiction and nonfiction books.

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