How to Explain Narrative Structures in Writing
Writing about narrative structure is like walking around a roller coaster, spotting the loops, drops and curves, and reviewing them for other riders. To analyze a narrative, you need break down plot elements, sort out the sequence of events and recognize how the author's style and the narrative point of view influences the storytelling. By examining these elements, you expose for your reader the path the author devised as a journey through his story.
The plot elements are the building blocks of narrative structure. Early in your writing, identify the characters and conflicts that appear in the beginning, or exposition, of the narrative. Report on the plot development through the inciting and rising action, including twists and complications that occur along the way to the climax, the highest point of tension in the story. As you proceed, focus your writing on major events and avoid turning this portion of your essay into a long summary. To end this section, discuss how the writer resolves the major conflicts to end the narrative.
Describing the writer's approach to organizing events in the narrative helps to unravel the narrative structure. Writers may follow a linear structure in which events flow in time order. Or the writer may break the time sequence by flashing back or jumping forward. You may find parallel plot lines in the narrative, and you need to discuss how they are related. A sophisticated piece of writing may have a non-linear structure consisting of various vignettes or events told from multiple points of view. You should also mention significant subplots and critique how they add to or detract from the narrative.
The voice telling the story shapes what the reader sees and controls the information the reader has about events taking place in the story so be sure to discuss the narration in the piece you are deconstructing. Think about whether the writer changes point of view in a piece, shifting between first-person narrators or moving from first person to third person. Also, explore how the writer's handling of other literary elements like setting and characterization affects the narrative structure. Take note of the writer's use of formulaic plot devices, common or unusual motifs and displays of narrative originality that distinguish the work.
Theme, the ideas or messages the author embeds in the text, drive the plot of the piece. You should be able to identify the major themes in the piece and describe how the writer uses the narrative elements to reveal those themes. For instance, look at what causes the conflicts in the narrative and how the writer resolves the conflicts. Those are the places where writers commonly reveal theme, and they are also key moments in the narrative structure.
Evaluating the Narrative
In the final portion of your essay on narrative structure, you should describe how effectively the writer controls the narrative elements in the piece. Look for a logical flow of events that are clear to the reader by the end the story. Consider and discuss any false leads the writer might use to take the reader down blind alleys or introduce twists that rely too heavily on irony, coincidence or other improbable circumstances. Effective narrative structure should not make a story predictable, but it should not defy a reader's common sense either.
David Raudenbush has more than 20 years of experience as a literacy teacher, staff developer and literacy coach. He has written for newspapers, magazines and online publications, and served as the editor of "Golfstyles New Jersey Magazine." Raudenbush holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in education.