In narrative writing, you tell a story because you are, literally, narrating a story for your reader. You can present the story in two basic ways: as a linear narrative or a non-linear narrative.
From Start to Finish
As the name suggests, linear narratives follow a straight line — starting at the beginning, moving to the middle and proceeding to the end of the story. In contrast, a non-linear narrative often starts at the middle of a story or the height of a conflict and then double-backs to the beginning. Another, albeit more challenging, non-linear narrative form employs flashbacks and “flashforwards” to keep the reader on his toes as the writer tells the full story.
When a Linear Narrative Works Best
It may sound like common sense, but proceed with your narrative in the manner that best suits the story. This means that you should give some thought to where the most compelling elements lie. Some stories build with tension and interest that culminates in a powerful close, making them better suited to a linear narrative. If you’ve told a verbal story along the lines of, “You’ll never believe the day I’ve had” and then proceeded to start at the beginning of your day to the end, you’ve told a linear narrative.