What Is a Linear Narrative?

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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.


  • Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Narrative Essays
  • The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors; 1999.
  • The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers; Maxine Hairston and John Ruszkiewicz; 1991.
  • Step by Step Writing; Randy Devillez; 1992.
  • The Prentice Hall Guide to Basic Writing; Emil Roy and Sandra Roy; 1989.

About the Author

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.

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