Narrative Techniques in Literature

Literature is a narrative that is an art form. Creative writers use numerous narrative techniques to create effects within their stories, whether they want to elicit certain emotions from the reader or convey an abstract idea. The number of narrative techniques is huge, since many writers have created their own unique techniques. However, some techniques are more common than others, and you can learn to recognize them.


Stories are built on conflict, usually between the protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist is the main character and usually the character the audience is expected to root for. The story is often told from the protagonist's perspective, but not always. Antagonists are characters that resist the protagonist. Antagonists are not necessarily villains; in fact, the antagonist could be a good person. For example, the antagonist might be a character that competes with the protagonist for a job. The antagonist is also not always a human, but can be an animal, weather, an abstract concept or even the protagonist himself.

Characters, Plot and Setting

The setting is the place where the story takes place. The novelist can decide to what extent the setting is fleshed out. The setting can include a time, place and details. Sometimes, the setting is also the antagonist, such as if the character struggles to avoid drowning after a shipwreck. The setting is the location of the plot, which is the procession of events that occur in the story. Characters are people and animals that populate the story and have identities. They sometimes perform actions that influence the plot and engage in dialogue, which is a conversation between two characters. Words spoken by the characters are often put in quotes, but not always.

Point of View

The point of view, or POV, is the character from whose perspective the story is told. In first person, the POV is a character in the story and refers to himself as "me" and "I." In third person, the POV is not a character. The POV might see the story from the perspective of only one character, or he may be omniscient and know everything.


A metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things. Metaphors are often used to convey moods or symbolism or to explain something. An allegory is an extended metaphor that can encompass the entire story. For example, Dante's "The Divine Comedy" is an allegory for the narrator's search to understand his purpose in the world.

Themes and Symbolism

Themes are ideas that commonly recur throughout the story. Writers often want to convey an overall message in literature, which is contained in the theme. The theme is conveyed through events in the story and symbols. A symbol is something that represents something else. For example, in the Bible, the apple represented sin.

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