How to Write a Narrative

Useful information on writing techniques

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Style and character, plot, setting, and theme are essential elements of fiction writing. At its most basic level, style can be defined as the writer’s ‘voice’. Style is apparent in an author’s word choice and the way they structure their sentences.

There are four main modes of rhetorical writing. They are:•

Description (sensory details – sight, smell, touch, sound, taste – depicting scenery, location, temperature, and so on, are used to convey the concept to a reader)

• Exposition (inform, explain or describe)

• Narration (tell a story), and

• Persuasion (presentation of an argument to convince the reader to adopt the same point of view). This Mini-Guide deals with a narrative. It may surprise you that there is no agreement on what modes constitute ‘good writing’ or ‘good narrative’. However, this is nothing to worry about; this is great news for creative writers. It means you can contribute even more of your own individualistic and artistic flair. As a writer, you need to consider the following:

• Use of Punctuation (don’t use too much; don’t use too little. Punctuation should guide a reader through the text)

• Grammar (notice the difference between written and spoken language, and consider how you are going to portray this in your text)

• Sentence structure (consider whether your sentences are long, unwieldy, hastily or clumsily put together, or compact and concise. It would help if you made every word matter. An author’s style is often apparent – and sometimes unique – in their syntactical choices)

• Subtlety (remember not to give everything away at once)

• Cohesion (consider whether your sentences relate to each other and follow on from each other systematically and sensibly)

• Consistency (don’t forget to check that your character names, families, dates, histories, locations, themes and events are consistent throughout the story – don’t change your ‘Janes’ to ‘Junes’)

• Tone and voice (consider what attitude your narrator has to the subject matter).In fiction, the narrator – or narrative voice – is the person who tells the story. You can tell a story in many ways.

The narrator can be:

• Omnipresent – always there

• Omnipotent – all-powerful (the keeper of all knowledge)

• Omniscient – God-like and all-knowing, or

• Unobtrusive. The narrator can tell the story in the first-person the third-person, and may even change throughout the story. Sometimes stories have multiple narrative voices. And to make things more interesting for the reader, narrators may not always be reliable. They can be intentionally misleading, factually incorrect, and disappear and reappear almost at their own will! Narrators may also tell the story as a stream of consciousness. Where all the thoughts tumble out in an often nonsensical and sometimes incoherent fashion. Events are recounted as they spring to mind rather than chronologically. In the first-person narrative, the narrator explicitly refers to themselves and uses terms such as ‘I’ (first-person singular) or ‘we’ (first-person plural). Third-person narrative – the voice uses the ‘he-she’ form to recount the story. The second-person narrative is used less frequently in fiction works but is common in self-help books. ‘Choose your own adventure stories, manuals and instruction guides, as in ‘you should keep a record of all your receipts.

Other valuable terms Diction – A writer’s distinctive word choices, phrases and expressions. Symbolism – when another object or person represents something else. Tone – the mood created by the attitude of the narrative voice. The tone may be: formal, informal, serious, cheerful, humorous, hostile, aggressive, solemn, joyous, playful, ironic, superior, condescending or engaging.

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