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Narrative Writing

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Last updated by Jill Hammonds

Narrative Writing


The basic purpose of narrative is to tell a story to entertain, to influence (e.g. television dramas that deal with topical issues), to warn (e.g. fairy tales and fables that establish moral behaviour) or to provide a historical perspective via fiction (historical novels).  Narratives set characters and events in time and place to tell a story that usually involves a problem that needs to be taken through to resolution.  A narrative has a clearly outlined plot that sets out the characters and scenes and their interrelationship, builds to a point of drama where a problem has to be resolved or a vital decision made, and generally concludes with that resolution and easing of the tension. The sequence can be altered from the chronological order in which the events may have happened in order to build to this point of resolution.  A narrative may start, for example, with the highpoint drama and then move back in time to set the scene and order the events over time that led to that moment before providing resolution.  In some narratives there may be a repeating of parts of the story from the different perspectives of various characters, all leading up to an understanding of the full nature of the problem and its resolution.
(Note that a recount may also tell a story e.g. "The day that I won a gold medal" but its purpose is to list and describe past experiences by retelling events in the order in which they happened - chronological order).

There are many types of narrative. They can be imaginary, factual or a combination of both. They may include fairy stories, mysteries, science fiction, romances, comedies, horror stories, adventure stories, fables, myths and legends, historical narratives, ballads, slice of life, personal experience.  In writing a narrative the writer must first think about what type of narrative they are writing, and therefore what style of writing will be required - science fiction and horror narratives will have a very different style of writing from a romance or comedy, factual a different style from imaginary.

As with all types of writing their needs to be an audience in mind and this too will contribute to the style of writing required.  Narratives for very young children will generally have a simpler plot line than that for an older child or adult.  Characters are generally more complex in adult narratives, and relationships and sequencing can also be simple or complex.  A short story (usually read in one sitting) needs a different style from a novel where the reader needs encouragement to come back and continue the reading over a longer and more fractured period of time.  Some complex novels may include a map or a character tree in order for the reader to refer back and remind themselves of important facts in stringing together the storyline and building to the climax.  Some stories set over a long period of time may be broken into parts with the historical dates noted at the front of the section, and not necessarily in chronological order.


Narrative Features
Click image to download a copy

  • Characters with defined personalities/identities - check out this resource for scaffolding supports for students.
  • A clear plotline that determines the sequence in which events are written and usually the relationships of characters - see the Popplet image in the eTools section below.
  • Dialogue often included - tense may change to the present or the future.
  • Descriptive language to create images in the reader's mind and enhance the story.


 In a Traditional Narrative the focus of the text is on a series of actions:

Orientation: (introduction) in which the characters, setting and time of the story are established. Usually answers who? when? where? eg. Mr Wolf went out hunting in the forest one dark gloomy night.  This orientation does not need to be at the chronological beginning of the events, but it does need to lead us into the narrative, engage our interest and introduce at least some of the characters.

Complication or problem: The complication usually involves the main character(s) often mirroring the complications in real life.  It may take a considerable portion of the narrative to complete this section.

Resolution: There needs to be a resolution of the complication. The complication may be resolved for better or worse/happily or unhappily. Sometimes there are a number of complications that have to be resolved. These add and sustain interest and suspense for the reader.

Planning for writing narrative

Planning for writing a narrative
Click image to download a copy

There is no set way of writing a narrative - some writers will say that they write as ideas come to them and that they do not know at the beginning of writing how things will end, as the development of characters, setting and events may determine the outcomes during the writing process.  However if students need scaffolding to help them work through a process they could begin by planning:

  • The plot - an outline of the events that will occur and the order in which they will be presented
  • The setting - when and where the story will take place - this may be in several different settings and even time periods.
  • Characterisation - the main and minor characters.  Who are they?  What do they look like and how do they behave?  What is their relationship with other characters in the narrative?  How will we find out about their characteristics - through description and/or interplay and actions?
  • Structure - how will the story begin?  What will be the problem?  How will this be resolved?
  • Theme - is there any message to be conveyed to the reader?
  • Audience - who is this to be written for and how will that impact the style and events?
  • Language - what style and techniques will bring this narrative alive for the reader?

During the time that narrative writing is the focus, each of these planning areas should be given focus and needs-based teaching.  Not all students will need the same amount or level of support with their writing, but if progress is to be made all students should receive coaching, critique, time for reflection and review and further goal setting assistance.  English Online has a section devoted to narrative writing where teacher information and support can be found.  This section covers 

  • action verbs
  • writing in the first or third person voice
  • tense
  • connectives and linking words to do with time
  • use of specific and action nouns
  • careful use of adjectives and adverbs
  • use of the senses
  • imagery e.g. simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia and personification
  • use of rhetorical questions
  • varying sentence beginnings
  • show don't tell
  • personal voice

e-Learning Tools to Support

There are also many apps and web 2.0 tools that can assist with the stages of their writing.

Planning the plotline

Check out the following eTools
Popplet web 2.0 tool and Popplet Lite iPad app (free)
Bubbl.us (free)
CMap Tools download (free)
Mindmeister (free trial only)
Inspiration, Kidspiration, My Webspiration (30 day free trial only)

Little Red Riding Hood Plot Outline

Developing the characters

Inspiration has a template that may assist writers with thinking about their characters or you could develop your own using any of the mindmapping tools above.
Inspiration character template  

Use Etherpad (free collaborative online writing place) and the Recipe for Writing (Phyllis Johnston strategy) to help scaffold kid's stories.

eBook tools

There are many web 2.0 tools and apps that provide the opportunity and scaffolding for writing a story.  These may provide background scenes and a selection of characters and accessories that students can arrange to construct a story.  Check out:
Storybird - free web 2.0 tool - packs of artists pictures that students arrange in an eBook and then write the story.  If unfamiliar with this tool check out the tutorial videos and notes for Storybird in this community. 
Book Creator is a free iPad app that allows for inclusion of text, images and sound in creating eBooks.
Storyjumper is a free web 2.0 tool for making eBooks - similar to Book Creator.  Uses Flash so cannot be used on iPads.
Comic and Meme Creator is a free Android app for making eBooks.
Powerpoint, Keynote or Google Slides/Presentation can also be used to create eBooks, with action buttons being used to create pick-a-path stories.


A narrative does not always require illustrations, but for some audiences or some formats, such as eBooks, illustrations could well enhance the story being told.  Some students also excel in art but struggle with writing, so illustrating their work gives them a greater chance of producing something of which they can be proud.  Illustrations could be drawn freehand and then scanned or photographed for inclusion in a book or eBook, or they could be drawn on computer using free web 2.0 tools or apps.  Check out:
Artrage - natural painting software - free demo version or purchase for Mac or Windows $49.99, iPad app $4.99 or iPhone app $1.99
SketchupMake - to make 3D drawings - free for educational use in primary and secondary

Tux Paint - free open source art programme for kids - available for Mac, PC, iPad and Blackberry Playbook & other.
Kid Pix Deluxe 4 for Schools - Paint and slideshow programme for kids
Kid Pix 3D - free 15 day trial of the 3D version

Many more art programmes can be found on the art section of Software for Learning site or in Cool tools for schools or its related Apps for mobile devices site.  Many can produce quite sophisticated images.

Art software


Check out this National Standards Illustration where Year 5 students were asked to write an epilogue to "I am David".  There are two further examples from this activity that you could check out also.
Epilogue written for  

Conversation or dialogue can be a part of narrative writing so check out this example from Year 6 where students hadf to write a conversation between Capt Cook and Christopher Columbus. You will find more illustrations of conversation from this illustration also.

Sample Units

Check out English Online Units - select your year level then scroll down to written language and select those that have a narrative focus.

e-asTTle has specific exemplars for narrative writing included on their Marking resources section in downloadable pdf format.

Also check out the Engaging students in writing page for writing pick-a-path stories in Powerpoint or Keynote, using Storybird to construct a narrative, and use of Etherpad and the recipe for writing in this site.

Character workshop