Teaching Narrative Writing
- What exactly is narrative writing?
- What specific skills are involved in teaching narrative writing?
- What can we expect in narrative writing from student authors?
- How can parents help in the process?
What exactly is narrative writing?
Narrative writing…you’ve heard the term, you’re expected to teach your students how to write a narrative piece, you’re given rubrics that describe and define what the state sees as effective examples of the successful narrative.
But what exactly is narrative writing? What are the salient characteristics of a successful narrative? What about author’s purpose and audience? Character/problem solution vs. personal experience? What specific skills must the author possess? And, beyond all this, the big question is, why is it important to teach narrative writing at all?
Narrative writing can be broadly defined as story writing – a piece of writing characterized by a main character in a setting who encounters a problem or engages in an interesting, significant or entertaining activity or experience. What happens to this main character is called the plot. The plot follows a beginning, middle, and end sequence. The middle of the story is the largest, most significant part, which we call the main event. The main event is really what the story is all about and involves either a problem to be solved or a significant life experience for the main character. Authors write narrative stories in order to entertain an audience of others – this is called author’s purpose.
What specific skills are involved in narrative writing?
Authors of successful narratives are well-versed in the following skills:
- organization – they understand the shape that a narrative story takes as well as the salient characteristics of this kind of writing
- crafting entertaining beginnings – authors must understand the function of a story beginning – to grab the reader’s attention and introduce the reader to the story world. They also need to recognize the specific strategies and techniques authors use to accomplish this.
- elaborative detail – involves so much more than assigning adjectives to nouns! – the author needs to know why to elaborate (to allow the reader to experience story critical characters, settings, and objects through the five senses of the main character.), where elaboration is appropriate, and how to create it.
- suspense – story tension is what keeps the reader reading. Young authors must understand the need for suspense/tension and some specific techniques for building this into their plots.
- fully elaborated main events – every short story has a single significant main event – what the story is really all about. This main event needs to be told through a mix of action, description, dialogue, thoughts and feelings. It needs to be stretched out to reflect its relative importance to the story.
- satisfying extended story endings – after the main event concludes the author needs to allow the main character to reflect on memories, feelings, hopes, wishes, and decisions brought about by the main event.
The tools and strategies for teaching the above skills can be found in Empowering Writers Comprehensive Narrative Guide (Second Edition).
What can we expect in narrative writing from student authors?
Students as early as grade 2 can begin to understand, learn, and apply narrative writing skills, creating entertaining narrative stories. (Click here to see student samples)