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22.02.2015 16:05    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Writing      Tags: fiction writing  writing building blocks  

Narrative Building Blocks

Autobiographies and oral histories are both narratives, but they have distinct differences. The same is true of fairy tales, fables, and feature stories. You can tell a novel from a short story, too. So what makes these diverse types of narration similar? All narratives contain the following elements:

  • Plot
  • Speaker
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Theme
  • Point of view

Let's start with the first element on the list, plot.

Word Watch

Plot is the arrangement of events in a story. Plots include the exposition, rising action, climax, and denouement (resolution).


The Plot Thickens: Plot


All narratives center around a plot, the arrangement of events. Plots have a beginning, middle, and end. The writer (that's you!) arranges the events of the plot to keep the reader's interest and convey your message about life. In most stories and novels, the events of the plot can be divided as follows:

  • Exposition. Introduces the characters, setting, and conflict.
  • Rising action. Builds the conflict and develops the characters.
  • Climax. Shows the highest point of the action.
  • Denouement or resolution. Resolves the story and ties up all the loose ends.

Who Was That Masked Man? The Speaker


The speaker (also called the personae) is the personality the writer assumes when telling a story. For example, you can tell the story as a young girl, an old man, or a figure from history. You can be anyone you want to be when you tell a story. You can change size, shape, age, gender, and even species.
When you become the speaker, you're donning a mask that allows you to reveal— and conceal—as you will. Don't confuse the speaker with the writer. Even when you're telling the story as yourself, you're wearing a mask.


And then we have the figures who animate your stories, the characters. Learn how to create them now.
A character is a person or an animal in a story. Main characters have important roles in the narrative; minor characters have smaller parts. They usually serve as a contrast to the main character or to advance the plot.


Characterization is the different ways a writer tells readers about characters. Sometimes you may wish to describe the characters directly by naming their traits. Other times, writers let readers reach their own decisions about the characters by showing the comments, thoughts, and actions of the other characters.


The Curtain Rises: Setting

The setting of a story is the time and place where the events unfold. You can establish the setting directly or suggest it from details in the story. In this excerpt from Huck Finn, you can infer that Huck is outside from these details: “grass and cool shade,” “big trees,” and “little breeze.” You can also provide clues to the setting in the characters' speech, clothing, or means of transportation. Huck's speech—words such as “ruther” (for “rather”) and “there was freckled places” (for “there were …”)—suggests that Huck is a country lad in the mid-nineteenth century.


The setting is more than a mere backdrop to the action. Rather, it serves to underscore the action and theme.


The Meaning of Life: Theme

Don't confuse the theme with the topic; the former is a broad statement about reality; the latter, the subject of the narrative. A theme might be “War is hell”; the subject, World War II.


Effective narratives do more than entertain; they often suggest a truth about life, a theme. This observation touches a cord within your readers and makes your story memorable. It can even help lift your writing to the level of Art.


Write Angles


Truman Capote invented a hybrid between fiction and non-fiction, which he called the “nonfiction novel.” This genre starts with a true story (the non-fiction aspect) and adds elements of fiction (such as invented dialogue and details). Capote's finest example is In Cold Blood, the gripping tale of a pair of murderers on a Midwestern killing spree.


You can state the story's theme directly in the story, or have readers infer it from details about plot, characters, and setting. The choice is yours.


I Spy: Point of View


In narration, the point of view is controlled by the grammatical person in which an author chooses to write. You have three choices: first-person point of view, third-person omniscient point of view, and third-person limited point of view. Here's the run-down:

  • First-person point of view. The narrator is one of the characters in the story and explains the events through his or her own eyes, using the pronouns I and me. Unless the narrator is Carnack the Magnificent, he or she doesn't know the other characters' thoughts.
  • Third-person omniscient point of view. The narrator is not a character in the story. Instead, the narrator looks through the eyes of all the characters. As a result, the narrator is omniscient or “all-knowing.” The narrator uses the pronouns he, she, and they.
  • Third-person limited point of view. The narrator tells the story through the eyes of only one character, using the pronouns he, she, and they.

Each point of view has its advantages. Your choice depends on the Big Three: audience, purpose, and topic. For example, if you use the first-person point of view for your narrative, readers see the experience through your eyes and your eyes only. As a result, the first-person point of view allows an immediacy and intimacy absent from the third-person point of view.


The third-person points of view, in contrast, allow the writer to achieve distance and some measure of objectivity.

Descriptive Writing


Descriptive writing uses sensory details to paint a word picture of a person, place, scene, object, or emotion. Descriptive writing is an important part of any writing—even technical pieces. That's because in addition to helping readers grasp emotions, feelings, and characters, effective descriptive writing helps explain and persuade.


You can use descriptive writing in the following ways:

  • To make scenes realistic and memorable
  • To help readers experience an emotion
  • To share your feelings more clearly
  • To bring characters to life
  • To convey key ideas, especially complex ones
  • To help readers feel like they're on the scene

Sensory Details: details that appeal to the 5 senses, touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight.

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