In an average year, we write around 4.0–4.5 million words. That’s a lot of blank pages!
To make the most of all those pages, it’s important to learn as much as possible about writing. Luckily, there’s now an entire website, Narrative—The Art and Craft of Writing, that can teach you whatever you need to know about writing.
The site is authored by professional writers and edited by the same people who work with brands like HubSpot and Marketo to create compelling customer narratives.
So, if you’re looking to become a better writer, go ahead and take a look at this comprehensive guide to learn everything you need to know about writing narratives—for fun or for profit.
Narratives Are Everywhere
Thanks to the rise of storytelling in the digital age, narratives are more important than ever to businesses.
The news industry in particular has shifted from traditional journalism to a more streamlined approach, leveraging the power of good stories to engage an audience.
Now, not all narratives are created equal. You can have the best story in the world, but if you write it in a sloppy manner, the odds of it working for you are slim to none. It takes a lot of practice to get it right.
So, as a new writer, where should you start? How about with the basics—breaking down narratives into their essential parts and learning how to write a simple one?
The Basics Of A Narrative
Every good story, regardless of whether it’s written for fun or for profit, comes with a basic set of elements: characters, setting, and plot.
The more you know about these elements, the better you’ll be positioned to write a solid narrative. So let’s take a look at each one.
A key part of any good story, in any medium, is the characters.
You can start by establishing who the main characters are, what makes them distinct, and what their goals are. Then, you can dive into their backstory, which is often more interesting than their present situation, and bring it all together in a compelling narrative.
In some ways, character is the most important aspect of a narrative. After all, the reader shouldn’t feel that they’re reading the story, but rather that it’s happening to them. This means that character is what ties the reader to the story and makes them care about what happens.
While character is important, it’s not the only consideration when it comes to setting.
A story’s setting is one of the most important aspects of any story. It defines the world and time in which the story takes place. Essentially, you aren’t writing about California weather, you’re writing about California weather in the year 2018. The same goes for the setting of any story. It needn’t always be present tense, but you should always use present tense when describing the setting. This helps the audience envision the setting and feel as though they’re actually there.
The plot of a story, as the name suggests, is the sequence of events that take place.
A lot of times, you’ll hear people refer to the ‘twist’ or the ‘turn’ of a story. This is a plot point that changes everything—either for the better or for the worse, but always for the better or worse. A twist is one of the most important parts of any story in order to keep the reader interested.
There are only so many plots out there. Once you’ve used up all the easy ones, you’ll find yourself writing madly to come up with something new. But, don’t worry, you’re not alone in this quest for originality.
The Elements Of A Narrative That You Should Know
Aside from the basics, you should also know the elements that make up a narrative. These are the building blocks that you can use to create your own stories or to apply to existing stories.
Whether you’re pitching a story to a newspaper or magazine, or you’re just sitting at your keyboard, these elements will help you write a solid piece that will engage your reader.
Action is what the story is all about. Essentially, what is the point of the story? This is often referred to as the ‘message’ or the ‘plot’ of a story, but it’s more than that.
Think about what is going on in your life right now. Are you frustrated about something? Are you relieved that things are going well? Action defines a story’s central plot point as well as the types of emotions that the story will evoke in the reader.
Tension is what keeps the reader interested. Essentially, you’re trying to create a situation where something needs to be resolved but isn’t necessarily easy. This is the opposite of comedy, which needs no explanation. Tension makes for gripping reading and compelling television.
If you want to write for the news industry, you’ll want to avoid comedy as much as possible. These days, the news world is a very serious place, and it doesn’t take a comedy writer to understand this.
Drama evokes strong emotions in the reader. Essentially, drama is conflict and climax.
Conflict is everything that’s competing for attention in your story. It can be internal or external conflict, but it’s generally something that the protagonist—the character dealing with the issue at hand—doesn’t want, but needs. The conflict serves as the basis for the story and forms the backbone of the narrative.
Climax is the point at which the conflict comes to a head. This is generally the point at which the protagonist either succeeds or fails, depending on the outcome of the conflict. In tragedy, the climax is the point at which the conflict culminates in a major event that affects the protagonist and the situation. In comedy, the climax is when the conflict is finally resolved, often in the funniest or most unexpected manner.
The process of developing your characters is one of the most important parts of any story, regardless of whether it’s for fun or for profit.
Every good story needs good characters. If you can develop characters that are complex and three-dimensional, you’ll be able to engage with the reader and keep them interested throughout the story. A weak character will ultimately do more harm than good to your story.
So, how do you create interest in your characters? The most effective way is through their history. A good backstory not only gives you something unique to work with, but it will help develop interesting character traits and quirks that can be used in the present day.
How To Write A Narrative
So, you’ve got your characters, setting, and plot—now what? How do you go about writing the narrative? This is the part that can be the most difficult.
The best approach is to take it step by step. You don’t need to start from the very beginning, as this will likely involve too much information and overwhelm your reader. Instead, start from the end, and work your way back. This will help you narrow the story down to its most essential elements. Anything that is not essential can be left out or altered to fit the narrative.
For example, if you’re writing about a science experiment gone wrong, you might decide that the best way to start your story is with the scientist and their family getting ready for bed. This is the point at which your readers know nothing about the characters or the story, except for what is presented in the writing. After this point, you can slowly reveal more about the character and the situation.