Narrative Writing: There’s More to the Story
By Jenny Hamilton
Part two of a three-part series detailing writing strategies
Once upon a time, students engaged in creative writing. In fact, creative writing constituted the bulk of the writing students generated. The educational pendulum rarely finding balance has now swung wholeheartedly to expository writing, often completely shunning narrative writing instruction. While across the school day, students engage in reading more expository text and subsequent responses, they are still tasked with reading narrative texts. How better to learn how to appreciate the texts they are reading than with effective narrative writing instruction?
To begin, we need to teach the structure of narrative text and how differently it grows when compared to expository texts. To do so, provide students brief examples of different text types and teach them how to recognize these based on structure. Once presented, every short story or novel your students read can prompt them to identify certain elements of structure. For example, students should pay attention to how an author shared the setting and introduced characters. While we routinely talk about setting and characters, how often do we analyze the writer’s techniques for introducing them? Present a graphic organizer that helps students map the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Eventually, this template can be used to help students create their own story. Initially, it is a powerful tool for analyzing the narrative’s flow.
Beginning a Narrative
Draw students’ attention to how the story begins. Narratives often begin with where, when, action verb, introducing a character, an interesting comment, or dialogue. Provide examples of these various opening techniques from novels and short stories. Then, with every narrative text read, ask students to identify the technique. They now can analyze the writer’s craft. A brief, yet powerful, writing assignment can be to begin the story using a different technique and then decide if it’s as effective. Remembering the power of distributive practice, students can map out a story using the template previously suggested, but only write the beginning. Repeated practice with sketching a possible story or just the elements of a story they have read and writing their own beginning helps students get started while appreciating the writing style of narrative texts they read.
Ending a Narrative
As with a narrative’s beginning, writers use various ways to end it. Offer examples from novels and short stories. Then, have students identify the author’s strategy for every text they read. Some common ways to end a narrative include noting a feeling, remembering a character, thinking about the story, and getting the point. Once introduced, have students rewrite the ending of a story read in class using one of the other techniques. By having students only write the ending, you are providing valuable practice with an assignment they can realistically complete. They are not being asked to write an entire story, but to reflect on the story they read and consider another way to end it. You are prompting more analytical thinking about the text and helping students improve their writing skills with slivers of practice.
Showing Not Telling
Another aspect of effective writing comes from how authors convey characters’ feelings. Readers can discern characters’ emotions and motivations by their actions. Showing not Telling is a strategy you can introduce. Have students illustrate a character is feeling an array of emotions without saying they are. Now, your students can look for how authors convey characters’ feelings. Extend scenes from stories and have students describe the character’s feelings through their actions.
Power of Distributive Practice
Infusing these strategies as you read narrative texts with students allows for covering content without costly interruptions. Instead of students spending time trying to generate ideas for writing, these strategies prompt them to analyze texts they are reading by focusing on the writer’s choices and skill. Slivers of practice provide feedback on student learning and to clarify instruction.
Teaching narrative writing can involve more than simply writing a story. To learn more about these or other strategies, explore Step Up to Writing® Fourth Edition.