A Complete Guide to Narrative Writing—Stories Well Told

21 Feb 2023 The Writing Craft, Uncategorized

What keeps readers turning pages, moviegoers glued to their seats, and Netflix watchers up all night? Narrative—a well-told story.

Want to get a handle on narrative writing so you can tell that story that’s burning inside you? Read on…

What is Narrative Writing? 

Any piece of writing that tells a story — fiction or nonfiction. All narrative writing shares common elements.

7 Common Elements of Narrative Writing

What happens in your story either keeps your readers turning the pages or has them setting your book aside.

You’ll find lots of ideas in mega-bestseller Dean Koontz’s Classic Story Structure below. Wait for it!

If your plot is what happens, your theme is why it happens. Ask yourself: What message do I want readers to take away from my story? What do I want to teach them about life?

Your theme should be subtly weaved through your narrative.

This is where your story takes place — but should also include time, as well as how things look, smell, taste, feel, and sound.

Too many beginning writers — and even some veterans — start their stories with a description of their settings.


Get to the story itself quickly. Layer description in with the action and dialogue.

Through whom will readers experience your story? You need a perspective character to serve as your camera and recorder.

Your story can be told in…

    • First Person (I, me, my)
    • Second Person (you, yours) (not recommended)
    • Third Person (he/her, she/his) — most common

Whichever you choose, readers should experience only what your Point-of-View character experiences. You can be in the head of only one character per scene, and preferably per chapter.

Your main character must be a realistic, relatable person. He or she should have human flaws readers can relate to.

Even superheroes shouldn’t be perfect. Who can relate to perfection? Even Indiana Jones has a snake phobia.

By the same token, your villain should be bad simply because he’s the bad guy. He must have believable motivations. After all, villains don’t consider themselves villains. They believe their actions are justified.

This is the engine of fiction — and believe it or not, it drives nonfiction too. If your story is falling flat, it’s likely it lacks conflict.

Life is great when nothing goes wrong, but it’s boring to read about.

Plunge your character into terrible trouble. Make life so difficult, it seems impossible to escape.

  • Resolution

Keep your lead character center stage to the very end. Everything he learns through all the complications that arise from his trying to fix the terrible trouble you plunged him into should, in the end, give him what he needs to rise to the occasion and win the day.

Don’t rush your ending. Give it the time it needs to be wholly satisfying and feel right.

Dean Koontz’s Classic Story Structure

  1. Plunge your main character into terrible trouble as soon as possible.

The terrible trouble depends on your genre, but in short, it’s the worst possible dilemma you can think of for your main character.  Just remember, this trouble must bear stakes high enough to carry the entire novel.

One caveat: whatever the dilemma, it will mean little to readers if they don’t first find reasons to care about your character. They should be realistically flawed, but likable. Their trouble will magnetize a reader invested in the character.

  1. Everything your character does to try to get out of that trouble makes it only worse.

Avoid the temptation to make life easy for your protagonist.

Every complication must be logical (not the result of coincidence), and things must grow progressively worse, until…

  1. The situation appears hopeless.

Make your predicament so hopeless that it forces your lead to take action, to use every new muscle and technique gained from facing a book full of obstacles to become heroic and prove that things only appeared beyond repair.

  1. Finally, your hero rises to the occasion and succeeds against all odds — or fails, if you opt for other than a happy ending.

The importance of character arc 

Your character must change by the end of your story.

  • What does your character really want? Why?
  • What, or who, is keeping them from getting what they want?
  • What personal flaws keep your main character from achieving his goals?
  • What does your character struggle with internally?
  • What will your character do to get what he wants?
  • What heroic qualities does your character attain in the finale?

Mastering Narrative Writing so you can write a story adored by many is not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

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