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Writing

4 Types of Narrative Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 9, 2019 • 3 min read

There are infinite stories to tell, and there are infinite ways to tell them. Whether you’re writing a descriptive essay, a short story, or a novel, understanding the different types of narratives can help you tell your story in the most effective way possible.

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What Is Narrative?

A narrative is a way of presenting connected events in order to tell a good story. Whether it’s a narrative essay, a biography, or a novel, a narrative unites distinct events by concept, idea, or plot. Common types of narratives normally contain a beginning, middle, and an end. Narratives have been around since the beginning of storytelling, from folk tales to ancient poetry.

4 Types of Narrative Writing

Narratives have been around since the beginning of storytelling, from folk tales to ancient poetry. Here are four common types of narrative:

1. Linear Narrative. A linear narrative presents the events of the story in the order in which they actually happened. This can be accomplished through any narrative perspective, be it first-person narration, second-person narration, or third-person narration. The types of writing that employ linear narrative have the effect of immersing the reader in the daily life of the protagonist, as the reader watches the events of the character’s life unfold in chronological order. Examples of narrative linearity can be found in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which offers different narrative perspectives but unfolds the plot in a linear, chronological manner.

2. Non-linear Narrative. A non-linear narrative presents the events of the story out of order, employing flashbacks and other literary devices to shift the chronology of a story. A short story, novella, or novel may fracture the timeline of the story in order to emphasize the emotional mindset of a personal narrative or make thematic connections between noncontemporary events. In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, Odysseus’ adventures are presented out of order. This has the effect of building suspense throughout the long narrative poem, as the reader is left to wonder how Odysseus’ ordeals began. Another good example of a non-linear narrative is The Overstory, in which author Richard Powers, employs a type of narration that interweaves storylines that span decades and only occasionally overlap.

3. Quest Narrative. A quest narrative is a story in which the protagonist works tirelessly toward a goal. The pursuit of this goal likely becomes their all-consuming passion, and they must face seemingly insurmountable obstacles along the way. Typically, this object of their pursuit is geographically remote, and the character must go on a long journey to obtain it—as Odysseus does in returning home to his wife in The Odyssey or as Captain Willard does in his journey through the jungles of Vietnam to find Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Another example of a quest narrative is J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. In the novel, Bilbo Baggins sets out with a band of dwarves to reclaim lost gold from a dragon. Their quest takes them through many dangerous territories, and they are nearly ruined by a number of crises along the way.

4. Viewpoint Narrative. Viewpoint narrative is designed to express the points of view or subjective personal experience of the main character or other fictional characters in the story. In viewpoint narrative writing, moods, feelings, and other sensory details are filtered through the narrator’s own life and subjective point of view. This narrative style often takes the form of first-person narration or third-person omniscient narration, in which the omniscient narrator switches between the POVs and private thoughts of multiple central characters. This type of narrative allows for the possibility of an unreliable narrator, in which the person telling the story presents information subjectively and in an untrustworthy manner. The unreliable narrator is either deliberately deceptive (e.g. a noted liar or trickster) or unintentionally misguided (e.g. a middle schooler who may not fully understand the events taking place), forcing the reader to question their credibility as a storyteller. In Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov, the first-person narrative comes from Humbert Humbert, a man who has been in a psychiatric clinic multiple times and casts the entire story in a subjective, untrustworthy light.

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