A narrative book is a story or a series of events or ideas connected, told, and written down in the format of a book. Narratives use the classic storytelling elements, like characters, plot, and setting to engage readers. Some narratives can also include fantasy, history, or science fiction elements.
Narrative books’ primary aim is to engage readers and take them on an imaginative trip through a story. It introduces the reader to characters with their own narratives, allowing them to follow how these characters relate to each other, how the setting influences them, how the flow of events and introduction of conflicts cause them to act, and how the narrative’s world exemplifies an overarching theme or set of values.
Table of Contents
What is a narrative?
A narrative is a type of writing that connects concepts, ideas, or events. The three essential aspects of narration in storytelling are:
- Show patterns and motifs
- Relate different ideas and events together
- Make sense of a story or a theme
The connection between events made through writing creates a narrative. Narrating refers to the process of shaping and connecting events around a common theme of objectives or effects (whether by unconscious effort or by design — more on that later). For example, in a comedic narrative, the overarching goal is to surprise or lead the reader into bemusement.
Here are three Oxford English Dictionary definitions of narrative for further reference:
- A written or spoken account of connected ideas or events; a story.
- A representation of a specific process or situation through words conforming to an overarching objective or value theme.
- The art and practice of telling stories.
Parts of a narrative book
As mentioned, narrative book writing uses different elements. These parts of complete the whole narrative book and are necessary for writing a great story.
Individuals who possess unique characteristics and personalities. They contribute or participate in the world and the events of the narrative. It’s quite impossible to write a narrative book without characters. Witnessing these characters’ development is also one of the best things about narrative writing and reading, as they are the driving force and movers of the narrative. Try to avoid writing two-dimensional characters, i.e., ones with no depth, as they tend to stand out and ruin the reader’s immersion.
The setting of a narrative book hugely determines the genre it belongs to, and it also sets our expectations about the characters, their politics, and the narrative’s mood. This is where you establish the differences between the reader’s world or culture and the one you feature in your story. This usually involves a learning curve — essentially, how much a reader needs to know about your world and story for them to get completely immersed. The setting also influences how the narrative is told, as language and tone reflect the world built in the story.
This is the central part and identity of the narrative. What are the characters and their world going through? Where are these events going to lead up to? What is going to happen while they move towards their objectives? This can often include one or several conflicts. It is not unusual to consider the plot the narrative itself as it is the story’s whole point.
A narrative book IS a story, and as with any story, values are observed, mistakes and corrections are made, and lessons are learned; these become the themes of a narrative. Usually, the writer’s own perspective, hopes for the world, and real beliefs and values bleed into their work. Sometimes, the book’s theme is unconsciously worked into the writing and is only spotted by the writer or editor in a later read-through. Despite the circumstances of creation and discovery, authors are strongly encouraged to focus on their chosen theme (or themes, as you don’t need to settle for just one) and incorporate them into your plot at appropriate intervals. This creates a feeling of wholeness in your overall narrative structure. Plus, they can be a rewarding experience for readers who can identify your work’s subtle themes.
The characters have no objective to chase or challenge to overcome if no conflict is presented in the story. This part of a narrative book is where the tension of the story comes from. Writers can use several types of conflict to enhance their story’s appeal. They are:
Character vs. Self
This type of conflict centers around the character’s battle with their inner self. This can be presented as logic vs. emotion or desire vs. morality. The usual goal here is to promote a sense of self-improvement of degradation, whichever the story is leaning towards.
Character vs. Character
Many narrative books feature this kind of conflict. The usual presentation is good vs. evil, but recent shifts in audience preference have created a niche for stories with morally gray conflicts with no clear line between right and wrong.
Character vs. Society
Setting up a character against an established institution or societal construct is the heart of this type of conflict. The novel 1984 and its nonfiction counterparts written by rebels and revolutionaries are great examples.
Character vs. Nature
Scenarios that involve conflict with nature mostly revolve around the theme of survival. The characters are pitted against an element of nature, an isolated location, or an animal.
Character vs. Technology
Though not limited to it, this type of conflict is the bread and butter of science fiction. It highlights problems that arise when technology grows beyond man’s control.
Character vs. Supernatural
This is a more fantastical take on conflicts. It involves pitting mythological figures like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or other types of monsters against regular humans to create tension.
This is the structure the story takes. The arc includes elements like introducing a new conflict, inciting a pivotal incident or critical milestones of the narrative, the climax and resolution, and even other elements like the character arc.
Narrative arcs for plot development
Now that we have mentioned the narrative arc, let’s talk about the plot-building for a narrative book. The narrative arc is the most common and basic framework for plot development. One of the most vital processes in creating a fantastic narrative book is developing the plot, regardless of which narrative a writer chooses. These events and actions will take place in the story, culminating in, hopefully, a worthwhile and exciting ending.
These structures are often considered “arcs” because of how a story begins, moves to rise and peak, and falls to its resolution, creating the arc. The fundamental narrative arcs across all genres more commonly include these five stages:
This is where the author or narrator establishes the setting, introduces the characters, and presents the story’s primary conflict.
This second stage starts when the primary conflict is presented, and the story is set in motion. Each subsequent event ideally gets more complicated as the narrative goes on, creating tension and building excitement.
This is the point of the story by which the narrative reaches its highest tension and, most importantly, conflict. This is when characters confront their biggest obstacle or adversary, the conflict weighs the heaviest, and all simultaneous actions are at their peak.
The narrative begins to calm down and move toward its resolution. Loose ends of the story are tied up, questions are usually answered, mysteries are sometimes unraveled, and the reader understands how the narrative’s conflict is actually resolved.
The great conflict is resolved, the reader gathers or realizes the complete theme and lessons of the story, and the narrative ends.
There are a few common arrangements for narrative elements, like the Hero’s Journey, a concept inspired by Joseph Campbell’s views on the monomyth. He observed that several myths from different cultures follow a similar pattern, which has since been adapted into modern stories. There’s also the Three-Act Structure, where the story is neatly divided into setup, confrontation, and resolution.
What are the common types of narrative?
There are several types of narratives. Each has distinct features that can be used in appropriate stories and works. Let us discuss each narrative type.
Linear narrative is where the writer or narrator tells the events chronologically as they happened, or as others say, in sequence. This type of narrative is typical of realist fiction, where the author wants to create the sense of life unfolding as a character experiences day-to-day or year-to-year.
Usually, the purpose of a linear narrative is to show clear causation of one event to another. When we have a clear perspective of what happened to a character yesterday, then what happens to them today, followed by what will happen to them tomorrow, it makes it easier to understand the flow of events and the story’s sequence of cause and effect. Narrative books in a linear style can be written using past, present, or future tense, depending on your choice. What is consistent is that each event flows sensibly from the previous incident described.
Different types of narrative include writing that does not follow events in the chronological sequence as they happened.
Non-linear narrative books showcase stories with overarching themes and arcs that reveal themselves in varying places and times of the story without bothering to pursue proper chronological sequence.
For example, the author might share key details from 1994 before throwing back to the events of 1989 in the narration.
Many non-linear writers can also mention bits and pieces of the backstory as breaks to an otherwise linear narrative. Non-linear narratives can showcase the storyteller’s emotional state or focus of thought.
For example, a writer who might want to tell a narrative about his heartbreak can write in flashbacks and core memories. These stories might tell various events following this chosen heartbreak theme through several book chapters that are jumbled out of sequence, as he tries to connect impressive anecdotes and memories he has accrued in his life that relate to this theme of pain.
You can also place events out of sequence to create a disjointed experience for the reader. This works by feeding information at particular times to enhance a plot’s allure or mystery specifically. Some writers employ this technique as a narrative hook, presenting an extreme or shocking event at the beginning and then exploring the key moments and character decisions that lead up to it.
In different genres such as biography, memoirs/autobiography, and other historical subgenres (like war fiction and period romance), a lot of the narration can include actual events or eras of the past. Of course, the author has options in which tense to tell a historical narrative. For example, one may tell a war story in a tumultuous present tense to evoke a sense of urgency, tragedy, and melancholy dread.
Usually, a historical narrative used across different literary genres shows a relevant historical process. It links the plot and characters from one historical event to another, showing the history affecting the chain of events of the written narrative and allowing the reader to understand how such circumstances would turn out the way they have in the story.
This is why we often have words showing the order of events in a historical narrative, such as narration sharing a character’s backstory. A philosophy of cause and effect, of condensing a series of long events, is typical of a historical narrative.
A descriptive narrative connects information gleaned from imagery and vivid details to convey a story’s time, feeling, and place. This type of narrative focuses on presenting sensory information to create a strong connection between the reader and the described images.
When we describe an everyday scene in an old Midwest town in a Mark Twain novel, we might picture the Mississippi River twinkling as it rushes under the stars, or cobbled streets, or dry heaps of hay to build a scene you can almost see, hear, smell, and feel that evokes a world as that of Huckleberry Finn. Conversely, you can describe a cityscape using things like shards of broken bottles gleaming dully on the sidewalk, heaps of foul-smelling refuse stacked at every corner, dark-grey smog rising from the city streets to blot out the sky, and people walking around with their eyes down and their hands shoved deep in their pockets. Descriptions like these can create a sense of broken helplessness. It’s a powerful way to convey the feel of your world. It can also help in creating a more distinct and memorable experience for your readers.
Often, the purpose of some parts of narration is to help us explicitly understand the perspective and present feelings of the narrator. POV (point of view) is a critical element of this type of narrative narration.
Viewpoint narrative books usually tell a story by presenting events or full scenes to us told through the narrators’ feelings, ongoing desires, and their challenged/affirmed beliefs or values in this story.
In another style of “omniscient” writing under this viewpoint narrative, the writer may share the story’s multiple characters’ private feelings and thoughts from one scene to the next. On the other hand, having a limited narration will only present us with a single character’s viewpoint.
Viewpoint narrative can be used to tell profound and powerful storytelling. Readers might even be able to interpret a viewpoint narrative book’s events similar to the narrator’s because there is no opposing or differing viewpoint to compare with or because the narrator’s voice is self-assured and impressively strong.
The intriguing thing about viewpoint narrative is that any scene told can be questioned. A narrator may be revealed to have distorted perceptions due to an illness or a mental state. Or, they could lie about the events’ truth or leave out essential details that would make them look bad. Or, better yet, the narrator can sometimes deliberately mislead the reader to set up a twist or reversal at the end of the book. Characters that portray these qualities are often known as unreliable narrators. They are a staple feature in fiction and nonfiction (although it is more present in the former.)
Narrative books run a range of storytelling possibilities
Narrative books have the potential to lay out an engaging story or chain of events and ideas. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or nonfiction, either in chronological order or non-linear arrangement. Your goal is to achieve your set goals, and communicate chosen themes and sets of values to the education, entertainment, and reinterpretation of the reader.
The most common narrative books include romance and mystery novels, adventure fiction for young adults, thriller or crime fiction, historical fiction, and memoirs. Picking your preferred narrative and pairing it with a particular genre can be a good combination. However, don’t feel constrained by boundaries and definitions. Being a writer automatically grants you a license to experiment with the elements of the craft.