Checklist for effective narrative writing

  1. Opening/introducing characters
  2. Build-up/creating setting
  3. Dilemma
  4. Reaction/events
  5. Resolution/ending

1. Opening/introducing characters

Some possible options for opening a story ‘to grab the reader’:

  • Using dialogue, e.g. a warning given by one character to another
  • Asking the reader a question
  • Describing some strange behaviour of one of the characters
  • Using a dramatic exclamation (Help!) or dramatic event
  • Introducing something intriguing

Techniques for introducing and developing characters

  • Using an interesting name
  • Limiting description on how the character feels, e.g. sad, lonely, angry or what they are, e.g. bossy, shy
  • Portraying character through action and dialogue, viz. make the characters do something and make them say appropriate things, e.g. if they are malicious villains, they must use evil and threatening language
  • Using powerful verbs to show how a character feels and behaves, e.g. muttered, shambled down the road
  • Giving the thoughts and reactions of other characters
  • Revealing the characters’ own thoughts and ideas

2. Build-up/creating setting

  • Using detail based on sense impressions – what can be seen, heard, smelled, touched or tasted
  • Basing settings on known places, plus some invented detail
  • Using real or invented names to bring places alive – to help to make the setting more real and more believable
  • Creating atmosphere, e.g. what is hidden, what is dangerous, what looks unusual, what is out of place
  • Using the weather, time of day and season as well as place
  • Lulling the reader into a false sense of security that all is well

3. Dilemma

  • Introducing a problem
  • Using ‘empty’ words, e.g. someone to create suspense
  • Using short sentences to be dramatic
  • Strengthening nouns and verbs rather than using adjectives and adverbs
  • Employing suspense words such as suddenly, without warning
  • Drawing the reader in by asking a question
  • Occasionally breaking the sentence rule by using a fragment to emphasise a point, e.g. Silence.
  • Varying sentence openings by sometimes starting with:

    • an adverb, e.g. Carefully;
    • a prepositional phrase, e.g. At the end of the street;
    • a subordinate clause, e.g. Although she was tired, Vanya … Swinging his stick in the air, he…

4. Reaction/events

  • Building on many of the techniques already used in the earlier part of the story
  • Varying sentence structure by using longer sentences to get a rhythm going to
  • Describe the increasing tension as events unfold
  • Using alliteration and short sentences to portray sounds within the action
  • Using metaphor and simile to help paint the scene and describe the feelings of the characters
  • Introducing further complications using connecting words and phrases such as
  • unfortunately … and what he hadn’t noticed was

5. Resolution and ending

Techniques for resolving the dilemma

  • Allowing help to arrive in an unexpected form, e.g. It was at that moment that …
  • Making the character(s) do something unexpected
  • Showing that the problem/dilemma was only in the characters’ minds and not real
  • Allowing the character some extra effort to overcome the problem
  • Only resolving a part of the dilemma so the characters learn a lesson for the future

Possible options for closing a story

  • Making a comment about the resolution
  • Using dialogue – a comment from one of the characters
  • Using a question
  • Making a mysterious remark
  • Telling the reader to remember or do something
  • Showing how a character has changed
  • Using one word or an exclamation
  • Avoiding clichés such as The end or They all lived happily ever after unless it is a fabrication of a traditional story
  • Reflecting on the events and perhaps providing a moral
  • Allowing the main character to think aloud
  • Introducing an element of mystery, e.g. Vanya would never know how lucky she was that
  • Looking to the future
  • Revisiting where the story began
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