Teaching narrative writing can be a deeply rewarding experience. People often assume that great narrative writers are born, not made. While writers can have native talent, the art of the narrative is something most people have to hone through dedicated practice. The following are the most important lessons you’ll want students to internalize early in any writing course.
The First Page Matters
When you are teaching narrative writing, make sure your students understand the crucial nature of the first page. Whether it seems fair or not, you have to grab your reader immediately or risk losing them. Your first page should have plenty of tension, dynamism and conflict. Help your students understand the importance of front-loading their narratives with beginnings that capture the reader’s imagination.
It’s All About the Characters
Whether one is writing fiction or nonfiction, any narrative is only as interesting as its characters. Even historians and journalists have to learn the art of characterization. When writing fiction, most students have a tendency to describe their lead characters in lavish detail. Unfortunately, inexperienced writers often present those details in what writers call an “info dump.” Remember that the narrative reader is mainly concerned with the story. To keep the reader engaged, one should spread descriptive details throughout the action. Teach your students to avoid tiresome “mirror” scenes where the lead character looks into a mirror and observes themselves at length. Long ago, this might have been a clever way to set up character description. However, this cliche has long worn out its welcome with readers.
You Set the Scene by Describing the Setting
Every narrative should help inculcate a sense of place in the reader. Evoke all five senses to help the reader feel transported into the setting of the story. Fortunately, the writer only has to provide a few details and the reader’s imagination fills in the rest.
Dialogue Should Sound Like Real Life
Dialogue is one of the toughest skills to master for new writers. Students should keep dialogue simple and relatively true to life. Oftentimes, students try to emulate the edgy, unpredictable dialogue in their favorite films and shows. This tactic almost always backfires. Realistic dialogue helps the reader suspend disbelief and fully engage with the story.
Dramatic Transitions Keep The Narrative Flowing
Almost every narrative is a series of scenes presented in sequential order. Your goal as a writer is to keep the reader following the narrative to the very end. Powerful and memorable transitions help maintain engagement.
Always End With a Bang
For many readers, the quality of the story depends on the ending. Always save some fireworks and exciting developments for the last section of the story. Ultimately, the ending is almost as important as the first page of your narrative.
Arguably. Narrative writing is one of the art forms least understood by the public. As you break down the key skills of narrative writing, you’ll leave your students more confident in their own ability to grow as writers.