Narrative Writing


Establish the Narrative Tense and POV

99% of stories are told using past tense verbs. It's traditional. It's expected. For this reason, I strongly urge you to write a past-tense narrative.

If you insist on being "unconventional" and writing a present-tense story . . . I'll grudgingly accept it. However, under no circumstances are you allowed to switch back and forth between past tense and present tense! That's just bad writing. It shows that you don't have control of your narrative tense.

Point of View

A 1st person narrative is a good choice for most beginning writers. It's straightforward. It's the natural way that we experience life. In a 1st person narrative, "I" am the narrator, and "I" am going to tell you a story in which "I" am the main character (or at least a reliable witness of the actions of the hero).

The only drawback is that "I" must be present in every scene. A 1st person narrator cannot tell the reader what is going on in some other place, or about the thoughts in someone else's head. Nonetheless, I recommend the 1st person point of view.

3rd person narratives are also perfectly acceptable, and necessary if you want to describe, in detail, events that are happening in different places at the same time, or if you want to describe the thoughts of more than one person.

2nd person narratives are rare and awkward. Please don't use a 2nd person narrator.

A Common Mistake

Many students choose to tell a past-tense story about a young protagonist about their own age, told from a 1st person point of view. That's fine. But there's something about this combination that makes students want to slip into present tense. Here is mental trick that might help:

Imagine that you are an old person, and you are telling this story to one of your grandchildren. The events in the story took place 50 or 60 years ago.

Start the story like this:

  • [A long, long, time ago, when I was about your age,] I wanted a pony more than anything else in the world . . .

Of course, the part about the pony is just an example. Your story can be about anything. But the part in brackets is the mental trick: Imagining yourself as an elderly storyteller will help you stay in the past tense. After you have finished writing your story, you can always go back and erase the part in the brackets, if you want.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.