A narrative structure is the way in which facts, concepts, ideas and plot are organised in writing so a story makes sense. Narrative structure enhances the reading experience by making a story believable and engaging, and ultimately by affecting the reader’s emotions. Explaining narrative structure helps students and writers plan and formulate their own writing and can also demonstrate why a piece of writing is effective.
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Explain the concept of narrative structure by determining the basics of narrative form. The most basic narrative structure comprises a beginning, middle and end. The beginning presents an incentive moment, which develops through complication or conflict to reach a climax or crisis, which ends in resolution, according to the German critic Gustav Freytag. Children can understand basic narrative structure by thinking of characters starting at the bottom of a hill where everything is fine, climbing the hill where they encounter problems and then reaching the top where something goes wrong. Walking down the hill the characters try to solve the problem and at the bottom they sort it out.
Some stories use a basic narrative structure but many adapt, modify and expand on the structure they use. Most narratives are linear -- the events in the story move forward chronologically -- but some writers use a less coherent structure to tell a story, such as stream of consciousness that travels back and forth in time. A framed narrative puts one story within another, while the use of flashbacks and memory enables a story to be told from different perspectives. Explore these different types of structure in order to explain the effect they have on the reader.
Text features and devices also help structure a piece of writing. For example, using point of view, tense, how the characters speak and the use of motifs or symbols. The use of different text features can produce different effects on a reader. Telling the story from the first-person point of view creates a different narrative structure than relating events in third-person narration, for example.
Activities help explain narrative structure in a dynamic way and allow students to explore different narrative devices and write their own stories. Different approaches to explaining narrative structure include diagrams, story maps, narrative pictures, and oral retelling. In one class, young students draw the shape of their hand and write the key events that happen at the beginning of the story (on the thumb), the middle (the middle three fingers) and the end (little finger). In another lesson, students plan their story in comic strip format to strengthen the concept of narrative structure.
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- Department for Education and Skills: Story structure
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