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Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students

Complete guide to Narrative Writing


Narratives build on and encourage the development of the fundamentals of writing. They also require developing an additional skill set: the ability to tell a good yarn, and storytelling is as old as humanity.

We see and hear stories everywhere and daily, from having good gossip on the doorstep with a neighbor in the morning to the dramas that fill our screens in the evening.

Good narrative writing skills are hard-won by students even though it is an area of writing that most enjoy due to the creativity and freedom it offers.

Here we will explore some of the main elements of a good story: plot, setting, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution . And we will look too at how best we can help our students understand these elements, both in isolation and how they mesh together as a whole.

Visual Writing Prompts


What is a narrative?

A narrative is a story that shares a sequence of events , characters, and themes. It expresses experiences, ideas, and perspectives that should aspire to engage and inspire an audience.

A narrative can spark emotion, encourage reflection, and convey meaning when done well.

Narratives are a popular genre for students and teachers as they allow the writer to share their imagination, creativity, skill, and understanding of nearly all elements of writing.  We occasionally refer to a narrative as ‘creative writing’ or story writing.

The purpose of a narrative is simple, to tell the audience a story.  It can be written to motivate, educate, or entertain and can be fact or fiction.


narrative writing | narrative writing unit 1 2 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students |

Teach your students to become skilled story writers with this HUGE   NARRATIVE & CREATIVE STORY WRITING UNIT . Offering a  COMPLETE SOLUTION  to teaching students how to craft  CREATIVE CHARACTERS, SUPERB SETTINGS, and PERFECT PLOTS .

Over 192 PAGES of materials, including:


There are many narrative writing genres and sub-genres such as these.

We have a complete guide to writing a personal narrative that differs from the traditional story-based narrative covered in this guide. It includes personal narrative writing prompts, resources, and examples and can be found here.

narrative writing | how to write quest narratives | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students |

As we can see, narratives are an open-ended form of writing that allows you to showcase creativity in many directions. However, all narratives share a common set of features and structure known as “Story Elements”, which are briefly covered in this guide.

Don’t overlook the importance of understanding story elements and the value this adds to you as a writer who can dissect and create grand narratives. We also have an in-depth guide to understanding story elements here .


Narrative structure.

ORIENTATION (BEGINNING) Set the scene by introducing your characters, setting and time of the story. Establish your who, when and where in this part of your narrative

COMPLICATION AND EVENTS (MIDDLE) In this section activities and events involving your main characters are expanded upon. These events are written in a cohesive and fluent sequence.

RESOLUTION (ENDING) Your complication is resolved in this section. It does not have to be a happy outcome, however.

EXTRAS: Whilst orientation, complication and resolution are the agreed norms for a narrative, there are numerous examples of popular texts that did not explicitly follow this path exactly.


LANGUAGE: Use descriptive and figurative language to paint images inside your audience’s minds as they read.

PERSPECTIVE Narratives can be written from any perspective but are most commonly written in first or third person.

DIALOGUE Narratives frequently switch from narrator to first-person dialogue. Always use speech marks when writing dialogue.

TENSE If you change tense, make it perfectly clear to your audience what is happening. Flashbacks might work well in your mind but make sure they translate to your audience.


narrative writing | structuring a narrative | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students |

This graphic is known as a plot map, and nearly all narratives fit this structure in one way or another, whether romance novels, science fiction or otherwise.

It is a simple tool that helps you understand and organise a story’s events. Think of it as a roadmap that outlines the journey of your characters and the events that unfold. It outlines the different stops along the way, such as the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, that help you to see how the story builds and develops.

Using a plot map, you can see how each event fits into the larger picture and how the different parts of the story work together to create meaning. It’s a great way to visualize and analyze a story.

Be sure to refer to a plot map when planning a story, as it has all the essential elements of a great story.


This video we created provides an excellent overview of these elements and demonstrates them in action in stories we all know and love.

Story Elements for kids


How to write a Narrative

Now that we understand the story elements and how they come together to form stories, it’s time to start planning and writing your narrative.

In many cases, the template and guide below will provide enough details on how to craft a great story. However, if you still need assistance with the fundamentals of writing, such as sentence structure, paragraphs and using correct grammar, we have some excellent guides on those here.

USE YOUR WRITING TIME EFFECTIVELY: Maximize your narrative writing sessions by spending approximately 20 per cent of your time planning and preparing.  This ensures greater productivity during your writing time and keeps you focused and on task.

Use tools such as graphic organizers to logically sequence your narrative if you are not a confident story writer.  If you are working with reluctant writers, try using narrative writing prompts to get their creative juices flowing.

Spend most of your writing hour on the task at hand, don’t get too side-tracked editing during this time and leave some time for editing. When editing a  narrative, examine it for these three elements.

  • Spelling and grammar ( Is it readable?)
  • Story structure and continuity ( Does it make sense, and does it flow? )
  • Character and plot analysis. (Are your characters engaging? Does your problem/resolution work? )


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The story’s setting often answers two of the central questions in the story, namely, the where and the when. The answers to these two crucial questions will often be informed by the type of story the student is writing.

The story’s setting can be chosen to quickly orient the reader to the type of story they are reading. For example, a fictional narrative writing piece such as a horror story will often begin with a description of a haunted house on a hill or an abandoned asylum in the middle of the woods. If we start our story on a rocket ship hurtling through the cosmos on its space voyage to the Alpha Centauri star system, we can be reasonably sure that the story we are embarking on is a work of science fiction.

Such conventions are well-worn clichés true, but they can be helpful starting points for our novice novelists to make a start.

Having students choose an appropriate setting for the type of story they wish to write is an excellent exercise for our younger students. It leads naturally onto the next stage of story writing, which is creating suitable characters to populate this fictional world they have created. However, older or more advanced students may wish to play with the expectations of appropriate settings for their story. They may wish to do this for comic effect or in the interest of creating a more original story. For example, opening a story with a children’s birthday party does not usually set up the expectation of a horror story. Indeed, it may even lure the reader into a happy reverie as they remember their own happy birthday parties. This leaves them more vulnerable to the surprise element of the shocking action that lies ahead.

Once the students have chosen a setting for their story, they need to start writing. Little can be more terrifying to English students than the blank page and its bare whiteness stretching before them on the table like a merciless desert they must cross. Give them the kick-start they need by offering support through word banks or writing prompts. If the class is all writing a story based on the same theme, you may wish to compile a common word bank on the whiteboard as a prewriting activity. Write the central theme or genre in the middle of the board. Have students suggest words or phrases related to the theme and list them on the board.

You may wish to provide students with a copy of various writing prompts to get them started. While this may mean that many students’ stories will have the same beginning, they will most likely arrive at dramatically different endings via dramatically different routes.

narrative writing | story elements | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students |

A bargain is at the centre of the relationship between the writer and the reader. That bargain is that the reader promises to suspend their disbelief as long as the writer creates a consistent and convincing fictional reality. Creating a believable world for the fictional characters to inhabit requires the student to draw on convincing details. The best way of doing this is through writing that appeals to the senses. Have your student reflect deeply on the world that they are creating. What does it look like? Sound like? What does the food taste like there? How does it feel like to walk those imaginary streets, and what aromas beguile the nose as the main character winds their way through that conjured market?

Also, Consider the when; or the time period. Is it a future world where things are cleaner and more antiseptic? Or is it an overcrowded 16th-century London with human waste stinking up the streets? If students can create a multi-sensory installation in the reader’s mind, then they have done this part of their job well.

Popular Settings from Children’s Literature and Storytelling

  • Fairytale Kingdom
  • Magical Forest
  • Village/town
  • Underwater world
  • Space/Alien planet


Now that your student has created a believable world, it is time to populate it with believable characters.

In short stories, these worlds mustn’t be overpopulated beyond what the student’s skill level can manage. Short stories usually only require one main character and a few secondary ones. Think of the short story more as a small-scale dramatic production in an intimate local theater than a Hollywood blockbuster on a grand scale. Too many characters will only confuse and become unwieldy with a canvas this size. Keep it simple!

Creating believable characters is often one of the most challenging aspects of narrative writing for students. Fortunately, we can do a few things to help students here. Sometimes it is helpful for students to model their characters on actual people they know. This can make things a little less daunting and taxing on the imagination. However, whether or not this is the case, writing brief background bios or descriptions of characters’ physical personality characteristics can be a beneficial prewriting activity. Students should give some in-depth consideration to the details of who their character is: How do they walk? What do they look like? Do they have any distinguishing features? A crooked nose? A limp? Bad breath? Small details such as these bring life and, therefore, believability to characters. Students can even cut pictures from magazines to put a face to their character and allow their imaginations to fill in the rest of the details.

Younger students will often dictate to the reader the nature of their characters. To improve their writing craft, students must know when to switch from story-telling mode to story-showing mode. This is particularly true when it comes to character. Encourage students to reveal their character’s personality through what they do rather than merely by lecturing the reader on the faults and virtues of the character’s personality. It might be a small relayed detail in the way they walk that reveals a core characteristic. For example, a character who walks with their head hanging low and shoulders hunched while avoiding eye contact has been revealed to be timid without the word once being mentioned. This is a much more artistic and well-crafted way of doing things and is less irritating for the reader. A character who sits down at the family dinner table immediately snatches up his fork and starts stuffing roast potatoes into his mouth before anyone else has even managed to sit down has revealed a tendency towards greed or gluttony.

Understanding Character Traits

Again, there is room here for some fun and profitable prewriting activities. Give students a list of character traits and have them describe a character doing something that reveals that trait without ever employing the word itself.

It is also essential to avoid adjective stuffing here. When looking at students’ early drafts, adjective stuffing is often apparent. To train the student out of this habit, choose an adjective and have the student rewrite the sentence to express this adjective through action rather than telling.

When writing a story, it is vital to consider the character’s traits and how they will impact the story’s events. For example, a character with a strong trait of determination may be more likely to overcome obstacles and persevere. In contrast, a character with a tendency towards laziness may struggle to achieve their goals. In short, character traits add realism, depth, and meaning to a story, making it more engaging and memorable for the reader.

Popular Character Traits in Children’s Stories

  • Determination
  • Imagination
  • Perseverance
  • Responsibility

We have an in-depth guide to creating great characters here , but most students should be fine to move on to planning their conflict and resolution.


narrative writing | 2 RoadBlock | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students |

This is often the area apprentice writers have the most difficulty with. Students must understand that without a problem or conflict, there is no story. The problem is the driving force of the action. Usually, in a short story, the problem will center around what the primary character wants to happen or, indeed, wants not to happen. It is the hurdle that must be overcome. It is in the struggle to overcome this hurdle that events happen.

Often when a student understands the need for a problem in a story, their completed work will still not be successful. This is because, often in life, problems remain unsolved. Hurdles are not always successfully overcome. Students pick up on this.

We often discuss problems with friends that will never be satisfactorily resolved one way or the other, and we accept this as a part of life. This is not usually the case with writing a story. Whether a character successfully overcomes his or her problem or is decidedly crushed in the process of trying is not as important as the fact that it will finally be resolved one way or the other.

A good practical exercise for students to get to grips with this is to provide copies of stories and have them identify the central problem or conflict in each through discussion. Familiar fables or fairy tales such as Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Cinderella, etc., are great for this.

While it is true that stories often have more than one problem or that the hero or heroine is unsuccessful in their first attempt to solve a central problem, for beginning students and intermediate students, it is best to focus on a single problem, especially given the scope of story writing at this level. Over time students will develop their abilities to handle more complex plots and write accordingly.

Popular Conflicts found in Children’s Storytelling.

  • Good vs evil
  • Individual vs society
  • Nature vs nurture
  • Self vs others
  • Man vs self
  • Man vs nature
  • Man vs technology
  • Individual vs fate
  • Self vs destiny

Conflict is the heart and soul of any good story. It’s what makes a story compelling and drives the plot forward. Without conflict, there is no story. Every great story has a struggle or a problem that needs to be solved, and that’s where conflict comes in. Conflict is what makes a story exciting and keeps the reader engaged. It creates tension and suspense and makes the reader care about the outcome.

Like in real life, conflict in a story is an opportunity for a character’s growth and transformation. It’s a chance for them to learn and evolve, making a story great. So next time stories are written in the classroom, remember that conflict is an essential ingredient, and without it, your story will lack the energy, excitement, and meaning that makes it truly memorable.


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The climax of the story is the dramatic high point of the action. It is also when the struggles kicked off by the problem come to a head. The climax will ultimately decide whether the story will have a happy or tragic ending. In the climax, two opposing forces duke things out until the bitter (or sweet!) end. One force ultimately emerges triumphant. As the action builds throughout the story, suspense increases as the reader wonders which of these forces will win out. The climax is the release of this suspense.

Much of the success of the climax depends on how well the other elements of the story have been achieved. If the student has created a well-drawn and believable character that the reader can identify with and feel for, then the climax will be more powerful.

The nature of the problem is also essential as it determines what’s at stake in the climax. The problem must matter dearly to the main character if it matters at all to the reader.

Have students engage in discussions about their favorite movies and books. Have them think about the storyline and decide the most exciting parts. What was at stake at these moments? What happened in your body as you read or watched? Did you breathe faster? Or grip the cushion hard? Did your heart rate increase, or did you start to sweat? This is what a good climax does and what our students should strive to do in their stories.

The climax puts it all on the line and rolls the dice. Let the chips fall where the writer may…

Popular Climax themes in Children’s Stories

  • A battle between good and evil
  • The character’s bravery saves the day
  • Character faces their fears and overcomes them
  • The character solves a mystery or puzzle.
  • The character stands up for what is right.
  • Character reaches their goal or dream.
  • The character learns a valuable lesson.
  • The character makes a selfless sacrifice.
  • The character makes a difficult decision.
  • The character reunites with loved ones or finds true friendship.


After the climactic action, a few questions will often remain unresolved for the reader, even if all the conflict has been resolved. The resolution is where those lingering questions will be answered. The resolution in a short story may only be a brief paragraph or two. But, in most cases, it will still be necessary to include an ending immediately after the climax can feel too abrupt and leave the reader feeling unfulfilled.

An easy way to explain resolution to students struggling to grasp the concept is to point to the traditional resolution of fairy tales, the “And they all lived happily ever after” ending. This weather forecast for the future allows the reader to take their leave. Have the student consider the emotions they want to leave the reader with when crafting their resolution.

While the action is usually complete by the end of the climax, it is in the resolution that if there is a twist to be found, it will appear – think of movies such as The Usual Suspects. Pulling this off convincingly usually requires considerable skill from a student writer. Still, it may well form a challenging extension exercise for those more gifted storytellers among your students.

Popular Resolutions in Children’s Stories

  • Our hero achieves their goal
  • The character learns a valuable lesson
  • A character finds happiness or inner peace.
  • The character reunites with loved ones.
  • Character restores balance to the world.
  • The character discovers their true identity.
  • Character changes for the better.
  • The character gains wisdom or understanding.
  • Character makes amends with others.
  • The character learns to appreciate what they have.

Once students have completed their story, they can edit for grammar, vocabulary choice, spelling, etc., but not before!

As mentioned, there is a craft to storytelling, as well as an art. When accurate grammar, perfect spelling, and immaculate sentence structures are pushed at the outset, they can cause storytelling paralysis. For this reason, it is essential that when we encourage the students to write a story, we give them license to make mechanical mistakes in their use of language that they can work on and fix later.

Good narrative writing is a very complex skill to develop and will take the student years to become competent. It challenges not only the student’s technical abilities with language but also her creative faculties. Writing frames, word banks, mind maps, and visual prompts can all give valuable support as students develop the wide-ranging and challenging skills required to produce a successful narrative writing piece. But, at the end of it all, as with any craft, practice and more practice is at the heart of the matter.


  • Start your story with a clear purpose: If you can determine the theme or message you want to convey in your narrative before starting it will make the writing process so much simpler.
  • Choose a compelling storyline and sell it through great characters, setting and plot: Consider a unique or interesting story that captures the reader’s attention, then build the world and characters around it.
  • Develop vivid characters that are not all the same: Make your characters relatable and memorable by giving them distinct personalities and traits you can draw upon in the plot.
  • Use descriptive language to hook your audience into your story: Use sensory language to paint vivid images and sequences in the reader’s mind.
  • Show, don’t tell your audience: Use actions, thoughts, and dialogue to reveal character motivations and emotions through storytelling.
  • Create a vivid setting that is clear to your audience before getting too far into the plot: Describe the time and place of your story to immerse the reader fully.
  • Build tension: Refer to the story map earlier in this article and use conflict, obstacles, and suspense to keep the audience engaged and invested in your narrative.
  • Use figurative language such as metaphors, similes, and other literary devices to add depth and meaning to your narrative.
  • Edit, revise, and refine: Take the time to refine and polish your writing for clarity and impact.
  • Stay true to your voice: Maintain your unique perspective and style in your writing to make it your own.


Below are a collection of student writing samples of narratives.  Click on the image to enlarge and explore them in greater detail.  Please take a moment to read these creative stories in detail and the teacher and student guides which highlight some of the critical elements of narratives to consider before writing.

Please understand these student writing samples are not intended to be perfect examples for each age or grade level but a piece of writing for students and teachers to explore together to critically analyze to improve student writing skills and deepen their understanding of story writing.

We recommend reading the example either a year above or below, as well as the grade you are currently working with, to gain a broader appreciation of this text type.

narrative writing | Narrative writing example year 3 1 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students |


When students have a great journal prompt, it can help them focus on the task at hand, so be sure to view our vast collection of visual writing prompts for various text types here or use some of these.

  • On a recent European trip, you find your travel group booked into the stunning and mysterious Castle Frankenfurter for a single night…  As night falls, the massive castle of over one hundred rooms seems to creak and groan as a series of unexplained events begin to make you wonder who or what else is spending the evening with you. Write a narrative that tells the story of your evening.
  • You are a famous adventurer who has discovered new lands; keep a travel log over a period of time in which you encounter new and exciting adventures and challenges to overcome.  Ensure your travel journal tells a story and has a definite introduction, conflict and resolution.
  • You create an incredible piece of technology that has the capacity to change the world.  As you sit back and marvel at your innovation and the endless possibilities ahead of you, it becomes apparent there are a few problems you didn’t really consider. You might not even be able to control them.  Write a narrative in which you ride the highs and lows of your world-changing creation with a clear introduction, conflict and resolution.
  • As the final door shuts on the Megamall, you realise you have done it…  You and your best friend have managed to sneak into the largest shopping centre in town and have the entire place to yourselves until 7 am tomorrow.  There is literally everything and anything a child would dream of entertaining themselves for the next 12 hours.  What amazing adventures await you?  What might go wrong?  And how will you get out of there scot-free?
  • A stranger walks into town…  Whilst appearing similar to almost all those around you, you get a sense that this person is from another time, space or dimension… Are they friends or foes?  What makes you sense something very strange is going on?   Suddenly they stand up and walk toward you with purpose extending their hand… It’s almost as if they were reading your mind.


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Teaching Resources

Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.

When teaching narrative writing, it is essential that you have a range of tools, strategies and resources at your disposal to ensure you get the most out of your writing time.  You can find some examples below, which are free and paid premium resources you can use instantly without any preparation.

FREE Narrative Graphic Organizer

narrative writing | NarrativeGraphicOrganizer | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students |


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A MASSIVE COLLECTION of resources for narratives and story writing in the classroom covering all elements of crafting amazing stories. MONTHS WORTH OF WRITING LESSONS AND RESOURCES, including:


writing checklists


narrative writing | Narrative2BWriting2BStrategies2Bfor2Bjuniors2B28129 | Narrative Writing for Kids: Essential Skills and Strategies |

Narrative Writing for Kids: Essential Skills and Strategies

narrative writing | narrative writing lessons | 7 Great Narrative Lesson Plans Students and Teachers Love |

7 Great Narrative Lesson Plans Students and Teachers Love

narrative writing | Top narrative writing skills for students | Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students |

Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students

narrative writing | how to write a scary horror story | How to Write a Scary Story |

How to Write a Scary Story

The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh.  A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing , can be found here.  Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.

creative writing narrative structure

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creative writing narrative structure


16 ways to plot a book: from circles and snowflakes to pyramids and point graphs.

creative writing narrative structure

Narrative structure comprises the foundational elements of all storytelling. Understanding it can inform your plot structure and help you finish drafting your story, but there are so many models that choosing one can feel overwhelming.

In this article, we will explore:

  • What narrative structure is and why it is important.
  • Sixteen types of narrative structures.
  • How to handle advanced plotting situations.

Now... Let's plot a book, shall we?!

creative writing narrative structure

What is Narrative Structure?

Narrative structure, sometimes also referred to as plot structure or story structure, is the organizational scaffolding of storytelling .

Though these terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between story, plot, and narrative structure.

  • Story : All the elements of storytelling, including character, setting, plot, and theme.
  • Plot : The sequence of events within a story.
  • Narrative Structure : How we arrange the elements of a story.

According to James Scott Bell in his book Plot & Structure , “Structure is what assembles the parts of a story in a way that makes them accessible to readers.” Narrative structure thus combines the elements of a story with a plot (structured or otherwise) to shape and mold the story you're writing!

What are the Elements of Plot?

No matter the narrative structure, stories all share common elements that make up a plot. There are several models of this, but most agree there are five stages of a plot:

  • Exposition : The starting point or status quo.
  • Inciting Incident : The event that challenges the status quo.
  • Rising Action : Events that drive the plot toward the climax.
  • Climax : The finale where the main conflict is confronted.
  • Denouement or Resolution : A new status quo created by the consequences of the climax.

We also often discuss story beats , which are points of a narrative that move a plot forward. This term originated in screenwriting, where writers would mark key scenes in a screenplay with the word “BEAT.” An outline focusing on beats is often referred to as a “beat sheet.”

Plotting Methods vs. Narrative Structures

What sets a plotting method apart is that it is a tool used to shape the structure of a story. In other words, it is the intentional use of a narrative structure during the writing process to create a framework for writing a book.

On the other hand, narrative, plot, or story structure are terms used both to describe this methodical part of the writing process and in analyzing a story.

A story, then, can make use of both a plotting method and a narrative structure. For example, the three-act structure can be both a method for shaping a story and a quality that a story possesses once complete.

Narrative Structure for Discovery Writers

Even if you don’t outline your stories, you'll need to consider plot structures. For those who practice discovery writing (aka pantsing) , where you make up the story as you go, structure is still foundational to storytelling .

While plotters write an outline to map out their story in advance, pantsers consider plot structures when revising their story and mold the draft into the desired result. No matter how you get there, narrative structure is something you must contend with.

Here, you'll find several methods that could be just the spark you need to ignite your story-planning process!

Sixteen Ways to Structure a Narrative

The well-known narrative structures we'll discuss in this article include (but are not limited to):

  • Dan Wells' 7-Point Story Structure: A seven-step story-planning method to hit the most important story beats.
  • Kat O'Keefe's 27-Chapter Method: 27 chapters are divided into three acts, each with nine blocks, for a clearly defined framework.
  • Aristotle's Poetics: A simple template to drive the drama of a story by focusing on a character's objectives and their relative success.
  • John Gardner's Fichtean Curve: A series of increasingly difficult crises culminate in a climax and lead to a resolution.
  • Gustav Freytag's Dramatic Pyramid: A five-act arc for dramatic storytelling.
  • Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey: The classic heroic quest as outlined by Campbell through years of work studying world mythologies.
  • Maureen Murdock's Heroine's Journey: A response to Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey emphasizing the female experience.
  • Kishōtenketsu Story Structure: A four-act story structure that originated in Eastern Asian classical poetry and literature.
  • Gwen Hayes' Romancing the Beat: A four-phase, twenty-beat story outline to write a romance.
  • Jessica Brody's Save the Cat! For Novels: Fifteen beats to help outline a compelling story in one of the more popular novel plotting methods.
  • Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method: A plot structure designed to start small and build your way outward for an intricately detailed story.
  • Dan Harmon's Story Circle: The hero's journey but simplified into an 8-step journey that focuses on character development.
  • Lisa Cron's Story Genius : A character-first approach to crafting a story.
  • Shawn Coyne's Story Grid: An easy approach to devising a plot using The Five Commandments of storytelling as outlined by the Story Grid method.
  • Robert McKee's Thematic Square: A method to compose elements in such a way as to ensure you clearly express your story's dominant theme.
  • The Three-Act Structure: The classic three-pronged approach to covering all your bases for your story's plot.

These story structures vary significantly in the manners in which they are presented, but when you strip away the specific method, you'll find a set of common components found in all stories.

With this understanding of narrative, story, and plot in mind, let’s take a brief look at some different types of story structures that you can use as plotting methods.

1. 7-Point Story Structure

Created by Dan Wells, the 7-Point story structure is all about pushing the protagonist from one event to the next.

creative writing narrative structure

This makes it great for fast-paced, plot-driven stories, and it is my favorite structure for plotting novellas.

  • Hook : Establish the status quo.
  • Plot Turn 1 : The inciting incident.
  • Pinch 1 : The situation escalates.
  • Midpoint : The protagonist changes from being reactive to proactive.
  • Pinch 2 : A major setback occurs.
  • Plot Turn 2 : The key to victory is discovered.
  • Resolution : The conflict is resolved.

This method’s simplicity makes it great to work with , but it can also be a drawback. If you only plot out the seven points, you will likely have gaps to fill. Make this your own and add more story beats between the major plot points . When I use this method, I add rising action and reflection points.

There are several variants of this method, including an alternate version for romance, plus options for adding an “Ice Monster Prologue” or a try-fail cycle.

2. 27-Chapter Method

The 27-chapter method from Kat O’Keefe is sometimes referred to as the 3-Act 9-Block Method .

creative writing narrative structure

This method divides the story into three acts, then each act into nine blocks, each serving a specific role in the plot.

  • Act I sets the stage for all events in the story to come. We get a glimpse of your character in their ordinary life, but something occurs to shake things up. There is some tension in which your character refuses to acknowledge that the status quo has changed.
  • Act II is when your character must contend with the fact that change really has arrived and they must own up to it. They get to have a little fun in this "new world" as they explore it and gain the skills or knowledge needed for the third act.
  • Act III sees everything finally coming to a head for your character. The trials they have been facing, the skills they have been gaining... They'll need everything they have learned thus far in the story to face the final showdown.

It's a rather brilliant technique, being that it offers a straightforward framework to work with and one that also works on multiple levels. While the overall method follows a clear three-act structure, each act itself also follows its own three-act structure.

Despite the name, the resulting story need not have strictly twenty-seven chapters . Rather, think of these as plot points! Add, condense, or take away as needed for your own unique variation on the method.

The 27-chapter plotting method can create a story structure that is extremely well-defined, with clear arcs from beginning to end, from the outset. It's a great option for those who like to plan out exactly what is going to happen, when it will happen, and why it will happen.

3. Aristotle’s Poetics

From one of the earliest works studying the nature and formation of a story, Aristotle's Poetics takes a character-first approach to crafting a narrative.

creative writing narrative structure

In it, the ancient philosopher analyzed Greek dramas and presented key elements that place a story firmly in the goals and objectives of a character.

  • Dramatic Action : The character(s) and what they are doing.
  • Inciting Incident : The event that initiates the story.
  • Super Objective : What the main character most desires.
  • Objective : Goals the character(s) are pursuing in each scene.
  • Recognition : The moment the main character learns something that changes either them or the situation.
  • Reversal : The choice made resulting from the recognition, the consequences of which mark the end of the story.

Although Poetics is not a structured plotting method, putting its theory to practice can help you ensure your story covers some of the more important concepts!

For those who don't like other standard plotting methods that place a heavy emphasis on action, you'll find that Poetics puts your core story elements into a whole new context.

4. Fichtean Curve

One of the simplest plotting methods, the Fichtean Curve story structure focuses on rising action —consisting of a series of increasingly tense crises —which leads to a climax followed by falling action and a resolution .

creative writing narrative structure

This plotting method, laid out by John Gardner in The Art of Fiction , is an episodic plot structure where everything that happens is linked but the focus is on each crisis instead of the big picture. The protagonist may have an overall goal, but each scene involves achieving a smaller goal that adds progress toward the finale.

This is a great method for those wanting to focus on the action, such as any author trying their hand at a pulp-fiction style of writing.

5. Freytag’s Pyramid

There are a few theories regarding when the five-act structure was actually created, but it was the German playwright and author, Gustav Freytag, who devised a clearly outlined method to follow in the 1800s.

creative writing narrative structure

Introduced in Technique of the Drama , Freytag’s Pyramid uses five acts to create a tragic plot structure that hinges on a central conflict ending in disaster.

  • Introduction : Establishes the status quo.
  • Rising Action : Events push the characters out of their comfort zone, gradually increasing in scope and scale.
  • Climax : The situation drastically changes for the worse.
  • Falling Action : The consequences of the climax impact the protagonist.
  • Catastrophe : An ultimate failure or loss.

This five-act structure places the climax in the middle instead of the end where it might traditionally be found in other plot structures, but it need not be in the very middle of your story. The falling action, also, is often much shorter than the rising action.

6. The Hero’s Journey

One of the most popular plot structures, especially in the fantasy genre, The Hero’s Journey takes inspiration directly from world mythology.

creative writing narrative structure

The base of the structure is three acts, as defined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces :

  • Departure : The hero leaves the Known World.
  • Initiation : The hero faces the Unknown World and overcomes challenges.
  • Return : The hero triumphantly returns to the Known World, changed by their ordeals.

This was further developed by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey , where he broke down the structure into the twelve stages of the Hero’s Journey we know today.

  • The Ordinary World : The journey begins with the status quo—business as usual.
  • The Call to Adventure : The inciting incident takes place and the hero is called to act upon it.
  • Refusal of the Call : The hero hesitates and instead refuses their call to action.
  • Meeting the Mentor : The protagonist receives knowledge or motivation from a powerful or influential figure.
  • Crossing the First Threshold : The hero leaves the Known World to face the Unknown World.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies : The hero explores the Unknown World.
  • Approach the Inmost Cave : The hero nears the goal of their quest.
  • The Ordeal : The hero faces a dire situation that changes how they view the world.
  • Reward : The hero discovers what they require to achieve their goal.
  • The Road Back : The hero returns to the Known World, facing unexpected challenges.
  • Resurrection : The hero faces their ultimate challenge and emerges victorious, but forever changed.
  • Return With the Elixir : The hero returns home as a new version of themself.

Following a circular plot structure, the story ends where it began, but the protagonist is changed. Sometimes also referred to as the monomyth , this type of plot focuses on a single character and the changes they go through in the story.

Despite how popular the Hero's Journey is, it is not without its faults, as we'll see in the next plot method!

7. The Heroine's Journey

A student of Joseph Campbell's work regarding numerous world mythologies, Maureen Murdock felt the original Hero's Journey method failed to address the contemporary female experience .

creative writing narrative structure

As a critique of Campbell's outline, she presented a ten-step story-planning process that outlines a cyclical quest of the feminine soul.

  • Separation From the Feminine: The heroine abandons the archetypal "Mother" because they feel they need to do this in order to be seen in some certain way.
  • Identify the Masculine and Gather Allies: They emulate traditionally perceived male behaviors or actions.
  • Road of Trials: They face trials, learn new skills, and overcome challenges to achieve their goals.
  • Boon of Success: They achieve success but doubt lingers... When will the ball drop?
  • Realization of Spiritual Barrenness: Even though they have achieved some success, something feels like it's missing.
  • Initiation and Ascent to the Goddess: The heroine withdraws from their surroundings to face an internal darkness.
  • Yearn to Connect to the Feminine: They emerge from their darkness to carve a new person of themselves. They may form new relationships or try something new.
  • Healing of Mother/Daughter Split: They reconnect with the feminine traits they abandoned in the first step and, in doing so, begin to rediscover themselves.
  • Healing of Wounded Masculine: They recognize that the masculine traits they tried to emulate are not inherently bad. They keep what is valuable to them and leave all else.
  • Integration of Feminine and Masculine: The heroine becomes their whole self, with both feminine and masculine traits, behaviors, or ideals.

At its core, the Heroine's Journey plot structure provides a framework for the journey of the self . Where the hero's journey puts emphasis on a grand outward adventure (a quest), the heroine's journey puts emphasis on a grand inward exploration of emotions and the spirit for a character who is a woman.

All of the above being said, both the Hero's Journey and the Heroine's Journey were first proposed decades ago and much has changed today. Use these frameworks as you see fit for your character(s), and even modify them to create a heroic journey that is unique to your story!

8. Kishōtenketsu

The Kishōtenketsu story structure is a four-part narrative blueprint rooted in East Asian traditions.

creative writing narrative structure

Originating from classical Chinese literature and found in Japanese and Korean tales alike, Kishōtenketsu comprises four parts:

  • An introduction ( ki ): This is your exposition, where you introduce the characters and world of your story.
  • Development ( sho ): Your characters face obstacles or choices that raise the stakes and add tension—but these need not be overly dramatic. Simply, something has changed.
  • Pivotal twist ( ten ): The story is thrown for a curve—something unintended or unexpected happens. The entire story is made to reach this moment.
  • Harmonious conclusion ( ketsu ): What remains after the events of the twist? Tie the end back to the beginning and give your characters closure.

One of the most interesting components of the Kishōtenketsu method derives from its reputation as a “plotless” story structure . Its central philosophy leans toward slice-of-life—big, world-ending conflict is not a requirement. The narrative doesn’t even need to have a proper resolution, it just needs to end once the twist in part three has taken place.

9. Romancing the Beat

When Gwen Hayes created Romancing the Beat , she outlined a new structure specifically for plotting romance novels.

creative writing narrative structure

It's divided into four phases, each with five beats, for a total of twenty story beats that loosely translate to:

  • Phase 1: Introducing the love interests and setting the stage for their romance.
  • Phase 2: A period where the love interests get to know each other better, but are not quite firmly in a relationship.
  • Phase 3: One or both characters begin(s) to doubt the relationship entirely, leading to a breakup.
  • Phase 4: The love interests face their darkest moment, realize they can't live without each other, and go on to live happily ever after.

By using this romance novel beat sheet, you can easily map your romance story from the meet-cute to the happily ever after (HEA) and all the messy in-between.

If you're writing a love story, though, or even a different type of story simply with a romantic subplot, you may want to consider another plotting method, or modifying this one. After all, not all love stories end in an HEA !

10. Save the Cat Story Beats

Another method composed of story beats, the Save the Cat! story structure focuses on setting the pacing of a story.

creative writing narrative structure

Originally set forth by Blake Snyder in his book of the same name as a scriptwriting method, it has become a popular tool for novelists thanks to Jessica Brody's Save the Cat! Writes a Novel .

The Save the Cat beat sheet consists of:

  • Opening Image : Establish exposition and introduce the protagonist.
  • Theme Stated : Establish the theme.
  • Set-Up : Delve further into the status quo.
  • Catalyst : The inciting incident takes place.
  • Debate : The protagonist debates whether to respond to the catalyst or not.
  • Break Into Two : The protagonist rises to the challenge.
  • B Story : The protagonist meets an important secondary character.
  • Fun and Games : This is all rising action. As the name of the beat suggests, have fun with it!
  • Midpoint : The protagonist meets a false victory or defeat.
  • Bad Guys Close In : Things take a turn for the worse.
  • All is Lost : A tragic event occurs.
  • Dark Night of the Soul : The protagonist is changed by the tragedy.
  • Finale : The protagonist overcomes the challenge or meets their worst fate.
  • Final Image : Resolution.

There are some who feel the Save the Cat! method is overdone, citing that it leads to predictable stories—especially in today's films. You can probably think of a few movies off the top of your head right now that follow these beats to a tee.

However, that doesn't change the fact that it's a tried-and-true plot method that has helped countless authors finish their first drafts. If it works for you, that's all that matters!

11. Snowflake Method

Created by Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Method eschews the beginning-to-end approach to plotting, opting for a top-down approach.

creative writing narrative structure

The story elements of the Snowflake Method consist of the following.

  • Story: This method starts with a single-sentence story concept that is then expanded to a paragraph summarizing the exposition, conflict, and resolution.
  • Character: After this, a one-page summary is written for each major character and a half page for secondary characters.
  • Expand: Next, the story summary is expanded into a four-page synopsis, and the character summaries are further fleshed out into full character charts.
  • Scenes: Finally, the story summary and character charts are used to create a scene chart, mapping out the actual narrative structure of the story.

This is somewhat of a broad generalization of the Snowflake Method, but the key thing to remember when using it is to start small and work your way outward!

Establish your baseline story ( what is happening ), build your characters ( who is it happening to ), then plot all of your scenes around those elements ( when is it all happening ).

12. Story Circle

Developed by the creator of popular television series such as Rick and Morty and Community , Dan Harmon’s Story Circle is a simplification of the Hero’s Journey.

creative writing narrative structure

The method puts a strong emphasis on character development, focusing the plot more on internal motivations versus external factors. The eight steps of the Story Circle are...

  • Step 1: They are in a zone of comfort.
  • Step 2: But they want something.
  • Step 3: They enter an unfamiliar situation.
  • Step 4: Adapt to it through facing trials.
  • Step 5: They get what they wanted.
  • Step 6: They pay a heavy price.
  • Step 7: Return to the familiar situation.
  • Step 8: Having changed.

The story circle still centers on the main character’s arc, but because of the episodic nature of its original application, it focuses on immediate desires and incremental character growth rather than ultimate goals and life-changing events.

13. Story Genius

Much like the method outlined in Poetics above, Lisa Cron takes a character-first story planning approach in Story Genius . There is a strong focus on creating a character who arrives at the story already with a problem they need to solve —this is what will drive your plot.

creative writing narrative structure

Cron has also devised a detailed scene outline to follow once you've established your character and their backstory. Scene cards in Story Genius consist of two things: the plot and the third rail.

  • The plot describes cause (what happens) and effect (the consequences) in your story.
  • The third rail describes why the scene matters to the protagonist, what they realize during the scene, and how this changes them.

Story Genius is a creative method that begins with fundamental story concepts and builds on these step-by-step toward outlining a character-driven novel instead of jumping directly into the plot structure.

The actual “story as a whole" seems to take the backseat; as in, it isn’t given a focus as far as plotting goes. Instead, your story will unfold as you write once you have your character(s), their problem(s), and your scenes .

You may find Story Genius especially helpful if you're a pantser, as the method actively avoids plotting in the technical sense. You'll still end up with a plot by the end of it, but the process gives you room to explore instead of being pigeonholed into a strict framework. Or rather, it puts the plotting process into an entirely different context!

14. Story Grid: The Five Commandments

The entirety of the Story Grid methodology can get pretty complex, pretty fast. It doesn't just present a plot structure, but also a masterclass on the philosophy of every single story element you can imagine, from genre to scenes to character development to the "global story."

Shawn Coyne devised the Story Grid after having worked as an editor, to apply a fully-developed methodology for analyzing and creating a story.

creative writing narrative structure

The most applicable components of the Story Grid that one can use as a starting base to plot a book are The Five Commandments (which may look suspiciously similar to the five basic elements of plot!).

  • The Inciting Incident: Disruption of the status quo. This kicks off the events of your story; without it, there would be no story.
  • Turning Point Progressive Complication: The story's path changes direction, usually indicated by your characters coming to a crossroads.
  • Crisis: A direct result of the Turning Point. Your character may hesitate to choose a path, yet will be forced to do so in order to move forward.
  • Climax: Everything that has happened thus far in your story leads to this moment. Emotions are at their highest, all bets are off, and your character is forced to make their choice.
  • Resolution: The consequence(s) of the climax. Your character either does or does not achieve their goal. Depending on your story's genre, readers may expect a specific outcome or emotional payoff here.

Coyne put together a spreadsheet template for the Story Grid that can help you write down all the necessary details for your story, as well as track the most important information about each scene.

15. Thematic Square

While not a strict plotting method, Robert McKee’s Thematic Square can be applied to your entire story and individual scenes as a companion tool.

creative writing narrative structure

It consists of four quadrants that illustrate the push-and-pull of forces in a story:

  • Positive : This represents the protagonist’s worldview. It's the most important thing to them—the one thing they'll do anything for.
  • The Contradictory : This represents the opposing view. That could be the antagonist of your story or even an opposing idea expressed by a faction.
  • The Contrary : This is the in-between, compromise, or path of least resistance. It's another force that pushes on the positive to create dramatic tension.
  • The Negation of the Negation : This represents the dark consequence(s) of rejecting the theme or embracing the opposite of the theme.

It's a useful way to ensure your theme is expressed well across four essential story elements. If you’re a pantser, the thematic square can help you develop major scene concepts without having to plot out events!

16. Three-Act Structure

This is the backbone of many other plotting methods. One could say that every story includes a three-act plot structure since every story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

creative writing narrative structure

Further, this narrative structure defines what should occur in each of these three necessary parts of a story:

  • Act I : Exposition, the inciting incident, and a consequential plot point ending the act.
  • Act II : Rising action, the midpoint, and a consequential plot point ending the act.
  • Act III : The build-up to the climax, the climax, and the resolution.

No matter how you plot your novel, ensuring that every chapter or scene follows a three-act structure template is a great way to ensure they each have an impactful function and identity.

Advanced Plotting Scenarios

The narrative structures and plotting methods mentioned in this article intuitively apply to a story that presents a straight line from A to Z, but things are rarely that simple. How would one apply story structure to the additional layers, curves, and corkscrews that inhabit complex novels?

Parallel Plots

Developing a parallel story structure shares much in common with planning a single plot since you might plot each thread individually before weaving them together. The storylines may rarely intersect, or you could end up with an intricate tapestry.

creative writing narrative structure

Depending on the type of parallel narrative, the degree of interaction your individual plots have can vary.

  • Some parallel narratives will address a common theme or deal with a single event from different perspectives.
  • Others involve multiple protagonists on separate journeys that come together for the third act or the climax.
  • Sometimes, these storylines intersect multiple times.

An important thing to ensure is that each plot carries its own weight and feels like a complete story. And together, they should feel like one story. Even if the protagonists never meet, their experiences should explore a single event or theme through different lenses.

Non-Linear Plots

When telling a non-linear story, where events are not in chronological order, you’ll require separate story structures for both the chronology of the events and how the events are shown to the reader.

First, how the events play out in timeline order needs to still make logical sense and follow all the rules of causality. Write down the sequential order of events in your planning notes to make sure you cover all of your bases. Let's take these events as an example:

  • Joe wakes up.
  • He gets ready for work.
  • Joe travels to the office.
  • He works all day.
  • Joe gets fired.

Now, the key to telling a good non-linear story is to make sure the flow of events you present to the reader tells a compelling story with a narrative arc. We can take our sample events and rearrange them so that they're still following the structure of the five basic plot elements —and in a way that makes sense, too.

  • Status quo: He works all day.
  • Inciting incident: He gets ready for work.
  • Rising Action: Joe travels to the office.
  • Midpoint: Joe wakes up.
  • Climax: Joe gets fired.

Even though events presented aren't in chronological order, you can still craft a compelling narrative that makes sense to a reader.

It’s the “two birds with one stone” nature of this endeavor that makes it challenging. To see it in action successfully, I’d give Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction a watch (this is both nonlinear and parallel!), or almost any Christopher Nolan film.

Adding a story within a story seems deceptively simple but can grow increasingly complex.

creative writing narrative structure

For each subplot , you might use the same story structure as the main plot; or if a subplot is brief or simple, you might choose a more streamlined plotting method like the three-act structure.

At times, you'll want to make sure the beats of multiple plots coincide with one another for maximum impact, such as the midpoint of the main plot coinciding with a plot twist in a subplot, or both sharing a single event for the climax.

The tricky part is weaving your subplots into the main narrative in a way that creates a single, cohesive story. The keys here are to ensure that events flow logically from one to the next, all your plots are relevant to one another, and every subplot influences the main plot, characters, or theme.

Slice of Life Stories

With a slice-of-life story, you explore a selection of small, everyday stories focused on the character and setting rather than a sweeping narrative with a central conflict.

However, narrative structure has a role to play even in stories that simply examine ordinary facets of life instead of addressing some sort of impending conflict.

Everything that happens to us follows a plot structure, which is what makes it so natural and necessary for any kind of storytelling.

Let’s take buying a loaf of bread as an example, and apply the five elements of plot:

I was at home ( introduction ) when I realized I was out of bread ( inciting incident ). So, I went to the store ( rising action ) and bought a loaf of bread ( climax ). Then, I went home with my new loaf of bread ( resolution ).

As we can see, even the most basic of interactions with the world involve a narrative structure.

What a Dastardly Plot!

The variety of narrative structures and plotting methods can be overwhelming. Take time to explore them. No single method is better than another, so find what works for you.

Also, one should not feel beholden to existing formulas. Innovation is what drives storytelling forward.

Jeff Vandermeer said it best in Wonderbook :

Understanding existing plot structures is a vital foundation for any writer, but don’t be afraid to experiment once that knowledge is at your disposal.

Plot Method Templates in Campfire

Ready to plot out your masterpiece in earnest? The Campfire team has put together twelve of the aforementioned plot methods as templates in the Timeline Module.

creative writing narrative structure

Campfire's Timeline Module offers a versatile canvas to plot out each basic component of your story while featuring nested "notebooks." Simply double-click on each panel in the Timeline to open up a canvas specific to that card. This allows you to look at your plot at the highest level, while also adding as much detail for each plot element as needed!

If you're new to Campfire, their writing software is free to sign up for! Create your account, find the right template for you in the Timeline Module, and start planning out your novel in minutes.

Storytelling is magic-making, so no matter what, the important thing is that you get out there and make some magic!

creative writing narrative structure

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Narrative Structure

What are narrative structures.

Literature has many forms, and each form has its own unique structure for telling a story. When studying, teaching, or learning about narration in literature, it is also important to understand its underlying arrangement. How is it created? What are the parts of a story? What aspects differ from one form to another?

The primary types of narrative structure, or story structure, come in these forms :

  • Poems or Poetry
  • Drama or Plays
  • Short Stories
  • Myths, Legends, Folktales, Fairy Tales, and Epics

For novels, novellas, and short stories, you will see that the typical pattern of three or five parts of a story. This is referred to as the plot diagram. It is the foundation of many other structures and is the most commonly used. It can also be applied to other forms of media, like movies and TV shows.

A similar diagram can be used for understanding the patterns of drama or plays. This is known as the Five Act Structure. It too has five parts, each act coinciding with one part of the narrative diagram. Shakespeare was famous for structuring his plays in five acts: Act I is the introduction, Act II is the rising action, Act III the climax, Act IV the falling action, and Act V the resolution or denouement. This pattern is widely successful, and has been used by many playwrights.

Lastly, the narrative structure used for epics and some myths, legends, folktales, and fairy tales is often the "Hero's Journey", sometimes referred to as the Monomyth. Not every story will fit this structure, but it is commonly used for these types of narratives when the protagonist is considered a "hero". A famous example would be The Odyssey , a Greek epic where the hero, Odysseus, is forced to live, lost at sea, because of Poseidon's ill will towards him. Modern examples can be found in Disney movies animated adventures such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo .

Here at Storyboard That, we have compiled articles and storyboards created about the different structures of literature: Five Act Structure , types of Shakespearean plays , the plot diagram , and the Hero’s Journey .

The Five Act Structure

The Five Act Structure (also commonly referred to as the dramatic structure) is used to expose dramas or plays. The Five Act Structure, which has been redeveloped from Aristotle’s Three Act Structure, can be overlaid on a traditional plot diagram. The Five Act Structure follows the same five parts of the plot diagram; however, it does this with five acts. Shakespearean plays are known for following this structure.

Five Act Structure | 5 Act Structure

Plot Diagrams

The plot diagram is a commonly known organizational device used by those studying novels, short stories, and novellas which tracks the major elements in the plot. The diagram's triangular shape visually represents the pivotal events of the story: the climax being the apex of the triangle, the introduction being the base, and the rising and falling action are the sloping sides, followed by the denouncement or resolution being the last base.

Plot Diagram

The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey is a common narrative structure known to epic poems or journeys. The most notable being Homer's The Odyssey . The Hero's Journey is a slightly more complex diagram that follows a similar pattern to the plot diagram. The Hero’s Journey is an archetypal narrative structure with various stages that a hero wades through to completion.

Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, created this cycle after researching and reviewing numerous myths and stories from different times and regions of the world. What he found was that they all share the same fundamental principles. This spawned “The Hero’s Journey”, also known as the Monomyth. The most basic version has 12 steps, while more detailed versions can have up to 17.

Hero's Journey Stages

Shakespearean Play Genres

Shakespearean plays typically come in three varieties: tragedy, comedy, and history. Although these genres are not exclusive to Shakespeare, he is famous for producing highly successful plays based on his own structure for each. In the following article, each type of play and its structures are explained in detail - proving these genres were deliberately systematic!

Shakespearean Play Genres

Related Activities

Plot Diagram for The Raven

How to Foster Creative Writing Skills through Narrative Structures

Introduce narrative structures.

Provide an overview of different narrative structures, such as linear, circular, episodic, or nonlinear, explaining how they impact storytelling and create unique narrative experiences.


Share examples of literary works or excerpts that showcase different narrative structures. Discuss the characteristics, effects, and creative possibilities of each structure.


Help students understand the relationship between narrative structure and the story being told. Analyze how different structures can enhance or shape the plot, character development, pacing, and themes.


Generate a list of creative writing prompts that specifically focus on utilizing different narrative structures. Encourage students to explore their imagination and think outside the box when developing their story ideas.


Offer guidance and support as students begin writing their stories. Provide graphic organizers, templates, or story outlines that correspond to specific narrative structures to help students structure their ideas effectively.


Create a supportive environment for students to share their creative writing pieces with peers. Facilitate discussions where students can reflect on their use of narrative structures, strengths, challenges, and the impact on their storytelling.

Frequently Asked Questions about Narrative Structure

Narrative structures refer to the unique arrangement of elements in literature that are used to tell a story. These elements differ from one form of literature to another, such as novels, short stories, poems, plays, myths, legends, folktales, fairy tales, and epics.

What is the most common type of narrative structure?

The plot diagram is the most common type of narrative structure, consisting of three or five parts, and is commonly applied in novels, novellas, short stories, as well as movies, and TV shows.

What is the Five Act Structure?

The Five Act Structure is a commonly used narrative structure in drama or plays, consisting of five parts, each act corresponding to a part of the plot diagram. This structure was famously used by Shakespeare in his plays and is still widely used today in modern theater. By following this structure, playwrights are able to create a clear and engaging narrative arc that draws in audiences and keeps them engaged until the very end.

What is the Hero's Journey?

The Hero's Journey is a common narrative structure used in epics and some myths, legends, folktales, and fairy tales. It follows a pattern of a hero's journey through various stages to completion. This structure was first identified by mythologist Joseph Campbell and is also known as the Monomyth.

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Mastering Story Structure: A Guide to Compelling Narratives

creative writing narrative structure

Have you ever wondered what makes a story truly captivating? Why some narratives linger in our minds long after we’ve turned the last page? The secret lies in the art of story structure. A well-crafted narrative structure not only keeps readers hooked but also leaves them with a sense of satisfaction when they finish the tale. In this blog post, we will delve into the world of story structure, examining its role in creating compelling narratives and providing examples from some of the most beloved works of literature.

Whether you’re an aspiring writer or a voracious reader , understanding story structure can help you appreciate the intricacies of storytelling and make your own stories more engaging.

What is story structure?

Story structure , at its core, is the framework that underpins a narrative. It is the organization of plot elements, character arcs, and themes that create a coherent and engaging story. The structure serves as the backbone of your tale, giving it shape and direction, while guiding the reader through the narrative journey.

A well-structured story ensures that each scene or chapter contributes to the overall narrative, creating a seamless flow from beginning to end. It helps the writer maintain a balance between exposition, character development, and action, ensuring that the pacing remains consistent and the reader remains invested in the story.

In short, a strong story structure is the key to a captivating narrative. By understanding and implementing the principles of story structure, writers can create immersive worlds, memorable characters, and stories that leave a lasting impact on their audience. So, let’s dive deeper into the world of story structure and explore some of the most common and effective ways to craft a compelling narrative.

The Three-Act Structure

Perhaps the most well-known and widely used framework in storytelling is the Three-Act Structure. This time-tested approach divides a narrative into three distinct parts: Setup, Confrontation, and Resolution. Each act serves a specific purpose in the story, allowing for a natural progression of events and character development. Let’s take a closer look at each act and how it contributes to a captivating narrative.

Act 1: Setup

In the first act, the writer introduces the main characters and their backstories , establishes the setting, and sets the stage for the story. This is where the reader becomes acquainted with the protagonist’s ordinary world and gets a glimpse of their desires, challenges, and motivations. The Setup also includes the inciting incident, a key event that propels the protagonist into the main conflict and kick-starts the narrative journey.

Example from literature: In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling establishes the ordinary world of young Harry living with the Dursleys, introduces the magical world of Hogwarts, and presents the inciting incident when Harry receives his letter to attend the school.

Act 2: Confrontation

The second act, also known as the “rising action,” sees the protagonist facing obstacles, making choices, and experiencing setbacks as they strive to achieve their goal. This is the longest part of the story, and it’s where the bulk of character development and plot progression takes place. The act is often punctuated by turning points and a midpoint, where the stakes are raised, and the protagonist’s commitment to their goal is tested.

Example from literature: In “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the second act to develop the characters’ relationships, present conflicts, and reveal Gatsby’s mysterious past. The midpoint occurs during the climactic confrontation between Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy at the Plaza Hotel, which sets the stage for the story’s tragic conclusion.

Act 3: Resolution

The final act brings the story to its climax, where the protagonist faces their ultimate challenge or antagonist. The tension peaks as the story reaches its most dramatic point, followed by the falling action and denouement, where the loose ends are tied up, and the story reaches its conclusion. A satisfying resolution leaves the reader with a sense of closure, whether the protagonist achieves their goal or not.

Example from literature: In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee crafts a powerful climax with the trial of Tom Robinson and the subsequent fallout in the small town of Maycomb. The falling action includes the attack on Scout and Jem, and the story concludes with a poignant denouement, emphasizing the novel’s themes of morality, justice, and empathy.

By understanding and applying the principles of the Three-Act Structure, writers can create a solid foundation for their stories, ensuring that each scene and chapter contributes meaningfully to the narrative’s progression and keeps the reader enthralled from start to finish.

While the Three-Act Structure is undoubtedly a popular and effective way to craft a story, it’s by no means the only approach. There are several alternative story structures that writers can experiment with to create unique and compelling narratives. Let’s explore two of these alternative structures and see how they’ve been utilized in well-known literary works.

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey, based on the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell, is a narrative framework that follows the cyclical path of a protagonist as they embark on an adventure, face challenges, and ultimately return transformed. The structure is divided into several stages, including the Call to Adventure, Crossing the Threshold, Trials and Tribulations, and the Return with Elixir. The Hero’s Journey is particularly well-suited to epic and adventure stories, as it emphasizes growth, transformation, and self-discovery.

Example from literature: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” masterfully employs the Hero’s Journey as we follow Frodo Baggins on his quest to destroy the One Ring. Throughout the narrative, Frodo encounters various trials, allies, and enemies, and eventually returns to the Shire forever changed by his experiences.

In Medias Res

In medias res, a Latin phrase meaning “in the middle of things,” is a narrative technique that begins the story in the midst of action, often at a critical or dramatic moment. This structure skips the traditional setup and immediately plunges the reader into the story, creating an immediate sense of urgency and intrigue. The background information and character introductions are revealed gradually through flashbacks, dialogue, or other narrative devices, allowing the reader to piece together the story as it unfolds.

Example from literature: Chuck Palahniuk ‘s “Fight Club” utilizes in medias res by opening with the protagonist held at gunpoint by his alter ego, Tyler Durden. The story then unfolds through a series of flashbacks and narrative revelations, gradually exposing the events leading up to the opening scene.

Experimenting with alternative story structures can help writers break free from formulaic patterns and craft innovative, memorable narratives. By understanding the principles of these alternative frameworks, writers can find new ways to engage readers and keep them on the edge of their seats.

Tips for implementing story structure in your writing

Regardless of the specific structure you choose for your story, there are some universal tips and techniques that can help you create a well-structured and engaging narrative. Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind as you implement story structure in your writing:

Establishing the foundation

Before you dive into the writing process, take the time to map out your story’s structure. This includes identifying the key plot points, character arcs, and themes you want to explore. Having a clear outline not only provides a roadmap for your story but also ensures that each scene contributes meaningfully to the overall narrative.

Balancing character development and plot progression

A compelling story relies on both engaging characters and a well-paced plot. To strike the right balance, ensure that your story structure allows for adequate character development alongside the unfolding of the plot. This may involve alternating between character-focused scenes and action-packed moments or weaving character growth into the story’s pivotal events.

Pacing your story

The pacing of your narrative plays a crucial role in keeping the reader engaged. A well-structured story should have a mix of fast-paced action, slower character-driven moments, and occasional pauses for reflection. Be mindful of the rhythm and flow of your story, and use your structure to create a sense of momentum and tension that keeps the reader eager to turn the page. A suspenseful book prologue , for example, can help a slower story hook the reader.

By incorporating these tips into your writing process, you can create a well-structured and engaging narrative that captures the reader’s imagination and leaves them wanting more. Remember, the key to successful storytelling lies in understanding the underlying principles of story structure and adapting them to suit your unique creative vision.

Story structure is an essential aspect of crafting captivating narratives that resonate with readers. By understanding the underlying principles of various story structures and implementing them effectively, writers can achieve their goals , create immersive worlds, memorable characters, and stories that linger in the minds of their audience long after the final page has been turned.

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  • How to write a narrative essay | Example & tips

How to Write a Narrative Essay | Example & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A narrative essay tells a story. In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay , along with the descriptive essay , allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing .

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Table of contents

What is a narrative essay for, choosing a topic, interactive example of a narrative essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about narrative essays.

When assigned a narrative essay, you might find yourself wondering: Why does my teacher want to hear this story? Topics for narrative essays can range from the important to the trivial. Usually the point is not so much the story itself, but the way you tell it.

A narrative essay is a way of testing your ability to tell a story in a clear and interesting way. You’re expected to think about where your story begins and ends, and how to convey it with eye-catching language and a satisfying pace.

These skills are quite different from those needed for formal academic writing. For instance, in a narrative essay the use of the first person (“I”) is encouraged, as is the use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense.

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Narrative essay assignments vary widely in the amount of direction you’re given about your topic. You may be assigned quite a specific topic or choice of topics to work with.

  • Write a story about your first day of school.
  • Write a story about your favorite holiday destination.

You may also be given prompts that leave you a much wider choice of topic.

  • Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself.
  • Write about an achievement you are proud of. What did you accomplish, and how?

In these cases, you might have to think harder to decide what story you want to tell. The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to talk about a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

For example, a trip where everything went according to plan makes for a less interesting story than one where something unexpected happened that you then had to respond to. Choose an experience that might surprise the reader or teach them something.

Narrative essays in college applications

When applying for college , you might be asked to write a narrative essay that expresses something about your personal qualities.

For example, this application prompt from Common App requires you to respond with a narrative essay.

In this context, choose a story that is not only interesting but also expresses the qualities the prompt is looking for—here, resilience and the ability to learn from failure—and frame the story in a way that emphasizes these qualities.

An example of a short narrative essay, responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” is shown below.

Hover over different parts of the text to see how the structure works.

Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.

Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.

A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.

The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?

The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.

Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.

When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

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How to Structure Creative Writing for GCSE (Creative Writing Examples!)

Posted on August, 2022

girl writing bed structure creative writing

Structure Creative Writing for Success

Having plenty of ideas for creative writing is one thing, but nailing down the right structure can be a bit more challenging.

Jenga structure creative writing blog

There are several steps for children to think about before they begin writing, and that includes creating a structure or plan for how their story will flow.

Creative writing is all about grabbing the reader’s attention immediately, so children in their GCSE years need to understand the importance of structure when writing, in order to organise their ideas and make sure their work reads cohesively.

In this post, we will go through everything your child needs to know from paragraphing, to creating a satisfying ending, providing examples along the way to demonstrate the best way to structure their creative writing.

How Should I Structure Creative Writing?

There are several types of creative writing questions that could come up on the GCSE reading and writing exam. There will be the option to either write creatively based on an image, or a made-up scenario.

Having a solid structure for longer creative writing questions and exercises helps to ensure your child is prepared.

By using a structure that helps to organise your child’s ideas, it helps their writing to flow. It also allows your child to become more confident in their creative writing process.

Planning is more important than you might think, as mark schemes from most exam boards include ‘well-controlled paragraphs’ or something very similar within the top band of criteria for creative writing.

Therefore, children should practise planning out creative writing structures well before their writing exam. Planning gives them time to get into the habit of always providing themselves with a simple, but focused idea of what they are going to write.

Structure Creative Writing with Seven Story Archetypes


Understanding the fundamental structure of a story is crucial for crafting engaging narratives. Beyond basic sequences, story archetypes provide a deeper framework. Christopher Booker , a renowned scholar, identified seven main story archetypes.

Each archetype outlines a distinctive journey and the challenges faced by characters.

1. Overcoming the Monster

This archetype portrays an underdog’s quest to conquer a formidable evil. Examples include the epic tales of Harry Potter battling Lord Voldemort, the classic struggle in Jurassic Park, and the timeless narrative of Jack and the Beanstalk.

2. Rags to Riches

Embarking from a starting point of poverty or despair, characters rise to newfound wealth and success. Witness this transformation in stories like Slumdog Millionaire, The Pursuit of Happyness, and The Wolf of Wall Street.

3. The Quest

A hero’s journey to discover something, overcoming trials and tribulations along the way. Iconic examples include the Fellowship of the Ring’s quest in The Lord of the Rings, Marlin’s journey to find Nemo, and the epic adventures of Odysseus in The Odyssey.

4. Voyage and Return

Protagonists venture into unknown territories, facing adversity before returning home transformed. Dive into this archetype with examples like the curious escapades in Spirited Away, Bilbo Baggins’ journey in The Hobbit, and the enchanting Chronicles of Narnia.

Contrary to our typical perception of humour, this archetype involves destined lovers kept apart by conflicting forces. Delight in the comedic twists of relationships in classics such as 10 Things I Hate About You, When Harry Met Sally, and Notting Hill.

Protagonists with major flaws or errors leading to their inevitable downfall. Witness the unraveling of characters in tragedies like The Great Gatsby, Requiem for a Dream, and the Shakespearean masterpiece Othello.

Characters succumb to darkness but redeem themselves throughout the narrative. Experience the transformative journeys in stories like Atonement, American History X, and the animated Beauty and the Beast.

Application Across Mediums

Beyond literature, these archetypes seamlessly apply to filmmaking and photography. A well-crafted photograph or film can mirror the same narrative arcs, captivating viewers on a visual adventure akin to storytelling. Explore these archetypes to infuse depth and resonance into your creative endeavors.

Paragraphing for a Solid Creative Writing Structure

First of all, paragraphing is central to creative writing as this is what keeps the structure solid.

In order to stick to a creative writing structure, children must know exactly when to end and start a new paragraph, and how much information each paragraph should contain.

For example, introducing the main character, diving into the action of the story, and providing 10 descriptive sentences of the weather and location, could be separated and spread throughout for impact.

Structuring a creative writing piece also involves creating an appropriate timeline of events. Then, you must map out exactly where the story will go from start to finish. This is assuming the writing piece is in sequential order.

Occasionally, there may be a question that requires a non-sequential order.

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What does a Solid Creative Writing Structure look like?

This list below details every section in a creative writing piece and should look something like this:

  • An engaging opening
  • A complication
  • The development
  • The turning point
  • A resolution or convincing close

With this structure, it is important to bear in mind that for the AQA GCSE English Language paper 1 reading and creative writing exam.

You can also use Freitag’s pyramid or a story mountain to help you understand the basic structure of a story:

structure story story mountain

Children will be expected to spend about 50 minutes on the creative writing section. It’s therefore vital to get them into the habit of planning their writing first. As with anything, practice makes perfect.

If you want to find out more about GCSE English Language papers 1 and 2, check out our blog .

We will dive deeper into the creative writing structure further on in this post, but first, let us go through the importance of paragraphing, and how TipTop paragraphs can help to improve children’s writing.

boy in red jumper writing

Paragraphing and TipTop Paragraphs

Before children begin to plan out the structure of their stories, it’s essential that they know the importance of paragraphing correctly first.

At this stage of learning, your child should be comfortable in knowing what a paragraph is, and understand that they help with the layout of their stories throughout the whole writing process.

Paragraphs essentially help to organise ideas into dedicated sections of writing based on your child’s ideas. For example, having a paragraph for an introduction, then another paragraph introducing the main character.

This means your child’s writing will be in a logical order and will direct the reader further on into the writing.

Be as creative as Kevin’s booby traps from “ Home Alone “.

To avoid your child straying from their creative writing structure and overloading paragraphs with too much information, there is a simple way to remind them of when they need to start a new paragraph.

TiPToP for a Clearer Creative Writing Structure

Using the TiPToP acronym is such an easy way for you to encourage your child to think about when they need to change paragraphs, as it stands for:

When moving to a different time or location, bringing in a new idea or character, or even introducing a piece of action or dialogue, your child’s writing should be moving on to new paragraphs.

During creative writing practice, your child can ask themselves a series of questions to work out whether they need to move onto a new paragraph to keep their story flowing and reach that top band of criteria.

For example:

  • Is the story going into a new day or time period?
  • Is the location staying the same or am I moving on?
  • Am I bringing in a new idea that I haven’t described yet?
  • Am I going to bring in a new character?

Providing opportunities to practise creative writing will help your child to get into the habit of asking themselves these questions as they write, meaning they will stick to the plan they have created beforehand.

Now it’s time to get into the all-important creative writing structure.

Teenager writing desk

Structure Creative Writing: A Step-by-Step Guide

Producing a creative writing structure should be a simple process for your child, as it just involves organising the different sections of their writing into a logical order.

First, we need to start at the beginning, by creating an engaging opening for any piece of writing that will grab the reader’s attention. You might also be interested to check out this blog on story structure that I found in my research.

This leads us nicely onto step 1…

1. Creating an Engaging Opening

There are several ways to engage the reader in the opening of a story, but there needs to be a specific hook within the first paragraph to ensure the reader continues.

This hook could be the introduction of a word that the reader isn’t familiar with, or an imaginary setting that they don’t recognise at all, leaving them questioning ‘What does this all mean?’

It may be that your child opens their story by introducing a character with a description of their appearance, using a piece of dialogue to create a sense of mystery, or simply describing the surroundings to set the tone. This ‘hook’ is crucial as it sets the pace for the rest of the writing and if done properly, will make the reader feel invested in the story.

Read more about hooks in essays .

If your child needs to work more on description, I definitely recommend utilising the Descriptosaurus :

Additionally, it’s important to include a piece of information or specific object within the opening of the creative writing, as this provides something to link back to at the end, tying the whole storyline together neatly.

Engaging Opening Examples:

  • Opening with dialogue – “I wouldn’t tell them, I couldn’t”
  • Opening with a question – “Surely they hadn’t witnessed what I had?”
  • Opening with mystery/ or a lack of important information – “The mist touched the top of the mountains like a gentle kiss, as Penelope Walker stared out from behind the cold, rigid bars that separated her from the world.”

2. Complication

Providing a complication gets the storyline rolling after introducing a bit of mystery and suspense in the opening.

Treat this complication like a snowball that starts small, but gradually grows into something bigger and bigger as the storyline unfolds.

This complication could be that a secret has been told, and now the main character needs to try and stop it from spreading. Alternatively, you could introduce a love interest that catches the attention of your main character.

In this section, there should be a hint towards a future challenge or a problem to overcome (which will be fleshed out in the development and climax sections) to make the reader slightly aware of what’s to come.

Complication Example:

  • Hint to future challenge – “I knew what was coming next, I knew I shouldn’t have told him, now my secret is going to spread like wildfire.”
  • Including information to help understand the opening – “Bainbridge Prison was where Penelope had spent the last 2 years, stuffed into a cell the size of a shoebox, waiting for August the 14th to arrive.”

3. Development

The development seamlessly extends from the previous section, providing additional information on the introduced complication.

During this phase, your child should consider the gradual build-up to the writing piece’s climax. For instance, a secret shared in the compilation stage now spreads beyond one person, heightening the challenge of containment.

Here, your child should concentrate on instilling suspense and escalating tension in their creative writing, engaging the reader as they approach the climax.

Development Example:

  • Build-up to the challenge/ climax – “I saw him whispering in class today, my lip trembled but I had to force back my tears. What if he was telling them my secret? The secret no-one was meant to know.”
  • Focusing on suspense – “4 more days to go. 4 more days until her life changed forever, and she didn’t know yet if it was for better or for worse.”

The climax is the section that the whole story should be built around.

Before creating a structure like this one, your child should have an idea in mind that the story will be based on. Usually this is some sort of shocking, emotion-provoking event.

This may be love, loss, battle, death, a mystery, a crime, or several other events.  The climax needs to be the pivotal point; the most exciting part of the story.

Your child may choose to have something go drastically wrong for their main character. They must regardless, need to come up with a way of working this problem into their turning point and resolution. The should think carefully about this will allow the story to be resolved and come to a close.

Climax Example:

  • Shocking event: “He stood up and spoke the words I never want to hear aloud. ‘I saw her standing there over the computer and pressing send, she must have done it.’”
  • Emotion-provoking event: “The prisoners cheered as Penelope strutted past each cell waving goodbye, but suddenly she felt herself being pulled back into her cell. All she could see were the prison bars once again.”

5. Turning Point or Exposition

After the climax, the story’s turning point emerges, crucial for maintaining reader interest.

During this post-climax phase, address and resolve issues, acknowledging that not every resolution leads to a happy ending.

Turning points need not be confined to the story’s conclusion; they can occur at various junctures, signifying significant narrative shifts.

Even in shorter pieces, introducing turning points early on can captivate the reader.

Creative writing allows for individual storytelling, and effective turning points may differ between your child and you.

Maintain suspense in this section, avoiding premature revelation of the ending despite the climax’s conclusion.

Turning Point Example:

  • Turning point: “Little did they know, I was stopping that file from being sent around the whole school. I wasn’t the one to send it, and I had to make sure they knew that.”
  • Turning point: “She forced herself through the window, leaving the prison behind her for good this time, or so she thought.”

6. A Resolution or Convincing Close

The resolution should highlight the change in the story, so the tone must be slightly different.

At this stage, the problem resolves (happily or unhappily) and the character/s learns lessons. The close of the story must highlight this.

The writer should also not rush the resolution or end of the story.

It needs to be believable for the reader right until the very end. The writer should allow us to feel what the protagonist is feeling.

This creates emotion and allows your reader to feel fully involved.

Remember the piece of information or specific object that was included in the story’s opening?

Well this is the time to bring that back, and tie all of those loose ends together. You want to leave the reader with something to think about. You can even ask questions as this shows they have invested in the story.

Resolution Example:

  • Happy resolution: “He came up to me and curled his hand around mine, and whispered an apology. He knew it wasn’t me, and all I felt was relief. Looks like I should have told them right from the start”
  • Unhappy resolution: “All she felt was separation, as she felt those cold, rigid prison bars on her face once more.”

 person thumbs up creative writing structure

How to Structure Your Creative Writing for GCSE (with Creative Writing Examples!)

To enhance your children’s GCSE creative writing skills, allocate time for practice.

Plan a structure for creative writing to guide children in organising their thoughts and managing time during the GCSE exam.

Apply this structure to various exam questions, such as short stories or describing events.

Focus each creative piece on a climactic event, building anticipation in the beginning and resolving it at the end.

Consider a tutor for GCSE preparation to help children focus on specific areas.

Redbridge Tuition offers experienced tutors for learning from KS2 to GCSE, providing necessary resources for your child’s success.

Get in touch to find out how our tutors could help.

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Last updated on Feb 20, 2023

Creative Nonfiction: How to Spin Facts into Narrative Gold

Creative nonfiction is a genre of creative writing that approaches factual information in a literary way. This type of writing applies techniques drawn from literary fiction and poetry to material that might be at home in a magazine or textbook, combining the craftsmanship of a novel with the rigor of journalism. 

Here are some popular examples of creative nonfiction:

  • The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
  • Intimations by Zadie Smith
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Translating Myself and Others by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Creative nonfiction is not limited to novel-length writing, of course. Popular radio shows and podcasts like WBEZ’s This American Life or Sarah Koenig’s Serial also explore audio essays and documentary with a narrative approach, while personal essays like Nora Ephron’s A Few Words About Breasts and Mariama Lockington’s What A Black Woman Wishes Her Adoptive White Parents Knew also present fact with fiction-esque flair.

Writing short personal essays can be a great entry point to writing creative nonfiction. Think about a topic you would like to explore, perhaps borrowing from your own life, or a universal experience. Journal freely for five to ten minutes about the subject, and see what direction your creativity takes you in. These kinds of exercises will help you begin to approach reality in a more free flowing, literary way — a muscle you can use to build up to longer pieces of creative nonfiction.

If you think you’d like to bring your writerly prowess to nonfiction, here are our top tips for creating compelling creative nonfiction that’s as readable as a novel, but as illuminating as a scholarly article.

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Write a memoir focused on a singular experience

Humans love reading about other people’s lives — like first-person memoirs, which allow you to get inside another person’s mind and learn from their wisdom. Unlike autobiographies, memoirs can focus on a single experience or theme instead of chronicling the writers’ life from birth onward.

For that reason, memoirs tend to focus on one core theme and—at least the best ones—present a clear narrative arc, like you would expect from a novel. This can be achieved by selecting a singular story from your life; a formative experience, or period of time, which is self-contained and can be marked by a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

When writing a memoir, you may also choose to share your experience in parallel with further research on this theme. By performing secondary research, you’re able to bring added weight to your anecdotal evidence, and demonstrate the ways your own experience is reflective (or perhaps unique from) the wider whole.

Example: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Creative Nonfiction example: Cover of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking , for example, interweaves the author’s experience of widowhood with sociological research on grief. Chronicling the year after her husband’s unexpected death, and the simultaneous health struggles of their daughter, The Year of Magical Thinking is a poignant personal story, layered with universal insight into what it means to lose someone you love. The result is the definitive exploration of bereavement — and a stellar example of creative nonfiction done well.

📚 Looking for more reading recommendations? Check out our list of the best memoirs of the last century .

Tip: What you cut out is just as important as what you keep

When writing a memoir that is focused around a singular theme, it’s important to be selective in what to include, and what to leave out. While broader details of your life may be helpful to provide context, remember to resist the impulse to include too much non-pertinent backstory. By only including what is most relevant, you are able to provide a more focused reader experience, and won’t leave readers guessing what the significance of certain non-essential anecdotes will be.

💡 For more memoir-planning tips, head over to our post on outlining memoirs .

Of course, writing a memoir isn’t the only form of creative nonfiction that lets you tap into your personal life — especially if there’s something more explicit you want to say about the world at large… which brings us onto our next section.

Pen a personal essay that has something bigger to say

Personal essays condense the first-person focus and intimacy of a memoir into a tighter package — tunneling down into a specific aspect of a theme or narrative strand within the author’s personal experience.

Often involving some element of journalistic research, personal essays can provide examples or relevant information that comes from outside the writer’s own experience. This can take the form of other people’s voices quoted in the essay, or facts and stats. By combining lived experiences with external material, personal essay writers can reach toward a bigger message, telling readers something about human behavior or society instead of just letting them know the writer better.

Example: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Creative nonfiction example: Cover of Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams

Leslie Jamison's widely acclaimed collection The Empathy Exams  tackles big questions (Why is pain so often performed? Can empathy be “bad”?) by grounding them in the personal. While Jamison draws from her own experiences, both as a medical actor who was paid to imitate pain, and as a sufferer of her own ailments, she also reaches broader points about the world we live in within each of her essays.

Whether she’s talking about the justice system or reality TV, Jamison writes with both vulnerability and poise, using her lived experience as a jumping-off point for exploring the nature of empathy itself.

Tip: Try to show change in how you feel about something

Including external perspectives, as we’ve just discussed above, will help shape your essay, making it meaningful to other people and giving your narrative an arc. 

Ultimately, you may be writing about yourself, but readers can read what they want into it. In a personal narrative, they’re looking for interesting insights or realizations they can apply to their own understanding of their lives or the world — so don’t lose sight of that. As the subject of the essay, you are not so much the topic as the vehicle for furthering a conversation.

Often, there are three clear stages in an essay:

  • Initial state 
  • Encounter with something external
  • New, changed state, and conclusions

By bringing readers through this journey with you, you can guide them to new outlooks and demonstrate how your story is still relevant to them.

Had enough of writing about your own life? Let’s look at a form of creative nonfiction that allows you to get outside of yourself.

Tell a factual story as though it were a novel

The form of creative nonfiction that is perhaps closest to conventional nonfiction is literary journalism. Here, the stories are all fact, but they are presented with a creative flourish. While the stories being told might comfortably inhabit a newspaper or history book, they are presented with a sense of literary significance, and writers can make use of literary techniques and character-driven storytelling.

Unlike news reporters, literary journalists can make room for their own perspectives: immersing themselves in the very action they recount. Think of them as both characters and narrators — but every word they write is true. 

If you think literary journalism is up your street, think about the kinds of stories that capture your imagination the most, and what those stories have in common. Are they, at their core, character studies? Parables? An invitation to a new subculture you have never before experienced? Whatever piques your interest, immerse yourself.

Example: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Creative nonfiction example: Cover of Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire

If you’re looking for an example of literary journalism that tells a great story, look no further than Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World , which sits at the intersection of food writing and popular science. Though it purports to offer a “plant’s-eye view of the world,” it’s as much about human desires as it is about the natural world.

Through the history of four different plants and human’s efforts to cultivate them, Pollan uses first-hand research as well as archival facts to explore how we attempt to domesticate nature for our own pleasure, and how these efforts can even have devastating consequences. Pollan is himself a character in the story, and makes what could be a remarkably dry topic accessible and engaging in the process.

Tip: Don’t pretend that you’re perfectly objective

You may have more room for your own perspective within literary journalism, but with this power comes great responsibility. Your responsibilities toward the reader remain the same as that of a journalist: you must, whenever possible, acknowledge your own biases or conflicts of interest, as well as any limitations on your research. 

Thankfully, the fact that literary journalism often involves a certain amount of immersion in the narrative — that is, the writer acknowledges their involvement in the process — you can touch on any potential biases explicitly, and make it clear that the story you’re telling, while true to what you experienced, is grounded in your own personal perspective.

Approach a famous name with a unique approach 

Biographies are the chronicle of a human life, from birth to the present or, sometimes, their demise. Often, fact is stranger than fiction, and there is no shortage of fascinating figures from history to discover. As such, a biographical approach to creative nonfiction will leave you spoilt for choice in terms of subject matter.

Because they’re not written by the subjects themselves (as memoirs are), biographical nonfiction requires careful research. If you plan to write one, do everything in your power to verify historical facts, and interview the subject’s family, friends, and acquaintances when possible. Despite the necessity for candor, you’re still welcome to approach biography in a literary way — a great creative biography is both truthful and beautifully written.

Example: American Prometheus  by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

Creative nonfiction example: Cover of American Prometheus

Alongside the need for you to present the truth is a duty to interpret that evidence with imagination, and present it in the form of a story. Demonstrating a novelist’s skill for plot and characterization, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s American Prometheus is a great example of creative nonfiction that develops a character right in front of the readers’ eyes.

American Prometheus follows J. Robert Oppenheimer from his bashful childhood to his role as the father of the atomic bomb, all the way to his later attempts to reckon with his violent legacy.



How to Develop Characters

In 10 days, learn to develop complex characters readers will love.

The biography tells a story that would fit comfortably in the pages of a tragic novel, but is grounded in historical research. Clocking in at a hefty 721 pages, American Prometheus distills an enormous volume of archival material, including letters, FBI files, and interviews into a remarkably readable volume. 

📚 For more examples of world-widening, eye-opening biographies, check out our list of the 30 best biographies of all time .

Tip: The good stuff lies in the mundane details

Biographers are expected to undertake academic-grade research before they put pen to paper. You will, of course, read any existing biographies on the person you’re writing about, and visit any archives containing relevant material. If you’re lucky, there’ll be people you can interview who knew your subject personally — but even if there aren’t, what’s going to make your biography stand out is paying attention to details, even if they seem mundane at first.

Of course, no one cares which brand of slippers a former US President wore — gossip is not what we’re talking about. But if you discover that they took a long, silent walk every single morning, that’s a granular detail you could include to give your readers a sense of the weight they carried every day. These smaller details add up to a realistic portrait of a living, breathing human being.

But creative nonfiction isn’t just writing about yourself or other people. Writing about art is also an art, as we’ll see below.

Put your favorite writers through the wringer with literary criticism

Literary criticism is often associated with dull, jargon-laden college dissertations — but it can be a wonderfully rewarding form that blurs the lines between academia and literature itself. When tackled by a deft writer, a literary critique can be just as engrossing as the books it analyzes.

Many of the sharpest literary critics are also poets, poetry editors , novelists, or short story writers, with first-hand awareness of literary techniques and the ability to express their insights with elegance and flair. Though literary criticism sounds highly theoretical, it can be profoundly intimate: you’re invited to share in someone’s experience as a reader or writer — just about the most private experience there is.

Example: The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar

Creative nonfiction example: Cover of The Madwoman in the Attic

Take The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, a seminal work approaching Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. Written as a conversation between two friends and academics, this brilliant book reads like an intellectual brainstorming session in a casual dining venue. Highly original, accessible, and not suffering from the morose gravitas academia is often associated with, this text is a fantastic example of creative nonfiction.

Tip: Remember to make your critiques creative

Literary criticism may be a serious undertaking, but unless you’re trying to pitch an academic journal, you’ll need to be mindful of academic jargon and convoluted sentence structure. Don’t forget that the point of popular literary criticism is to make ideas accessible to readers who aren’t necessarily academics, introducing them to new ways of looking at anything they read. 

If you’re not feeling confident, a professional nonfiction editor could help you confirm you’ve hit the right stylistic balance.

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