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Narrative Language

Narrative Language

Author: Mackenzie W

Identify the elements of narrative language used in written work.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi, everyone. I'm Mackenzie, and today we're learning about narrative language. Have you ever wondered why some pieces of writing sound so plain or fancy or sophisticated or even comical? It's because of narrative language. And in this tutorial, we'll learn about the definition of elements of narrative. And we'll discuss the specific types of narrative language, including description, concrete details, active verbs, and figurative language.

We'll begin by discussing the definition of elements of narrative. Elements of narrative are different tactics and techniques we use to write our own narratives so that they sound exactly the way we want them to. Oftentimes, we use elements of narrative in fiction writing. And even though personal narratives tend to be closer to nonfiction than they are to fiction, we can still use different fiction elements in our writing of personal narratives. These elements of narrative help us to communicate our message in the most specific and appropriate way possible, depending on the way that we want our narrative to sound.

In this tutorial, we're going to focus on four specific types of narrative elements, including description, concrete details, active verbs, and figurative language. Each of these helps us to craft our narrative so that it sounds a specific way.

The narrative element of description is sometimes referred to as "show don't tell." And what that means is that when you're writing a narrative, we want to show the reader what it is that we're talking about. We don't want to simply tell them what we're discussing.

We want to show them. And we do this using description. We add details. We add extra information. We paint a picture so that the reader can not only understand what we mean, but can visualize it, as well.

Take a look at this example. I want you to pause the video, read the excerpt, and think about the description that's being used. In what way is the author showing instead of telling?

In this example, we see that the author is using specific language and phrasing to show the reader what is going on in the story. The author tells us that the little boy was delighted with the popsicle, that he skipped to the garden with his popsicle. The author tells us that the puddles were beginning to dry. That shows us rather than tells us.

We know that the little boy was gleefully stomping into a puddle-- again, showing us what that might look like. The author goes as far as to tell us that muddy water coated the boy, including his rain boots and his popsicle. The author is showing us different details and using description to paint a picture for us about what the scene actually looks like.

When we use description as a narrative element, we need to include details so that the author can visualize what's going on in the narrative. We'll now talk about concrete details as an element of narrative. When we use concrete details in our writing, it not only helps to add description-- to show not tell-- but it also helps the reader to experience what the narrative is like. Concrete details relate to our senses. They help us to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to feel what's going on in the story.

Take a look at this next example. Pause the video, read the excerpt, and pay close attention to the concrete details that are helping you to experience what's going on in the story.

In this example, we first started out with the idea that the forest was scary. That statement doesn't communicate to us any concrete details. It doesn't tell us much about the forest. Nor does it tell us much about the ways in which the forest was scary.

But the second example of the excerpt tells us much more using concrete details. We know that the forest was delicate. It seemed menacing. There were tiny flowers, birds chirping, and then suddenly-- tall, looming trees; thick, dark bark; long, entangled roots; dense overlay of leaves; thin rays of light; overgrown foliage. This helps us to see what the author is describing to us. It helps us to better experience what the scariness of the forest actually was.

Another way for us to add interest to our writing is to use active verbs. In writing, especially narratives, we have action that happens, and we communicate that action using verbs. It's important to use active verbs because it draws the reader in. It keeps the reader interested in the action that's happening in the narrative. Active verbs are very vibrant examples of verbs. They communicate a very specific type of action.

I'm going to show you an example of an excerpt. I want you to pause the video, take a moment to read the excerpt, and pay attention to the verbs or the action words that are being used in this sample narrative.

Let's first identify the verbs in this sample narrative. The verbs include "was," "jolted," "escaping," "forced," "bubbled," "feel," "had," "started," "sipped," and "landed." Most of these verbs are active verbs. We do have two to be verbs here. And they are "was" and "had." Depending on the way that we wanted this narrative to sound, we could rewrite these sentences to eliminate the to be verbs just to add more interest and more variety to the writing. Instead of saying "he was suddenly jolted awake by his alarm clock," I could say "his alarm clock startled him awake."

Our last example of elements of narrative to discuss is called figurative language. When we use figurative language, we're making specific language choices about the way that we want our writing to sound or feel. Oftentimes, figurative language is done in an artistic or clever or crafty sort of way. Our first example of figurative language is called a metaphor. This is a literary device that we use to compare one item to another, usually in a very artistic or poetic sort of way.

Perhaps I say, "roller coaster of emotions," comparing the emotions to a roller coaster. Or I say "she has a heart of gold," comparing her heart to something good or valuable such as a figure of speech. Maybe I say "choices are crossroads," comparing the choices to a crossroad.

A specific type of metaphor that we could also use in figurative language is called a simile. This is when we compare one thing to another using the words "like" or "as"-- for example, "cold as ice," comparing the coldness to that of ice-- or perhaps "busy like a bee," comparing the busyness to bee's behavior. Or maybe I say "cool as a cucumber."

Another example of figurative language is called personification. This is when we give human characteristics to non-human things in, again, a sort of poetic or artistic way. Maybe I say "the branches danced in the breeze." Branches don't really dance. That's something a human does. But I can describe them as though they're dancing.

Or maybe I say "time flies when you're having fun." Time can't really fly, but we can make it sound as though it's flying. Or I say "the hurricane swallowed the town." I'm giving an imagery of what's going on using figurative language.

In this tutorial, we learned about the definition of elements of narrative. And we focused specifically on narrative language, including description, concrete details, active verbs, and figurative language. Narrative language changes the way writing sounds. I'm Mackenzie. Thanks for listening.

Terms to Know

A literary device that compares one time to another, for artistic effect. ("My love is a rose.")


A literary device that imbues nonhuman objects with human characteristics, for artistic effect. ("The rose is in love.")


A literary device and type of metaphor that compares one item to another item, using the conjunction "like," for artistic or literary effect. ("My love is like a rose.")