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Writing Effective Narrative and Descriptive Paragraphs
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Writing Effective Narrative and Descriptive Paragraphs

Writing Effective Narrative and Descriptive Paragraphs

Author: Martina Shabram

Identify the elements of effective narrative and descriptive writing.

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Writing Effective Narrative and Descriptive Paragraph

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started. What is today's lesson all about? Well, today, we're going to talk about narrative. We'll discuss what narrative is, how to write narratives that are true and narratives that are fiction. And we'll discuss writing vivid details in the descriptive mode.

Let's get going. Well start by thinking about narratives in general. When we call a piece of writing a narrative, we're really talking about any writing that is done in the narrative mode. The narrative mode is writing that is driven by a story. So narrative writing is storytelling.

And there are so many kinds of narrative writing that you may have seen or even written yourself. There is fictional narrative, of course. But then there's also personal narrative, where authors write about themselves. Some kinds of personal narrative include autobiography, memoir, life writing, and creative nonfiction. Because these narratives are about the author, it's totally appropriate for the author to write from their perspective and use words like I or we.

So why write in this fashion? Well, these narratives may be designed to entertain or to educate, to reflect on an experience, or to record that experience for posterity. And no matter what, a personal narrative will share the author's sense of meaning or the author's particular insight into a situation. This is powerful stuff.

So we know then that narratives can be stories that are either fictional or nonfictional. So let's think about how we might write them. If a story is fictional, it will likely follow a structure that is prescribed by the kind of story it is, such as a fairy tale that begins with the lines once upon a time and ends with happily ever after.

In contrast, a personal narrative may have a looser structure. But regardless, both kinds of narratives need to contain a logical internal structure. That is, a logical sequence of events that they depict in order to tell a story that makes sense.

In a fictional narrative, we start by setting the stage. We introduce our readers to the characters, where the story is taking place, what the plot might be, what time period we're in, and any other piece of context or important background that the readers will need to follow the story.

Then the story will move towards the rising action, when events begin to unfold. Then to the climax, where everything comes together and the action reaches a breaking point. Then do the falling action, when the story moves towards resolution. And everything will end with a conclusion, where all the threads of the plot are untangled and all the questions your readers might have had about the plot are resolved.

For example, think of the story of the three bears. We begin by learning where they live. Then we see conflict arise when Goldilocks arrives and eats their porridge. Then the climax, when they return home to find her sleeping in their bed. And then resolution, as Goldilocks runs away from the house and escapes becoming a bowl of porridge herself.

In nonfiction, similar structures are often deployed. We might see a story begin with a problem that the author describes having to solve. Then an explanation of why this is significant. Then a movement towards solving this problem. And finally, a conclusion that resolves the issue and discusses the overall significance.

Think about the purportedly true story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. The story has a beginning when young George chops down his family's cherry tree to prove how good he is with an ax. Then we have the conflict when his parents confront him about the tree. Finally, we see the conclusion and moral of the story, which tells us why this is significant. George admits the truth and accepts punishment because he refuses to tell a lie. This is meant to demonstrate the trustworthiness of America's first president.

So what are some good rules to follow for both kinds of narrative? First, avoid adding too many details if they don't help drive forward the plot. Do we need to know the color of the walls in the four bears' house? No. Do we need to know that George Washington's tree was a special tree that someone might miss? Yes. So skip the former but include the latter.

Second, know before you start what the focus and purpose of the story is. Does anyone need to know about the time I tied my shoes wrong? No. So only choose stories that have some significance and then stay focused on what that significance is.

Third, if you use dialogue, balance it with written explanations. A narrative story has more to it than just the recording of a conversation or what two characters said to one another. So include dialogue to add richness and detail to your story, but balance it with context and explanation.

So here's an example of a short narrative that follows these rules. See how the dialogue, "I'm hungry, where's my food" moves the plot forward but also adds in a more vivid description of the events. That dialogue helps explain why Goldilocks wakes up startled.

Here's a nonfictional example. See how the details at the beginning set the stage for something momentous to happen to this author and how the details show us the speed with which this event moved? Note also that the dialogue here not only explains more of the plot, but also indicates the emotional significance of the story for these two characters.

We might even assume that the purpose of this story is to explain that transformative moments can be bittersweet. And finally, note that, I don't know about you, but I want to read more to see what happens next between the speaker and the mother, which means that this is a good narrative.

In addition to thinking about narrative mode writing, we also want to think about the descriptive mode. Descriptive mode paragraphs provide details about specific persons, places, and things. So this can be used in any type of writing. For example, you might use the descriptive mode to tell about a vacation you had or in a piece of professional writing when you describe the way a product works and who it might be marketed towards.

So let's try it out. What are the rules? Well, a descriptive paragraph should have a good amount of detail. So avoid being vague. It should also use all the senses-- sight, smell, sound, taste, touch. Choose your words wisely to create vivid descriptions and rich details.

One way to explain this is the maxim show, don't tell. That means that instead of telling your reader that the dog was happy, show them by describing how the dog is wagging its tail, jumping up and down, and panting enthusiastically.

So here's an example of a descriptive paragraph that isn't really working for us, yet. That's pretty dull and lifeless, huh? So what if we do this? How much more interesting is this vision? How many descriptive words can you find? What about how many sensory details? There is even dialogue. All of that makes this a much more enjoyable story.

So what did we learn today. Well, we discussed narratives, fictional and nonfictional alike. We learned the rules for writing these stories and practiced working with their structures. Then, we explored the descriptive mode, embedding vivid details into our paragraphs to make them more enjoyable and engaging for our readers.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Sample Narrative and Descriptive Paragraphs

Terms to Know
Descriptive Mode

Writing that provides details concerning a specific person, place, or thing.

Narrative Mode

Writing that is driven by a story.