Narrative essay writing

Narrative essay writing: common mistakes to avoid

Nov 11, 2012
Narrative writing, or writing that tells a story, may come in the form of both fiction and nonfiction pieces. Fiction narratives are very common and are found all throughout novels, books, and magazines. Non-fiction stories are also very popular, compelling pieces sometimes found in the form of autobiographies and personal essays.
Narratives, along with other forms of writing, involve lots of practice and revisionary efforts. Plenty of hard work and discipline is required to bring a publishable, final product to light. Therefore its not surprising that new and inexperienced writers alike often fall into many pitfalls when attempting to explore narrative writing for the first time. The first and most common blunder is the concept of 'show & tell.'

Show your audience-don't tell them

Even if you don't plan on writing the world's next best selling novel, your writing should still follow certain artistic guidelines. Among those is to slowly and craftily reveal to the reader the events and happenings of your story rather than blatantly stating them.
*For example, rather than tell the reader that a character in the story has an eating problem, reveal or show it to them by describing the character's physical features as well as providing a few scenes illustrating this condition; such as the character eating late at night, when upset, or overfilling a plate for dinner or in a restaurant.
Artful unveiling is one of the most significant parts of narrative writing. Though unfortunately many people are unable to execute this aspect properly. You can develop your skill in this area by implementing a few helpful techniques. (1) As in the example above, you can give detailed descriptions such as physical features (2) you can also use conversation or dialogue to reveal some things (3) and finally, properly develop your scenes with vivid sensory details as oppose to simply explaining them after they've already occurred.
Readers will also enjoy the presence of suspense and foreshadowing in your narrative. These two writing techniques can also be used to artfully craft your writing and sufficiently engage readers.

Lack of suspense and foreshadowing

Some writers fall short in enticing the reader due to deficiency in suspense building. When reading a story marked with suspense you probably experienced anticipation, guessing, and wondering at the unknown. All of these factors are part of good suspense building. Overall, the idea is to provide your audience with slight hints and clues, little by little, without giving them the full story or answer until later on or at the very end of the narrative.
As a writer, this can be achieved using a few different methods. You can build suspense by including odd or intriguing details in the story that doesn't make much sense or seem to be very out of place (for instance, a full plate of food on a table when no one was home to prepare it). Likewise you can also build suspense by allowing a character to undergo a near-death or life-threatening experience (for example a fatal car accident in which they were only saved at the very last moment when all hope was lost).
Likewise, foreshadowing is also a technique that is used to help build suspense in a story. It can be very effective in both fiction and nonfiction stories. In nonfiction stories you may choose to use foreshadowing by providing direct or indirect clues of the information that will be covered later in the story.
*For instance, in a personal essay you may start off by stating, "Our mothers are our examples" by doing this you are hinting to the audience that your essay will involve a story about how your mother was an example to you or something related to parenting and role modeling.

Information overload

Sometimes we have so much great information to offer we fall into trouble when trying to logically relay that information to the reader. Too much information will affect the readability of your essay which is crucial to its overall quality and effectiveness. No matter how great you develop characters or set a scene, readers will not bother finishing your story if they find it difficult to get through.
Information overload may be traced back to several initial causes. For instance, you may need to provide your reader with a bit of background information on a topic to provide clarity to some issues or maybe a particular objective, concept, or idea needs to be reiterated or further explained. When these situations arise writers may become overzealous and provide too many events or happenings to try to better 'drive' home the point or likewise may give the reader too many facts or details on a subject in an effort to properly explain or 'define' it. If you need to further define or explain something, try to do so in clear and concise manner. Additionally, resist the urge to overwhelm your story with additional characters and events to make clarify your point. Readers should be able to deduct the main idea or objective of your story without such the additions.

Mistakes with dialogue

Along with information overload, some beginning writers tend to bong down readers with access amounts of dialogue. This can be a complete 'turn off' to readers when trying to make it through a particular passage. Make use of functional paragraphs and provide your readers with short but intense pieces of dialogue to keep their interest and provide necessary breaks in reading.
Dialogue is a great tool to be used in narrative writing but should be done so with a bit of hindsight. Every detail does not have to be explained in dialogue and long, drawn out conversation should be broken up into smaller more powerful segments to improve fluency and the overall quality of writing.
Great narrative writing takes tons of practice and hard work. In addition to the common mistakes mentioned here several other issues may arise as well. Capitalization and punctuation problems are commonplace and need to be properly adhered to in any form of writing.
Likewise, a lack of attention to audience and purpose may pose significant problems in writing as well. To keep audience and purpose in mind, while avoiding a story thats 'all over the place' ask yourself some focused questions before writing. For example, how do I want my readers to feel after reading this story? Do I want them to laugh, cry or think about something in a new or alternative way? Also, why am I writing? What do I hope to achieve by relaying my thoughts onto paper? These and similar questions are an excellent means of self-disclosure and focus to narrow down your narrative while simultaneously preparing you for the drafting process to come.
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