Narrative structure is essentially the plot, and is tied as one of the most important writing elements. Without the narrative, you don’t have a story. As a good analogy, it’d be like creating Sims but not actually playing them (which is perfectly valid too).
There are five stages to a general plot:
This is where we learn about who the protagonist is. From the relationships they have, or don’t have, to the routine they do on a daily basis, this is all important for setting up where we are and whose perspective we’re in.
This is where the protagonist’s normal routine is disrupted by an incident that changes it in some life altering way. Whether it’s a new colleague or an attack happens at school, the inciting incident has to incite a change in the character so they want to do something about what’s happened. Perhaps they want to discover what this new colleague is really up to, or perhaps they want to prevent further attacks from happening to their school.
This is where the action has been building towards, but it’s not quite the main battle yet. There have been many obstacles in the way that have led to the protagonist nearly giving up a few times, but something happens to keep them going. It has to lead to a point where they do either nearly give up or do actually give up, then something ignites in them to carry on.
This is the all or nothing scenario. The whole story has been leading to this moment between the protagonist and the antagonist. The moment where the two opposing forces clash and they’ve changed from how they started the story. Whether the protagonist has foiled the antagonist or the antagonist has defeated the protagonist in some way, this is revealed in this moment.
Depending how you end your story, the resolution will usually wrap up what’s happened. It’ll usually give us the consequences of the protagonist and antagonist’s actions. We might see what or who they lost or gained.
However, these five elements are shown in a linear narrative, i.e. a narrative that is told chronologically from start to finish. But, depending what type of story you tell, you might prefer to tell your story in a non linear way.
Perhaps you’d prefer to tell us the resolution at the beginning and we’re left to wonder what’s to come next. Memoirs tend to be good at a non linear narrative, since each chapter might lead to different sections of their life. It isn’t necessarily told in a chronological order because sometimes life is easier to tell in a seemingly jumbled mess but you realise when you finish that it makes sense in the end. Or perhaps you want to tell the whole story backwards.
Whichever way you choose, make sure at least all five elements are in the fictional story. For non fiction works, it’s harder to know which you need. But they will help guide your story and you’ll see how the reader interacts with each section.
How do you use narrative structure?