What Are Narrative Paragraphs?


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  • #1
A lot has been said on this forum about descriptive paragraphs, so today, I thought I'd write about narrative paragraphs. What are they? How are they different than their descriptive counterparts? What are the primary differences between autobiographical and biographical narratives? What are the structures of those I just mentioned? How does personal growth fit in to narrative paragraphs? And finally, how can we best use narrative paragraphs to show the importance of our own personal growth? Boy, that's a lot to cover. Not to fear, I'll try my best at keeping everything clear and concise.

Okay, let's get going.

Narrative paragraphs are quite different than descriptive paragraphs. Their goals are different. What they convey is different and what they hope the reader will walk away understanding is different as well. If you recall from an earlier thread, descriptive paragraphs have very specific purposes. They exhibit the importance of something. They discuss a person, place, object, or event. And there are ways to best discuss those things. I actually love writing descriptive paragraphs because they allow me to use some flair in my writing. "The waifish young woman lightly sat her narrow behind on the hard wooden bench next to me. She whispered ever so softly that I had taken her spot. The spot she had enjoyed sitting in for over a decade straight. I looked directly into her faithful pale eyes and noticed a tear forming. It rolled down her curved cheek and dropped. Past her feather light blouse and into her waiting lap. A small wet circle formed where the drop had touched her tiny leg." After a while, it becomes a lot of fun to write in a descriptive fashion because we get to use all sorts of adjectives. And on top of that, we get to drive the varying critical aspects of our story home. Why was this girl important to the story? How did her appearance and demeanor impact the rest of the tale?

When it comes to writing narrative paragraphs though, things are quite different. In cases like these, we strive to demonstrate the change and development of a character by way of chronologically telling an important story. How has the person changed from what they once were? What have they learned from what they've gone through? When it comes to narrative paragraphs, what you write should feel somewhat akin to what you feel when reading a short story. Oftentimes, in these cases, characters start out facing certain issues and then begin to overcome those issues, and finally end with some sort of settlement and growth that stemmed from their experiences. In narrative paragraphs, the issues are explained while the rest of the events are occurring. Just as the plot unfolds inside of a novel and just as the action progresses within the same, the character in a narrative paragraph experiences their own problems, events, and some type of growth.

As an aside, as I write this post, I can't help but to think of one such book that exhibits enormous growth of its protagonist. Name of the Wind. Wonderful book. If you ever get a chance to read it, please do. It's one of my favorites and I highly recommend it.

Now, remember that just because narrative paragraphs are different than descriptive paragraphs, that doesn't mean that you don't need to describe whatever event it is that's progressing. You'll need to do that, and what's more, you'll also need to entice your readers to continue on to learn about just what's happening and how the primary character you're describing is developing. It's this type of character development that lures the reader into an investment of sorts. Readers become enthralled with their stories and books and invest important and valuable time into them. It's the writing that accomplishes this. Not any writing though, good writing. And good writing encompasses strong development of characters that are highly relatable. For me, how I'm able to relate to a character is probably one of the most important things a book can offer. I need a connection because without that, what I see on the pages are mere words. We all know this. We all connect differently to the various characters we read about in books and see in the movies. What makes these connections? Well, it may be how the character appears or how he or she acts. Perhaps the events they've experienced. And this is why it's so critical that these things be described in a complete and thoughtful way. The reader needs to be encouraged to imagine themselves leaping into the book to experience these events as well.

Just don't overdo it. Yes, we've all read those amateur writings from beginning authors who made the mistake of describing an event to such a degree that they completely lose the reader. While a connection is highly sought after, nauseating details can offend and the reader may lose interest and feel disconnected to the story as a whole.

Let's do a small thought experiment here. Let's pretend that we're writing a paragraph about how the protagonist of our story has developed as a person. Compare these two sentences to see which is more effective at conveying the message...which one created more of a connection.

John changed his entire outlook on the homeless. He never imagined how difficult it could be for a person to make it through just one day.

How could I have never known how challenging it could be to make it through just one day? What, with my privileged and wealthy upbringing, my New England private school education, and my lofty summer camp experiences in Maine, who was I to judge these people for what I once perceived as laziness? There are individuals on this planet who have faced more adversity in one week than I'm sure I will in my entire lifetime. To say that I feel ashamed would be an understatement. I'm appalled at my disgusting behavior.

Do you see how getting inside of the character's head clarified his thoughts? It allowed his feelings to flourish in the story and it invited the reader to connect and understand in a way that's simply not possible otherwise. Sure, I could have included the details of the second paragraph in the first, but they would have somehow seemed sterile. By changing perspective and including the thought process of the protagonist, I feel the second paragraph was better written. It exemplified personal growth as evidenced by the actual thinking of the character himself.

Engagement is key here. Your goal for this type of narrative paragraph is to help the reader understand the personal growth of the character you're writing about. With this in mind, it's important to decide which events and individuals are most important to the story overall. Think about what's going on and what seemingly insignificant event may lead to something more important later on. I like to think of this as "cleverness." Entice the reader say, "Oh, now I get it." Also, when deciding on which characters to focus on and write these types of paragraphs about, be sure to consider who is compelling enough to keep the reader's attention and who will captivate them. Narrative paragraphs, again, can be either autobiographical or biographical. These paragraphs can be about yourself or someone else. Decide what's best and go get it done.


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  • #2
Autobiographical Narratives

I've always enjoyed writing autobiographical narratives. The reason for this is that I'm completely in tune with my own inspirations, motivations, views, and thoughts. There's no one else in my head besides myself, so I've got access to it all. That's a wonderful thing because I can dig as deep as I'd like to. There's no one to stop me and there is no information that I don't have. Basically, any biographical narrative I have is based on my own life experiences.

Because of all this, any organization type I choose for my paragraph will stem from a personal place. While it's challenging to accurately describe the thoughts and motivations of another person, any writing I do about myself will contain these things to the best of my ability. When it comes time to start typing, I need to make sure that whatever it is I write revolves around the specific event or events that have to do with my own personal growth and what was going through my head before any critical event, during it, and after it.

So, how do I organize this type of paragraph? It's actually easier than one would think. Basically, I can organize things two different ways; I can either explain the event itself while integrating my motivations for making that event happen or I can keep the two separate. If I keep them separate, I can either describe my feelings and motivations before the event has taken place or after. Here are a few examples of what I'm referring to:


1. As I took the first left turn after leaving my driveway in my very own car, I thought about how long I had waited to obtain my drivers license. This maiden voyage by myself meant so much to me. It epitomized my independence, my trustworthiness, and my responsible nature. As I accelerated down the road, so many thoughts swam through my mind, but more than anything else, I felt pride bursting from my soul.

Keeping Separate

2. I have always craved a sense of pride. I wanted to feel what others felt; independence, trustworthiness, and a certain level of responsibility. It was because of these desires, I decided to earn my drivers license. I felt that if I had one, I'd eventually obtain that feeling of pride and I was sure it would burst from my soul.

I started my car and pulled out of my driveway. I rounded the first bend and accelerated and knew that I was on the road to self satisfaction.

Do you see how those two paragraphs differ? The first is fully integrated in a way that describes both my motivations as well as the actual events that are occurring. The second keeps these things separate. Now, the question is, which is better? The answer to that would be what you're hoping to accomplish.

I've always thought that merging things together as I did in the first paragraph makes for a well written piece. It's easy to read and offers a lot of continuity. Also, as a writer, it's nice to not have to remember things. I don't need to struggle to decipher which sentence goes here or there - I let them fall where they may.

There's another side to this though. If I were writing a story where I wanted to have some punch, I might decide to keep a few areas apart from one another. Let's say that my motivation for a particular event was overwhelming and it deserved to be described by itself for effect, I'd certainly want to highlight that in its own paragraph and then offer some description of the event either before or afterward. So really, it's a stylistic choice.

Whichever organizational structure you choose, you need to remember what's called for. You need to discuss your personal growth in an autobiographical narrative paragraph and you need to either integrate these thoughts into an event or around it (before or after or both).


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  • #3
Biographical Narratives

There's a major roadblock when it comes to writing biographical narratives. Unlike autobiographical narratives, where the author has the ability to look inside his or her own mind to express their own feelings in their writing, there's no such luxury with the biographical type. Unless you're extremely close to the person you're writing about or unless you've perhaps interviewed them and had them share deep and personal thoughts with you, you'll need to tread lightly when it comes to detailing how someone felt during a certain time in their life. As such, it's common for biographical narratives to be less personal and more formal than their counterpart. If you do have access to the person's thought process from before or after an event, then you can certainly structure the paragraph in the same ways I outlined above. If you don't have that access, you'll be left to infer. And actually, it's quite common to do so.

Think about it this way; you're writing a biographical narrative paragraph and you don't know what a person was thinking or feeling either before or after an event, but what you do have is facts. Let's pretend that the character made an apology to someone for something they did. Although you can't be sure, you can infer that the person in question felt regret and possibly remorse for their action. If you keep a keen eye on their actions following the apology and if they're consistent with what you might assume they'd be after an apology of the sort given, you may proceed with writing what you conclude the person may have felt in their own mind. Was the apology genuine? Did their actions change? If they did, then the apology was most likely genuine. If they didn't, the if may have been a false apology which opens up a whole host of opportunities in that direction.

Basically, when writing this type of paragraph, it's your job to come to conclusions based on the known actions and behaviors of your character. Then, while writing, show the evidence for your conclusions so what you say is believable to the reader. Otherwise, writing this type of paragraph is similar to the one discussed above in the previous post.


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  • #4
Review Questions

1. What is the purpose of a narrative paragraph?

Narrative paragraphs have two primary purposes. First, they should demonstrate personal development. If a character about which you're writing experiences an important event in their life, they may have grown personally from the experience. Describing and explaining that growth is what narrative paragraphs are all about. Furthermore and along the same lines, if the event your character has gone through was life changing enough, they may have permanently changed or learned something from the experience. These things should also be written about in this type of paragraph as well.

2. How does a narrative paragraph differ from a descriptive paragraph?

Narrative paragraphs and descriptive paragraphs have two distinct purposes. I just described what the purpose of the narrative paragraph is above. Now I'll describe what a descriptive paragraph is used for. Basically, when writing a descriptive paragraph, the author is attempting to explain the importance of something, whether is be a person, place, object, or event. When writing descriptive paragraphs, it's best to use adjectives to help explain the importance of something you're attempting to describe. For example, it's oftentimes not good enough to write, "The flame." It's much better and more thorough to write, "The simmering cool orange flame at the candle's top leapt about as it was dwindling down in its last throes of life." Descriptive paragraphs can be a good opportunity for an author to embellish, if you will.

3. What are the two ways you can organize an autobiographical narrative?

There are two primary methods for structuring an autobiographical narrative. These include keeping the event that's occurred separate from the thought process of the individual in question or combining the two. Please see the Autobiographical Narratives post above for a more thorough elaboration. The headings you want to look for are Integration and Keeping Separate.

4. How do you show the feelings and thoughts of other individuals when writing a biographical narrative?

In order to exhibit the thoughts and feelings of a character in your paragraph while writing a biographical narrative, you'll need to make inferences based on facts contained in other areas of your writing or research. If you have a concrete example of an action made by your character, then you might be able to make assumptions based on the individual's actions either before or after that action. Once you've made those inferences and assumptions, then may weave them into the paragraph while using whichever of the two structures described above you wish.

5. Write an autobiographical narrative about your experience as a writer. Be sure to stress how you have grown as a writer by including both descriptions of past situations and your feelings and thoughts about these situations.

I've been writing since I was 23 years old. My first quality piece was for a History of AIDS class I took in college. When I began writing that piece, I wondered what I would write about, But as I progressed through the paper, my ideas and feelings began to flow more and more easily. By the time I had completed what I needed to complete, more than one tear had rolled down my cheek. It was at that point that I knew I had a special gift. I was so proud of that paper. It inspired me to continue on to become the writer I am today.