Narrative writing step by step
Exercise 2 – narrative tenses
Read the following story and for questions 1 to 4, choose the correct answer. You can choose each verb form only once.
Last night, I was walking (walk) home when I saw (see) a car running very fast towards a red light. I looked (look) at the driver and I could see that he was talking (talk) on his phone. He didn’t stop (not stop) at the traffic light, and another car crashed (crash) into him and killed (kill) him. When the police arrived they asked me what had happened (happen) and I told (tell) them that the driver hadn’t seen (not see) the traffic light because he was on phone.
Narrative writing step by step
Let’s imagine that we have been asked to write the following composition:
Use this sentence to begin a story: “I never thought something like this could happen”. Write about 175 words.
Events and characters
The main event
The first thing we have to do is think of an idea for the story’s main event, which is the most important thing that happens in the story, the event that could be used to summarise the whole story. For example, I have come up with the following idea for this story: I won the lottery.
What happened before and after the main event
Then we have to think about which events led to the story’s main event and what happened after that, which is the end of the story. However, sometimes the main event happens right at the end of the story.
What happened before winning the lottery
For the events leading to the main event, I’m going to say that I dreamed about winning the lottery. In my dream, I also told my boss that he was a jerk and that I was quitting. After that dream, I bought a lottery ticket.
What happened after winning the lottery
What happens after the main event is clear in my mind. After winning the lottery, I went to my boss’s office to tell him that he was a jerk and that I was quitting.
We have to think about who is going to be the main character and the other people in the story. I’ve decided that I’m going to write the story in first person, so the writer –that’s me– is going to be the main character. In the story, I’m an office worker and I am fed up with my job. And I will also include my boss as a character. My boss is horrible and I hate him.
Events and characters – mind map
You can see below the notes that I took during my process of brainstorming ideas for the events and characters in the story. It’s important to do this before starting to write, the composition will be much better organised and more coherent.
Organising the ideas
Once we have an outline of the story, we need to organise the events into different paragraphs and figure out what exactly we are going to say in each paragraph. I have decided to organise the events in three paragraphs and in the following order. You can see the mind map with my ideas below. You should always draw a plan with your ideas before writing.
Paragraph 1 (main event)
I’m going to put the main event in the first paragraph because I need to use the sentence in the instructions as the first sentence: “I never thought something like this could happen”. And if I use this sentence to begin the story, I think it’s better to say what it is that happened right after it. So in this paragraph, I’m going to describe the moment when I learned that I had won the lottery.
Now I have to brainstorm the events in this paragraph. These are my ideas: in bed, tired, hard day at work (hate my boss/job), watching TV, saw the lottery show, looked at the numbers, I couldn’t believe it.
Paragraph 2 (what happened before the main event)
I’m going to describe the events before the main event (when I won the lottery). As these events happened before the main event in paragraph one, I’ll have the opportunity to use the past perfect, because we use the past perfect to talk about events that happened earlier in the past than the main event we are describing.
After brainstorming, these are my ideas: dreamed about winning the lottery and telling my boss that he is a jerk, passed a lottery shop, went into the shop and bought a ticket.
Paragraph 3 (what happened after the main event)
This is going to be the last paragraph, so this is the end of the story. In this paragraph, I will describe what happened after the story’s main event (paragraph one).
These are my ideas: went to the bank to deposit the ticket, went to my office, walked into my boss’s office without knocking at the door, smiled, told him that he was a jerk and that I was quitting.
The finished story
I never thought something like this could happen. A few nights ago, I was in bed watching TV. I had been working very hard all day and now I was angry and exhausted. I was trying not to think how much I hated my boss when the lottery show started. I looked at the numbers and I couldn’t believe it. I was rich. I was very rich!
The only reason I had bought that lottery ticket was because the previous night I had dreamed that after winning a lot of money, I paid a visit to my boss to tell him that he was a jerk. It felt so good that the following day when I was passing the lottery shop on my way to work, I couldn’t resist.
The next day, I got up and went to work, as usual, but first I went to the bank to deposit the ticket. When I arrived at the office, I went straight into my boss’s office without knocking at the door, obviously. When he looked at me angrily, I smiled and said, “You are the biggest jerk I’ve ever met. I quit!”
Use past simple to describe the events of a story in chronological order.
Use past continuous to set the scene and to describe actions or situations that were in progress (not finished) at a certain point in the story.
Use past perfect to describe events that happened earlier in the past.
Use past perfect continuous to describe longer continuous actions (or repeated actions) that started earlier in the past.
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