Narrative structures

Narrative structure is essential in capturing and sustaining readers’ interest. Often, the way a story is revealed can elevate it from ordinary to utterly captivating.

Cyclical or circular structure

This ends where it begins or begins at the end. This structure hooks the reader and makes us curious about how the characters ended up where they are. It creates a sense of doom and inevitability.

Examples include:

  • Blood Brothers; and
  • Romeo and Juliet.

Multiple Narration

The same action is narrated by different characters with very different perspectives. This interests the reader because of the different voices and differing reliability of the narrators.

Multiple Narration

Examples include:

  • Stone Cold;
  • The Lilac Bus; and
  • Gone Girl.

Epiphany

The story is structured around one critical moment of understanding or decision and that moment shapes the life or future of the protagonist.

Epiphany

Examples include:

  • The Dubliners 'Eveline' by James Joyce; and
  • The Hitch-hiker by Roald Dahl.

Retrospective Narrative

In this structure, the older character looks back with the benefit of hindsight on their own story or a story in which they have a role. The question of how reliable the narration is can be central to interpreting this structure.

Retrospective Narrative

Examples include:

  • The Great Gatsby; and
  • Jane Eyre.

Narrative Framing

A framing narrative contains a second narrative or narratives to provide a context or setting for it. Sometimes this framing narrative will begin and end the narrative as a whole, providing book ends. At other times the framing narrative will simply be present in the beginning of the narrative. The framing narrative sets the scene for the other story or stories, providing a context for reading and interpreting the text.

Narrative Framing

Examples include:

  • The Canterbury Tales; and
  • X-Men.

Chronological Structure

This is the most straightforward structure. It can be useful for identifying the key elements of the plot before you decide how to structure your story.

Chronological Structure

Challenge

Give your class five minutes, in groups, to think of as many films or books as they can that fit into the different narrative structures described here.