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.
- Blood Brothers; and
- Romeo and Juliet.
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.
- Stone Cold;
- The Lilac Bus; and
- Gone Girl.
The story is structured around one critical moment of understanding or decision and that moment shapes the life or future of the protagonist.
- The Dubliners 'Eveline' by James Joyce; and
- The Hitch-hiker by Roald Dahl.
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.
- The Great Gatsby; and
- Jane Eyre.
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.
- The Canterbury Tales; and
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.
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.