Paper 3. Question 2. Examiner Tips- Narrative

  • Narrative compositions


  • Decide on a tense and then stick to it; do not jump between present and past. The normal narrative tense is past and those who try to write in the present usually forget to do so after a while, so it is safer to start off in the past.
  • Know what your last sentence is going to be before you write your first. A narrative has to build up to a climax and lead towards a conclusion which is planned before it starts or it will end lamely or incomprehensibly, or the pace will be too slow or too fast.
  • Don’t try to do too much; you can’t cover many events and many years in one short composition. Select key moments and skip over the rest, changing the pace according to the intensity of the moment.
  • Do not try to include too many characters (three are enough) or to give them all speech.
  • For the top grade, complexity of narrative and structure is required e.g. framing the story; flashback or forward time jump; two parallel strands being brought together. However, do not attempt these devices unless you are sure you can manage them.
  • Use dialogue by all means (if you can punctuate and set it out correctly) but don’t overdo it. You shouldn’t turn your story into a play, nor should you dilute the effect of occasional and significant moments of speech by giving the characters trivial things to say throughout.
  • If you do use dialogue, find synonyms for ‘he said/she said’ or it becomes tedious and predictable.
  • Even narrative needs description. The characters and places need details to bring them alive and to allow the reader to be able to imagine them.
  • Choose first or third person and stick with your choice; and do not switch narrative viewpoint, as this is confusing for the reader
  • Do not use a first person narrator if you want to die at the end of your story! It is generally safer to use third person narration as it gives you more flexibility and a wider viewpoint.
  • Do not end your story with ‘And then I woke up in hospital’, or ‘It was all a dream’. Try to avoid clichés of any kind, including stereotyped characters and predictable outcomes.
  • Use similes, but avoid obvious ones such as ‘as red as a rose’. Make comparisons unusual, but still apt, by giving them a moment’s thought and making them more specific e.g. ‘as red as a matador’s cape’.
  • Straightforward stories do not get higher than C grade marks; details help create originality and engage reader interest, which is what is needed for a B grade, so use plenty of them.
  • Narrative needs tension, but you should not exaggerate; too much gore or too many unlikely events become ridiculous, and fear is more believable when it is mental rather than physical.
  • It is better to think of something that actually happened to you, or someone you know, or which you read in a book or saw in a film, than to try to make up something entirely from scratch, as it will sound more convincing if it based on real or fictional experience. You are then, however, free to adapt, embellish and exaggerate the original idea to make it relevant and memorable, rather than just retelling the plot synopsis or giving a factual account.
  • Keep a balance in the different parts of the narrative. An over-long introduction reduces the effect of the middle section where things build up to a climax, and you need to leave yourself time to create a memorable ending.
  • Stories need a conclusion, where things are either resolved or left unresolved as a cliff- hanger (though on the whole readers prefer to know how a story ended.). You must not give the impression that you stopped writing because you ran out of time, ink or ideas.

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