GSE Narrative Terminology for Grades 5-12

1. Narrative—the telling of a story or communication of a chain of events, imagined or real. Aspects of narrative include how the story is told, the context in which it is presented, and the construction of the story.

2. To orient the reader—to tell the audience who is telling the story; to give the reader a sense of where and when he or she is in the story.

3. To engage the reader—to involve the reader in the story by capturing his or her interest

4.  To orient and engage the reader—to capture the reader’s attention, encourage the reader to continue reading the story, and to explain what the narrative’s focus is

5. To establish a situation—to describe the setting and the roles while introducing the challenge in the story through the perspective of the storyteller

6.  To establish context—to engage the reader by describing the setting and the roles while introducing the challenge in the story through the perspective of the storyteller

7. Descriptive details—to create vivid sensory details: one of the things that give narration its power is the feeling readers have that they're right there in the story. They can see the scene and experience the action.  They construct a picture of the story in their mind. This happens through specific sensory detail. “Show, don’t tell.”   

8. Relevant details—Relatedness refers to the quality of the details and their relevance to the topic. Good writers select only the details that will support their focus, deleting irrelevant information. In narrative writing, details should be included only if they are concrete, specific details that contribute to, rather than detract from, the picture provided by the narrative.

9.  Concrete details—refers to the discrete information, facts, data, and specific knowledge offered to describe, explain, or justify something. A concrete detail helps the reader visualize or comprehend the idea in the writer’s mind.

Key Concepts about Details:

  • Is your story developed with specific details that are related to the main event?
  • Do all of the details move the story along?
  • Does your story have enough elaboration so that your reader can see and feel what is happening? Can you show me an example where your reader can see or feel what is happening?

10. Point of view of a narrative—how the reader experiences the story. Point of view is the angle of considering things, which shows us the opinion or feelings of the individuals involved in a situation.

  • For example, a first-person narrator like the one in "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath can provide insight into how an experience like depression feels firsthand.
  • Changing narrators, a technique used in "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner, can help readers to see a narrative from multiple perspectives, deepening understanding of events and how the characters experience them.
  • Second point of view references the reader as "you"
  • Third-person limited follows the story from one or more characters' perspectives but has limited insight into the characters' thoughts
  • Third-person omniscient can share any thoughts of any characters in the story. 


11. Sequence—the order of events; how we reveal the order of events in the story can change how the reader understands the story.

  • When events are explained in the same order as which they occurred - the first thing that happened is told first, the second thing that occurred is told second, etc.  Chronological order is sometimes called "timeline order."
  • When the story jumps from the present to the past in order to help explain how the characters arrived at their current situation.  A flashback is a story-within-a-story, where the inner story takes place, chronologically, before the events of the outer story.  Some ways authors can indicate the beginning and ending of a flashback are by skipping a few lines or by using a symbol (a line, a few starts, etc.) to let the reader know that the story is shifting its location in time.

12.  Narrator—the person who is telling the story (note that this isn't the same as the AUTHOR, the person who actually wrote the story). Teach students to ask:  WHO ARE YOU? AND WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS?

The first major distinction critics make about narrators is by person:

  • FIRST PERSON narrator is an "I" (occasionally a "we") who speaks from her/his subject position. That narrator is usually a character in the story, who interacts with other characters; we see those interactions through the narrator's eyes, and we can't know anything the narrator doesn't know.


  • SECOND PERSON narrator speaks in "you." This is an extremely rare case in American literature, although there are a few examples within stories.
  • THIRD PERSON narrator is not a figure in the story, but an "observer" who is outside the action being described. A third-person narrator might be omniscient (i.e., able to tell what all the characters are thinking), but that is not always the case. Third-person narration may also be focalized through a particular character, meaning that the narrator tells us how that character sees the world, but can't, or at least doesn't, read the mind of all the characters this way.

13. Character—in fiction is a person (though not necessarily a human being) depicted in a narrative or drama. Characters may be flat, minor characters or round and major. The main character in a story is generally known as the protagonist; the character who opposes him or her is the antagonist. Character is revealed by how a character responds to conflict, by his or her dialogue, and through descriptions.  A good use of characterization always leads the readers or audience to relate better to the events taking place in the story. Dialogues play a very important role in developing a character because they give the reader an opportunity to examine the motivations and actions of the characters more deeply.

  • An author can use two approaches to deliver information about a character and build an image of it:
  • Direct or explicit characterization:
  • This kind of characterization takes a direct approach towards building the character. It uses another character, narrator or the protagonist himself to tell the readers or audience about the subject.
  • Indirect or implicit characterization

This is a more subtle way of introducing the character to the audience. The audience has to deduce for themselves the characteristics of the character by observing his/her thought process, behavior, speech, way of talking, appearance, and way of communication with other characters and also by discerning the response of other characters.

14. Dialogue—a literary technique in which writers employ two or more characters to be engaged in conversation with each other. In literature, it is a conversational passage or a spoken or written exchange of conversation in a group or between two persons directed towards a particular subject.

  • Outer Dialogue–It is a simple conversation between two characters used in almost all types of fictional works.
  • Inner Dialogue–In inner dialogue, the characters speak to themselves and reveal their personalities.

The dialogue has several purposes, such as advances the plot of a narrative, and reveals the characters that cannot be understood otherwise. Further, it presents an exposition of the background or the past events and creates the tone of a narrative.

15. Transitions—words, phrases, and/or clauses that provide a connection between ideas, sentences and paragraphs. Transitions help to make a piece of writing flow better. They can turn disconnected pieces of ideas into a unified whole and prevent a reader from getting lost in the reading.  Transitions help achieve that aim by providing a logical connection between one or more sections of a piece of writing. Transitions usually work best when used to link one paragraph to the next and are usually found at the beginning of the paragraph, although they can be used anywhere when needed.  Transitions cannot be used as a substitute for good organization, but they do aid in making the writing easier and clearer to follow by keeping a constant, consistent flow from one paragraph to the next. Some clues which show that a writer needs to use transitions:

  • The written work is choppy, abrupt and jumpy.
  • The writer has moved from one point to the next abruptly and quickly without a visible connection between the two ideas.
  • The readers have trouble following the writer’s train of thought or organization of ideas.
  • Transitions are critical for a smooth progression of ideas.

16.  Signal Shifts—The use of transition to do the following: to warn that there are more ideas to come; to change the direction of the narrative; to indicate sequencing order; to illustrate; to emphasis something for clarity or purpose;  to show a cause or condition; to answer where; to indicate a comparison or contrast; to conclude a discussion; to qualify; or use non-word emphasis signals, such as punctuation, subheadings, underlining, etc.

  • Signal shifts and solid transitions assist in clear and well-structured event sequence and allows for events to unfold naturally and logically.

17. Pacing—a stylistic device, which shows how fast a story unfolds. It is because when readers feel frustration in the length of the story, the writers use different techniques to control the pace of the story. ... In simple words, pacing is moving a story forward with a certain speed.   If he writes a short story, he does not have to tell his tale through many pages. Therefore, he cuts away extra words. However, when it is a long one or a novel, the pace is controlled through mix up, which means to use short sentences and active verbs in intense action scenes, and use descriptions with details for slower paced scenes. Writers use this pace by choosing the exact words. In simple words, pacing is moving a story forward with a certain speed.

  • Action – An action scene dramatizes the significant events of the story and shows what happens in a story.
  • Cliffhanger – When the end of a chapter or scene is left hanging, naturally the pace increases because readers would turn the pages to see what happens next.
  • Dialogue – A rapid fire dialogue with lesser or irrelevant information is captivating, swift and invigorates scenes.
  • Word Choice – The language itself is a means of pacing, like using concrete words, active voice and sensory information.

Pacing also supports the story unfolding naturally and logically.

18. Time frame -a period of time, especially a specified period in which something occurs or is planned to take place. Everything that happens in fiction should occur at the moment when it will evoke the greatest response from a reader. This means that even if the fiction’s timeframe begins at point A and then moves forward till it ends at point B, the story does not need to progress lineally. Instead, the story should move forward emotionally, building momentum toward its climax.

19. Multiple points of view--Writing from more than one point of view (POV) means writing from the viewpoint of more than one character.  Multiple POVs in a story can build suspense and tension and drive the plot forward. Tips to achieve this: 

  • Leave off each character’s section at a place of high interest: There could be an impending discovery or confrontation, an important date or meeting, or some other momentous event that the reader wants to see unfold.
  • Make sure each character’s segment advances the story: don’t weaken narrative drive with irrelevant subplots that ‘stall the story’. Do this by plotting what ramifications a particular subplot will have for other viewpoint characters and their progress towards their own goals.
  • Plan how viewpoint characters’ paths cross around a primary conflict or story:  a. What is the purpose of the other POVs?  b. What do they bring to the main storyline or conflict?  c. Who is responsible for resolving the core conflict? d. How do the other POVs help? (Or hinder)?

20. Conclusion-- are often the most difficult part of any writing to write, and many writers feel that they have nothing left to say after having written the paper. A writer needs to keep in mind that the conclusion is often what a reader remembers best. The conclusion should be the best part of the paper. 

Fiction often concludes with a message or reflection to the reader, like the ending in “The Gift of the Magi.”  Also, fiction can end with a surprise ending where the reader is stunned or surprised.  Fiction can end with a tie-up to the events in the story.  Conclusions can vary in length.  Sometimes just a sentence is needed and other times the conclusion may be longer.  There is not a set number of sentences.