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Narration is one of writing’s building blocks, the basic strategies that writers employ to tackle a variety of writing situations, genres, and purposes. For our earliest human ancestors, as for us, storytelling functioned as an important social and cultural construct, a way of organizing experience. It’s no surprise, then, that a writer will draw on his or her storytelling skills, no matter what he or she is writing.
If you’re working on a novel or a short story, you probably pay attention to narration already. But what if you’re writing a blog post, or an academic argument, or a news profile? You may not think about narrative strategy, but chances are, you’re using narrative principles in these pieces, too.
For example, I might begin a blog post with an anecdote about something I experienced that got me started thinking about the post’s topic: a day at the library, for example. But the point of my post is not just to relate that story; in other words, my post’s overall genre is not autobiographical narrative. The point of my post is to share strategies for writing in a way that is compelling for readers. Although my library narrative merely served an introductory function, I still needed to pay attention to the way I told that story.
I often use narrative strategies here at Writing Power to present examples that will help to clarify my arguments. These are usually super-short vignettes in which I imagine writers trying to communicate or readers trying to understand. These examples, where for a moment you see a bleary-eyed writer massaging his or her temples in hopes of coaxing out a fresh idea, are mini-narratives.
As I hope the above examples show, narratives can pop up just about anywhere, whether you’re “writing a story” or not. We humans just gravitate toward stories. If you need further proof, just sit down and watch the advertisements during an hour of prime time TV: you’ll see a parade of 30- and 60-second narratives, each with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Okay, so writers use narratives in all sorts of ways. What techniques should writers pay attention to in order to construct strong narratives?