Narrative conventions

Narrative conventionsList of narrative techniques

Narrative conventions refers to the elements and techniques employed by the writer to make meaning in a story. They include such things as characters, setting, plot and point of view. Short stories often develop a theme in a short time frame.

“Narrative conventions” are techniques that are commonly used in storytelling — familiar ways of getting information across to the reader quickly.

“Narrative” means “story.” “Conventions” (in this usage) means “the way things are usually done.” That’s all.

So if you open a story with a scene set in a detective’s office and a client coming in, the reader knows to expect a murder mystery, where the detective fights his way through danger until he solves the crime, because that’s how hardboiled detective stories normally start. It’s a narrative convention of that particular genre.

Start a story with tumbleweed blowing across a trail, and the reader instantly knows it’s almost certainly a Western, and that it’s probably set in the American West in the second half of the 19th century.

Tom Petty Death

Narrative conventions
Narrative conventions

It’s not just openings, of course. Using dialogue to establish character is a narrative convention — someone who speaks in sloppy English with bad grammar and misspellings to indicate faulty pronunciation is automatically labeled uneducated or careless or lower class, while someone who speaks flawlessly and uses lots of big words is either rich, an academic, or a pompous ass (or some combination of those).

Friends, Using red to represent violence is a narrative convention. Using short, choppy sentences to create fast movement or excitement is another.

Using long, complicated run-on sentences to indicate that the viewpoint character is feeling lost or overwhelmed is a less obvious but effective one.

Examples of Narrative Techniques in Style

The style a writer uses is seen in the diction, or the language used. Figurative language is a common element in narrative writing.

Metaphors and similes are expressions used to compare two things in an effort to help the reader have a better understanding of what the writer is attempting to convey.

The difference between a simile and a metaphor is the simile uses words like ‘as’ or ‘Than’ in the comparison, while the metaphor does not utilize these words.

Consider the metaphor:

‘It’s raining men.’ Obviously, this does not mean it is literally raining men since that is impossible. It simply means that there are a lot of men present. Here you can see an example of a simile:

‘It was raining like cats and dogs.’ Again, this does not literally mean cats and dogs are coming from the sky; that is impossible. This is an expression that helps the reader understand the rain is very powerful and forceful.


Imagery creates visuals for the reader that appeal to our senses and usually involves figurative language: ‘The bar was a dark, gloomy eyesore.’ This statement appeals to our senses to help us visualize and feel the negative aspects of this location.


Personification is seen when an inanimate object is given human or animal-like qualities, like: ‘The stars danced in the sky.’ We know stars cannot dance. This statement is an attempt to help the reader have a better picture of how the stars appeared to move in a dancing fashion.


Hyperbole is an over-exaggeration to make a point. You might have heard someone say: ‘My purse weighs a ton.’ We know this is not meant to be in the literal sense but is meant to help the reader understand the excessive weight of the purse.


Alliteration is seen when the writer uses the same letters together in a sentence. Here is a classic example: ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.’

Some writers use alliteration to help readers remember phrases or concepts, while some writers simply use this technique because it is ‘catchy’ and appealing to readers.

Narrative conventionsList of narrative techniques

Unfortunately, I have a lot of trouble myself writing a narrative because you need elements or conventions to “push” the story forward. I thought I could write a narrative easily because I’m pretty well versed in rhetoric, but rhetoric alone does not a good narrative make.

I think a narrative is much more complicated in the sense that…your themes, “motifs”, tone have to be consistent throughout the book. Structure can vary, but it must maintain the coherence of the story to preserve fluidity. But here are the tricky parts:


Characters can be very straightforward or complex. The more you veer into complex, the more “human” it is. The more human it is, the more compelling it is because we can latch onto the characters and project our own “humanness” onto the characters.

You can have depth, you can have a reveal by action and not by dialogue, you can excessive dialogue, whatever you want! But ultimately, it’s kind of like sculpting a clay figure when it comes to characters.

I think Haruki Murakami does an excellent job of crafting complicated, morose, and extremely human characters in his story.

There’s this sagging pain about them that makes them human, but at the same time, you’re not really sure what is going on in that fantasyland of his.

Plot devices:

I’m not even going to pretend I understand how to manipulate this, but all I know is that when I write nonfiction, I have a lot of trouble pushing the plot forward if I don’t know how the story will unfold.

In Stephen King’s “On Writing”, he talks about how he knows it will end but doesn’t know how he will get there. So it’s a kind of “journey” for him.

I tried this and it was a constant struggle to thread the needle towards an end. It wasn’t a fun process and the outcome was not pretty. But hey, it was an experience!

Exposition or Orientation

This is the first stage in the narrative. This stage comes in the opening of the story. Here the reader gets introduced with various characters, different settings and hint about the events that are about to come.


This is the second stage in the narrative structure. In this stage of the narrative, tension rises. This is the stage when a conflict occurs in a smooth running story. Complication results in the disturbance of the status quo.


The third stage of any narrative line is the climax. The climax is the turning point which brings a change or new element in the story. The climax can bring good or bad for the protagonist.

Falling tension

This stage comes right after the climax of the story. This stage leads the narrative structure towards the conclusion. Falling tension discloses and loosens the conflict between protagonist and antagonist.


This is the last stage and also called a conclusion of the narrative. In this part of the story, everything gets sums up. All questions in the story are answered in this stage, and it takes the reader to a satisfactory ending.

Sometimes the author doesn’t resolve the issues as he wants the reader to think over them even after completing the narrative. 


There are two types of settings.

  • Time setting is a time period in which the story takes place. Time setting could be any time of the day, season, or time period in history — for example, time period of industrial revolution, or world war II.
  • A place setting is a place where the story is set. Writers when writing a story use locations to portray the complete story. A place could be as big as any country, planet or as small as a room, school or Kitchen.

Settings are of vital importance and have a crucial influence over the story, characters, themes, and overall narrative of the story. The setting affects all other narrative conventions of a specific story.

Settings are like the backbone of a story; it holds all the elements together and portrays in a manner which could be overwhelming for the readers. A setting of a story binds the reader with the story.

Definition of Narrative Technique

Narratives are works that provide an account of connected events. To put it simply, a narrative is a story.

Fathers day Australia

Narrative conventions
Narrative conventions

There are many types of literature that are considered narratives, including novels, dramas, fables, folk tales, short stories, and poetry. In addition to literature, narratives are found in cinema, music, and theatre.

Narrative techniques provide deeper meaning for the reader and help the reader use imagination to visualize situations. Narrative literary techniques are also known as literary devices.

Before we look too closely at narrative techniques, it’s important to understand that literary elements in narratives include such things as the setting, plot, theme, style or structure, characters, and perspective, or the voice of the story, since literary techniques are best understood in the context of one of these elements.

Conclusion: Narrative conventions

Tell me about a time you got lost, I’ll wait. . . . Mmmm, let’s analyze what you’ve said. “You” is a character, “got” implies some kind of movement or action (although it’s not a great active verb) and “lost” suggests conflict.

So what have we figured out so far? The narrative requires character, action, and conflict, among other things.

The key to any narrative is conflict because it suggests a journey of some kind, a discovery, or a resolution of that conflict.

The character must overcome an obstacle whether it’s internal or external. That’s it, that’s all you really need. A person, a conflict: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.

But the story is dressed up with other aspects: characterization and setting, Freytag’s triangle and protagonists and antagonists. . . . But it starts with someone having a conflict.

Narrative conventions

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