A narrative paragraph is a group of sentences that tells a story; it tells about a series of events or actions. These events are arranged in time sequence with a definite beginning, middle and end. They may be organized in a chronological order (in respect to the order in which the events happened) or by using flashbacks and retrospection. Be they are chronologically arranged or not, the stories in narrative paragraphs are used to illustrate or demonstrate a point, i.e. to make us laugh (to entertain), or to make us understand something, or to change our attitudes (to instruct). As a consequence, developing a strong topic sentence is important. Look at the narrative paragraph which tells about the writer’s routine below (the topic sentence is italicized).
Sunday is the most rewarding day for me because it is the only day when my family and I can do what we like together. Every Sunday morning I get up at six. My two sons I go jogging around our neighborhood. At about seven we come home and have breakfast together. At nine we go to church and come home at about twelve. After having lunch, at about two we often go to the countryside for a nice walk, or visit a relative, or go shopping. We often get home at about eight and have a small dinner. After dinner, my sons prepare the school equipments they need in the following days. Then we usually watch a film on TV and then go to bed at about ten. Before falling asleep, I often expect that the next Sunday comes soon.
Elements of a Narrative Paragraph
By analyzing the sample paragraph above, it is obvious that, similar to a story, a narrative paragraph has the elements like character(s), setting, and events (plot) which cover the goal, obstacle or conflict, climax and resolution. Since the sample paragraph above is about a personal experience of the writer, the main character in the paragraph is the writer himself. The story is set in his neighborhood at the present time. The events arranged in the story cover only activities in a day. Although the sentences state the events in a very simple way, they are very effective to reveal the topic and main idea stated in the first sentence– Sunday is the most rewarding it is the only day when the writer can do what he and his family love to do together. Another important feature we can see in the sample paragraph above is that like other types of paragraph, this narrative paragraph consists of three parts: a topic sentence, some supporting sentences (details), and closing sentence. The topic sentence establishes the main idea, and the supporting sentences elaborate and prove the main idea.
Transitions in Narrative Paragraphs
Last but not least, the sample paragraph above also shows the use of transitions (words or phrases that help the events move smoothly from one to another and make the proper connection between those events). In the sample paragraph above, the writer uses time transitions “after”, “then”, and “before”. Some other common transitions used in narrative paragraph could be seen in the paragraph cited from Scarry S. and Scary J. (2011: 372) below. See how the six events are linked by “first”, “then”, “now”, etc (the topic sentence is italicized).
My day was a disaster. First, it had snowed during the night, which meant I had to shovel before I could leave for work. I was mad that I hadn’t gotten up earlier. Then I had trouble starting my car, and to make matters worse, my daughter wasn’t feeling well and said she didn’t think she should go to school. When I eventually did arrive at work, I was twenty minutes late. Soon I found out my assistant had forgotten to make copies of a report I needed at nine o’clock. I quickly had to make another plan. By five o’clock, I was looking forward to getting my paycheck. Foolish woman! When I went to pick it up, the office assistant told me that something had gone wrong with the computers. I would not be able to get my check until Tuesday. Disappointed, I walked down the hill to the parking lot. There I met my final defeat. In my hurry to park the car in the morning, I had left my parking lights on. Now my battery was dead. Even an optimist like me had the right to be discouraged!
Here is another interesting narrative sample.
Close-up study of the planet Mars began when rockets were developed that could send scientific instruments into space. In 1965, the first observations of Mars were done by the American spacecraft Mariner 4, which flew near the planet to collect data and take photographs. Four years later, more data and photographs were collected by Mariners 6 and 7 as they flew past the planet. Then, in 1971, Mariner 9 actually went into orbit around Mars, and during the following eleven months, sent back more than 7,000 images before contact with the spacecraft was lost. The next major step, in 1976, was the landing of two Viking crafts on two different areas of Mars’ surface. These landers were able to send hack important data about the atmosphere of the planet. (Mikulecky, B. S. and Jeffries, L.. 2007: 136).
The transitions commonly used in narrative paragraphs could be differentiated in three types. The first type is the transitions of sequence/order, such as first, second, third, next, then, and finally. The second type is the transitions of time, like after, at last, before, immediately, later, meanwhile, at the same time, since, subsequently, later, later on, and then. The third type is transitions of place/position, like above, adjacent, below, beyond, here, in front, in back, nearby, and there.
Dialogues in Narrative Paragraphs
Just like in storytelling, the appropriate use of dialogs can make the events in narrative paragraph more vivid to the readers. However, you need to write the dialogues very carefully in order to achieve the expected effects. Make sure your characters talk like people in actual life. Real people do not use full sentences when they speak. You have the chance to use fragments in the dialogues. To make the conversation lifelike or natural, it is necessary to use slangs, interjections and other ‘real’ speech patterns. Look at the following sample to see how dialogues can make a narrative paragraph more vivid and effective.
One day a father and his rich family took his young son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose to show him how poor people can be. They spent a day and a night in the farm of a very poor family. When they got back from their trip the father asked his son, “How was the trip?” The boy replied, “Very good, Dad!” The father continued, “Did you see how poor people can be?” The boy just said, “Yeah!” The father asked again, “And what did you learn?” The boy answered, “I saw that we have a dog at home, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of the garden; they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lamps in the garden, they have the stars; our patio reaches to the front yard, they have a whole horizon. When the little boy was finishing, his father was speechless. The son added, “Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are!” (Author Unknown)
Step-by-Step Approach to Writing a Narrative Paragraph
Mastering any skill, including writing, requires practices and a disciplined attitude. To help you in practicing writing narrative paragraphs, the following step-by-step approach formulated by Scarry and Scary (2011: 377) is highly recommended.
- Study the given topic, and then plan your topic sentence with its controlling idea.
- List all the events that come to your mind when you think about the story you have chosen.
- Choose the important events, dropping any that do not directly relate to your controlling idea.
- Put your list in the correct time sequence.
- Write one complete sentence for each of the events you have chosen from your list, adding any significant details.
- Write a concluding statement that gives some point to the events of the story.
- Copy your sentences into standard paragraph form.
- Always make a final check for spelling errors and other mistakes, such as omitted words.
Mikulecky, Beatrice S. and Jeffries, Linda. 2007. Advanced reading power: extensive reading, vocabulary building, comprehension skills, reading faster. New York: Pearson Education
Scarry, Sandra & Scarry, John. 2011. The Writer’s Workplace with Readings: Building College Writing Skills (7th ed.) Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning