Narrative writing always tells a story. The story could be fictional or nonfictional, but it includes characters and a story plot. Authors use narrative writing when they create novels, short stories, plays, film scripts and poetry. Non-narrative writing is structured and generally has more formal applications; it includes business documents, research papers, statistical documents, speeches and legal papers. Some poets use non-narrative writing, but most use narrative writing to tell a story.
Point of View
Narrative writing contains a variety of points of view, but non-narrative writing uses the third-person point of view. Some authors use the first-person point of view when they want their story to read like a journal or when they want to present a firsthand account of events. Others use second- or third-person points of view or the omniscient voice when they want to show more than one character's feelings or reactions to events in the story.
Non-narrative writing is almost always written from the third-person point of view. Writers typically avoid using "I," "you," "me" or "we" statements and opt for "he," "she" and "they" statements. Non-narrative writing is less personal and more formal than narrative writing.
Format and Organization
Non-narrative writing has a structured introduction, body and conclusion that aims to educate or inform readers. It contains a thesis or a purpose statement that's supported by reliable, credible evidence. Non-narrative writers typically use the present tense. Narrative writing tells a story from start to finish and contains exposition (the beginning of the story that sets the stage for future events), rising action, a climax, falling action and resolution. The main character's conflicts and struggles are revealed during the exposition. Narrative writing contains a plot, characters and a setting, but non-narrative writing doesn't.
Proper grammar, precise punctuation and selective word usage are critical to non-narrative documents, papers and reports. Non-narrative works are designed to teach or instruct readers, so they shouldn't contain any factual errors or technical writing mistakes. Authors, novelists and poets have more flexibility with grammatical and structural matters when creating narrative pieces. For example, an author might purposely use a sentence fragment, excessive punctuation or poor grammar to drive home a point or reveal something important about a character. Authors often use these techniques to make dialogue in a story seem more authentic.
Research, References and Citations
Non-narrative writing, such as that found in research, business and legal papers, contains factual and statistical information from outside references and resources. Writers must credit and cite those references using footnotes, endnotes, in-text citations, bibliographies or works cited pages, as needed. Some authors and novelists do background research before writing narrative stories, especially if the story is a nonfictional account of a real event, but narrative stories don't require in-text citations or a works cited page.
- Roane State Community College Online Writing Lab: Literary Analysis -- Using Elements of Literature
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Narrative Essays
- University of Vermont Writing Center: Tips From Tutors -- Creative Non-Fiction
- University of Wisconsin, Madison -- The Writing Center: The Writer's Handbook -- Using Literary Quotations