National Writing Project

Building a Story: The Art of Narrative

By: Marilyn Bates
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3
Date: Summer 1999

Summary: The author presents a series of steps—from incident to dialogue to character sketch to interaction of the narrator with the characters—that launch writers toward telling a story.



I kick off my short story unit by asking students to describe an "incident." The incident should encompass one moment in time – not be carried into the next day or the week or even over night. The moment in time must build to a climax, with the emphasis on timing. I point out that a well-timed climax has much in common with a well-told joke: timing is everything. I ask students to focus at this stage on storytelling as opposed to dialogue, although a small exchange may occur to maintain the action of the episode.

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