12 Easy Ways to Improve Narrative Writing

Improve narrative writing in your classroom with a dozen handy hints! Focus on one or two each time kids write, and watch their writing shine! Read on for ideas and examples on how to improve sentences, words, beginnings, endings, elaboration, and dialogue. Just weave the strategies into your ELA block.

Improve narrative writing with twelve proven strategies.

Looking for a resource to help kids improve their narrative writing? You can choose from two versions: water balloon and holiday elf. Each includes a passage to edit, as well as eight strategy cards.

How to Improve Narrative Writing

#1 – Vary Sentence Beginnings

This seems almost too simple! When kids begin each sentence in a paragraph differently, it sounds better! Try these hints to help students improve narrative writing:

  • Begin with the middle of the sentence.
    • The little girl had a funky hat. -> A funky hat sat atop the little girl’s head.
  • Add a word or phrase to the beginning of the sentence.
    • The little girl had a funky hat. -> On top of her curly hair, the little girl wore a hat.
  • Think of a replacement for an overused word.
    • The little girl had a funky hat. -> The little lass sported a funky chapeau.
  • Combine related sentences.
    • The little lass sported a funky chapeau. The little lass tipped her hat to the old gentleman. -> The little lass sported a funky chapeau, which she tipped to the old gentleman.

#2 – Vary Sentence Types

In narrative writing, kids normally stick to declarative sentences. Try shaking it up with a few questions or exclamations. For the best results, use sparingly.

  • Ask a question.
    • The little girl had a funky hat. -> Did you see the funky hat on that girl’s head?
  • Use an exclamation to show excitement.
    • That little girl had a funky hat. -> That little girl was wearing the funkiest hat ever!

#3 – Vary Sentence Lengths

When sentences are similar lengths, writing is monotonous. Let the story flow with longer and middle-length sentences. Punctuate with shorter sentences to call the audience to attention.

  • Use long sentences to flow and tell the story. Combine longer sentences, or add longer phrases.
    • The little lass sported a funky chapeau, which she tipped to the old gentleman.
    • On top of her curly hair, the little girl wore a hat.
  • Select short sentences to punctuate. Make the reader stop and think, or signal a change in the action.
    • She stopped.
    • Then it happened.

#4 – Choose Words for Effect

Seriously, this boils down to one rule: be specific. In narrative writing, kids should pick words or phrases that tell exactly what they’re talking about.

  • Choose nouns that are specific to your topic.
    • train -> locomotive, sleeper, Eurostar, cable car, etc.
  • Use verbs that are active and precise.
    • took -> grabbed, snatched, seized, acquired, filched, pilfered, hijacked, annexed, captured, etc.
  • Select unusual words to replace overused or ho-hum words.
    • neat -> fastidious
    • good -> virtuous
    • said -> enunciated

#5 – Use Sensory Words

Kids should let the audience experience narrative writing with more than one of the five senses. What can they see, hear, feel, smell, and taste?

  • To write what you see, paint a picture with words.
    • The shallow, shimmering water of the wetlands teams with life. Dragonflies hover over shiny green landing plans while leaf boats sail by.
  • Use onomatopoeia to let your audience hear the story.
    • splash, splat, boing, ding, snap, crunch, etc.
  • Add texture words for feeling.
    • bumpy, rough, glossy, spongy, scratchy, slick, etc.
  • Don’t forget to let readers know how something smells or tastes.
    • aromatic, stinky, putrid, yummy, sour, salty

#6 – Use Figurative Language in Narrative Writing

Figures of speech evoke human experiences. Like sensory words, figurative language allows the audience to understand the narrative writing on a different level.

  • Add onomatopoeia for sound effects.
    • oink, moo, cluck, ka-boom, pow, vroom
  • Use similes or metaphors to compare.
    • Calvin was as sly as a fox.
    • Snow floated like tiny white feathers.
    • Audrey was a pig at Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Bring an object to life using personification.
    • The wind’s icy fingers brushed my face.
    • Strong emotions choked me.
  • Exaggerate a bit with hyperbole.
    • The skyscraper penetrated the clouds.
    • I could eat an elephant!
  • Start a series of words with the same sound to introduce alliteration.
    • Two quirky, quarrelsome quackers waddled toward the pond.

#7 – Make Narrative Writing Active

It’s all about the verbs! Moving from passive to active switches the story from boring to engaging. It’s a great way to improve narrative writing.

  • Use active verbs instead of passive verbs (am, are, is, was, were, seems, etc.)
    • Melanie was calm, but she was angry. -> Melanie remained calm, but she grew angry.
  • Switch your sentence around.
    • He had black gloves. -> Black gloves warmed his hands.
  • Use specific verbs.
    • walked -> sauntered, marched, strolled, hurried, jogged, tottered, ambled, etc.

#8 – Make Narrative Writing Flow

Transitions move the reader through the text. Adding sequence words (and more), examples, and phrases makes narrative writing smooth and readable.

  • Include sequence words like eventually, when, finally, as soon as, next, etc.
    • Eventually cracks formed on the tiny blue egg. They couldn’t believe it was finally hatching.
  • Use words that show examples (for example, such as, specifically, etc.)
    • Use something small and spongy, specifically, mini marshmallows, to complete this project.
  • Add phrases or clauses to the beginnings of sentences.
    • After five inches of snow had fallen, we hopped in the car to go sledding.

#9 – Write Effective Beginnings

Opening a story with a good beginning invites the reader to read on. In the middle grades, four simple starters can be used to engage the audience.

  • Set the stage with vivid descriptions or imagery.
    • The North Wind rattled the siding of our house. Snow poured from the sky, forming low valleys and high peaks.
  • Use onomatopoeia to create sound effects.
    • “Oooo—ooo—ooo!” cried the North Wind as snow blew into low valleys and high peaks.
  • Let the audience hear what’s being said (or though) with dialogue.
    • “Hello, this is the superintendent of schools with an important message for your family. Due to the blizzard, school has been cancelled.”
  • Ask a question.
    • Would school be cancelled? Snow was piled all around our house.

#10 – Write Effective Endings

Kids can close their stories in similar ways. When the beginning and ending match, narrative writing is much more clever.

  • Exit the stage with vivid descriptions or imagery.
    • As the sun set on high peaks and low valleys of snow, Henry headed for home dragging his sled.
  • Use onomatopoeia to create sound effects.
    • “Oooo—ooo—ooo!” cried the boys and girls as their sleds glided across low valleys and high peaks.
  • Let the audience hear what’s being said (or thought) with dialogue.
    • “Hello, this is the superintendent of schools. I hope you enjoyed your snow day, but school will be in session tomorrow.”
  • Answer the question.
    • Yes, school was cancelled . . . for one glorious day.

#11 – Add Details

When kids use just the right amount of elaboration, narrative writing becomes well developed (but not overdone).

  • Give examples.
    • Sylvester loved to eat vegetables. He adored baby carrots, leaf lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, green onions, cabbage, rhubarb, broccoli, peas, and lima beans, just to name a few.
  • Use appositives. Add information between commas or parentheses.
    • Carmine, my elderly French poodle, slept peacefully by my fee.
  • Tell what kind; use proper names.
    • The woman walked toward the building. -> Mrs. Theodora Theopoulos marched angrily toward the Lake County Courthouse.
  • Get descriptive.
    • At twilight, heat rose in waves from the scorching asphalt. Karen tiptoed gingerly across the burning hot street.
  • Add adjectives to describe.
    • He glared at me. -> Two beady black eyes glared at me with frightening fury.
  • Include all steps.
    • Betty ate a sandwich. -> Betty removed the pastrami roll from its silver wrapper, took a hearty bite, and devoured it in less than ten seconds.

#12 – Use Dialogue

Dialogue is an essential part of narrative writing. Kids should use dialogue to let the audience experience the plot. As they become better writers, students should also show characters’ thoughts and motivations with their words.

  • Include conversations between characters in your story.
    • “Did you hear that?” whispered Margie.
    • “I hope it wasn’t a burglar!” Carl exclaimed.
  • Write what a character is thinking.
    • “Oh no!” Melinda thought. “Mom’s going to be so upset!”
  • Add a quote to show a character’s response to a certain situation.
    • “That doesn’t make any sense at all! What were you thinking? shouted Mom.

How to Improve Narrative Writing Little by Little

Start small. Choose two or three simple strategies to work on with each writing piece. Little by little, your students will add to their revision tricks (which also apply to other genres of writing!)

To practice, ask kids to improve a simple story with these strategies. This activity works well as stations or group work.

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