ZIMSEC O Level English Language Notes:How to write a narrative composition

As part of your English Language Paper 1 examination, you will be presented with the option to write a narrative essay or composition. Narrative essays tend to be very popular amongst students as the topics are usually approachable when compared to other options. This does not mean that narrative compositions are the easiest. Far from it! They are some of the most poorly answered questions in examinations.

A narrative composition question requires you to write a story. Narrative compositions have the following essential elements:

  • A point of view and a point of view character. This means the perspective from which the story is written. Usually, stories are written from the author’s point of view where the candidate has to make ample use of the pronoun I. However this is not always the case and you should always take your cue from the question. For example:
    Write a story based on one of the following:
    Either a) His past had finally caught up with him.
    Or b) After all the embarrassing things I had done, I never expected my parents to forgive and welcome me back home
    The first question requires that you write the story from the point of view of some other character (he), it is up to you to provide a name and flesh him up. The second question requires a first-person point of view where you will write the story as the main character.
  • Characters: Most stories require at least one character (the Point of view character above). A good story usually has more than one well-developed characters who play important roles in furthering the plot of your story.
  • Plot: This is the sequence of events in the story. Always take care to include only relevant events in your composition otherwise it will become bloated with unnecessary details which increases the chance of you making errors. Often plots are characterised by conflict amongst the main characters in the story i.e. the protagonist and the villain, this is especially true in one-word questions for example Love.
  • Setting: i.e. the place where the events in your story take place. You should use imagery to quickly create the setting. Does the story take place indoors or outdoors? Is it in a small town or in the countryside? Here the candidate should demonstrate their descriptive skills.
  • Dialogue: Dialogue takes place between the characters of the story. Unless you are good with your punctuation you should avoid direct speech like a plague and instead rely on reported speech otherwise you will lose valuable marks due to punctuation errors.
  • Suspense: You should avoid cliffhangers i.e. needless suspense. You should carefully resolve and tie up all loose ends in your story especially those that have a bearing on the question. Consider the question above: His past had finally caught up with him. While suspense is a good thing you will lose valuable marks if, you say, for example, fail to bring out the past that is supposed to have caught up with the main character in the story because it is a central requirement.

How to write the story

  1. Choose a topic you are familiar with. It will do you no good to write about a story about a place you have never been to or a concept you are not acquainted with. For example, if a story takes place in the country and you are a city person you would do well not to choose that topic.
  2. Analyse and understand the topic taking careful note of all the key requirements in the story. For example, if the title says: Write a story based on the following statement: Crime does not pay. Your story has to include an element of an actual crime i.e. an act that goes against the law. Disobeying one’s parents is not a crime for example. Secondly, you have to show that crimes always have consequences.
  3. Brainstorm by listing down ideas that come to mind. Order is not important at this stage.
  4. Rearrange the ideas in a logical order. With stories, this usually means in chronological order.
  5. Using each idea form a topic sentence and flesh it up with details.
  6. Write out the story making sure you give it a fitting introduction and conclusion.
  7. Revise your story! This is important as often enough what you wanted to write/what you thought you wrote is not what you would have actually written.
  8. Take care to do all these things in the set time.
  9. Take care to use a consistent point of view.
  10. Take care to be consistent with your tenses.

To access more topics go to the English Language Notes page.