Interesting Literature

10 of the Best Very Short Stories That Can Be Read Online

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

One very short story – often attributed to Ernest Hemingway but actually the work of another writer – is just six words long: ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’. And some of the greatest fiction-writers of the last two centuries have written memorable short stories which stretch to little more than a few pages: short enough to be read in a coffee break.

Below, we introduce ten classic short stories – very short stories – from some of the finest authors in the literary canon. All of the stories can be read online: follow the links provided to read them.

1. Anton Chekhov, ‘ The Student ’.

A key device in many Chekhov short stories is the epiphany : a sudden realisation or moment of enlightenment experienced by one of the story’s characters, usually the protagonist. In many ways, the epiphany can be said to perform a similar function to the plot twist or revelation at the end of a more traditional (i.e., plot-driven) short story.

In ‘The Student’, one of Chekhov’s shortest stories, a young seminary is travelling home on Good Friday. He meets two women, a mother and her daughter who have both been widowed, and joins them around their fire, and the conversation turns to the Gospels, since it is Easter.

The student begins telling them about the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus, and this tale reawakens painful memories in the two women. Here, the emphasis is more on character and emotion than plot and incident, as we discuss in our analysis of the story .

2. Kate Chopin, ‘ The Story of an Hour ’.

Some short stories can say all they need to do in just a few pages, and Kate Chopin’s three-page 1894 story ‘The Story of an Hour’ (sometimes known as ‘The Dream of an Hour’) is a classic example. Yet those three pages remain tantalisingly ambiguous, perhaps because so little is said, so much merely hinted at.

Chopin’s short story is a subtle, studied analysis of death, marriage, and personal wishes. Written in April 1894 and originally published in Vogue in December of that year, the story focuses on an hour in the life of a married woman who has just learnt that her husband has apparently died.

We have analysed this story here .

3. Saki, ‘ The Lumber-Room ’.

Saki, born Hector Hugh Munro, is one of the wittiest short-story writers in English, a missing link between Wilde and Wodehouse. Yet he remains undervalued.

‘The Lumber Room’ is a classic short story about a child who is too clever for the adults: a mischievous boy, Nicholas, seeks to outwit his aunt so he can gain access to the lumber-room with its hidden treasures and curiosities. The story is also about the nature of obedience and the limited view of the world adults have, when contrasted with the child’s more expansive and imaginative outlook.

We have analysed this wonderful story here .

4. Virginia Woolf, ‘ A Haunted House ’.

In the pioneering short stories Woolf wrote in the period from around 1917 until 1921, she not only developed her own ‘modernist’ voice but also offered a commentary on other literary forms and styles.

This two-page story is a good example: we find a woman living in a house which is apparently haunted by a ghostly couple. The story that emerges is less frightening than it is touching, and as much romance as horror, as Woolf provides a modernist, stream-of-consciousness take on the conventional ghost story, all in a brief vignette of around 600 words.

We have analysed the story here .

5. Franz Kafka, ‘ Before the Law ’.

This is a very short story or parable by the German-language Bohemian (now Czech) author Franz Kafka (1883-1924). It was published in 1915 and later included in Kafka’s (posthumously published) novel The Trial , where its meaning is discussed by the protagonist Josef K. and a priest he meets in a cathedral. ‘Before the Law’ has inspired numerous critical interpretations and prompted many a debate, in its turn, about what it means.

A man approaches a doorkeeper and asks to be admitted to ‘the law’. The doorkeeper tells him he cannot grant him access, but that it may be possible to admit the man later. We won’t say what happens next, but the parable is typically Kafkaesque – in so far as anything else – in its comic absurdism and depiction of the futility of human endeavour. The story is often interpreted as a tale about religion.

We discuss the story in more depth in our summary and analysis of it.

6. Katherine Mansfield, ‘ Miss Brill ’.

‘Miss Brill’ is a short story by the New-Zealand-born modernist writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), published in the Athenaeum in 1920 and then included in Mansfield’s 1922 collection The Garden Party and Other Stories .

Every Sunday, a lady named Miss Brill goes to the local public gardens to hear the band play and to sit in the gardens and people-watch. On the particular Sunday that is the focus of the story, the unmarried Miss Brill comes to realise that she, and all of the other people gathered in the gardens, appear to be in a sort of play. But when she overhears a young couple making apparently disparaging remarks about her, she appears to undergo an epiphany …

We discuss the story in more detail in our analysis of it.

7. Ernest Hemingway, ‘ Cat in the Rain ’.

This short tale was published in Hemingway’s early 1925 collection In Our Time ; he wrote ‘Cat in the Rain’ for his wife Hadley while they were living in Paris. She wanted to get a cat, but he said they were too poor.

‘Cat in the Rain’ was supposedly inspired by a specific event in 1923 when, while staying at the home of Ezra Pound (a famous cat-lover) in Rapallo, Italy, Hadley befriended a stray kitten. We find a woman in a hotel seeking to rescue a cat she spots in the rain outside, but the story takes in deeper longings, too.

We have offered an analysis of this story in a separate post.

8. Jorge Luis Borges, ‘ The Lottery in Babylon ’.

The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges is one of the great short-fiction writers of the twentieth century, and many of his classic tales stretch to just a few pages.

‘The Lottery in Babylon’, first published in 1941, is among his most ‘Kafkaesque’ tales. When he wrote the story, Borges was working a rather unfulfilling library job refilling the bookshelves, and ‘The Lottery in Babylon’ reflects the sense of futility in all human endeavour which Borges was feeling at this time. We are told of a lottery in the (fictional) land of Babylon, which becomes compulsory, and which delivers both rewards and punishments to its lucky (or unlucky) participants. Although Borges’ story is satirical and humorous, it also taps into the horrific realities of totalitarian regimes.

Find out more about this story by reading our analysis of it .

9. Lydia Davis, ‘ On the Train ’.

Very few stories in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis are longer than a few pages, and many are a single page, like prose haiku or short vignettes. Her stories are usually less about narrative and more about observation, seemingly insignificant details, and a refusal to sentimentalise. Indeed, her stories are almost clinical in their precision and emotional tautness.

We’ve opted for ‘On the Train’ as it’s one of the few Davis stories available online via the link above, but we could have chosen any number of short stories from the collected edition mentioned above. Highly recommended.

10. David Foster Wallace, ‘ A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life ’.

This is the shortest story on this list. Published on ‘page zero’ of Wallace’s 2000 collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men , it is another vignette, about how the way we behave is ultimately motivated by our longing to be liked by others.

The rise of social media has only brought home even more clearly what Wallace brilliantly and wittily reveals here: that much of our behaviour is purely performative, with the individual having lost any sense of authenticity or true identity.

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11 Very Short Stories You Must Read Immediately

From lydia davis to george saunders to sofia samatar.

This weekend, Lydia Davis—crowned master of the very short story, not to mention a preeminent translator of classic French literature—turns 70. Davis didn’t invent flash fiction, but she is certainly its most famous—and perhaps its best—practitioner. Her work is always where I start when I get into a flash fiction reading jag, but of course, it’s not usually where I finish, else what kind of jag would it be? While flash is sort of out of fashion at the moment, I’ve been hearing rumors of a resurgence— The New Yorker has a flash fiction series going on this summer, for instance—so perhaps it’s time to remind ourselves what very short stories can do. For that reason, and in honor of Lydia Davis’s birthday, here are eleven very short stories that you must—and can , thanks to the magic of the internet—read at your earliest opportunity. NB: this list should by no means be taken to reflect the “best of all time,” merely “my own personal favorites,” and is only a taste of what’s out there—so do us all a favor and point us to your own beloved micro-fictions in the comments.

Lydia Davis, “ The Outing ”

It’s hard to pick a favorite from Davis’s massive body of work (“ Break it Down ” and “The Center of the Story” are two more that I love, though they’re a bit long for this list), but on the flip side, pretty much everything she writes is good. I like “The Outing” because it’s the skeleton of a story, poking fun at the notion of “what happens”—and yet still creates a powerful sense of what indeed happened. How does she do it?

Deb Olin Unferth, “ Likeable ”

When I first heard Deb Olin Unferth read, I was so desperate to write down what she’d said that I scribbled her phrases on my own pants in eyeliner. This piece, originally published in  NOON , is one of my favorites of hers, and a very fine commentary on the plight of the “unlikeable” woman.

George Saunders, “ Sticks ”

This story slays me. Saunders builds meaning out of nothing, slowly, it seems—although in a story this short there’s hardly room for slowness—and then rips it all away from you in the end, leaving you gutted and empty, which is just the sort of abject cruelty you really want from a writer.

Lucy Corin, “ Miracles ”

This is my favorite story from Corin’s collection of (mostly) flash fictions,  One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses . (My second-favorite story, just to be maximalist about it, is “ Witches .”) The creepy presence of one mother and absence of another, the glossed-over apocalypse, the temporal swerve—all of these make the story echo for a long time.

Amelia Gray, “ The Swan as Metaphor for Love ”

I’m sorry, but Amelia Gray doesn’t get enough credit for being fucking hilarious. This story makes me laugh every time I read it, and also has taught me several facts about swans.

Sofia Samatar, “ The Huntress ”

Every sentence here is a story in itself—and then there’s the actual story, of a huntress (or two). I’m always impressed by the way Samatar conjures an sustains mood; this piece would poke a a wet black hole in any shining day.

Hugh Behm-Steinberg, “ Taylor Swift ”

I encountered this story—which is about Taylor Swift clones—when it won the Gulf Coast Barthelme Prize a couple of years ago. The judge was Steve Almond, who wrote , “I tried quite hard to resist choosing “Taylor Swift” as the winner of this year’s Barthelme Award. Why? Because all the stories I received were worthy and many were more technically ambitious when it came to language and form, by which I guess I mean experimental. . . . But what the hell. In the end, I just wanted to read this thing again and again.” Which is exactly right. Whatever you think of the actual Taylor Swift, this story is just plain  fun .

Jamaica Kincaid, “ Girl ”

It’s one of the most widely-anthologized short stories for a reason: rhythmic and lyric, a triumph of voice and immediacy. I think of it as a ribbon that unwinds and unwinds, revealing a relationship, a way of life, and of course, a girl.

Joy Williams, “ Aubade ”

Just about any of the pieces in Ninety-nine Stories of God would do here, honestly, but I love the firm wink of “Aubade,” only the third story in the book.

Amy Hempel, “ Housewife ”

This is the shortest story on this list—a few words shorter than Lydia Davis’s, even—but packs a lot of drama into that single sentence. It’s one of those that I read long ago but has stuck in my mind permanently—particularly the beat of that French film, French film.

Bonus: László Krasznahorkai, “ I Don’t Need Anything from Here ”

I just read this for the first time yesterday, and loved it: a glut of words to luxuriate in, and then leave behind. Jonathan Lethem’s “ Elevator Pitches ,” the first in  The New Yorker ‘s summer flash series, is also great, and very different.

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Have You Tried Reading a Short Story?

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If you, like some of us, have been struggling to make it through some of your more ambitious reading material — like Middlemarch , In Search of Lost Time, or Journal of a Plague Year especially — it might be time to consider a short story. Sure, they might not give you the sense of accomplishment you’d feel tearing through a tome, but they are economical, transportive vehicles all on their own. And what matters most isn’t what you can accomplish during this time, but whether you can successfully spend a few minutes doing something — anything — but think about our present moment. Below, the Cut staff weigh in on what story collections have been holding our attention.

Heathcliff Redux: A Novella and Stories by Lily Tuck

In Heathcliff Redux , National Book Award winner Lily Tuck revisits the gothic romance of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights to tell the deliciously spare story of a Kentucky wife and mother having an affair with a seemingly dangerous man. Formally inventive, the novella and following short stories are erotic, unforgiving, and pack a punch in very, very few words. —Brock Colyar, editorial assistant

Best American Short Stories 2019 edited by Roxane Gay

This might be dorky, but I love the yearly Best American Short Stories collections from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. If I’m feeling indecisive — which is often — I can dive into a collection that’s curated by a favorite author (Meg Wolitzer! Roxane Gay!) and see what kinds of stories have recently captured their attention. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to discover writers I didn’t know. (I discovered Roxane Gay, Lauren Groff, and Curtis Sittenfield this way.) The collections are massively satisfying. —Kerensa Cadenas, senior editor

The Bed Moved by Rebecca Schiff

Disclaimer: I would rather read Middlemarch or In Search of Lost Time than a short-story collection. That being said, when I read Rebecca Schiff’s The Bed Moved four years ago, I remember thinking it was my ideal collection. The main narrator, an irreverent 20-something woman with a very dark sense of humor, is hilarious; the stories are simply a joy to read. In particular, I remember one in which she stumbles upon one of her dead father’s favorite porn sites, which gives her troubling insight into what got her dad off (topless women boxing). If that narrative appeals to you, I’d recommend picking it up. —Amanda Arnold, writer

Transactions in a Foreign Currency by Deborah Eisenberg

There are many moments in Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories, when, in an instant of knifeblade concision, it becomes clear that all is not as it appears to be. “I had never known what I was like until I stopped smoking,” opens “Days,” the first story Eisenberg ever wrote, “by which time there was hell to pay for it.” Charlotte, the narrator of Eisenberg’s first published story, “Flotsam,” which became the opener of her 1986 collection, Transactions in a Foreign Currency , is either tall or ungainly, depending whose sightlines she happens to reside in. (As her boyfriend falls out of love with her, “my athletic tallness, which Robert had admired when we met, with the dissolving of his affection came to feel like an untended sprawl”.)

These hairpin turns of recalibration are Eisenberg’s specialty. Her occasions can be mundane or cataclysmic — a breakup and scene change in “Flotsam” or 9/11 in “Twilight of the Superheroes” — but she understands that all turbulence is turbulence, and the global and the personal burble between the two. “It’s very, very, very difficult for people, particularly people with a certain level of comfort or privilege, to take in the reality of a situation,” Eisenberg told the New York Times Magazine in 2018, when the magazine celebrated her as a “chronicler of American insanity.” She’s a slow, methodical writer; each story apparently takes her a year. I’d call them jewels, but that doesn’t seem hard enough, sharp enough. They’re gems. —Matthew Schneier, features writer

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath

Written for Mademoiselle when the poet was a student at Smith College in 1952, the short story was later rejected and published for the first time, in its original, “sinister” form last year. The story of a young girl on a mysterious train ride, it is a quick, suspenseful read with a very Plathian story line and surprisingly light-hearted ending. You’ll wonder for weeks what the hell it was actually about (and maybe it’s about hell?). —Brock Colyar, editorial assistant

The Human Comedy by Honoré de Balzac

Upon rereading Balzac’s 1832 short story “A Passion in the Desert,” it strikes me as relevant to a couple phenomena that have come to dominate our days: self-isolation and the Netflix docuseries Tiger King . A young French soldier on a military expedition in Egypt falls into the hands of an opposing army but manages to escape. He finds himself quite alone in the desert, a prospect at once terrifying and depressing, his mind full of nothing but his former life. But then — twist — his quiet desperation is interrupted by the presence of a wild panther, Mignonne, who quickly becomes the soldier’s everything: friend, enemy, and beloved. It’s a classic tale of being utterly alone in this world and at the same time obsessed with a large cat who may or may not kill you at any time. “She was lightening fast in passion,” says the narrator, “a block of granite slipping forward, and she froze at the name ‘Mignonne.’” —Hannah Gold, writer

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

If you want a masterclass in short stories, read Carmen Maria Machado’s electric collection Her Body and Other Parties . Machado delivers a genre-bending exploration of gender, sexuality, love, sex, and even Law and Order . It’s hard to not read it with your mouth agape over her prose and her total mastery of the form. She makes a modern gothic fairy-tale deeply unsettling and incredibly human. —Kerensa Cadenas, senior editor

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One: 1929–1964 edited by Robert Silverberg

I know some people look down their noses at “best of” albums and greatest hits collections, but those people need to hop off their high horses. Here are 26 of the greatest English-language sci-fi stories ever written. I couldn’t pick one favorite, they’re all excellent. “Coming Attraction” hits differently now — it’s set in a dystopic future in which all American women wear face masks, all the time. —Rachel Bashein, managing editor

The Soho Press Book of ‘80s Short Fiction edited by Dale Peck

In an effort to put a dividing line between “staring at the news on my phone time” and “fitfully nodding off to sleep time,” I’ve begun reading a single story from this anthology every night before going to bed. The ’80s really were a golden era for the short story, a time when notorious editor Gordon Lish helped make writers like Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel into the disaffected, minimalist titans we know them as today. All those classics of the genre are here, plus sexier, more subversive and harder to find work by writers like Rebecca Brown, Robert Glück, and David Wojnarowicz. Open it up and you’re not sure what you’ll find — the best story ever written about grief or a diaristic novella called “Weird Fucks”? —Jordan Larson, essays editor

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40 Impressive Personal Narrative Examples in Children’s Books

This post may contain affiliate links.

Build empathy by reading personal narrative examples in children’s books , including picture books and middle grade books . In other words, read someone’s authentic memoir based on their life experience. And see how it gives you empathy as you walk in that person’s shoes. (It will also help you become a better personal narrative writer!)

Choose from these picture book and middle-grade book mentor text examples to show your growing writers examples of good personal narrative mentor texts with sensory details, vivid verbs, small moments, and organization. Share with your writers how these personal narrative examples are written with sensory details to show experience and authority.

NOTE: I’m listing children’s books that are not personal narratives per se but still can be used as personal narrative examples. I’m doing this so you have a bigger list of choices to find good books that appeal to your writers and model skillful writing.

If you’re teaching personal narrative, it’s worth reading adult memoirs like Anne Laaott’s Bird by Bird , Jeannee Wall’s The Glass Castle , or Suleika Jaouad’s Between to Kingdoms . (Three of my favorite books of all time.)

Impressive Personal Narrative Examples in Children's Books

Here are my favorite children’s memoir books to share with growing writers who want to write a personal narrative or memoir. Starting with a mentor text of sample writing will make your students’ writing stronger. That’s what I recommend that works for me in my writing workshops for children.

Picture Books: Personal Narrative Examples

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Palace of Books  by Patricia Polacco Fans of Polacco’s books will enjoy this personal narrative story of her moving from the farm to a town where she starts school. Patricia discovers the library and the library’s collection of bird artwork from John Audubon. Not only does she fall in love with the library, but drawing her own bird pictures as well.

personal narrative examples

My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World  by Malcolm Mitchell, illustrated by Michael Robertson Henley finds reading hard — and when his teacher gives the class an assignment to find their favorite book in the whole wide world, he struggles to find anything that he doesn’t hate. After asking his librarian and bookstore owner for help unsuccessfully, his mom helps him realize that inside he has his own story.  What he brings to school, his favorite book in the world–is a story that he writes about himself!  Use this as a personal narrative example.

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Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala  by Meenal Patel An irresistible sensory experience of India with vivid descriptions ! When Priya helps her Babi Ba cook rotli, her Babi Ba shares her memories of India… the smell of roasted cumin and masala, the sound of motorbikes whizzing by, the taste of a steaming cup of cha, the feel of the hot sun on your face, views of arches and domes of the buildings, rainbow of saris, and brightly colored marigolds. I adore the writing, the illustrations, and the story that celebrates India’s culture and their grandparent-grandchild relationship.

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Finding My Dance  by Ria Thundercloud, illustrated by Kalila J. Fuller Ria loves dancing — and starts dancing as a child in a powwow.  As her love of dancing grows, she learns different styles and becomes a professional dancer, and travels all over the world.

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Alma and How She Got Her Name  by Juana Martinez-Neal Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela thinks her name is too long …until her father explains about each person she was named for — like Esperanza, Alma’s great-grandmother who hoped to travel.  This helps Alma make a personal connection to each person she’s named after.

Middle-Grade Books: Personal Narrative Examples

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Knucklehead Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka Growing up Scieszka was a WILD time. There’s quite a bit of potty humor in Scieszka’s hilarious musings on his childhood, but the writing is excellent and captures personal narrative in short, digestible stories.

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Lawn Boy  by Gary Paulsen It’s summer vacation and  our 12-year-old narrator needs to earn money.  Which he does by starting a lawn mowing business. Not only that, he learns about investing his money and makes a lot more money than he could have imagined. Fictional but reads like personal narrative examples.

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I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day The author of this book skillfully crafts a heartfelt story about growing up, family, and finding your identity in the context of adoption, the historical maltreatment of Native Americans, and the mystery of your own heritage.  Edie’s mom is an adopted Native American who can’t trace her heritage. When Edie unexpectedly finds a box of photos and letters from the woman she suspects was her mom’s birth mother, it prompts a journey to discover the truth of her heritage. And the truth is not what she expects but it opens her eyes (and ours.)

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Inside Out & Back Again  by Thanhha Lai ( VERSE ) In this personal narrative memoir,  Thanhha reveals the overwhelm of immigrating from Vietnam to the American South in the 1970s, a completely different culture and language.  Despite feeling turned inside out, Hà resiliently figures out life in the U.S., despite the many challenges she faces. I loved this book –it’s written with such an authentic voice . Plus, it gives readers a first-hand look at an immigrant experience. Winner of the National Book Award and Newbery Honor.

narrative short story books

Brown Girl Dreaming  by Jacqueline Woodson ( VERSE ) Written in verse, this is the author’s life story about  growing up as an African-American girl in the South and the North during the Civil Rights movement.  It’s a powerful introduction to this time period and the issues of race in the United States since it’s told through the eyes of a child. National Book Award finalist.

narrative short story books

For Black Girls Like Me  by Mariama J. Lockington Just like the author’s own experience as an adoptee,  it’s hard for Makeda to be a black adopted girl in a white family  that she loves but doesn’t feel like she fits– or is even seen. But there are even more challenges for Makeda these days, starting with being the little sister to a newly-distant teenager, moving to a new town away from her BFF, having parents who constantly fight, and watching her mom’s mental health deteriorate and blaming herself. After her mom’s mania takes them on a trip to Colorado which abruptly nose dives into severe depression and a suicide attempt, Makeda reaches out for help.

Personal Narrative Mentor Texts for Teaching Writing

The Last Cherry Blossom  by Kathleen Burkinshaw (ages 11+) In this beautifully written, eye-opening story, we follow the life of Yuriko,  a Japanese girl who lives in Hiroshima during World War II.  Initially, her life revolves around drama with her family and friends, just like a typical child’s life in any country. But, in this recounting of Burkinshaw’s mother’s actual experience, her life is torn apart when the atomic bomb is dropped. Not to mention that it comes as a shock to learn that Japan has been losing the war. Yuriko’s life becomes a nightmare of survival and endurance.

narrative short story books

Family Style by Thien Pham ages 12+ In Thien Pham‘s immigration story, he begins with his life in a refugee camp where he played and watched his parents be entrepreneurial. When they immigrate to the US, he learns English slowly and makes friends as he watches his parents be entrepreneurial by starting their own bakery after working hourly jobs. When he is an adult, Thien becomes a citizen to vote. I love how the earthy color palette and gorgeous illustration style help to narrate Pham’s personal memoir.

Read personal narrative examples in children's books, including picture books and middle grade books. In other words, read someone's authentic memoir based on their life experience.

KEEP READING

Mentor Text Book Lists

Books to Teach Description

Writing Prompts for Kids

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Melissa Taylor, MA, is the creator of Imagination Soup. She's a mother, former teacher & literacy trainer, and freelance education writer. She writes Imagination Soup and freelances for publications online and in print, including Penguin Random House's Brightly website, USA Today Health, Adobe Education, Colorado Parent, and Parenting. She is passionate about matching kids with books that they'll love.

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Hello, I used your letter writing unit and loved it. The students were very involved in the unit. on the last page that I printed off, yoiu mention other units you have such as personal narrative, fictional narrative, informational and procedural. There is a link to SEE ALL THE WRITING UNITS. I have searched throughout your website and cannot find these links. I’d love to incorporate them into my lessons. Can you please send me the link to them as I am not having luck with my search.

I sent you an email.

14 Canadian short story collections to read for Short Story Month

Social sharing.

May is Short Story Month. Celebrate by checking out one of these great Canadian short story collections.

Cocktail  by Lisa Alward

An illustrated yellow book cover with the image of a woman superimposed onto the shape of a flower. A black and white portrait of a woman with bangs smiling to the camera

Cocktail   is a short story collection that explores some of life's watershed moments and the tiny horrors of domestic life. Beginning in the 1960s and moving forward through the decades,  Cocktail  tells intimate and immersive stories about the power of desire — and the cost of pursuing it.

Cocktail  was longlisted for the Carol Shields Prize and shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award . 

The CBC Poetry Prize is open for Canadian writers from April 1 to June 1

Lisa Alward's short fiction has appeared in  The Journey Prize Stories 2017,   Best Canadian Stories 2017  and  Best Canadian Stories 2016 . She is the winner of the New Quarterly's 2016 Peter Hinchcliffe Short Fiction Award as well as the 2015 Fiddlehead Short Fiction Prize. She lives in Fredericton. She was on  the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize longlist  for  Orlando 1974  which is included in  Cocktail . 

narrative short story books

Death by a Thousand Cuts  by Shashi Bhat

A book cover of a half-eaten beach with a bee near the juice. A woman with long Black hair smiles.

Death by a Thousand Cuts   traces the funny, honest and difficult parts of womanhood. From a writer whose ex published a book about their breakup to the confession wrought by a Reddit post, these stories probe rage, loneliness, bodily autonomy and these women's relationships with themselves just as much as those around them. 

  • Shashi Bhat writes about the South Asian female experience in her collection of short stories

Shashi Bhat's previous novels include  The Family Took Shape , a finalist for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and  The Most Precious Substance on Earth ,  which was also a finalist for the  Governor General's Literary Award for fiction  in 2022. Her short stories won the Writers' Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and been shortlisted for a National Magazine Award and the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Bhat lives in New Westminster, B.C.

narrative short story books

The Syrian Ladies Benevolent Society  by Christine Estima

A composite image featuring A book cover with a shirtless woman laying down looking into the camera and a portrait of a woman with dark hair.

The Syrian Ladies Benevolent Society  is a collection of connected stories that traces the immigrant experience of an Arab family through multiple generations. From brave Syrian refugees to trailblazing Lebanese freedom fighters, Azuree knows she comes from a long line of daring Arab women. These stories follow her as she explores ideas of love, faith, despair and the effects of war — and what those family histories mean for her as an Arab woman in the 21st century. 

  • Christine Estima's vibrant story collection highlights the heart and history of the Arab diaspora in Montreal

Christine Estima is a writer, playwright and journalist living in Toronto. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and she was longlisted for the 2015  CBC Nonfiction Prize .  The Syrian Ladies Benevolant Society  is her first book. 

narrative short story books

Her Body Among Animals  by Paola Ferrante

Her Body Among Animals is a novel by Paola Ferrante. Her Body Among Animals by Paola Ferrante. An illustrated book cover with a silhouette of a dog jumping over a mermaid's fin. A portrait of a white woman with short brown hair looking into the camera.

Her Body Among Animals  is a genre-bending collection of short stories that merges sci-fi, horror, fairy tales and pop culture to examine the challenges and boundaries society places on women's bodies. 

Her Body Among Animals   is shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award . 

  • 5 Canadian authors shortlisted for $10K Danuta Gleed Literary Award for best debut short story collection

Paola Ferrante is a poet and fiction writer from Toronto. Her books include the poetry collection  What to Wear When Surviving A Lion Attack  and the poetry chapbook  The Dark Unwind.  She was longlisted for the 2020 Journey Prize and won Room's 2018 prize for fiction.

Soft Serve  by Allison Graves

A book cover with a photo of a red plastic chair with a soft serve ice cream melting on it.

Soft Serve   is an edgy short story collection all about unconventional attachments between people and the reasons they endure. Through random encounters on highways, dating apps and fast food chains, the characters in these stories connect as they wander through the spaces — real and virtual — of our modern lives. 

  • How a cappuccino sparked Allison Graves' writing career

Allison Graves is a Newfoundland-based writer and musician. Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, Riddle Fence Magazine and Room Magazine. Her fiction has been longlisted for prizes in Prism, The Fiddlehead and The Newfoundland Quarterly.  Soft Serve  is her debut fiction collection. 

narrative short story books

Tales for Late Night Bonfires  by G.A. Grisenthwaite

A composite image featuring a green and red illustrated book cover with various animals on it and a portrait of an Indigenous man wearing a fedora and looking into the camera.

In  Tales for Late Night Bonfires , writer G.A. Grisenthwaite blends the Indigenous tradition of oral storytelling with his own unique literary style. From tales about an impossible moose hunt to tales about the "Real Santa," Grisenthwaite crafts witty stories — each more uncanny than the last.

  • G.A. Grisenthwaite's novel  Home Waltz  is a coming-of-age story about friendship, identity and acceptance

Grisenthwaite is Nłeʔkepmx, a member of the Lytton First Nation who currently lives in Kingsville, Ont. He made the  2021 CBC Short Story Prize longlist  and his 2020 debut novel  Home Waltz  was shortlisted for the  Governor General's Literary Award for fiction .

Stray Dogs  by Rawi Hage

Stray Dogs is a book by Rawi Hage.

The characters in Stray Dogs are restless travellers, moving between nation states and states of mind, seeking connection and trying to escape the past. Set in Montreal, Beirut, Tokyo and more, these stories highlight the often random ways our fragile modern identities are constructed, destroyed and reborn. 

Stray Dogs  was on the 2022 shortlist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize . 

Rawi Hage's short story collection  Stray Dogs  captures snapshots of the lives of people on the move

Rawi Hage is a Montreal-based writer. His books include  De Niro's Game ,  which won the International Dublin Literary Award in 2008;  Cockroach ,  which received the Hugh MacLennan Prize for fiction, was defended by Samantha Bee on  Canada Reads  in 2014, and was shortlisted for the  Scotiabank Giller Prize  and the Governor General's Literary Award;  Carnival ,  which was a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize; and  Beirut Hellfire Society ,  which was on the shortlist for  the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize  and  the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction . 

narrative short story books

The Islands  by Dionne Irving

The Islands by Dionne Irving. Illustrated book cover of palm leaves on a metal roof sheet.

Set across the United States, Jamaica and Europe from the 1950s to present day,  The Islands  details the migration stories of Jamaican women and their descendants. Each short story explores colonialism and its impact as women experience the on-going tensions between identity and the place they long to call home.

The Islands  was  shortlisted for the 2023 Scotiabank Giller Prize .

Dionne Irving's  The Islands  follows the migration stories of Jamaican women

Dionne Irving is a writer and creative writing teacher from Toronto. She released her first novel,  Quint,  in 2021 and her work has been featured in journals and magazines like LitHub, Missouri Review and New Delta Review.  The Islands  is her debut short story collection. 

narrative short story books

Animal Person  by Alexander MacLeod

A man with greying hair wearing two collared shirts. A black book cover with white writing and colourful lines.

The stories in Alexander MacLeod's latest collection,  Animal Person , explore the struggle for meaning and connection in an age where many of us feel cut off from so much, including ourselves. From two sisters having a petty argument to a family on the brink of a new life, these stories pick at the complexity of our shared human experience.

  • Alexander MacLeod's short story collection Animal Person explores love, compromise and the idea of self

MacLeod is a short story writer and academic from Cape Breton and raised in Windsor, Ont. MacLeod's debut short story collection  Light Lifting  was shortlisted for the 2010  Scotiabank Giller Prize , the 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and the Commonwealth Prize. It also won the Atlantic Book Award. In 2019, he won an O. Henry Award for his short story  Lagomorph.  He currently lives in Dartmouth, N.S.

narrative short story books

Shut Up You're Pretty by Téa Mutonji

A book cover of flowers with write writing. A Black woman with long brown hair rests her head on her hand.

Shut Up You're Pretty  is a short fiction collection that tells stories of a young woman coming of age in the 21st century in Scarborough, Ont. The disarming, punchy and observant stories follow her as she watches someone decide to shave her head in an abortion clinic waiting room, bonds with her mother over fish and contemplates her Congolese traditions at a wedding. 

Shut Up You're Pretty  was on  the 2019 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize shortlist  and won the 2020 Edmund White Award for debut fiction. It was championed by Kudakwashe Rutendo on Canada Reads 2024 .

  • Why Téa Mutonji wanted her first short story collection to challenge what diverse literature is supposed to be

Téa Mutonji was named  a writer to watch in 2019  by  CBC Books . Born in Congo-Kinshasa, Mutonji is also the editor of the anthology  Feel Ways: A Scarborough Anthology.  She currently lives in Toronto.

narrative short story books

Half-Wild and Other Stories of Encounter  by Emily Paskevics

A composite image featuring an illustrated book cover with various animals and a woman silhouetted in the forest and a portrait of a woman with light brown hair looks into the camera.

The short stories in  Half-Wild and Other Stories of Encounter  use the wilderness a a backdrop to focus on the connection between humans and the natural world and the intergenerational relationships within families. From a father searching for his wife and child wondering if they're better off without him, to an old woman standing on a frozen lake contemplating her death — this collection asks what it means to be a human in nature.

Emily Paskevics is a writer and editor currently based in Montreal. She is the author of the chapbook  The Night That Was Animal.  Her poetry, essays and short fiction have appeared in numerous publications and she was  longlisted for the 2019 CBC Short Story Prize . In 2022, Paskevics was named one of six emerging writers shortlisted for the RBC Bronwen Wallace Awards in the short fiction category . 

Peacocks of Instagram  by Deepa Rajagopalan

An Indian woman wearing a red top with long dark hair smiles at the camera next to a colourful book cover featuring a hand holding up a mirror with several eyes in the reflection.

The collection of stories in  Peacocks of Instagram   paint a tapestry of the Indian diaspora. Tales of revenge, love, desire and family explore the intense ramifications of privilege, or lack thereof. Coffee shop and hotel housekeeping employees, engineers and children show us all of themselves, flaws and all.

Deepa Rajagopalan was the 2021 RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award winner. Born to Indian parents in Saudi Arabia, she has lived across India, the United States and Canada. Her previous writing has appeared in publications such as the  Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology , the New Quarterly, Room and Arc. Rajagopalan now lives and works in Ontario.

Chrysalis Anuja Varghese

A book cover featuring an illustration of a moth on some leaves and a photo of the book's author, a South Asian woman with long black hair wearing a purple shirt.

Chrysalis  is a short story collection that centres South Asian women, showing how they reclaim their power in a world that constantly undermines them. Exploring sexuality, family and cultural norms, this collection deals with desire and  transformation. 

Chrysalis  won the  2023 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction  and the 2023 Dayne Ogilvie Prize .

  • Anuja Varghese looks at death, life & the shackles of identity in this original short story

Anuja Varghese is a Hamilton, Ont.-based writer and editor. Her stories have been recognized in the Prism International Short Fiction Contest and the Alice Munro Festival Short Story Competition and nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  Chrysalis  is her first book. 

narrative short story books

Avalanche  by Jessica Westhead

Avalanche by Jessica Westhead. An illustrated book cover featuring a giant woman standing in a lake with an avalanche behind her. A portrait of a white woman with light brown hair smiling into the camera.

The short stories in  Avalanche  all take a critical look at the ideas of whiteness, identity and relationships. The characters encounter — and perpetuate — everyday racism in many of its insidious forms and reckon with the implications of that.

  • Why Jessica Westhead wanted to explore the everyday fears of motherhood in her fiction

Jessica Westhead is the author of the novel  Pulpy & Midge  and the short story collection  And Also Sharks . Her novel  Worry   was   on the  Canada Reads  2020 longlist .  

narrative short story books

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Literacy Ideas

Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students

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MASTERING THE CRAFT OF NARRATIVE WRITING

Narratives build on and encourage the development of the fundamentals of writing. They also require developing an additional skill set: the ability to tell a good yarn, and storytelling is as old as humanity.

We see and hear stories everywhere and daily, from having good gossip on the doorstep with a neighbor in the morning to the dramas that fill our screens in the evening.

Good narrative writing skills are hard-won by students even though it is an area of writing that most enjoy due to the creativity and freedom it offers.

Here we will explore some of the main elements of a good story: plot, setting, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution . And we will look too at how best we can help our students understand these elements, both in isolation and how they mesh together as a whole.

Visual Writing

WHAT IS A NARRATIVE?

What is a narrative?

A narrative is a story that shares a sequence of events , characters, and themes. It expresses experiences, ideas, and perspectives that should aspire to engage and inspire an audience.

A narrative can spark emotion, encourage reflection, and convey meaning when done well.

Narratives are a popular genre for students and teachers as they allow the writer to share their imagination, creativity, skill, and understanding of nearly all elements of writing.  We occasionally refer to a narrative as ‘creative writing’ or story writing.

The purpose of a narrative is simple, to tell the audience a story.  It can be written to motivate, educate, or entertain and can be fact or fiction.

A COMPLETE UNIT ON TEACHING NARRATIVE WRITING

narrative writing | narrative writing unit 1 2 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

Teach your students to become skilled story writers with this HUGE   NARRATIVE & CREATIVE STORY WRITING UNIT . Offering a  COMPLETE SOLUTION  to teaching students how to craft  CREATIVE CHARACTERS, SUPERB SETTINGS, and PERFECT PLOTS .

Over 192 PAGES of materials, including:

TYPES OF NARRATIVE WRITING

There are many narrative writing genres and sub-genres such as these.

We have a complete guide to writing a personal narrative that differs from the traditional story-based narrative covered in this guide. It includes personal narrative writing prompts, resources, and examples and can be found here.

narrative writing | how to write quest narratives | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

As we can see, narratives are an open-ended form of writing that allows you to showcase creativity in many directions. However, all narratives share a common set of features and structure known as “Story Elements”, which are briefly covered in this guide.

Don’t overlook the importance of understanding story elements and the value this adds to you as a writer who can dissect and create grand narratives. We also have an in-depth guide to understanding story elements here .

CHARACTERISTICS OF NARRATIVE WRITING

Narrative structure.

ORIENTATION (BEGINNING) Set the scene by introducing your characters, setting and time of the story. Establish your who, when and where in this part of your narrative

COMPLICATION AND EVENTS (MIDDLE) In this section activities and events involving your main characters are expanded upon. These events are written in a cohesive and fluent sequence.

RESOLUTION (ENDING) Your complication is resolved in this section. It does not have to be a happy outcome, however.

EXTRAS: Whilst orientation, complication and resolution are the agreed norms for a narrative, there are numerous examples of popular texts that did not explicitly follow this path exactly.

NARRATIVE FEATURES

LANGUAGE: Use descriptive and figurative language to paint images inside your audience’s minds as they read.

PERSPECTIVE Narratives can be written from any perspective but are most commonly written in first or third person.

DIALOGUE Narratives frequently switch from narrator to first-person dialogue. Always use speech marks when writing dialogue.

TENSE If you change tense, make it perfectly clear to your audience what is happening. Flashbacks might work well in your mind but make sure they translate to your audience.

THE PLOT MAP

narrative writing | structuring a narrative | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

This graphic is known as a plot map, and nearly all narratives fit this structure in one way or another, whether romance novels, science fiction or otherwise.

It is a simple tool that helps you understand and organise a story’s events. Think of it as a roadmap that outlines the journey of your characters and the events that unfold. It outlines the different stops along the way, such as the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution, that help you to see how the story builds and develops.

Using a plot map, you can see how each event fits into the larger picture and how the different parts of the story work together to create meaning. It’s a great way to visualize and analyze a story.

Be sure to refer to a plot map when planning a story, as it has all the essential elements of a great story.

THE 5 KEY STORY ELEMENTS OF A GREAT NARRATIVE (6-MINUTE TUTORIAL VIDEO)

This video we created provides an excellent overview of these elements and demonstrates them in action in stories we all know and love.

Story Elements for kids

HOW TO WRITE A NARRATIVE

How to write a Narrative

Now that we understand the story elements and how they come together to form stories, it’s time to start planning and writing your narrative.

In many cases, the template and guide below will provide enough details on how to craft a great story. However, if you still need assistance with the fundamentals of writing, such as sentence structure, paragraphs and using correct grammar, we have some excellent guides on those here.

USE YOUR WRITING TIME EFFECTIVELY: Maximize your narrative writing sessions by spending approximately 20 per cent of your time planning and preparing.  This ensures greater productivity during your writing time and keeps you focused and on task.

Use tools such as graphic organizers to logically sequence your narrative if you are not a confident story writer.  If you are working with reluctant writers, try using narrative writing prompts to get their creative juices flowing.

Spend most of your writing hour on the task at hand, don’t get too side-tracked editing during this time and leave some time for editing. When editing a  narrative, examine it for these three elements.

  • Spelling and grammar ( Is it readable?)
  • Story structure and continuity ( Does it make sense, and does it flow? )
  • Character and plot analysis. (Are your characters engaging? Does your problem/resolution work? )

1. SETTING THE SCENE: THE WHERE AND THE WHEN

narrative writing | aa156ee009d91a57894348652da98b58 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

The story’s setting often answers two of the central questions in the story, namely, the where and the when. The answers to these two crucial questions will often be informed by the type of story the student is writing.

The story’s setting can be chosen to quickly orient the reader to the type of story they are reading. For example, a fictional narrative writing piece such as a horror story will often begin with a description of a haunted house on a hill or an abandoned asylum in the middle of the woods. If we start our story on a rocket ship hurtling through the cosmos on its space voyage to the Alpha Centauri star system, we can be reasonably sure that the story we are embarking on is a work of science fiction.

Such conventions are well-worn clichés true, but they can be helpful starting points for our novice novelists to make a start.

Having students choose an appropriate setting for the type of story they wish to write is an excellent exercise for our younger students. It leads naturally onto the next stage of story writing, which is creating suitable characters to populate this fictional world they have created. However, older or more advanced students may wish to play with the expectations of appropriate settings for their story. They may wish to do this for comic effect or in the interest of creating a more original story. For example, opening a story with a children’s birthday party does not usually set up the expectation of a horror story. Indeed, it may even lure the reader into a happy reverie as they remember their own happy birthday parties. This leaves them more vulnerable to the surprise element of the shocking action that lies ahead.

Once the students have chosen a setting for their story, they need to start writing. Little can be more terrifying to English students than the blank page and its bare whiteness stretching before them on the table like a merciless desert they must cross. Give them the kick-start they need by offering support through word banks or writing prompts. If the class is all writing a story based on the same theme, you may wish to compile a common word bank on the whiteboard as a prewriting activity. Write the central theme or genre in the middle of the board. Have students suggest words or phrases related to the theme and list them on the board.

You may wish to provide students with a copy of various writing prompts to get them started. While this may mean that many students’ stories will have the same beginning, they will most likely arrive at dramatically different endings via dramatically different routes.

narrative writing | story elements | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

A bargain is at the centre of the relationship between the writer and the reader. That bargain is that the reader promises to suspend their disbelief as long as the writer creates a consistent and convincing fictional reality. Creating a believable world for the fictional characters to inhabit requires the student to draw on convincing details. The best way of doing this is through writing that appeals to the senses. Have your student reflect deeply on the world that they are creating. What does it look like? Sound like? What does the food taste like there? How does it feel like to walk those imaginary streets, and what aromas beguile the nose as the main character winds their way through that conjured market?

Also, Consider the when; or the time period. Is it a future world where things are cleaner and more antiseptic? Or is it an overcrowded 16th-century London with human waste stinking up the streets? If students can create a multi-sensory installation in the reader’s mind, then they have done this part of their job well.

Popular Settings from Children’s Literature and Storytelling

  • Fairytale Kingdom
  • Magical Forest
  • Village/town
  • Underwater world
  • Space/Alien planet

2. CASTING THE CHARACTERS: THE WHO

Now that your student has created a believable world, it is time to populate it with believable characters.

In short stories, these worlds mustn’t be overpopulated beyond what the student’s skill level can manage. Short stories usually only require one main character and a few secondary ones. Think of the short story more as a small-scale dramatic production in an intimate local theater than a Hollywood blockbuster on a grand scale. Too many characters will only confuse and become unwieldy with a canvas this size. Keep it simple!

Creating believable characters is often one of the most challenging aspects of narrative writing for students. Fortunately, we can do a few things to help students here. Sometimes it is helpful for students to model their characters on actual people they know. This can make things a little less daunting and taxing on the imagination. However, whether or not this is the case, writing brief background bios or descriptions of characters’ physical personality characteristics can be a beneficial prewriting activity. Students should give some in-depth consideration to the details of who their character is: How do they walk? What do they look like? Do they have any distinguishing features? A crooked nose? A limp? Bad breath? Small details such as these bring life and, therefore, believability to characters. Students can even cut pictures from magazines to put a face to their character and allow their imaginations to fill in the rest of the details.

Younger students will often dictate to the reader the nature of their characters. To improve their writing craft, students must know when to switch from story-telling mode to story-showing mode. This is particularly true when it comes to character. Encourage students to reveal their character’s personality through what they do rather than merely by lecturing the reader on the faults and virtues of the character’s personality. It might be a small relayed detail in the way they walk that reveals a core characteristic. For example, a character who walks with their head hanging low and shoulders hunched while avoiding eye contact has been revealed to be timid without the word once being mentioned. This is a much more artistic and well-crafted way of doing things and is less irritating for the reader. A character who sits down at the family dinner table immediately snatches up his fork and starts stuffing roast potatoes into his mouth before anyone else has even managed to sit down has revealed a tendency towards greed or gluttony.

Understanding Character Traits

Again, there is room here for some fun and profitable prewriting activities. Give students a list of character traits and have them describe a character doing something that reveals that trait without ever employing the word itself.

It is also essential to avoid adjective stuffing here. When looking at students’ early drafts, adjective stuffing is often apparent. To train the student out of this habit, choose an adjective and have the student rewrite the sentence to express this adjective through action rather than telling.

When writing a story, it is vital to consider the character’s traits and how they will impact the story’s events. For example, a character with a strong trait of determination may be more likely to overcome obstacles and persevere. In contrast, a character with a tendency towards laziness may struggle to achieve their goals. In short, character traits add realism, depth, and meaning to a story, making it more engaging and memorable for the reader.

Popular Character Traits in Children’s Stories

  • Determination
  • Imagination
  • Perseverance
  • Responsibility

We have an in-depth guide to creating great characters here , but most students should be fine to move on to planning their conflict and resolution.

3. NO PROBLEM? NO STORY! HOW CONFLICT DRIVES A NARRATIVE

narrative writing | 2 RoadBlock | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

This is often the area apprentice writers have the most difficulty with. Students must understand that without a problem or conflict, there is no story. The problem is the driving force of the action. Usually, in a short story, the problem will center around what the primary character wants to happen or, indeed, wants not to happen. It is the hurdle that must be overcome. It is in the struggle to overcome this hurdle that events happen.

Often when a student understands the need for a problem in a story, their completed work will still not be successful. This is because, often in life, problems remain unsolved. Hurdles are not always successfully overcome. Students pick up on this.

We often discuss problems with friends that will never be satisfactorily resolved one way or the other, and we accept this as a part of life. This is not usually the case with writing a story. Whether a character successfully overcomes his or her problem or is decidedly crushed in the process of trying is not as important as the fact that it will finally be resolved one way or the other.

A good practical exercise for students to get to grips with this is to provide copies of stories and have them identify the central problem or conflict in each through discussion. Familiar fables or fairy tales such as Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Cinderella, etc., are great for this.

While it is true that stories often have more than one problem or that the hero or heroine is unsuccessful in their first attempt to solve a central problem, for beginning students and intermediate students, it is best to focus on a single problem, especially given the scope of story writing at this level. Over time students will develop their abilities to handle more complex plots and write accordingly.

Popular Conflicts found in Children’s Storytelling.

  • Good vs evil
  • Individual vs society
  • Nature vs nurture
  • Self vs others
  • Man vs self
  • Man vs nature
  • Man vs technology
  • Individual vs fate
  • Self vs destiny

Conflict is the heart and soul of any good story. It’s what makes a story compelling and drives the plot forward. Without conflict, there is no story. Every great story has a struggle or a problem that needs to be solved, and that’s where conflict comes in. Conflict is what makes a story exciting and keeps the reader engaged. It creates tension and suspense and makes the reader care about the outcome.

Like in real life, conflict in a story is an opportunity for a character’s growth and transformation. It’s a chance for them to learn and evolve, making a story great. So next time stories are written in the classroom, remember that conflict is an essential ingredient, and without it, your story will lack the energy, excitement, and meaning that makes it truly memorable.

4. THE NARRATIVE CLIMAX: HOW THINGS COME TO A HEAD!

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The climax of the story is the dramatic high point of the action. It is also when the struggles kicked off by the problem come to a head. The climax will ultimately decide whether the story will have a happy or tragic ending. In the climax, two opposing forces duke things out until the bitter (or sweet!) end. One force ultimately emerges triumphant. As the action builds throughout the story, suspense increases as the reader wonders which of these forces will win out. The climax is the release of this suspense.

Much of the success of the climax depends on how well the other elements of the story have been achieved. If the student has created a well-drawn and believable character that the reader can identify with and feel for, then the climax will be more powerful.

The nature of the problem is also essential as it determines what’s at stake in the climax. The problem must matter dearly to the main character if it matters at all to the reader.

Have students engage in discussions about their favorite movies and books. Have them think about the storyline and decide the most exciting parts. What was at stake at these moments? What happened in your body as you read or watched? Did you breathe faster? Or grip the cushion hard? Did your heart rate increase, or did you start to sweat? This is what a good climax does and what our students should strive to do in their stories.

The climax puts it all on the line and rolls the dice. Let the chips fall where the writer may…

Popular Climax themes in Children’s Stories

  • A battle between good and evil
  • The character’s bravery saves the day
  • Character faces their fears and overcomes them
  • The character solves a mystery or puzzle.
  • The character stands up for what is right.
  • Character reaches their goal or dream.
  • The character learns a valuable lesson.
  • The character makes a selfless sacrifice.
  • The character makes a difficult decision.
  • The character reunites with loved ones or finds true friendship.

5. RESOLUTION: TYING UP LOOSE ENDS

After the climactic action, a few questions will often remain unresolved for the reader, even if all the conflict has been resolved. The resolution is where those lingering questions will be answered. The resolution in a short story may only be a brief paragraph or two. But, in most cases, it will still be necessary to include an ending immediately after the climax can feel too abrupt and leave the reader feeling unfulfilled.

An easy way to explain resolution to students struggling to grasp the concept is to point to the traditional resolution of fairy tales, the “And they all lived happily ever after” ending. This weather forecast for the future allows the reader to take their leave. Have the student consider the emotions they want to leave the reader with when crafting their resolution.

While the action is usually complete by the end of the climax, it is in the resolution that if there is a twist to be found, it will appear – think of movies such as The Usual Suspects. Pulling this off convincingly usually requires considerable skill from a student writer. Still, it may well form a challenging extension exercise for those more gifted storytellers among your students.

Popular Resolutions in Children’s Stories

  • Our hero achieves their goal
  • The character learns a valuable lesson
  • A character finds happiness or inner peace.
  • The character reunites with loved ones.
  • Character restores balance to the world.
  • The character discovers their true identity.
  • Character changes for the better.
  • The character gains wisdom or understanding.
  • Character makes amends with others.
  • The character learns to appreciate what they have.

Once students have completed their story, they can edit for grammar, vocabulary choice, spelling, etc., but not before!

As mentioned, there is a craft to storytelling, as well as an art. When accurate grammar, perfect spelling, and immaculate sentence structures are pushed at the outset, they can cause storytelling paralysis. For this reason, it is essential that when we encourage the students to write a story, we give them license to make mechanical mistakes in their use of language that they can work on and fix later.

Good narrative writing is a very complex skill to develop and will take the student years to become competent. It challenges not only the student’s technical abilities with language but also her creative faculties. Writing frames, word banks, mind maps, and visual prompts can all give valuable support as students develop the wide-ranging and challenging skills required to produce a successful narrative writing piece. But, at the end of it all, as with any craft, practice and more practice is at the heart of the matter.

TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT NARRATIVE

  • Start your story with a clear purpose: If you can determine the theme or message you want to convey in your narrative before starting it will make the writing process so much simpler.
  • Choose a compelling storyline and sell it through great characters, setting and plot: Consider a unique or interesting story that captures the reader’s attention, then build the world and characters around it.
  • Develop vivid characters that are not all the same: Make your characters relatable and memorable by giving them distinct personalities and traits you can draw upon in the plot.
  • Use descriptive language to hook your audience into your story: Use sensory language to paint vivid images and sequences in the reader’s mind.
  • Show, don’t tell your audience: Use actions, thoughts, and dialogue to reveal character motivations and emotions through storytelling.
  • Create a vivid setting that is clear to your audience before getting too far into the plot: Describe the time and place of your story to immerse the reader fully.
  • Build tension: Refer to the story map earlier in this article and use conflict, obstacles, and suspense to keep the audience engaged and invested in your narrative.
  • Use figurative language such as metaphors, similes, and other literary devices to add depth and meaning to your narrative.
  • Edit, revise, and refine: Take the time to refine and polish your writing for clarity and impact.
  • Stay true to your voice: Maintain your unique perspective and style in your writing to make it your own.

NARRATIVE WRITING EXAMPLES (Student Writing Samples)

Below are a collection of student writing samples of narratives.  Click on the image to enlarge and explore them in greater detail.  Please take a moment to read these creative stories in detail and the teacher and student guides which highlight some of the critical elements of narratives to consider before writing.

Please understand these student writing samples are not intended to be perfect examples for each age or grade level but a piece of writing for students and teachers to explore together to critically analyze to improve student writing skills and deepen their understanding of story writing.

We recommend reading the example either a year above or below, as well as the grade you are currently working with, to gain a broader appreciation of this text type.

narrative writing | Narrative writing example year 3 1 | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

NARRATIVE WRITING PROMPTS (Journal Prompts)

When students have a great journal prompt, it can help them focus on the task at hand, so be sure to view our vast collection of visual writing prompts for various text types here or use some of these.

  • On a recent European trip, you find your travel group booked into the stunning and mysterious Castle Frankenfurter for a single night…  As night falls, the massive castle of over one hundred rooms seems to creak and groan as a series of unexplained events begin to make you wonder who or what else is spending the evening with you. Write a narrative that tells the story of your evening.
  • You are a famous adventurer who has discovered new lands; keep a travel log over a period of time in which you encounter new and exciting adventures and challenges to overcome.  Ensure your travel journal tells a story and has a definite introduction, conflict and resolution.
  • You create an incredible piece of technology that has the capacity to change the world.  As you sit back and marvel at your innovation and the endless possibilities ahead of you, it becomes apparent there are a few problems you didn’t really consider. You might not even be able to control them.  Write a narrative in which you ride the highs and lows of your world-changing creation with a clear introduction, conflict and resolution.
  • As the final door shuts on the Megamall, you realise you have done it…  You and your best friend have managed to sneak into the largest shopping centre in town and have the entire place to yourselves until 7 am tomorrow.  There is literally everything and anything a child would dream of entertaining themselves for the next 12 hours.  What amazing adventures await you?  What might go wrong?  And how will you get out of there scot-free?
  • A stranger walks into town…  Whilst appearing similar to almost all those around you, you get a sense that this person is from another time, space or dimension… Are they friends or foes?  What makes you sense something very strange is going on?   Suddenly they stand up and walk toward you with purpose extending their hand… It’s almost as if they were reading your mind.

NARRATIVE WRITING VIDEO TUTORIAL

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Teaching Resources

Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.

When teaching narrative writing, it is essential that you have a range of tools, strategies and resources at your disposal to ensure you get the most out of your writing time.  You can find some examples below, which are free and paid premium resources you can use instantly without any preparation.

FREE Narrative Graphic Organizer

narrative writing | NarrativeGraphicOrganizer | Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students | literacyideas.com

THE STORY TELLERS BUNDLE OF TEACHING RESOURCES

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A MASSIVE COLLECTION of resources for narratives and story writing in the classroom covering all elements of crafting amazing stories. MONTHS WORTH OF WRITING LESSONS AND RESOURCES, including:

NARRATIVE WRITING CHECKLIST BUNDLE

writing checklists

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (92 Reviews)

OTHER GREAT ARTICLES ABOUT NARRATIVE WRITING

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Narrative Writing for Kids: Essential Skills and Strategies

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7 Great Narrative Lesson Plans Students and Teachers Love

narrative writing | Top narrative writing skills for students | Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students | literacyideas.com

Top 7 Narrative Writing Exercises for Students

narrative writing | how to write a scary horror story | How to Write a Scary Story | literacyideas.com

How to Write a Scary Story

narrative short story books

50 Great Narrative Nonfiction Books

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Kim Ukura is a book lover, recovering journalist, library advocate, cat mom, and lover of a good gin cocktail. In addition to co-hosting Book Riot’s nonfiction podcast, For Real, and co-editing Book Riot’s nonfiction newsletter, True Story, Kim spends her days working in communications at a county library system in the Twin Cities area. Kim has a BA in English and journalism from a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, and a master’s in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. When not getting to bed before 10 p.m., Kim loves to read nonfiction, do needlework projects, drink tea, and watch the Great British Baking Show. Instagram: @kimthedork Twitter: @kimthedork

View All posts by Kim Ukura

This list is a collection of 50 great narrative nonfiction books, although it easily could have been much longer. A few caveats: I tried not to include straight autobiographies or memoirs because I wanted to keep this list focused on books that highlight strong research/reporting along with narrative voice. I also included just one book from any given author. If you’ve already read the book I’ve listed, most of these writers have an extensive backlist to explore. And, of course, this list of narrative nonfiction isn’t nearly comprehensive—that’d be basically impossible.

Book cover of The Emperor of All Maladies

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee—An in-depth biography of cancer.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande—Medicine, life, and choices about how we die.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot—History of the most prolific cells in science.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly—African American female mathematicians and the race to space.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach—The strange science used to get astronauts ready for space.

Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean—“Notes from the last days of American spaceflight”

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee—Four books collected into one giant work on the geological history of North America.

The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson—“How fishermen and scientists are unraveling the mysteries of our favorite crustacean.”

Global Issues

Book cover of Night Draws Near

Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid—A portrait of Iraqi citizens “weathering the unexpected impact of America’s invasion and occupation.”

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo—Life in a Mumbai slum.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder—One doctor’s work bringing medical care to those most in need.

Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim—A reporter goes inside a school for the sons of North Korea’s elite.

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick—North Korean defectors tell what it’s like inside the country.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi—Reading American classics in revolutionary Iran.

The Secretary by Kim Ghattas—An inside account of Hillary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State by a traveling journalist.

The Lonely War by Nazila Fathi—An Iranian journalist’s account of the struggle for reform in modern Iran.

Book cover of The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson—The great migration of African Americans to northern cities and the impact it has today.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand—World War II tale of survival after being shot down over the Pacific Ocean.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown—Olympic rowing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (this book is amazing!).

Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott—Stories from America’s favorite Victorian-era brothel and the culture war it inspired.

Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman—Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland race around the world in 1889.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson—America’s ambassador to Germany, and his headstrong daughter, in the lead-up to World War II.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann—A conspiracy against the Osage tribe and the birth of the FBI.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell—The Puritans and their strange journey to found America

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel—A look at the relationship between Galileo and his oldest daughter, a nun named Maria Celeste.

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport—A look at the fall of the Romanov family, focusing specifically on the lives of Nicholas and Alexandra’s four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia.

City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker—An account of Paris’s first police chief and a poisonous murder epidemic in the late 1600s.

Narrative Nonfiction Classics

Book cover of In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote—The original true crime nonfiction novel.

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean—Obsession and rare flowers in the Florida Everglades.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer—The story of a harrowing, deadly climb on Mount Everest.

Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc—“Love, drugs, trouble, and coming of age in the Bronx.”

Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger—The big business of high school football in Texas.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion—Essays on a feminist journalist’s experiences in California in the 1960s.

Newjack by Ted Conover—A journalist goes undercover as a prison officer in Sing Sing to better understand the penal system.

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi—Historical true crime on Italy’s Jack the Ripper, who killed between 1968 and 1985.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis—A sports biography on one man’s journey to the NFL and the evolution of the game.

Social Issues

Book cover of Does Jesus Really Love Me?

Does Jesus Really Love Me?  by Jeffrey Chu—A gay Christian looks for God in America.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman—Cultural barriers in life and medicine (so good!).

Evicted by Matthew Desmond—Poverty, profits, and the eviction crisis in America.

Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh—A sociologist spends a decade in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes to better understand the lives of the urban poor.

Homicide by David Simon—A look at one year spent with homicide detectives in Baltimore.

Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge—A journalist puts a human face on gun violence by writing about the 10 teenagers killed by guns on a single day in America.

Methland by Nick Reding—A look at the impact of meth on small towns, based on four years of reporting in an agricultural town in Iowa.

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts—The first and perhaps most comprehensive look at the AIDS crisis.

Contemporary Reporting

Book cover of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett—“The true story of a thief, a detective, and a world of literary obsession.”

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer—A group of librarians banded together to pull of a literary heist to save precious Arabic texts from Al Qaeda.

Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn—“The true story of 28,800 bath toys lost at sea and of the beachcombers, oceanographers, environmentalists and fools, including the author, who went in search of them.”

Columbine by Dave Cullen—The definitive account of the Columbine shooting.

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink—Life and death and medical malpractice at a hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger—Learning about loyalty and belonging from tribal societies.

If you enjoyed this list and want more narrative nonfiction content, check out our True Story newsletter. Sign up here!

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51 Irresistible Short Stories for Kids (Read Them All for Free!)

Quick reads with lasting impact.

"Rainbow Bird" by Eric Maddern.

Looking for some free tales to use for close reading or classroom read-alouds? This roundup of short stories for kids has plenty of options. From quick fables with morals to old-fashioned fairy tales and folktales from around the world, this diverse collection offers something for any child. We’ve also included ways to use these short stories with kids, in the classroom or at home.

Note: Always be sure to read a selection through before sharing it with children. Some of these short stories for kids, especially ones written a long time ago, may not be appropriate for every audience.

Classic Fairy Tale Short Stories for Kids

“ cinderella ” by charles perrault, “‘do not cry, cinderella,’ she said; ‘you also shall go to the ball, because you are a kind, good girl.'”.

Why I love it: This is one of those short stories for kids that everyone probably already knows. This older version is a little different than the Disney movie, so ask kids if they can identify the changes. They can also have fun imagining what other items could be transformed to help Cinderella get to the ball!

“ Thumbelina ” by Hans Christian Andersen

“there once was a woman who wanted so very much to have a tiny little child, but she did not know where to find one. so she went to an old witch, and she said: ‘i have set my heart upon having a tiny little child. please could you tell me where i can find one’”.

Why I love it: If there’s one thing this world can use more of, we think it is definitely kindness. We love that the story of Thumbelina spreads the message that kindness pays off in big ways. Thumbelina helps the swallow and in turn finds her true love.

“ The Emperor’s New Clothes ” by Hans Christian Andersen

"The Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen as an example of short stories for kids.

“‘But the Emperor has nothing at all on!’ said a little child.”

Why I love it: This is a wonderful story for talking about peer pressure and being brave enough to stand up for what you believe in. Kids will also enjoy drawing the imaginary suit of clothes that the king thought he saw.

“ The Little Mermaid ” by Hans Christian Andersen

“’it was you,’ said the prince, ‘who saved my life when i lay dead on the beach,’ and he folded his blushing bride in his arms. ‘oh, i am too happy,’ said he to the little mermaid; ‘my fondest hopes are all fulfilled. you will rejoice at my happiness; for your devotion to me is great and sincere.'”.

Why I love it: The story of the Little Mermaid focuses on sacrificial love. In it, the Sea King puts the needs of his daughter over that of himself. Open a dialogue with kids about a time when they put someone else’s needs over their own.

“ Rapunzel” by Jacob Grimm

“there once lived a man and his wife, who had long wished for a child, but in vain. now there was at the back of their house a little window which overlooked a beautiful garden full of the finest vegetables and flowers; but there was a high wall all round it, and no one ventured into it, for it belonged to a witch of great might, and of whom all the world was afraid.”.

Why I love it: This story explores themes of autonomy, love, jealousy, and freedom. Children need to be set free to explore their own lives.

“ The Frog Prince ” by the Brothers Grimm

“and the princess, though very unwilling, took him up in her hand, and put him upon the pillow of her own bed, where he slept all night long. as soon as it was light, he jumped up, hopped downstairs, and went out of the house. ‘now, then,’ thought the princess, ‘at last he is gone, and i shall be troubled with him no more.'”.

Why I love it: Kids love this familiar story about a prince in disguise and a young girl who keeps her word even though she doesn’t want to. In this version, the girl doesn’t need to kiss the frog, but she’s rewarded anyway.

“ The Gingerbread Man ” by Anonymous

“run, run as fast as you can you can’t catch me, i’m the gingerbread man”.

Why I love it: In the original tale, the Gingerbread Man is eventually caught and eaten. This retelling gives him a happy ending instead. For a fun activity, let kids decorate and eat their own gingerbread people.

“ The Velveteen Rabbit ” by Margery Williams

“‘real isn’t how you are made,’ said the skin horse. ‘it’s a thing that happens to you. when a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real.'”.

Why I love it: This is one of the most classic short stories for kids of all time! Let kids bring their own favorite toys to share with the class, and have them write or tell stories about what would happen if they became “real.”

“ The Elves and the Shoemaker ” by Jacob Grimm

“a shoemaker, by no fault of his own, had become so poor that at last he had nothing left but leather for one pair of shoes. so in the evening, he cut out the shoes which he wished to begin to make the next morning, and as he had a good conscience, he lay down quietly in his bed, commended himself to god, and fell asleep.”.

Why I love it: Short stories for kids that are packed with life lessons are tops in our book. Amongst the lessons found in this tale are to work hard and to be grateful for the help you receive. It was through his hard work that the shoemaker achieved riches and success.

“ The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats ” by the Brothers Grimm

“there was once an old goat who had seven little ones, and was as fond of them as ever mother was of her children.”.

Why I love it: Some of the best short stories for kids serve as cautionary tales. In this story, the young goats fail to heed their mother’s warning and succumb to the wolf’s attempts at deceit.

“ The Snow Queen ” by Hans Christian Andersen

“now then, let us begin. when we are at the end of the story, we shall know more than we know now: but to begin.”.

Why I love it: This story is the classic struggle between good and evil. It also focuses on the values of friendship and perseverance.

“ Jack and the Beanstalk ” by Anonymous

“why, the beans his mother had thrown out of the window into the garden had sprung up into a giant beanstalk which went up and up and up until it reached the sky. so the man spoke truth after all”.

Why I love it: This story is a fun read, but use it to get your students thinking critically. Was it really OK for Jack to steal from the giant? Ask them to write an essay sharing their thoughts on the subject, or use it for a fun classroom debate.

“ Little Red Riding Hood ” by the Brothers Grimm

“‘but grandmother what big eyes you have,’ said little red riding hood. ‘the better to see you with, my dear,’ replied the wolf.”.

Why I love it: This retelling of the well-known tale is a little less gruesome, since the hunter merely frightens the wolf into spitting out poor granny (instead of slicing open his belly). Talk with kids about ways they can keep themselves safe when they’re out in the world.

“ The Pied Piper of Hamelin ” by the Brothers Grimm

“he sounded his fife in the streets, but this time it wasn’t rats and mice that came to him, but rather children: a great number of boys and girls from their fourth year on. among them was the mayor’s grown daughter. the swarm followed him, and he led them into a mountain, where he disappeared with them.”.

Why I love it: Some say this is a true story, and whether or not that’s true, it definitely has a moral—when people make a bargain, they should stick to their agreement. Ask kids to think about what kind of music the Pied Piper might have played, and why both children and rats couldn’t resist it.

“ The Princess and the Pea ” by Hans Christian Andersen

“i cannot think what could have been in the bed. i lay upon something so hard that i am quite black and blue all over.”.

Why I love it: This has long been one of the most beloved short stories for kids, and it’s ideal when you need a quick read. Then, grab some dried peas and see how thick a covering needs to be before students can no longer feel them.

“ Puss in Boots ” by Charles Perrault

“puss became a great lord, and never ran after mice anymore, except for pleasure.”.

Why I love it: All cat lovers know these animals can be pretty smart when they want to be. This one helps his poor master become a prince in a castle, all through his own clever tricks. Encourage students to come up with more creative ways Puss in Boots could help his master.

“ Rumpelstiltskin ” by the Brothers Grimm

narrative short story books

“‘I will give you three days,’ said he, ‘if by that time you find out my name, then shall you keep your child.'”

Why I love it: Pretty much everyone in this story behaves badly in one way or another. Use it to learn more about characters and their motivation.

“ Sleeping Beauty ” by the Brothers Grimm

“a great many changes take place in a hundred years.”.

Why I love it: After students read this well-known story, ask them to think about what it would be like to go to sleep today and wake up in a hundred years. What might the world be like? Or what would it be like for someone who fell asleep a hundred years ago to wake up today? How many things have changed since then?

“ Snow White ” by the Brothers Grimm

“mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all”.

Why I love it: This fairy tale has all the classic elements—beautiful heroine, wicked stepmother, handsome prince—plus a handful of helpful dwarves. It’s the perfect way to start a conversation about the dangers of envy and jealousy.

“ The Three Little Pigs ” by Anonymous

“not by the hairs on our chinny chin chin”.

Why I love it: Fairy tales don’t get much more classic than this. Follow it up with a reading of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Sciesczka to hear the story from the wolf’s perspective, and have a conversation about point of view.

“ The Ugly Duckling ” by Hans Christian Andersen

“but what did he see there, mirrored in the clear stream he beheld his own image, and it was no longer the reflection of a clumsy, dirty, gray bird, ugly and offensive. he himself was a swan being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg.”.

Why I love it: Whether you read the original text or a shorter adaptation, this story is one every kid should know. It will teach them that everyone should be proud of who they are, even if they don’t look or feel like everyone else.

Aesop’s Fables as Short Stories for Kids

“ the ants and the grasshopper ” by aesop, “one bright day in late autumn a family of ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.”.

Why I love it: It can be hard to teach kids that there are things in life they need to do regardless of whether they are fun or not. This fable will help little ones understand the value of putting in hard work to set ourselves up for future successes.

“ The Boy Who Cried Wolf ” by Aesop

“so now, though he had not seen anything that even looked like a wolf, he ran toward the village shouting at the top of his voice, ‘wolf wolf'”.

Why I love it: This might be the most famous short story we use to teach kids about how important it is to tell the truth. Ask students if they’ve ever pulled a prank that went wrong, and what they learned from it.

“ The Crow and the Pitcher ” by Aesop

narrative short story books

“But the pitcher was high and had a narrow neck, and no matter how he tried, the Crow could not reach the water.”

Why I love it: Aesop’s fable reads more like a STEM challenge—how can you reach the water at the bottom of the pitcher when your neck isn’t long enough? Try the same experiment with your students, using a narrow-necked bottle. Can they come up with any other solutions?

“ The Fox and the Grapes ” by Aesop

“the grapes seemed ready to burst with juice, and the fox’s mouth watered as he gazed longingly at them.”.

Why I love it: If kids have ever wondered where the phrase “sour grapes” comes from, this tale will answer that question. Talk about other idiomatic phrases, and do some research to find their origins.

“ The Lion and the Mouse ” by Aesop

“‘you laughed when i said i would repay you,’ said the mouse. ‘now you see that even a mouse can help a lion.'”.

Why I love it: This fable reminds kids that they’re never too small to make a difference in someone’s life. Ask kids to share their own stories of times they helped someone.

“ The Tortoise and the Hare ” by Aesop

“the hare was soon far out of sight, and to make the tortoise feel very deeply how ridiculous it was for him to try a race with a hare, he lay down beside the course to take a nap until the tortoise should catch up.”.

Why I love it: When kids need a reminder that they should always keep trying, turn to this famous story. Use it to teach growth mindset too.

“ Two Travelers and a Bear ” by Aesop

narrative short story books

“Two men were traveling in company through a forest, when, all at once, a huge bear crashed out of the brush near them.”

Why I love it: When danger strikes, do you worry about yourself first or try to help everyone to safety? There are arguments to be made on both sides, so this one makes for an interesting debate or persuasive essay.

More Short Stories for Kids

“ anansi and the pot of wisdom ” by anonymous, “every time anansi looked in the clay pot, he learned something new.”.

Why I love it: Kids may know about Anansi from the popular book Anansi the Spider , but there are lots of tales about him in West African folklore. In this one, Anansi thinks he knows everything, but a child has something new to teach him. Explore more Anansi tales here.

“ The Apple Dumpling ” by Anonymous

narrative short story books

“A bag of feathers for a basket of plums. A bunch of flowers for a bag of feathers. A golden chain for a bunch of flowers. And a dog for a golden chain. All the world is give and take, and who knows if I may have my apple dumpling yet.”

Why I love it: When an old woman sets out to trade her basket of plums for some apples, her quest takes a few twists and turns along the way. In the end, though, she manages to make many people happy, not just herself. Practice sequencing by having kids try to remember all the trades the woman makes, and the order she makes them in.

“ The Blind Men and the Elephant ” by Anonymous

“sixth blind man (feeling the tail): this elephant is not like a wall, or a spear, or a snake, or a tree, or a fan. he is exactly like a rope.”.

Why I love it: Six blind men each feel a different part of an elephant, and each comes to his own very different conclusions. Written as a very short play, this classic tale opens up all sorts of discussion opportunities about seeing the bigger picture.

“ Bruce and the Spider ” by James Baldwin

“but the spider did not lose hope with the sixth failure. with still more care, she made ready to try for the seventh time. bruce almost forgot his own troubles as he watched her swing herself out upon the slender line. would she fail again no the thread was carried safely to the beam, and fastened there.”.

Why I love it: This famous little tale is almost certainly a myth, but it’s one of the most well-known stories about King Robert the Bruce. The lesson about not giving up fits perfectly when you’re talking about growth mindset.

“ The Elephant’s Child ” by Rudyard Kipling

“but there was one elephant—a new elephant—an elephant’s child—who was full of ’satiable curiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions.”.

Why I love it: Many kids will recognize themselves in the Elephant’s Child and his (in)satiable curiosity. After you read this one, have students come up with stories for the way other animals got their unique features. How did the giraffe get its long neck? How did the turtle get its shell? So many possibilities!

“ Paul Bunyan ” by William B. Laughead

“when paul was a boy, he was fast as lightning. he could blow out a candle at night and hop into bed before it was dark.”.

Why I love it: Paul Bunyan is an American folk hero, larger than life (literally!). This roundup of the legends surrounding him has many of the most famous tales. Encourage kids to think about what they’d do if they were as big, strong, and fast as Paul.

“ The Little Engine That Could ” by Watty Piper

narrative short story books

“I think I can. I think I can.”

Why I love it: When little ones learn early on to believe in themselves, they’ll be willing to try their best at anything. Have kids tell their own stories of times they did something that seemed impossible at first when they kept on trying.

“ The Four Dragons ” by Anonymous

“the four dragons flew back and forth, making the sky dark all around. before long the sea water became rain pouring down from the sky.”.

Why I love it: The four dragons in this Chinese tale want to help save the people from drought. When the Jade Emperor won’t help, they take matters into their own hands. Ultimately, they become the four major rivers of China. This is a great opportunity to get out the globe or pull up Google Earth and learn more about China’s geography.

“ Henny Penny ” by Anonymous

“so henny-penny, cocky-locky, ducky-daddles, goosey-poosey and turkey-lurkey all went to tell the king the sky was a-falling.”.

Why I love it: In an age when people are quick to spread rumors as fact, this old European folktale is more meaningful than ever. See if kids can think of times when they heard a crazy rumor that they believed at first, even though it turned out to be completely false.

“ How Gimme the Ax Found Out About the Zigzag Railroad ” by Carl Sandburg

narrative short story books

“Then the zizzies came. The zizzy is a bug. He runs zigzag on zigzag legs, eats zigzag with zigzag teeth, and spits zigzag with a zigzag tongue.”

Why I love it: Kids will get a kick out of all the Z sounds in this silly little story about why some local railroad tracks run in zigzags. Use it to teach about alliteration and consonance, and ask kids to draw their own pictures of the zizzies.

“ King Midas and the Golden Touch ” by Anonymous

“suddenly, he started to sense fear. tears filled his eyes and that moment, his beloved daughter entered the room. when midas hugged her, she turned into a golden statue”.

Why I love it: Teach kids to be careful what they wish for. Ask them to make a list of wishes, then talk about ways each of them could ultimately go wrong. Have them write their own version of this short story.

“ The Kite That Went to the Moon ” by Evelyn Sharp

“‘i have everything in the world in my bag,’ replied the little old man, ‘for everything is there that everybody wants. i have laughter and tears and happiness and sadness; i can give you riches or poverty, sense or nonsense; here is a way to discover the things that you don’t know, and a way to forget the things that you do know.'”.

Why I love this: This whimsical tale takes two small children on a voyage to the moon and back, as they follow an enchanted kite. Pair it with a crafting session where kids make their own kites to fly.

“ The Monkey and the Turtle ” by José Rizal

“a monkey and a turtle found a banana tree on a river. they fished it out and because each wanted the tree for himself, they cut it in half.”.

Why I love it: A monkey and a turtle each plant half a banana tree, but only the turtle’s grows. The monkey offers to harvest the fruit but keeps it all for himself. But the turtle has plans of his own! This folktale from the Philippines is actually an allegory about the Spanish colonizers’ treatment of the Filipino people.

“ The Tale of Peter Rabbit ” by Beatrix Potter

“‘now, my dears,’ said old mrs. rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into mr. mcgregor’s garden: your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by mrs. mcgregor.'”.

Why I love it: Beatrix Potter’s sweet tales are beloved, but this is the one that has really endured. Pair it with one of these terrific Peter Rabbit activities.

“ Rikki-Tikki-Tavi ” by Rudyard Kipling

“rikki-tikki did not care to follow them, for he did not feel sure that he could manage two snakes at once. so he trotted off to the gravel path near the house, and sat down to think. it was a serious matter for him.”.

Why I love it: Reading this story is like watching a nature documentary unfold on the page. Have kids do some research on the mongoose and its relationship with cobras in real life.

“ The Story of the Chinese Zodiac ” by Anonymous

“he reached out his paws and pushed his friend the cat into the river. the cat was swept away by the whirling waters. that is why there is no cat in the chinese calendar.”.

Why I love it: This short little tale manages to answer two questions—why there’s no Year of the Cat and why cats and rats can’t be friends. After reading it, try to imagine how the other animals in the calendar managed to win their spots.

“ Weighing the Elephant ” by Anonymous

“‘very well,’ said the emperor with a smile. ‘tell me how to weigh the elephant.'”.

Why I love it: Read this traditional Chinese tale right up to the point where the young boy reveals his idea for weighing an elephant without a giant scale. Ask kids if they can come up with the solution before continuing to the end of the story. You can even try out the correct method as a STEM challenge.

“ Winnie-the-Pooh Goes Visiting ” by A.A. Milne

“pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see rabbit getting out the plates and mugs; and when rabbit said, ‘honey or condensed milk with your bread’ he was so excited that he said, ‘both,’ and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, ‘but don’t bother about the bread, please.'”.

Why I love it: This silly old bear has been delighting children for decades, and there are dozens of short stories for kids about him and his friends. This one has a little built-in moral about greed. You can also ask kids to brainstorm their own ways to get Pooh free from Rabbit’s front door.

“ Town Musicians of Bremen ” by Jacob Grimm

“a certain man had a donkey, which had carried the corn-sacks to the mill indefatigably for many a long year; but his strength was going, and he was growing more and more unfit for work.”.

Why I love it: This relatively unknown work by Jacob Grimm teaches kids the value of resilience and getting up when knocked down.

“ The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County ” by Mark Twain

“in compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the east, i called on good-natured, garrulous old simon wheeler, and inquired after my friend’s friend, leonidas w. smiley, as requested to do, and i hereunto append the result.”.

Why I love it: Twain uses an allegory of two frogs to highlight the struggle between the elite and the common. We love short stories for kids that encourage them to be true to oneself and this one does just that!

“ The Reluctant Dragon ” by Kenneth Grahame

“long ago—might have been hundreds of years ago—in a cottage half-way between this village and yonder shoulder of the downs up there, a shepherd lived with his wife and their little son.”.

Why I love it: This story is a good way to introduce young kids to the concepts of bullying and prejudice. Through the story, kids will learn that they shouldn’t judge things by appearances as the dragon in the story is not what he seems.

“ The Fisherman and His Wife ” by the Brothers Grimm

“once upon a time there were a fisherman and his wife who lived together in a filthy shack near the sea. every day the fisherman went out fishing, and he fished, and he fished. once he was sitting there fishing and looking into the clear water, and he sat, and he sat. then his hook went to the bottom, deep down, and when he pulled it out, he had caught a large flounder.”.

Why I love it: Teaching young people the value of appreciating what you have and not always seeking out more is of the utmost importance. This short story encapsulates that and warns about the pitfalls of greed.

“ The Great Stone Face ” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

“one afternoon, when the sun was going down, a mother and her little boy sat at the door of their cottage, talking about the great stone face. they had but to lift their eyes, and there it was plainly to be seen, though miles away, with the sunshine brightening all its features.”.

Why I love it: This story weaves nature and divinity in a story that centers around a great stone face which encapsulates qualities like wisdom and nobility.

Looking for more short stories for kids? Check out this roundup geared toward the middle school crowd.

Plus, sign up for our free newsletters to get all the latest teaching news and ideas, straight to your inbox, you might also like.

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Guides • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Nov 22, 2023

Story Structure: 7 Types All Writers Should Know

Nothing makes the challenging task of crafting your first novel feel more attainable than adopting a story structure to help you plot your narrative.

While using a pre-existing blueprint might make you worry about ending up with a formulaic, predictable story, you can probably analyze most of your favorite books using various narrative structures that writers have been using for decades (if not centuries)!

This post will reveal seven distinct story structures that any writer can use to build a compelling narrative. But first…

What is story structure?

Story structure is the order in which plot events are told to the reader or audience. While stories can be told in a wide variety of ways, most Western story structures commonly share certain elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

A tightly controlled structure will answer a reader's questions, provide a climax followed by resolution and information at the end of the story , further the characters’ development , and unravel any central conflicts . In other words, it's responsible for a satisfying narrative experience that accomplishes the author’s aims.

Writing is an art, but if there’s one part of the craft that’s closer to science, this would be it. Become a master of story structure, and you will have the world at your feet.

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Classic story structure

When people discuss different story structures, they often talk about the different frameworks used to analyze stories. When you boil them all down, all stories have certain shared elements.

Elements of classic story structure:

  • Exposition. This first part establishes a protagonist's normal life and greater desires, and usually culminates in the inciting incident.
  • Rising action. The protagonist pursues their new goal and is tested along the way.
  • Climax. Our hero achieves their goal — or so they think!
  • Falling action.  The hero now must deal with the consequences of achieving their goal.
  • Resolution. The conclusion tying together the plot, character arcs, and themes.

These are all common ‘ beats ’ to most stories. It can be easier to see these moments in genres with higher stakes (such as a military thriller), but you’ll find them in almost any type of story. 

Classic story structure. A diagram showing all 5 stages.

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Seven Story Structures Every Writer Should Know

Now that we’ve established the most essential components of story, let’s look at seven of the most popular story structures used by writers — and how they deploy these components.

  • Freytag's Pyramid
  • The Hero's Journey
  • Three Act Structure
  • Dan Harmon's Story Circle
  • Fichtean Curve
  • Save the Cat Beat Sheet
  • Seven-Point Story Structure

1. Freytag’s Pyramid

story structure | a diagram drawn on a lined sheet, demonstrating the shape of the Freytag's pyramid structure

  • Introduction. The status quo is established; an inciting incident occurs.
  • Rise, or rising action. The protagonist actively pursues their goal. The stakes heighten.
  • Climax. A point of no return, from which the protagonist can no longer go back to the status quo.
  • Return, or fall. In the aftermath of the climax, tension builds, and the story heads inevitably towards...
  • Catastrophe. The protagonist is brought to their lowest point. Their greatest fears have come true.

This structural model is less frequently used in modern storytelling, partly due to readers’ limited appetite for tragic narratives (although you can still spot a few tragic heroes in popular literature today). By and large, commercial fiction, films, and television will see a protagonist overcome their obstacles to find some small measure of success. That said, it’s still useful to understand the Pyramid as a foundational structure in Western literature — and you will still see it occasionally in the most depressing contemporary tales.

To learn more, read our full guide on Freytag’s Pyramid .

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2. The Hero’s Journey

story structure | The hero's journey, plotted onto a diagram shaped like a clock face

Campbell’s original structure uses terminology that lends itself well to epic tales of bravery and triumph — with plot points like “Belly of the Whale,” “Woman as the Temptress,” and “The Magic Flight.” To make The Hero’s Journey more accessible, Disney executive Christopher Vogler created a simplified version that has become popular amongst mainstream storytellers.

Here, we’ll look at Vogler’s streamlined, 12-step version of The Hero’s Journey.

  • The Ordinary World. The hero’s everyday life is established.
  • The Call of Adventure. Otherwise known as the inciting incident.
  • Refusal of the Call. For a moment, the hero is reluctant to take on the challenge.
  • Meeting the Mentor. Our hero meets someone who prepares them for what lies ahead — perhaps a parental figure, a teacher, a wizard, or a wise hermit.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. The hero steps out of their comfort zone and enters a ‘new world.’
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Our protagonist faces new challenges — and maybe picks up some new friends. Think of Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road.
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. The hero gets close to their goal. Luke Skywalker reaches the Death Star.
  • The Ordeal. The hero meets (and overcomes) their greatest challenge yet.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). The hero obtains something important they were after, and victory is in sight.
  • The Road Back. The hero realizes that achieving their goal is not the final hurdle. In fact, ‘seizing the sword’ may have made things worse for them.
  • Resurrection. The hero faces their final challenge — a climactic test that hinges on everything they’ve learned over their journey.
  • Return with the Elixir. Having triumphed, our protagonist returns to their old life. Dorothy returns to Kansas; Iron Man holds a press conference to blow his own trumpet .

While Vogler’s simplified steps still retain some of Campbell’s mythological language with its references to swords and elixirs, the framework can be applied to almost any genre of fiction. To see how a ‘realistic’ story can adhere to this structure, check out our guide to the hero’s journey in which we analyze Rocky through this very lens.

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3. Three Act Structure

story structure | the 3-act story structure plotted onto a diagram

Act 1: Setup

  • Exposition . The status quo or ‘ordinary world’ is established.
  • Inciting Incident. An event that sets the story in motion.
  • Plot Point One. The protagonist decides to tackle the challenge head-on. She ‘crosses the threshold,’ and the story is now truly moving.

Act 2: Confrontation

  • Rising Action. The story's true stakes become clear; our hero grows familiar with her ‘new world’ and has her first encounters with some enemies and allies. (see Tests, Allies, Enemies)
  • Midpoint. An event that upends the protagonist’s mission. (Similar to the climax in Freytag’s pyramid)
  • Plot Point Two. In the wake of the disorienting midpoint, the protagonist is tested — and fails. Her ability to succeed is now in doubt.

Act 3: Resolution

  • Pre Climax. The night is darkest before dawn. The protagonist must pull herself together and choose between decisive action and failure.
  • Climax. She faces off against her antagonist one last time. Will she prevail?
  • Denouement. All loose ends are tied up. The reader discovers the consequences of the climax. A new status quo is established.

When we speak about a confrontation with an antagonist, this doesn’t always mean a fight to the death. In some cases, the antagonist might be a love rival, a business competitor, or merely an internal or environmental conflict that our protagonist has been struggling with the entire story.

If you’re interested in using this model to plot your own story, read our guide to the three-act structure , and be sure to sign up to our free course on the subject.

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4. Dan Harmon's Story Circle

narrative short story books

Another variation on Campbell’s monomyth structure, the Story Circle is an approach developed by Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon. Again, heavily inspired by the Hero's Journey, the benefit of Harmon's approach is its focus on the protagonist's character arc. Instead of referring to abstract concepts like 'story midpoint' and 'denouement', each beat in the story circle forces the writer to think about the character's wants and needs.

  • A character is in a zone of comfort... This is the establishment of the status quo.
  • But they want something... This 'want' could be something long-standing and brought to the fore by an inciting incident.
  • They enter an unfamiliar situation... The protagonist must do something new in their pursuit of the thing they want.
  • Adapt to it... Faced with some challenges, they struggle then begin to succeed.
  • Get what they wanted... Usually a false victory.
  • Pay a heavy price for it... They realize that what they 'wanted' wasn't what they 'needed'.
  • Then return to their familiar situation... armed with a new truth.
  • Having changed... For better or worse.

Created by a writer whose chosen medium is the 30-minute sitcom, this structure is worded in a way that sidesteps the need for a protagonist to undergo life-changing transformations with each story. After all, for a comedy to continue for six seasons (and a movie) its characters can't completely transform at the end of each episode. They can, however, learn small truths about themselves and the world around them — which, like all humans, they can quickly forget about if next week's episode calls for it.

To learn more and see this structure applied to an episode of Rick and Morty, check out our full post on Dan Harmon's Story Circle .

Side note: for this kind of character-driven plot (and, indeed, for all of these structures), you're going to want to know you're protagonist inside and out. Why not check out some of our character development exercises for help fleshing your characters out, like the profile template below.

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5. Fichtean Curve

story structure | The fichtean curve, an upward line with many mini-crises that apexes with the climax. It is followed by a drop that is the resolution.

Fleshed out in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction , the Fichtean Curve is a narrative structure that puts our main characters through a series of many obstacles on their way to achieving their overarching goals. Resembling Freytag’s Pyramid, it encourages authors to write narratives packed with tension and mini-crises that keep readers eager to reach the climax.

Bypassing the “ordinary world” setup of many other structures, the Fichtean Curve starts with the inciting incident and goes straight into the rising action. Multiple crises occur, each of which contributes to the readers’ overall understanding of the narrative — replacing the need for the initial exposition.

To discuss this unusual structure, it’s perhaps best to see it in use. We’ll use Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You as an example. Needless to say, spoilers ahead.

Rising Action

narrative short story books

  • First crisis. Lydia’s family is informed her body was found in a nearby lake. From this first crisis's climax, the narrative flashes back to provide exposition and details of the family’s history.
  • Second crisis. In flashbacks, we discover that, 11 years prior, Marilyn abandoned her family to resume her undergraduate studies. In her absence, the family begins to fall apart. Marilyn learns she is pregnant and is forced to return home. Having lost her opportunity for further education, she places the pressure of academic success on her children.
  • Third crisis. Back in the present, Lydia’s father, James, is cheating on Marilyn. The police decide to close the investigation, ruling Lydia’s death a suicide. This results in a massive argument between her parents, and James leaves to stay with the “other woman.”
  • Fourth crisis. Flashback to the day Lydia died. From her perspective, we see that she’s misunderstood by her parents. She mourns her brother’s impending departure for college, leaving her as the sole focus of her parents’ pressure. Isolated, she tries to seduce a friend — who rejects her advances and explains he’s in love with her brother.
  • Lydia takes a boat into the lake in the middle of the night — determined to overcome her fear of water and reclaim control of her life. Lydia jumps off the boat, into the water, and out of this life. As in a classical tragedy, this moment is both devastating and inevitable.

Falling Action

  • Some level of resolution is achieved, and readers get to at least glimpse the “new norm” for the characters. Lydia’s family lean on one another in their grief. While they may never be able to make their amends with Lydia, they can learn from her death. Not all of the loose ends are tied off, but readers infer the family is on the long road to recovery.
Note: In the rising action stage, all of the crises should build tension towards — and correspond with — the story’s major climax. Like the three-act narrative structure, the Fichtean Curve’s climax typically occurs two-thirds through the book.

While this structure lends itself well to flashback-heavy novels such as Everything I Never Told You, it is also incredibly common in theatre. In stage plays like The Cherry Orchard and A Doll’s House , the action takes place in a fixed time and place, but backstory and character development are revealed through moments of high drama that occur before the audience’s eyes.

For a deeper look at this structure, head to our full post on the Fichtean Curve .

6. Save the Cat Beat Sheet

story structure | a diagram showing the save the cat beat sheet, with the 15 points plotted along a wavy line.

Another variation of the three-act structure, this framework created by Hollywood screenwriter Blake Snyder, has been widely championed by storytellers across many media forms.

Fun fact: Save the Cat is named for a moment in the set up of a story (usually a film) where our hero does something to endear himself to the audience.

While many structures are reluctant to prescribe exactly when in a story the various beats should take place, Snyder and Save the Cat have no such qualms. The number in the square brackets below refers to the page that the beat should take place — assuming you’re writing a 110-page screenplay.

  • Opening Image [1]. The first shot of the film. If you’re starting a novel , this would be an opening paragraph or scene that sucks readers into the world of your story.
  • Set-up [1-10]. Establishing the ‘ordinary world’ of your protagonist. What does he want? What is he missing out on?
  • Theme Stated [5]. During the setup, hint at what your story is really about — the truth that your protagonist will discover by the end.
  • Catalyst [12]. The inciting incident!
  • Debate [12-25]. The hero refuses the call to adventure. He tries to avoid the conflict before they are forced into action.
  • Break into Two [25]. The protagonist makes an active choice and the journey begins in earnest.
  • B Story [30]. A subplot kicks in. Often romantic in nature, the protagonist’s subplot should serve to highlight the theme.
  • The Promise of the Premise [30-55]. Often called the ‘fun and games’ stage, this is usually a highly entertaining section where the writer delivers the goods. If you promised an exciting detective story, we’d see the detective in action. If you promised a goofy story of people falling in love, let’s go on some charmingly awkward dates.
  • Midpoint [55]. A plot twist occurs that ups the stakes and makes the hero’s goal harder to achieve — or makes them focus on a new, more important goal.
  • Bad Guys Close In [55-75]. The tension ratchets up. The hero’s obstacles become greater, his plan falls apart, and he is on the back foot.
  • All is Lost [75]. The hero hits rock bottom. He loses everything he’s gained so far, and things are looking bleak. The hero is overpowered by the villain; a mentor dies; our lovebirds have an argument and break up.
  • Dark Night of the Soul [75-85-ish]. Having just lost everything, the hero shambles around the city in a minor-key musical montage before discovering some “new information” that reveals exactly what he needs to do if he wants to take another crack at success. (This new information is often delivered through the B-Story)
  • Break into Three [85]. Armed with this new information, our protagonist decides to try once more!
  • Finale [85-110]. The hero confronts the antagonist or whatever the source of the primary conflict is. The truth that eluded him at the start of the story (established in step three and accentuated by the B Story) is now clear, allowing him to resolve their story.
  • Final Image [110]. A final moment or scene that crystallizes how the character has changed. It’s a reflection, in some way, of the opening image.

Some writers may find this structure too prescriptive, but it’s incredible to see how many mainstream stories seem to adhere to it — either by design or coincidence. Over on the Save the Cat website, there are countless examples of films and novels analyzed with Snyder’s 15 beats . You’ll be surprised how accurate some of the timings are for each of the beats.

For a deeper dive into this framework, and to watch this video where Reedsy’s Shaelin plots out a Middle-Grade fantasy novel using Snyder’s method — head to our full post on the Save the Cat Beat Sheet .

7. Seven-Point Story Structure

story structure | The seven-point story structure

A slightly less detailed adaptation of The Hero’s Journey, the Seven-Point Story Structure focuses specifically on the highs and lows of a narrative arc .

According to author Dan Wells, who developed the Seven-Point Story Structure , writers are encouraged to start at the end, with the resolution, and work their way back to the starting point: the hook. With the ending in mind, they can have their protagonist and plot begin in a state that best contrasts the finale — since this structure is all about dramatic changes from beginning to end.

  • The Hook. Draw readers in by explaining the protagonist’s current situation. Their state of being at the beginning of the novel should be in direct contrast to what it will be at the end of the novel.
  • Plot Point 1. Whether it’s a person, an idea, an inciting incident, or something else — there should be a "Call to Adventure" of sorts that sets the narrative and character development in motion.
  • Pinch Point 1. Things can’t be all sunshine and roses for your protagonist. Something should go wrong here that applies pressure to the main character, forcing them to step up and solve the problem.
  • Midpoint. A “Turning Point” wherein the main character changes from a passive force to an active force in the story. Whatever the narrative’s main conflict is, the protagonist decides to start meeting it head-on.
  • Pinch Point 2. The second pinch point involves another blow to the protagonist — things go even more awry than they did during the first pinch point. This might involve the passing of a mentor, the failure of a plan, the reveal of a traitor, etc.
  • Plot Point 2. After the calamity of Pinch Point 2, the protagonist learns that they’ve actually had the key to solving the conflict the whole time.
  • Resolution. The story’s primary conflict is resolved — and the character goes through the final bit of development necessary to transform them from who they were at the start of the novel.

For a deeper look into Wells's approach — including the key to using it — check out our full post on the seven-point story structure .

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: story structures aren't an exact science, and you should feel welcome to stray from the path they present. They're simply there to help you find your narrative's footing — a blueprint for the world you're about to start building.

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  1. A Review of the 57 Best Narrative Nonfiction Books for Kids

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  2. Narrative Books For Kindergarten

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  3. EDUQAS Paper 1 Writing (short story / narrative ) Revision Pack

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  4. A Review of the 21 Best New Narrative Nonfiction Books for Kids

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  5. Narrative Story Ideas

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  6. How To Write A Narrative Essay On A Book

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COMMENTS

  1. The 10 Best Short Story Collections of the Decade ‹ Literary Hub

    Clarice Lispector, tr. Katrina Dodson, ed. Benjamin Moser, The Complete Stories2015. It's complicated to include a "complete stories" collection in our list for the best of the decade, not least because Clarice Lispector has been considered Brazil's greatest writer more or less since 1943 when her revolutionary debut novel, Near to the ...

  2. Best Short Stories and Collections Everyone Should Read

    As an ominously prescient prediction of the downside of technology, "The Veldt" is a short and shining example of how Ray Bradbury was an author before his time. 10. "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. In this classic short story, we are privy to the journals of Charlie Gordon, a cleaner with an IQ of 68.

  3. 10 of the Best Very Short Stories That Can Be Read Online

    1. Anton Chekhov, 'The Student'. A key device in many Chekhov short stories is the epiphany: a sudden realisation or moment of enlightenment experienced by one of the story's characters, usually the protagonist.In many ways, the epiphany can be said to perform a similar function to the plot twist or revelation at the end of a more traditional (i.e., plot-driven) short story.

  4. Thousands of Short Stories to Read Online

    Over 1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy, come meet them. Reedsy Prompts is home to the largest short stories collection. Check out 25000+ stories by up & coming writers across the world. Choose the genre of your interest and start reading now from the largest online collection of handpicked short stories for free!

  5. 30200+ Fiction Short Stories to read

    Find the perfect editor for your next book. Over 1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy, come meet them. Read the best fiction short stories for free on Reedsy Prompts. Be it fantasy, romance, or historical fiction stories; our collection includes them all. Choose now from 30110+ short fiction stories and start reading online!

  6. 100 Must-Read Contemporary Short Story Collections

    This list of must-read contemporary short story collections is sponsored by Random House's Buzziest Short Story Collections of 2018. From New York Times bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld's dazzling first collection, You Think It, I'll Say It, to National Book Award winner Denis Johnson's final collection, The Largesse of the Sea ...

  7. 11 Very Short Stories You Must Read Immediately ‹ Literary Hub

    Jamaica Kincaid, " Girl ". It's one of the most widely-anthologized short stories for a reason: rhythmic and lyric, a triumph of voice and immediacy. I think of it as a ribbon that unwinds and unwinds, revealing a relationship, a way of life, and of course, a girl. Joy Williams, " Aubade ". Just about any of the pieces in Ninety-nine ...

  8. 20 New Must-Read Short Story Collections

    20 New Must-Read Short Story Collections. Emily Martin Oct 31, 2022. Bloomsbury Publishing. In his first-ever short story collection, which spans forty years of work, Alan Moore presents a series of wildly different and equally unforgettable characters who discover—and in some cases even make and unmake—the various uncharted parts of existence.

  9. 9 Best Short-Story Collections to Read Right Now 2020

    Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath. From $9. Written for Mademoiselle when the poet was a student at Smith College in 1952, the short story was later rejected and published for the first time, in its original, "sinister" form last year. The story of a young girl on a mysterious train ride, it is a quick, suspenseful read ...

  10. 18 Great Short Stories You Can Read Free Online

    It's a chilling story. A man known as the Traveller is visiting a foreign penal colony where he is shown a special machine used to execute prisoners. The machine inscribes the prisoner's crime onto their body until they die. It takes 12 hours of torture before the prisoner dies. I told you it was chilling!

  11. Short Story Collections, Short Stories, Books

    The Last Wish: Introducing the…. Sword of Destiny (Witcher…. The Complete Cthulhu Mythos…. So Late in the Day: Stories of…. Grimm's Fairy Tales (Barnes &…. Stories of Your Life and…. Ladies' Lunch: And Other…. Explore our list of Short Story Collections Books at Barnes & Noble®. Get your order fast and stress free with free ...

  12. Short Stories Books

    Short stories are often collected together with other short stories, poetry, art, and/or essays in order to form a larger book, although it is becoming more common for short stories to be released as stand-alone ebooks. A short story is a short work of prose fiction. It may be in any genre of fiction, and the exact definition of "short" will ...

  13. Best Narrative Story Ideas to Inspire Your Writing

    Find the perfect editor for your next book. Over 1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them. Prepare to kick your writing into gear by browsing through our list of 200+ Narrative short story ideas. New prompts are added each week, and you can search by genre.

  14. 40 Impressive Personal Narrative Examples in Children's Books

    Middle-Grade Books: Personal Narrative Examples . Genius Under the Table by Eugene Yelchin Growing up in Cold War Russia, Yevgeny's Jewish family is crowded into one room of an apartment housing many other families and a KBG spy, so he sleeps under the table -and draws under it, too. His mother works at the ballet and is obsessed with Baryshnikov and finding Yevgeny's talent — which ...

  15. 50 Short Nonfiction Books You Can Read in a Day (Or Two)

    Short Nonfiction Books Under 200 pages. Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three by David Plante (184 pages) " Difficult Women, the book with which David Plante made his name, presents three portraits—each one of them as detailed, textured, and imposing as the those of Lucian Freud—of three extraordinary, complicated, and, yes, difficult women ...

  16. 14 Canadian short story collections to read for Short Story Month

    Cocktail is a short story collection that explores some of life's watershed moments and the tiny horrors of domestic life. Beginning in the 1960s and moving forward through the decades, Cocktail ...

  17. Narrative Writing: A Complete Guide for Teachers and Students

    A narrative can spark emotion, encourage reflection, and convey meaning when done well. Narratives are a popular genre for students and teachers as they allow the writer to share their imagination, creativity, skill, and understanding of nearly all elements of writing. We occasionally refer to a narrative as 'creative writing' or story writing.

  18. How to Write a Short Story in 9 Simple Steps

    9. Submit the short story to publications. But first, let's talk about what makes a short story different from a novel. 1. Know what a short story is versus a novel. The simple answer to this question, of course, is that the short story is shorter than the novel, usually coming in at between, say, 1,000-15,000 words.

  19. 50 Great Narrative Nonfiction Books To Get On Your TBR List

    Narrative Nonfiction Classics. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote—The original true crime nonfiction novel. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean—Obsession and rare flowers in the Florida Everglades. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer—The story of a harrowing, deadly climb on Mount Everest.

  20. 51 Irresistible Short Stories for Kids (Read Them All for Free!)

    51 Irresistible Short Stories for Kids (Read Them All for Free!) Quick reads with lasting impact. By Jill Staake, B.S., Secondary ELA Education. Apr 24, 2023. Looking for some free tales to use for close reading or classroom read-alouds? This roundup of short stories for kids has plenty of options. From quick fables with morals to old-fashioned ...

  21. Story Structure: 7 Types All Writers Should Know

    Nothing makes the challenging task of crafting your first novel feel more attainable than adopting a story structure to help you plot your narrative.. While using a pre-existing blueprint might make you worry about ending up with a formulaic, predictable story, you can probably analyze most of your favorite books using various narrative structures that writers have been using for decades (if ...