Learn to Order Events for Narrative Writing Assignments

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Narrative paragraphs are often used to describe what a person does over a period of time. Read this example narrative paragraph, notice how words like 'later' are used to connect what happens.

Yesterday evening I got home from work at 6 o'clock. My wife had painstakingly prepared a delicious dinner which we ate immediately. After I had cleaned up the kitchen, we watched TV show which had been recommended by my friend. Then, we got dolled up for a night on the town. Our friends arrived at about 9 o'clock and we chatted for a while. Later, we decided to visit a local jazz club and listen to some bebop for a while. The mad musicians really blew their horns. We really enjoyed ourselves and stayed late only leaving after the band had played their final audacious set. 

Tips on Tenses

Use the simple past for succession of events:

  • Narrate with the simple past tense when events follow each other. here are some examples. Notice that each event occurs in succession.
I got up and went to the kitchen. I opened the door and looked into the fridge.
She arrived in Dallas, took a cab, and checked in to her hotel. Next, she had some dinner in a restaurant. Finally, she visited a colleague before she went to bed.

Use the past continuous for interrupted actions:

  • To express that an action is interrupted, use the past continuous to describe what was happening when there was an interruption. Use the past simple with the action that interrupts what was happening.
Finally, as we were discussing the issue, the teacher walked into the classroom. Obviously, we stopped talking immediately.
Sharon was working in the garden when the telephone rang.

Use the past perfect for previous actions:

  • To express something that was finished before another event in the past, use the past perfect. This is especially useful when providing an explanation for what happened.
We decided to go out and celebrate because we had just finished remodeling our home.
Janet didn't join us for dinner as she had already eaten.

Use the past perfect continuous for the length of actions:

  • The past perfect continuous is used to express how long something had been happening up to a point in time in the past.
We had been hiking for more than ten hours and it was time to call it a day.
She had been nagging him for months to get a better job when he finally was hired.

Linking Language

Starting sentences with a time expression:

  • Start sentences with linking phrases such as 'Then,' 'Next,' 'Finally,' 'Before that', etc. to connect sentences and show time relationships in your narrative writing. 
First, we flew to New York on our great adventure. After New York, we moved on to Philadelphia. Then, it was on to Florida for some scuba diving.
After breakfast, I spent a few hours reading the newspaper. Next, I played softball with my son. 

Use time clauses to show relationships in time:

  • Use 'before', 'after', 'as soon as', etc. to introduce a time clause. Pay special attention to the use of tenses with time clauses. Begin a sentence with a time clause, but use a comma before the main clause. OR Begin with the main clause and end with the time clause using no comma.
After we had finished our homework, we watched a funny movie.
They attended a meeting as soon as they arrived in Chicago. 

Descriptive Language 

When writing a narration, it's a good idea to include descriptive language to help readers get a feeling for what happened. Here are some suggestions on how to make your writing more descriptive.

  • Use adjectives to modify nouns. Nothing is more boring than a sentence such as We went to the store. It's easy to modify store to be more precise as well as descriptive. We went to a big box electronics store is much more interesting. 
They bought a car. -> They bought a used red Italian car.
She planted a tree. -> She planted a young oak tree.
  • Use prepositional phrases such as in the corner and across from the bank to give an idea of where something happens, as well as the relationships between objects.
After we arrived, we were shown to our table at the back of the restaurant.
The car was parked around the corner on the other side of the street. 
  • Use relative clauses to further describe and provide information about important details in your narration.
After that, we enjoyed a tasty glass of wine which was grown locally.
Next, we took the car which we had rented in Los Angeles and drove to San Francisco. 

Written Exercise - Using Past Verbs and Prepositions

Write out the following sentences on to a piece of paper to form a paragraph based on the narrative paragraph above. Conjugate each verb in the past and provide the correct prepositions.

  • Yesterday evening Jack _____ (get) home _____ (preposition) half past five.
  • He immediately _____ (make) himself a cup _____ (preposition) coffee and _____ (sit down) to read a book.
  • He _____ (read) the book _____ (preposition) half past seven.
  • Then, he _____ (make) dinner and _____ (get ready) to go out with his friends.
  • When his friends _____ (arrive), they _____ (decide) to go out to see a film.
  • He _____ (stay out) until midnight with his friends.
  • Finally, he _____ (fall) asleep _____ (preposition) about one o'clock.

Written Exercise - Making Your Writing More Interesting

Rewrite the following sentences using descriptive language to spice up your writing. 

  • After that, the man went home. 
  • Later, we drove to a restaurant. 
  • He had finished the report before I gave the presentation. 
  • The children attended the class.
  • My friends asked for help. 

Adding Linking Language Exercise

Now that you have a good feeling for the form of a narrative paragraph. Fill in the gaps in this paragraph providing appropriate linking language to complete the paragraph.

_________ I drove my rusty old car to visit my best friend. _______ I arrived, he had done his best to prepare a tasty meal. ________, we took a long walk through the park next to his home. __________ we had been out for more than an hour, my friend asked me if I could keep a secret. _________, I swore not to tell anyone anything. _________ he recounted a wild tale of a crazy night out on the town __________. ________, he told me he had met the woman of his dreams and that they were to get married ___________. Imagine my surprise! 

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Learn to Order Events for Narrative Writing Assignments." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/narrating-things-happening-over-time-1212346. Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). Learn to Order Events for Narrative Writing Assignments. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/narrating-things-happening-over-time-1212346 Beare, Kenneth. "Learn to Order Events for Narrative Writing Assignments." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/narrating-things-happening-over-time-1212346 (accessed June 6, 2023).