Writing 101: Narrative Structure and Flow

If you write for a living—or at the very least, write to supplement your income—then you're probably a reader too. Regardless of what type of content you consume for work or leisure, on the Web or on a printed page, then you've likely seen more than a few articles that made an impact. Maybe it was because it was about something that you're interested in, or something that you could relate to. Whatever it is, if you revisit the article again and technically break it down, you'll find that it had a good structure, and a flow that kept you reading.


Image by eric lubbers, via FreeImages.com
 

So what is structure and flow?

Structure

Simply put, "structure" serves as the framework of an article. Some may interpret this as the part that includes formatting, where you define components such as the title, description, introduction, body, and conclusion. In the most practical sense, a narrative structure pertains to how you organize your ideas to tell a story or provide information.

When you're writing a casual piece like a blog, you don't necessarily need to follow a strict format. That means you should stop fretting so much about separating your intros, defining your arguments, or forming a conclusion. Instead, you should focus on organizing your ideas so that the reader can easily follow your narrative.

While there are no set rules for creating a narrative structure, it should always follow a natural or logical progression based on the angle that you chose to take. For example, if you're writing an informative piece such as a news report or academic paper, you could start with your most important point at the beginning, and structure your article to build on "the point". If you're writing a creative or casual piece, there are a number of other ways you can organize your ideas logically. You can go by chronological or sequential order, which are the most common ways to tell a story. If you're writing a review, start with the product, then compare it with another similar one, then use the stated information as a base for your conclusion. 

Maintaining a natural or logical order—basically, your narrative structure—makes sure that your ideas aren't scattered, and the reader isn't confused.

Flow

"Flow" is a very common concept that everyone knows about, but is a skill that not everyone has (with that being said, a good flow is something that writers should always strive to achieve on every piece).  Basically, flow involves how words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs are used and formed to make it easy for the reader to get from beginning to end.

Good flow is created when you can seamlessly connect one sentence to another. It's how you finish one idea and transition to another without interrupting the thought. In the most practical sense, it's how well you make use of transition words (like "however", "moreover", and "additionally") to bridge the gap between two sentences without sounding repetitive.

(Need help? Here's a good list of transition words and phrases  you can use if you ever get stuck.)

While it may sound like a simple concept, it can get complicated, since good narrative flow involves a lot of components. For those who understand how writing is both an art and a science, structure is the logical—the "science" part—while flow is where art and creativity is applied.

The ability to create a good structure and maintain a smooth flow is what sets a good writer apart from an average one. It's what makes a long piece easy to read, and a word count irrelevant. 

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Sean is a professional tech journalist and editor with more than a decade of experience covering consumer tech and information security for both print and online publications. He currently works for an IT security company by day and freelances at night.

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