How to Write a Narrative Summary

By Elizabeth Burns
Narrative summaries, children, literature
Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

A narrative summary is a concise but informative overview of a book or story. Students may be asked to write a narrative summary to hone their comprehension skills and enable them to understand what a book is about. It helps them to identify the narrative's key themes and to understand how the writer uses plot devices and literary techniques. Firstly, make notes about setting, characters and literary techniques, then compile these into a concise and insightful narrative summary.

Read the assigned pages closely and make notes of important characters and the story's historical and geographical setting. This helps you to write a comprehensive overview that introduces the story to your reader.

Focus on the plot. Plots make stories interesting and hold the reader's attention. Get a blank sheet of paper and write down the question: "What started the action in this story?" Answer the question clearly and concisely. This enables you to explain how the plot unfolds in a factual, straightforward way.

Identity the central protagonists' main goals. Ask yourself how the characters accomplished their goals and then answer this question based on the information in the book.

Study how characters express emotions. Write down examples of how they express themselves, such as slamming a door, turning away during an argument, laughing or crying. Then write down how the characters' emotions influence the plot and affects how they pursue their goals and dreams.

Pinpoint literary devices and jot down notes on how they affect the story. This helps you explain how someone tells a story. A gothic writer, for example, might use metaphorical imagery to enhance her story, by placing it in a lonely mansion and introducing lots of thunderstorms

Write an introduction outlining the story's basic plot, its main protagonists, and its historical and geographic setting. Include some brief information about the author's writing style, themes and genre.

Summarize the plot in the middle section of your work and explain how the character's behavior and motivation drives in on.

Explain how style and literary technique shapes the story. If a story is told in retrospective, for example, you might write that this gives the narrative a poetic quality. If a story is rich in symbolism, elaborate on how this enriches the story and gives it added layers of meaning, using examples from the narrative.

Conclude your narrative summary by focusing on how the story ends. Write about how the character's actions and character influence the book's denouement. Give your own interpretation of how the ending is influenced by genre and whether it helps to convey any moral message the writer is trying to get across.