Defining Narrative Writing in Literature-Example from Oliver Twist

Defining Narrative Writing in Literature-Example from Oliver Twist

What is Narrative writing?
A narrative tells us what happens or happened. It deals mainly with events. In other words, a narrative is a description of events. It may deal with external or internal events. By internal events, we mean the thoughts, feelings and emotions of individuals. The narrative writing tries to recreate an actual experience or an imaginary one in a way that we are able to experience it mentally. We lose ourselves in the characters and events of the narrative temporarily. Narratives can deal with the facts or fiction. Autobiographies, biographies, letters, travelogues, diaries and speeches are narratives of fact. The short story and novel come under the category of narrative fiction.

In a narrative, we are carried along the stream of action. When we narrate a story, we concentrate on the sequence of events. It is the action that grips the attention of the reader. The narration is concerned with action and actors, it may make use of description but the description is secondary. Action, characters and setting are the elements that are woven into a pattern to make the narrative interesting.

Rudyard Kipling (English journalist, short story writer, poet and novelist) mentioned the ingredients if a narrative in the following verse:

I keep six honest-serving men
The taught me all I know:
Their names are What and Why  and When
And How and Where and Who

What happens? Why does it happen? When does it happen? How does it happen? Where does it happen and to whom does it happen? All these questions are answered satisfactorily in a narrative. What makes a narrative interesting is not just what is said but the way it is said.

Narrative Writing Example from Oliver Twist


Look at this passage from Charles Dicken's novel Oliver Twist (1837), chapter 43. Here we shall read about the trial of the Artful Dodger when he is produced in court on charges of pick-pocketing.

It was indeed Mr Dawkins, who, shuffling into the office with the big coat sleeves tucked up as usual, his left hand in his pocket, and his hat in his right hand, preceded the jailer, with a rolling gait altogether indescribable, and taking his place in the dock, requested in an audible voice to know what he was placed in that □ere disgraceful sitivation for.

'Hold your tongue, will you?' said the jailer.

'I'm an Englishman, ain't Ia/' rejoined the Dodger; 'where are my privileges?'

'You'll get your privileges soon enough,' retorted the jailer, 'and pepper with □em.'

'We'll see wot the Secretary of State for the Home Affairs has got to say to the beaks, if I don't', replied Mr Dawkins. 'Now then! Wot is this here business? I shall thank the madg'strates to dispose of  this here little affair, and not to keep me while they read the paper for I've got an appointment with a genelman in the city, and as I'm a man of my word and very punctual in business matters, he'll go away if I ain't there to my time, and then pr'aps there won't be an action, for damage against as kept me away. Oh, no, certainly not!'

At this point the Dodger, with a show of being very particular with a view to proceedings to be had thereafter, desired the jailer to communicate 'the names of them two files as was on the bench', which so tickled the spectators, that they laughed almost as heartily as Master Bates could have done if he had heard the request.

'Silence there!' cried the jailer.

'What is this?' inquired one of the magistrates.

'A pick-pocketing case, your worship.'

'Has the boy ever been here before?'

'He ought to have been, a many times,' replied the jailer. 'He has been pretty well everywhere else. I know him well, your worship.'

'Oh! You know me, do you?' cried Artful, making a note of the statement. 'Wery good. That's a case of deformation of character anyway.'

Here there was another laugh, and another cry of silence.

'Now then, where are the witnesses?' said the clerk.

'Ah! That's right,' added the Dodger. 'Where are they? I should like to see □em.'

 This wish was immediately gratified, for a policeman stepped forward who had seen the prisoner attempt the pocket of an unknown gentleman in a crowd, and indeed take a handkerchief therefrom, which, being a very old one, he deliberately put back again,  after trying it on his own countenance. For this reason, he took the Dodger into custody as soon as he could get near him, and the said Dodger being searched, had upon his person a silver snuff-box, with the owner's name engraved upon the lid. This gentleman had been discovered on reference to the Court Guide, and being then and there present, swore that the snuff-box was his, and that he had missed it on the previous day, the moment he had disengaged himself from the crowd before referred to. He had also remarked a young gentleman in the throng particularly active in making his way about, and that young gentleman was the prisoner before him.

'Have you anything to ask this witness, boy?' said the magistrate.

'I wouldn't abase myself by descending to hold no conversation with him,' replied the Dodger.

'Have you anything to say at all?'

'Do you hear his worship ask if you have anything to say?' inquired the jailer, nudging the silent Dodger with his elbow.

'I beg your pardon,' said the Dodger, looking up with an air of abstraction. 'Did you redress yourself to me, my man?'

'I never see such an out-and-out young wagabond, your worship,' observed the officer with a grin. 'Do you mean to say anything, you young shaver?'

'No,' replied the Dodger, 'not here, gor this ain't the shop for justice; besides which, my attorney is a -breakfasting this morningwith the Wice-President of the House of Commons; but I shall have something to say elsewhere, and so will he, and so will a very numerous and □spectable circle of acquaintance as'll make them beaks wish they'd never been born, or that they'd got their gootmen to hang □em up to their own hat-pegs afore they let □em come out this morning to try ir in upon me. I'llă…ˇ'

'There! He's fully committed!' interposed the clerk. 'Take him away.'

'Come on,' said the jailer.

'Oh, ah! I'll come on,' replied the Dodger, brushing his hat with the palm of his hand. 'Ah! (to the Bench), it's no use your looking frightened; I won't show you no mercy; not a ha'porth of it. You'll pay for this, my fine fellers. I wouldn't be you for something! I wouldn't go free, now, if you was to fall down on your knees ask me. Here, carry me off to prison! Take me away!'

Narrative Writing Style

This is a hilarious passage that tells us about the Artful Dodger's defiant conduct at his trial ('I'm an Englishman: ain't I?........where are my priweleges?'). We respond at one level to the hilarious situation but at another, we also wonder: what should the poor do against such oppressive systems? ('This aint the shop of justice'). We also get a clear picture of the Artful Dodger: his 'coat-sleeves tucked up', his 'hand in his pocket' and his 'rolling gait' are described vividly at the outset. What then follows is a dialogue full of ironical, witty and quick rejoinders by this habitual offender. This is alternated with third-person narration: "At this point the Dodger, with a show of being very particular with a view to proceedings to be had thereafter, desired the jailer to communicate 'the names of them two files as was on the bench', which so tickled the spectators, that they laughed almost as heartily as Master Bates could have done if had heard the request".


In short, narrative writing makes use of narration as well as description. In order to dramatize the situation, dialogues and conversations are introduced so that the writer is able to recreate the situation and communicate the experience.

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