Responding to Narrative Prompts
You’ve learned to write great narratives by working your way through the writing process. But on a writing test, you have only a limited amount of time to respond to a narrative prompt.
That’s okay. You can use a brief version of the writing process. You analyze the prompt, come up with a topic, create a focus, jot details on scrap paper, and start writing. When the draft is done, you quickly revise and edit your work.
This chapter will help you do your best writing in response to a narrative prompt.
Writing a Narrative Response
When you are taking an important test, you may be asked to create a piece of narrative writing in a short period of time. The task begins with a narrative writing prompt. Make sure you analyze it closely before you plan your writing.
Prewriting Analyzing the Prompt
A prompt is a set of directions that tells you several different things. Most prompts will tell you what to write about, what the overall goal or purpose is, and what form of writing to produce. Therefore, you need to read the prompt very carefully to ensure that you follow all the directions.
You can use the PAST questions listed below to make sure you understand what is expected of you.
Purpose: Why am I writing? What is my goal? A narrative writing prompt will ask you to share a story, most likely from your own life.
Audience: Who am I writing for? Some prompts will identify a specific audience: “Pretend you are telling the story to an older relative.” Other prompts do not indicate an audience, so you can just assume the testers or your teacher is the audience.
Subject: What is the subject of my writing? The prompt will name the general subject you should write about in your narrative. It may also ask you to include specific narrative elements, such as dialogue and sensory details.
Type: What type of writing should I do? Most often the prompt will tell you what form of writing to create (a personal narrative, a realistic story, a fantasy, or some other form).
Sample Narrative Prompt
Experience may be the best teacher, but it gives you the test before it teaches you the lesson. Think of an experience that taught you a lesson. What happened? Who was with you? Write a personal narrative that uses description, dialogue, and action to share the story of what happened and what you learned.
Purpose: Share a story from my life
Audience: Teacher/ tester
Subject: An experience that taught a lesson
Type: Personal narrative
Sample Narrative Response
The Day of the Wasps
The first paragraph introduces the people, setting, and problem. My friend Steve had an old tree house in his backyard, with a platform up top and a shack on the ground. A pulley let you hoist yourself up to the platform, but you couldn’t get close to it because wasps had built a nest under the floorboards of the shack.
Dialogue and action move the narrative forward. “Do you have any wasp killer?” I asked him.
Steve shrugged. “Well, let’s see what we can find.”
In his garage, we didn’t find any wasp killer, so we checked the basement. In the laundry room, his mom had a jug of ammonia. “Do you think this would get rid of them?”
Sights, sounds, and smells make the narrative vivid. Steve unscrewed the lid, and it stunk so bad he screwed it back on, quick. “That’ll probably do it.” We went back outside and crept carefully up to the door of the shack. The floor was just planks laid on the ground, and between two planks was a gap where the wasps were entering and exiting.
Sights, sounds, and smells make the narrative vivid. Steve unscrewed the lid, and it stunk so bad he screwed it back on, quick. “That’ll probably do it.”
We went back outside and crept carefully up to the door of the shack. The floor was just planks laid on the ground, and between two planks was a gap where the wasps were entering and exiting.
Holding his nose, Steve undid the cap of the jug and poured the stinky stuff down the gap.
A furious buzzing filled the space.
“They don’t like that,” I said.
Drenched wasps staggered up from the gap to squirm on the boards. Steve poured a bit more into the space, and the buzzing got really loud.
“Let’s give it time to work,” Steve said, and we went inside for some sandwiches.
By the time we came out later, the nest was silent. Dead wasps lay all around the gap, and no more were climbing up.
“I think that did it,” I said, kicking the board.
The experience reaches a key point. It popped up, revealing a wide hole. Angry wasps shot out of it. I got stung three times, and from Steve’s shouts, I knew he was getting stung, too. We ran for the house. His mom heard all the commotion and came running.
The closing part focuses on the lessons learned. As she mixed water and baking soda for our stings, she said, “You should never play with chemicals. Or with wasps. I hope you two learned a lesson.”
“We sure did,” I said. “Ammonia is better at making wasps mad than killing them.”
Steve said, “I’ve learned that the wasps can keep the old tree house!”
Prewriting Planning Your Response
Find a Specific Focus 🟪 Even though the prompt will tell you what the general subject is, you will still have to narrow your focus to one specific topic or event to write about. You can use this formula to find a specific focus to write about.
The Subject + Your Specific Story =
An experience that taught a lesson + The tree house filled with wasps
A Focused Subject
How Steve and I learned not to play with chemicals or wasps
Create a Quick Time Line 🟪 Once you decide on a focus, you need to think about and list (very quickly) the important things that happened during your story. Make sure the details are arranged in the order in which they happened.
1. Steve had a tree house with a wasp nest.
2. We couldn’t find wasp killer.
3. We tried ammonia.
4. The wasps got really mad.
5. I kicked up the board.
6. We ran for our lives!
Think About Your Time 🟪 You have only a certain amount of time to finish your writing, so watch the clock closely. You should spend a few minutes up front with prewriting, use most of your time to write your narrative, but also leave a few minutes at the end to quickly revise and edit your work.
Writing Developing Your Response
Beginning 🟪 Set the scene, introduce the people involved, and reveal the problem or conflict at the center of the narrative.
Middle 🟪 Share events in time order. Refer to your time line as you write, but feel free to add other important details as you tell your story. Include the following elements:
Actions: Show what people did during the experience. (Use active verbs.)
Dialogue: Tell what people said during the experience. (Use quotation marks to indicate the speaker’s words.)
Sensory details: Use sights, sounds, smells, and so on to make the experience vivid.
Ending 🟪 The ending should describe how the experience concluded and what you learned from it.
Revising Improving Your Response
To create the best response, save time to check your work and change anything that isn’t clear. Ask yourself these questions:
_____ Does my beginning introduce what the narrative will be about?
_____ Does the middle describe actions in time order?
_____ Do I include enough details to recreate the experience?
_____ Do I include dialogue and thought details?
_____ Does the ending share what I learned?
Editing and Proofreading
Check for Careless Errors 🟪 Set aside a few minutes to look for errors such as missing words, run-on sentences, and incorrect punctuation.
This quick summary can help you respond to a narrative prompt.