Saturday, 11 February 2017

Writing narrative: English Language Paper 1, Section B.

The two key exam boards that I work with, AQA and Eduqas, are slightly different in how they ask you to approach this task.

For Eduqas, you are given a choice of four titles, usually things like 'The Rescue' or 'Write about a time you got lost'.  You are expected to write a narrative in response.

For AQA, you are given a picture and a choice of two tasks, one is a descriptive task and one is a narrative.

You can't write a description for Eduqas.  You won't be rewarded on the mark scheme without narrative features.

Narrative writing does require some description, but this needs balancing out with plot and character development too.

When I teach about narrative, I ask my students to remember that they need to get a balance between action and description: the things happening and what it is like to be there.

Start by planning 3 or 4 points that your narrative will move through.  So, if I take the title: 'The Rescue', my plan will be:

  • trapped up a mountain
  • waiting to be rescued
  • friend falls
  • rescue comes

This will make the backbone of my story.  I know I need some description.  Now I've planned what I'm going to write about, I know that my description will be what it's like up the mountain.  

In order to write description effectively, I have to include language features.  I will need simile, metaphor, pathetic fallacy, interesting vocabulary, etc.  You should hopefully understand which features make effective writing to describe.  The very best feature to start with is sensory description as the senses definitely bring the scene to life for your reader.

Back to my plan.  I am going to plan my senses:

  • sights - rocky crags, snow, big drop, rushing waterfall below, green slopes far below
  • sounds - wind, waterfall
  • smells - cold burning nose?
  • taste - dry mouth from fear
  • touch - freezing cold


  • emotions - anxiety, hopelessness, terror

This is enough of a plan: key story movement and some sensory description to get me started.  

Things to remember when writing:

Keep dialogue to a minimum.  A story is told through description and action, not two people talking.  A short story isn't long enough for lots of discussion between characters.  

You are writing a snapshot, not a novel.  You don't need lots of back story about your characters, just go straight into what is happening.  It is sometimes good to include a little flashback to earlier in the day that gives more sense of who your character is, but it isn't essential.

Don't start with someone getting out of bed: go straight to the main action of your story.

Don't start with 'It was a sunny day'.

Avoid writing the word 'as' at the start of lots of sentences to get your story moving.

You need to use structure (paragraphs and sentences) for effect; you need a range of sentence structures; you need a variety of punctuation and you need to try to be accurate with your spelling.

The Rescue

Clinging to the cold rock behind me, I leaned forward and looked over the edge.  The drop was sheer, at least a thousand feet.  Enough to kill a man.  

I pressed myself back again.  My ankle was still throbbing from the pain.  David was next to me, crumpled on the ledge.  The wound on his head was bleeding hard and his eyes were closed.  Carl was sitting beyond him, his head resting back against the rock.  He appeared emotionless, but I knew it was the shock.  We'd never expected to end up here, waiting to be rescued.  

Hoping to be rescued.

The wild beauty of the place was no consolation as we huddled on that ledge, praying that someone below would have reported us missing.  I looked across the open green valley at the bottom of the mountain; it seemed peaceful below, warmer too.  Up here it was freezing cold.  I struggled to feel any sensation in my face as the wind stabbed at my skin.  A waterfall, a couple of hundred feet below, crashed down the craggy mountainside, a constant reminder that the only way was down.

We couldn't leave David with his injury and we couldn't carry him.  The path was too sheer and the risk of falling was too high.  The only option was to wait.

It had been a few hours.  The sun was gradually lowering in the sky, taking the temperature down with it.  I could feel my teeth chattering.

'Enough of this.  We have to move!"  Carl's voice was a sudden shock in the growing darkness.  Insistent.  A little mad.

"No, Carl.  We can't."  I tried to reason with him, but he was on his feet, pulling at David's arm, trying to get him to move.

David moaned.

"Leave him!"  I stood, ready to intervene, to stop him, but it was too late.

In his frenzy, Carl stood back.  His foot went back, off the edge.  

It seemed to happen in slow motion.  

He froze.  He frantically waved his arms, trying to get his balance.  I reached out to him, but he tipped backwards and was gone.

"Carl!"  I screamed his name into the black abyss below.

I felt entirely helpless.  Carl was dead.  David was dying at my side.  They were novice climbers.  They'd relied on me to keep them safe and I failed them both.  I would probably die here too.

Then a light appeared, coming from the distance, like a beacon of hope.  It moved towards us accompanied by the thrum of propellers.  

Mountain rescue!

I pulled my torch from my pack and lit it, waving it in a circle above my head.  David made a sound beneath me.  His eyes were open, a smile spreading across his face.

We were saved.

This is 463 words.  You are advised to do 450-600.

Have a close look at how I've used structure and the features I've included.


  1. This is a fantastic post. I will be getting my pupils to have a read of this. Thank you very much!

  2. A great guide for students - thank you