Doing Narrative Writing

What is Narrative Writing?

Narrative Writing tells a story about a person, an event, or a series of events. As a form of writing it is rich with detail and description drawing the reader into the situation presented. Narrative writing can be fictional or non-fictional. It usually has a distinct moral or point embedded within the story that is extremely clear, and it often discusses the actions of characters in challenging, exciting, or emotionally-charged situations.

Good narrative writing leaves readers with the impression that they have been shown the story rather than told it. It helps readers to relate to the lives of the characters that have been written about. Narrative writing can take on many different forms, and some examples include: poetry, short stories, personal essays, and plays.

Why Use Narrative Writing for HIV & AIDS Education?

Narrative writing is a useful tool for raising HIV/AIDS awareness because the stories have a point or moral and convey a specific message. They usually describe a problem that needs to be solved, a memorable moment, or a challenge that needs to be overcome and can help get readers to think about their own actions and decisions.

Narrative writing can empower people to tell their own life stories, including the challenges that HIV and AIDS can present in daily life. It can encourage people to speak out about a specific kind of stigma they have faced; it can convey facts about high risk behaviours that can lead to a greater chance of HIV infection; and it can help readers to better understand the lives of people who are touched by HIV and AIDS in a way they may not otherwise have been able to.


    ✓ Has a clear moral of the story / easy to convey a specific message
    ✓ Detailed - allows for a lot of information to be passed on
    ✓ Expressive - many different forms allow writers to choose from a variety of ways to express themselves
    ✓ Few materials


    x Can be difficult to distribute widely
    x Requires a greater commitment of both time and energy to compose or read than to watch a play or look at a visual message

Creating Narrative Stories

A narrative story is written based on the personal point of view or experience of the author. The writer of the story makes and supports a point that is clear from the beginning of the story. A narrative story includes all the regular storytelling conventions: plot, character, setting, climax, and conclusion. Narratives are rich in details that explain, support, or exaggerate the story and clarify the main point the author is trying to make. Vivid verbs and modifiers are often used to help make the story come alive.

Tips for effective narrative writing:

  • Make a clearly-defined point and present it in the first paragraph
  • Include the important events in detail, avoiding any details that do not relate to the main point
  • Use vivid and precise verbs when describing events
  • Use logical progressions with good transitions when moving from point-to-point

Three ways to use narrative writing as a tool for HIV & AIDS awareness:

The first way is to simply distribute pre-written HIV and AIDS-related narratives in the community. The pros of this method are that people can read the stories on their own time and at their own pace and that readers do not have to discuss the moral of the story or share any private/sensitive thoughts. However, there is a great deal of evidence that is showing this type of method is less effective than more participatory approaches, as this approach is impersonal and there is no way to measure whether or not the stories are actually being read.

The second way involves a reading circle where groups gather to discuss pre-written narrative stories related to HIV and AIDS issues. This method gets people talking about the point and perspective in each of the different stories and allows group members to reflect on how the characters stories relate to their own experiences. The benefit of this method is that it sparks discussion between people and can be very effective at distributing accurate facts and information. The downside of this method is that some issues related to HIV and AIDS are private and sensitive and in some groups people may be unwilling to share their perspective.

The third way involves helping people compose their own narrative writing pieces. This allows group members to write their own stories, about their own feelings, and about the life experiences that are important to them. It also allows individuals to express their opinions privately if they wish. The benefits to this method are that it gets people sharing their own experiences publicly or privately as they wish. For this third method there are a variety of different prompts that can be used to focus group members on a certain topic. This is important because the task of sitting down and writing can seem difficult. Try any of the following prompts:

  • Think of an event you will want to remember when you are old. Tell about what happened in a way that's so clear that if you read this story again when you are eighty, every detail will come flooding back as if it happened yesterday.
  • Think of a place that's so special to you that you just love thinking about it. It might be as big as a city or as small as one corner of a room. Describe this place so clearly that your reader will know just what it's like to be there.
  • Write a letter that your grandchildren will open in 50 years telling them what the world is like today.
  • Think of something you have done that brought you satisfaction, pleasure, or a sense of accomplishment. Write about that activity or event and tell why it sticks in your mind.
  • Think of something that has happened in your life that ended badly. Describe what it is and how it made you feel and how you wish it could end differently.

You can get the group starting to write with easier, lighter and happier prompts and then move towards more HIV and AIDS specific issues as group members become more comfortable with you and each other. It is also often helpful if you bring examples of different narrative writing pieces to show the group.

Keep in mind that all three methods or some combination of each of the three can be used in any situation. It is up to you and your group to decide what will work best for you.

For more information on narrative writing and for links to prompts visit:

Examples of Groups Who Have Used Narrative Writing for HIV & AIDS Education

Mount Sinai Hospital: Narrative Group for Men and Women Living with HIV/AIDS

The Narrative Group for Men and Women Living with HIV/AIDS is a group opportunity for individuals living with HIV/AIDS who share an interest in writing and discussing writing to learn how to write and share their own stories. New groups start up each January and September and members write their stories and share them with others living with HIV in a confidential setting. This environment helps HIV/AIDS positive individuals to foster creative problem-solving skills and find a greater sense of meaning as they navigate their illness and its impact on their life.

The Positive Side

The positive side is a website designed to give HIV/AIDS positive people and their families and friends a resource for information and an outlet for expression. Among the many different features of the site is a place to post articles, stories, and other forms of narrative writing as well as links to narrative writing workshops.