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Narrative thinking


Disciplines > Storytelling > Telling stories > Narrative thinking

Flow | Streams | Meaning | Tension | Satisfaction | See also


'Narrative thinking' is a particular frame of mind that leads you towards telling stories that have flow, connection, tension and satisfaction.

Whether you are telling fictional stories or narrating life events, it pays to get your mind into the right frame before you start and then sustain it throughout.


Above all, narratives flow. They are not a set of separate facts. Nor are they disconnected fragments, no matter how interesting each one is.

Flow implies sequences of events that progress through time. There is sense in their connection with one another. There is cause and effect.

Flow done well also draws in the reader such that they become associated into the story. They thus live in story time and space, losing all sense of the 'real' world as the story becomes more real.


Stories do not need to follow a single timeline and may fragment into separate flows, for example that tell of the experiences of different people.

Thus the story may be like a set of separate streams or ribbons that twist and wind about one another.

The narrative, however, is trapped in sequential time of the storyteller. This can, however, be used to great effect by stopping one stream at an exciting point to catch up on another stream.


A good story starts with a tension and plays with this throughout. Playing to our need for stimulation, novelty and interest, the story tensions keep us attending to find out what happens.

Tension in stories is built and demolished in sets of tension-resolution pairs, keeping the reader guessing and amazed at the completion of events.

Remember that good stories are not all sweetness and light and a predictable progression from beginning to end. There is struggle, interest, excitement, worry and more.


A key purpose of narrative is to create meaning in the minds of readers and listeners. The streams that flow through the story should thus be connected in a way that creates interest and makes sense within the frames by which people perceive the world.

Meaning is not a simple sequence and often appears initially as tension, mystery and the need to understand, followed eventually by an 'aha' of understanding.


Eventually, the story should reach a satisfying conclusion whereby all tensions are resolved and intended meaning is created.

The key metric of a good story is in the way the listener sits back with a smile or sighs of relief as the final resolutions give them a strong sense of satisfaction and the feeling 'that was a good story.'

See also

Tension-resolution pairs

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