Narratively Writers Guidelines – First-Person Stories

Thanks for accepting an assignment with Narratively! Please read these guidelines carefully before you start writing, and consult them again before submitting your first draft.

The Big Picture

Every Narratively story is made up predominantly of active and dynamic scenes, told with lots of color and detail, as if the reader is watching these moments unfold. We know it’s a writing cliché, but show don’t tell is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing for Narratively. Don’t tell us things in summary (“I remember how I used to…” ) show us active, specific scenes of these things as they happened.

Opening paragraphs are particularly important in order to get the attention of online readers. Your opening scene should be one of the most exciting moments in the story, told with enough enticing color that it jumps off the page (well, screen). Often, we’ll start with the most exciting/dramatic moment of the piece (regardless of when that moment takes place chronologically in the story), then flash back to the story’s opening events at the beginning of section two and move forward from there.

Include vivid descriptions of places— how they look, feel and smell—and of people—how they speak, act, look and carry themselves. Your words should give the reader a sense of what your main subjects look and act like even without photos.

The best way to get a solid sense of what we’re looking for in terms of dramatic scenes and colorful details is to read a few of our most recent Narratively Memoir stories.

If you haven’t already, please draft an outline of the story, including the main scenes you’ll write, and run that by your editor before you start writing.

People Mentioned in Your Piece

Facts and Details: We approach memoir stories with the same journalistic integrity as reported pieces. These are not opinion pieces and everything you’re including should be 100% accurate. If anyone mentioned in your story is likely to see things differently than you do, or contest details once the story is published, discuss this with your editor ahead of time and we can plan how to best approach this.

Anonymity: We do not grant anonymity to sources or subjects, or have authors use pseudonyms, unless there is a compelling reason to do so — e.g., using their real name will endanger them, put them at risk of losing a job…  If you or anyone mentioned in your story needs to be anonymous, discuss this with your editor and then explain why within the text. (Example: “Paulo,” whose real name I’m not using here because he didn’t know I’d be writing about our sex life back when we were dating…”)

Never send your story to your subjects/sources before publication. If a subject (including family members/people included in a memoir piece) requests to see the story, tell them it is our editorial policy that we don’t share stories with anyone before they are published. You can send subjects a list of facts mentioned in the story for them to confirm, but never show them an entire draft.

Style Notes

Names: When citing someone who is not a personal connection (such as an expert quoted in your piece) use full names on first reference and last names with no titles on second reference. You can use just first names for family members and close friends.

Language: We use American English in all stories, regardless of the setting of the story.

Bio: Include a one- to two-sentence bio at the end of your piece, plus links to any professional website or social media handles you would like to include.

Questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to your editor.