by Adam Huddleston
Sometimes we take for granted our readers’ understanding of literary terms. This week, I wanted to quickly define the main types of narrative.
First-person narrative: The story is told from the narrator’s point of view. Pronouns seen are typically I and me. If the plot is in past tense, the reader knows that the narrator will survive whatever dangers they face. If it is in present tense, the suspense is still there.
Second-person narrative: The story is told from the reader’s point of view. You are actively participating in the plot. A well-known example of this is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books.
Third-person narrative: The story is told from a narrator outside of the story. They may either be omniscient or remain in the “heads” of one or more of the characters. This is the most commonly seen type of narrative.
Check Your Word Choices
By Cait Collins
There are times when I find myself using too many passive sentences and echoing words in my narration. Robert Ray author of The Weekend Novelist Writes the Novel, suggested this exercise during a workshop. You will need a pencil, paper, a timer, and highlighters.
You will be free-writing. Do not think. Do not lift the pencil from the paper. Do not cross out and correct. Just write. The opening sentence begins, “My first boyfriend (or girlfriend) sat across from me….” Set the timer for five minutes and start writing.
When the timer goes off, put down your pencil. Do not complete an unfinished sentence. Read your work. Using your highlighters, underline the nouns. Highlight your active verbs and circle the passive ones. Highlight adverbs in a different color, and adjectives in a third color. Now count your strong nouns. How many strong, descriptive nouns are in the paragraphs? Do the adjectives enhance the noun choices?
Count your active verbs and your passive verbs. Do you have more active verbs or more passive verbs? If there are more passive verbs how can you correct this? Adverbs are not your friend, so can you eliminate some adverbs by choosing more active verbs?
Free-writing allows the subconscious mind to take over and pilot the narrative. It allows our instincts to lead us to choices we might not consciously make. Using exercise like this we can develop a better vocabulary, improve our word choices, and create better narration in our stories.
SHORT STORY NARRATION
My critique group is busy crafting new short stories for Book 2 of our Route 66 Anthology series. My story is going great. It’s not all on the page yet, but it is in my head. Also, the ending came to me clear as a bell. The main character spoke the last line of the story and I wrote that scene as soon as I could. I have two main characters and I have a theme: regrets. One problem I realized after our discussion is that my story has no antagonist.
Short stories have the same components as full-length novels. Neil Gaiman talks about short stories in his MasterClass (well worth the price at masterclass.com). He learned from a mentor that “a short story is the last chapter of the novel that was never written.” How brilliant is that?
Here are your short story components:
- Strong sense of place, setting.
- The basic story conflicts apply, as we’ve noted in a previous blog: man versus man; man versus nature; man versus himself.
- Plot (sequence of events)
- Theme. Some examples: big idea, universal, underlying meaning such as ‘loneliness’, what lies beneath the surface ‘obsession’, moral of the story ‘love stinks’.
- A protagonist and an antagonist.
Even short stories feature a main character (MC) that changes in some way from beginning to the end, called the character arc. What does your MC want? What are the things that prevent your MC from achieving that goal? Flat characters are boring and does not experience any growth from beginning to end.
Dig deep and make that emotional connection with your reader. Tug at their heart strings. Keep writing, and good luck with your short stories!
A SHEEP OR A ROCK?
Comparisons are a useful way to create imagery in a story. My friend considers a well-written novel to be full of metaphors. In the book Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively, Rebecca McClanahan states, “An effective metaphor or simile is significantwhen it calls forth an image that reinforces the overall description.”
Beware of mixing your metaphors. For example: “The fluffy sheep grazed in the pasture, a black rock in knee-deep grass.”
Wait. Rocks are solid and unmoving. The sheep is soft and in motion. Which image am I suppose picture in my mind?
Every word you choose is important. They should work together to create one solid image to immerse your readers into your world.
My weakest part of writing is descriptions. I’ll rather write dialogue and get to the action. But meager images shortchange my readers by not putting them into the story. Several years ago, author Cecil Murphy gave me this advice. He told me to write down the descriptions I found in the books I read. By doing so, I will get a feel for how to do them.
This technique has improved my ability to describe, though it’s still a challenge for me. As an added bonus, I now have notebooks filled with these passages. I read a page before I write to get me into author mode. If you are having trouble with descriptions, give this method a try.
The Unreliable Narrator
by Adam Huddleston
In literature, films, etc, an unreliable narrator is one which is not completely credible. The story that they are telling you is either false or exaggerated. What’s often interesting is that this may or may not be apparent to the narrator. They could consciously be telling tall tales, or be affected by mental illness or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Examples of an unreliable narrator include: Pi Patel in both the novel and film versions of The Life of Pi and the main characters in Forrest Gump, Big Fish, and The Usual Suspects, Fight Club. One of my favorite parts of reading a story or watching a movie with an unreliable narrator is seeing if the tale contains a twist ending. These endings often show us what the true situation with the narrator was and are quite enjoyable.
Keep It Simple
By Cait Collins
Have you ever started reading a story or book and realized you needed a dictionary to understand what the author was saying? I can’t say I had to pull out my handy Webster’s Dictionary, but there have been times when I had to read paragraphs several times before I could follow the story. I usually don’t finish the book.
The point is that we don’t need to impress our readers by filling the pages with flowery description and hundred dollar words. Our narration should lead the reader in entering the story and bringing him in to the lives of the characters. The words should be descriptive, seasoned with adjectives and adverbs that strengthen but not over power the narrative. Less can often mean more and better.
Who’s Telling the Story?
Rory C Keel
As we look at “Narration” of a story this month, think of Narration as the one telling the story.
Who is the Narrator?
Is the person telling the story the Hero? Is the one telling the story a friend of the Hero or companion? Maybe the narrator is merely an unnamed person who can see, hear and knows everything from a god-like perspective.
Who the narrator is will determine the viewpoint of the story.
Characters don’t exist in a vacuum. You must describe them, the world they live, and the atmosphere that surrounds them. So, how much description do you need to put in your book? The short answer is enough to make your readers feel a part of the story, but not so much that it causes them to stop reading, roll their eyes, and skip to the next section of dialogue.
Today, pictures are everywhere. Most readers will already have an image of what you are trying to describe. They have imaginations. You don’t need to go into excessive detail unless it is an important element of the story. Even then, be careful. I once read a novel which used a lengthy paragraph to describe a tiger, an essential character of the book. Every single hair was mentioned. I like tigers, but I got bored in the middle of it.
Don’t get carried away with your descriptions. Just make sure you include enough to anchor your readers in your story’s world.