Thursday, May 14, 2009

Getting Information Across, Part Two: Narration

Part one of getting information across was on using dialog to get important details, plot points and characterization in your novel. Writing dialog is my favorite thing to do. But a close second is narration. To me, narration is when the POV character is describing things for the reader. Setting, who's doing what, how they ducked the blow from the left, how freaking cold it is, etc. It's basically all the stuff that isn't being spoken out loud or italicized as an internal thought (more on that next week).

So narration. Your goals are the same as when writing dialog. Important details, plot points and characterization. I think there are a few pointers you should consider when writing narration.

1. Authentic voice. It's important to keep the voice of the character even in narration. You can still characterize your characters by how they react, what they see, what they don't, their perceptions of what other people say or do, and on and on. Voice is not only in your dialog sections, it's in all writing. Just look at some of the blogs you read. The voice in this post is quite a bit different than the voice in some of my, um, other posts. Right?

2. Flow and Tell. I get so sick of the old mantra "show, not tell." I know it's the whole writer's lingo and all that. For me, I think what you are doing is telling a story. True, if you are a good storyteller, you'll create images (the show part) in the reader's mind as you do your job. For me, this comes down to the flow of the writing. I can usually tell if I'm being too telling because the flow of the story is interrupted. Reading out loud can really help you keep the flow on target.

In a "mixed" piece of writing the flow is easily puddled with dialog, making it easier to have sentence fluency and variation. In narration, without this dialog to punctuate with, sometimes the flow becomes monotonous with sentences too similar in structure. Beware of this in passages with no dialog or other ways to break up the narrative flow. You'll have to use your mad skillz of phrasing and word choice to make your narration shine.

3. Make every word count. This is a given in all writing, but especially narration. This is where you're using your five senses. This is where you're describing a setting. An attack. A feeling. A reaction. Every word has to count, has to drive the plot forward, has to do something besides just sit there on the page.

Take this sentence for example: "The wind drove the rain into my skin like tiny needles."

I could have said the wind was blowing hard and that it was raining, but don't you get such a better mental image with this? Every word is used to its best wordy ability to convey not only the setting, but how the MC feels in said setting while laying the foundation for what might be coming next in all this wind and rain. Because it's important. I didn't just make it stormy because I wanted to. The story demanded it, and now it's my job to make sure the reader is there, experiencing the needle-rain and driving wind. Does that even make sense to anyone outside my head? Freak, I hope so.

One last thing: Only write what needs to be said to accomplish your goal. I think oftentimes when we veer off into places we shouldn't is during narration. We think we have to explain that last bit of dialog or make sure the reader understands one more time that this guy is yummy-delicious or where that portal goes or whatever. Dont' fall into this trap.

So while I love writing dialog and think it comes naturally to me, writing narration is the real meat of a story. It's where you become the storyteller. (I could totally go into a Survivor joke right here, but I won't. *wink*)

Thoughts? On a scale from one to ten, how are you at writing narration? I'm going to go with a 6 or 7 for me. It's not as easy as dialog and sometimes I sit and stare at the blank page for many minutes trying to find just the right way to say something.

What else do you consider when writing narration?


Robyn said...

Elana, what a great post today. You talk about that trap off over explaining and veering off into places we shouldn't. I do this ALL of the time. I don't want to, I say I won't do that, and yet I still do it. ARGH! Great post, I enjoyed reading and I learned some things, too. ThANKS!

Nisa said...

I think I'm better at writing dialogue than narration. I'm afraid I love too much out, and I know I bird walk... I do think I'm getting a little better. Maybe...

Eric said...

Part of my problem is lack of organization in my writing. I think thats probably why I veer off from time to time. But maybe thats also because I don't always know where my story is going. How would it sound though, to change your sentence example slightly (and avoid the use of "like"):

"The wind drove needles of rain into my skin."

Or is that being too critical, overthinking the flow too much?

Scott said...

I'll give myself a 6.8 on writing narration. I'm definitely better at dialogue. I also try not to overdo my narration - get to the point, and do it quickly is my mantra.

Oh, and it's amazing that you're doing a post about narration on Narrative Passage Thursday. I'm just saying . . . ; )


Jody Hedlund said...

I totally struggle with narration. I try to write tight, but I think then I glaze over my narration hoping the reader can pick up on things without me having to spell it out. But I think we have to find that balance. Thanks for the suggestions!

Michelle McLean said...

awesome post elana! I also tend to veer off and I do have a tendency to repeat myself. And I love the "use all your senses" bit. That was something I learned in a memoir writing class and it has always stuck with me. It's a great way to really put your reader in the story. :)

christinefonseca said...

I love this post...and #2 - brilliant!!! You know, you should totally teach a writing class - I'm serious! You could do it online. I bet a lot of people would take it :D...

In all seriousness - great post!

Danyelle said...

I like flow and tell. Much better way of expressing it. :D I also really like your last point. Stories aren't like real life, and neither are the conversations. People often go off on tangets that mean nothing in the over all picture. Novels can't, well, shouldn't do that. :D

B.J. Anderson said...

Great post! Hmmm. 1-10 I would give myself a 6. I like to write narration, but it's hard to to keep myself from rambling.

Casey said...

This is a great post! I've just started revisions on my WIP and have been focusing on making everything in each scene really count.

Also, I awarded you an award (or two) on my blog. No big thing. Mostly just a plug.

: )

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