Monday, August 17, 2015

5 Habits to Avoid When Writing Narrative

Narrative is the dish you serve your story on. Without it, you'd just have a mess all over the floor. It's where that ever elusive voice comes through. It's where the story happens.

I've been critiquing a lot of work lately, between a summer swap marathon and pre-PitchWars, and I've seen some patterns in fellow writers' narration (and my own) that can, unfortunately, disengage readers.

1. The Info-Dump

This often shows up at the beginning of the story. Long, long paragraphs of backstory and information that you could probably cut and instead spoonfeed through the narrative as you go along.

Never info dump if you can help it. While you understand perfectly all the information you're conveying on the page, you have the entire story in your head, and your readers do not. It's usually too much for them to process, and more oft than not they'd rather just get to the story.

2. Looooooong paragraphs

Anyone who has had me crit their work has no doubt got my comments on this. I'm a full supporter of white space, especially when it comes to kidlit and YA. Having a page full of big blocks of text is hard to read through.

There's no rule about this, but my own personal rule of thumb is to have at LEAST five paragraphs per page, with no paragraph longer than five lines, including dialogue as individual paragraphs. I don't always follow through on this, but the point still stands. Take full advantage of white space. It sounds crazy, but emptiness on the page actually makes the text more engaging. It frees up the reader's vision and lends itself to a faster read.

3. Imitating another author

This one is common among newer writers. I know, I love Tolkien/Lewis/Enter Famous Author Here too, but the whole point of publishing is to get your personal voice out there. When you write, write like you. Find your own voice.

4. Listing action

Look at your action sections in your narrative. If you can add "and then" in front of every sentence, you're listing action. "And then he lifted his sword. And then he crashed it down. And then..." etc.

This leads to clunky and disengaging writing.

5. Head Hopping

My critique partners will tell you I'm guilty of this one, and I am, but head hopping is a prevalent narrative fault. What is head hopping? It's not the same thing as multiple Point of View, when different characters tell the story in alternating chapters, but rather it's when you try to have multi-POV in the same scene/paragraph/sentence.

Head hopping goes like this: "Mary liked the pizza. Harold didn't like the pizza." You switch us from one character's head to the next. Keep everything in one character's perspective: "Mary liked the pizza. By the grimace on Harold's face, she could tell he didn't."

So there you go! There's many more pitfalls to avoid, which I may touch on in a sequel post, but don't get discouraged! Sometimes writing feels like a bunch of do nots, when in reality it's an art, and art is a place to break the creative rules. However, there are some standards that are good to follow for the benefit of your readers.

1 comment:

  1. I find that a great way to avoid both certain kinds of info dumps and action lists is to mix the "description" in with the "action".