|It finally happened - Hell froze over.|
|Why anyone would leave Florida for Minnesota in February . . . but I'm glad to see the old coat getting some use. (That's fake fur, I hasten to say. It's been hanging in the closet since 1982! It was 2° F. outside when this photo was taken.)|
WRITING WORKSHP 7 - Narration
Narration. Well-written narration is essential to creating a good book. And yet in the past decade or so Narration has been getting short shrift, with writers advised to use dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Keep in mind, however, that Dialogue only shows the surface. (Think of a swimmer - what you see on the surface is far less than what's under water.) Unless you let your readers know what your characters are thinking, we will never see anything but those few words on the surface (which might be the opposite of what your character is actually thinking). The reader also wants to know what actions are happening while the characters are talking. Just as readers don't want characters to be undeveloped stick figures or to talk - no matter how brilliantly - against a blank canvas, they do not want your characters to stand there, like great lumps, talking and talking without doing anything! And describing action is one of the many aspects of Narration. As is describing such vital ingredients as characters and setting. Narration provides color, atmosphere, breathless moments of joy, sorrow, sex, and death.
Narration provides setting, description, backstory, action—all the color and drama a book needs to grab readers in ways Dialogue never can. (Consider the unseen shark cruising in on the kicking body underwater. Readers need the whole story, not just a description of the swimmer's head bobbing along against a blank blue ocean. Narration can reach inside your characters' heads and reveal what they are really thing. Narration is what penetrates your hero's and heroine's brains and reaches your readers' hearts.
Caution about writing action. Action does not necessarily mean some big battle scene. Writing action can be as simple as mentioning that the hero, shoulders, slumped stared out the window. And do not make the mistake of inserting action for no reason except that someone said you should. The action must make sense. It must add to the plot, reveal character, etc., not detract from what is more important. Conversely, if a villain is droning on and on, boring everyone to death, and he suddenly picks up a bat and whacks someone over the head, it is the action that is vital to the scene, not the words that were spoken. They were just a smoke screen.
Another bit of advice: try to keep your paragraphs short. (No longer than a third of a page, if possible.) The old days of page-long paragraphs do not fit the tempo of modern readers. Do not, however, write a whole slew of one-line paragraphs. Save these for emphasis. If you use a lot of them, the whole point is lost.
Grace note: many, many years ago when I was first looking for an agent, I recall one scrawling across the page that she wasn't taking new clients, but one look at my manuscript told her that my paragraphs were too long. (And this was more than twenty years ago. So take heed, keep some white space on those pages.)
Above all, never forget that Narration presents your reader with the whole cake. Dialogue is just the frosting.
Writing Exercise - Character Description:
Grace Note: I would like to see the romance publishing industry allow authors to "tell" us about their characters, as Nora Roberts did in her famous introduction of Tucker Longstreet in Carnal Innocence. With so many indie authors out there, all I can say is I encourage you to consider "telling" us about your main characters when they are introduced. This is heresy, however, so all I can say, don't forget to describe both main and secondary characters when they are first introduced. Give readers some idea of how you picture them in your head and try to work in some personality traits if you can. The "modern" rules of romance require this to be done almost exclusively through the eyes of the hero and heroine seeing each other, rather than through the eyes of the author.
Only you can decide if you feel you must bend to New York print house rules or if you would like to be daring and do for your main characters what Nora did for Tucker. Always keep in mind, however, that most "rules" were made for a reason. Many readers may not want to plow through a description that goes on for two pages, no matter how well done it is.
However you approach the problem, don't settle for talking heads against a blank canvas or for characters who stand there and do nothing while they talk.
Exercise: Create a new character, or select one from a book you are currently working on. Tell your readers about this person, make him/her come alive. Read it over. Is it too long for always-in-a-hurry readers? Is it just straight facts, or did you work in a peek into your character's mind? Is it you, the author, who is telling this? Or did you go for New York mode and let a character in your book create the description?
If you feel you've nailed it (in whatever mode you choose), I'm sure other readers of this blog would like to see it. Please share by posting to Comments.
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For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
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