How to write solid narrative

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Me And My Muse. I’m taking a different kind of approach this time around. Instead of just a video, my Muse and I are going to chat via both written and video formats.

Isn’t that a kick in the artistry?

It is. Trust me.

Today I want to talk about narrative. More specifically, how to write a solid narrative. This was inspired by the current book series I’m reading. I’m not going to say the name of the series, because I don’t make a habit of knocking other author’s writing.

However, it does make for a good example on what not to do.

What is narrative?

But first, what is a narrative? The way I see it (since this is my virtual world, I get to call those shots), narrative is a way of connecting related events that come together to tell a story. Narrative isn’t just in writing – it’s in movies, theater, dance, story telling, even music. Within the realm of words, narrative is found in all forms, from monologues, to essays, to short stores, to novels.

So narrative is just a fancy term for plot?

Not really.

Narrative is the structure of the events, whereas plot is the sum of the events.

Think of it this way: Narrative is the design and structure of your house. It’s the bricks, the mortar, the wood, the roof shingles, the dry wall, the electrical wires, the floors, and the ceilings. The plot, on the other hand, is the tour you give to others through your house.

Plot is the story that is made up of the narrative bits.

What does this have to do with the series I’m currently reading? I’ll tell you. In the first book of this series, the author had a plot that consisted of some very interesting and well-placed narrative bits. All of those bits came together in a cohesive way to make following the story pretty easy. But then the second book came along. It’s clear the author had a plot, but the narrative bits he used to move the plot along weren’t clear or didn’t support the plot very well. It felt as if he were tossing things into the plot to make the universe he’d created more interesting, more dynamic. Unfortunately, what it did was muddy the plot so badly, by the middle of the book you had no idea what was going on.

You could have the most fabulous plot ever written, but by tossing (seemingly) random narrative bits into the mix, you’ve frayed the thread.

How do you avoid that?

How to avoid bad narrative bits

Avoiding bad narrative bigs depends on how you write. I’ll address this using my style of writing, which is to say without an outline. I write by the seat of my pants. My style is also a bit different in that I trust my instinct to guide and create the plot. Most writers have a good idea of what the plot is before they begin. Either way, this will apply.

As you write your book, you let the plot unfold with each word, sentence, and chapter. During this process, you’ll color the plot with subplots, events, new characters, dialog, scenes, vignettes, locales, etc. Even before you add a new narrative bit to the book you must ask yourself this one question: Does that bit clarify or confuse the plot? If it clarifies it (or adds to it), keep it. If the bit confuses or distracts from the plot, toss it.

And you have to be really honest with yourself. You might create a narrative bit that you absolutely LOVE and are desperate to keep. But if that bit doesn’t serve the plot, it’s gotta go. Why?

When you add narrative bits that confuse or muddle the plot, you lose the reader.

It’s that simple.

No, really, it is.

Even in works that are intentionally complex, you can’t just randomly toss bits and scraps into the mix and hope it’ll come out in the wash. The very last thing you want to do is muddy the waters of your plot.

I adore many of the works by Anne Rice. But there are some of her books where you can remove 20% of the pages — right from the middle — to create an even better story. It’s like she intentionally tosses in this over large section of backstory and you’re never quite sure of its purpose. And when you get back to the original plot, you’re lost.

Don’t do that.

Again, I love Rice’s works. Her Vampire Chronicles is one of the best series in the genre. But she comes so close, so often, to confusing her plot by tossing in unrelated and unnecessary narrative bits.

In the end, always make sure the pieces that create your narrative serve the plot of your book and you’ll wind up with a much stronger novel in the end.