Sunday, May 21, 2017

narrative = boring trousers

In a novel, anything can be summarized. Since scenes are harder to write, most beginners rely too heavily on narrative summary to tell stories.

A century ago, you could write practically an entire book in a narrative summary. No more. Most novels published today contain a great deal of action. Where many beginning novelists go wrong is to put passages into action that should be narrated, or to narrate passages that should be put into action.

Narrative summary indicates the passage of time briefly so readers know where they are. Narrative summary does have its place in your writing; breaking up scenes, for example. But narrative writing should not predominate. Save narrative summary for plot developments that are simply not important enough to justify being written as scenes.

From Chapter 4, Page 54 of Hard Fall by Ridley Pearson:
On Saturday morning, August 25, nearly two weeks after the Bernard explosion at National Airport, Daggett stood in the lobby of the Seattle Westin.
Using narrative summary, Pearson neatly moved us along and even changed our location with just one sentence.

Narrative summary does serve a purpose. It does vary the rhythm of your writing. Scene after scene with no break can become relentless and exhausting. Narration, used effectively, can give your readers a chance to catch their breath.

Also, some plot developments are simply not important enough to justify scenes. A scene of Tasker getting the headlight fixed on his Honda is pointless; that should be narrative summary.

But, you should never summarize during a high point of conflict in your novel. Moment-by-moment development makes a scene more lifelike and exciting. If you summarize a scene that should be in action, readers feel cheated.
A gun fight with the bad guy should be an action scene. Not a narrative summary like this: “Tasker went to the warehouse and, after a grim battle, managed to subdue Carlo Hernandez.” Yuck. No.
In a good novel, three things should happen to readers to cause them to want to turn the page. 

Readers experience a strong sense of place, whether it’s a house in Sarasota, Florida or a bar in Wilmington, Delaware. Readers develop a personal relationship with the characters that is built by their ability to empathize, understand, and believe the characters to be like real people. Because of this relationship and the feeling of being transported to another place and time, readers take on the dilemma faced by the major characters (shoulder the burden) and understand their need to resolve the problem and reach the goal. Readers want the protagonist to arrive at the conclusion and reach the goal. They pretend, on one level or another, to be the protagonist themselves. You keep readers interested in continuing to read by showing your story in scene after scene with an only occasional narrative summary to vary the pace.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews