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Six Tricks to Narrative Writing


A narrative is any piece of writing presented in a form, but it is most often associated with fictional storytelling. Narratives can be written or spoken. The presentation of a narrative and the methods and tricks the author uses determines how effectively the narrative is and also helps establish the author's writing voice. By determining which of the common narrative tricks or techniques work best for an individual story, you can ensure your narrative connects with your readers on an emotional level.

Narrative Elements

There are three basic elements essential to any narrative. Finding the right balance of these elements is the trick to effective narrative writing. The elements are action, description and dialogue. Of these three elements, action moves a narrative forward, dialogue may or may not move the narrative forward and description does not move the narrative forward. While all are essential to the narrative, the balance of the three is not always equal.

Flashback Sequence

Structure is an important part of narrative writing. It can be used to achieve specific purpose in your story. The flashback sequence is a structural trick that can be used to great effect. For instance, if the author wants the reader to know the outcome of a story right away but not the specifics of the outcome, a trick is to write the final scene in the narrative first, using it to hook the reader. After this, the flashback sequence structure can be used to bring readers up to speed. This trick is effective for grabbing readers at the start and making them want to discover how characters found themselves in the dire situation you open with.

Descriptive Narrative Writing

Writing description is an important art of a narrative. Finding the balance between not enough and too much can be a challenge. Here's a trick. Walk into a room or a public facility, such as a restaurant or store, and take thirty seconds to look around. Note the sights, sounds and smells that stand out immediately. Those are the elements you would want to capture in a narrative. Go home and write the scene as you remember it, using only those sights, sounds and smells your mind found important enough to take in. You can't describe everything in a narrative. Your story would stagnate and go nowhere, despite how vivid or beautifully written your descriptions are. Select only the minimal sights, sounds and smells necessary to put your reader in a particular time and place. This exercise is the trick to teaching yourself effective descriptive writing in a narrative.

Subtext Use

Text is what the reader actually reads in a narrative. Subtext is the meaning beneath the text. Not every line of dialogue or action in your text will have an alternate or deeper meaning, but a trick that can make your narratives more emotion charged is to think about the subtext possibilities and include it when you can. Subtext is a particularly effective trick for allowing readers to understand character motivation and to allow them to get inside a character's head. For instance, if you write a scene in which a character is offered a meat dish at a dinner party and the character says. "No, thanks, I don't eat dead animals," the subtext might suggest the character who speaks is condemning those who do eat meat. This may be an important character trait related to the story or its outcome. Never overlook subtext as an important trick in your writing arsenal.

Dialogue Tricks

Realistic dialogue is important in a narrative. There are several tricks you can use to make your dialogue less forced and more realistic. The first is to avoid using your dialogue as a way to deliver elements of the story you can show. Example: two characters in a strained relationship talk. One character says, "We've been together for ten years now and you want to throw it all away?" is forced. This is trying to show a fact of the story that can be shown through action or in a short descriptive narrative. Also, avoid successive use of complete sentences. Not all people speak in complete sentences in real life. Use broken speech in your dialogue to give it a realistic feel.

Another narrative dialogue trick, particularly when expressing dialect, is to use only enough dialect to give readers a flavor. Stephen King writes a lot of characters with a thick Maine accent, but he doesn't write every word out as it sounds. That becomes difficult to read. Select one or two words to write the way they sound and let the reader imagine the rest.

Absolute Present Tense

A narrative writing trick often employed by some writers is the absolute present tense. This means the author assumes a second person point of view and tells the reader what is going on at each moment of the story, as if the reader is actually experiencing it. This is a difficult trick to use effectively. In absolute present tense, it would look like this: "He walks into the dark room, listens, then reaches for a switch on the wall. He flips the switch and nothing happens. He hears a sound from somewhere in the room -- something shuffling. His heart races as the sound grows louder." If you use absolute present tense, be careful not to switch between past and present.

About the Author

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.