Make Narrative Pertinent
Authors make some very common mistakes when they’re writing their stories. They write a lot of narrative, but they also write a lot of irrelevant narrative.
Narrative, together with description and dialogue, is there to help tell the story – in sizeable, informative chunks that pushes the story along. Narrative is the telling part of the writing, while description is the showing.
Writers use both indirect and direct exposition, but when they use unnecessary or irrelevant narrative, this has the opposite effect to what the writer wants – it doesn’t move the story forward, it doesn’t impart new information and doesn’t contain any story revelations to enhance the plot.
The key word here is relevance.
Things like subplot, themes and flashbacks should all be relevant to the present story. Narrative is no different; it must be pertinent – it needs to relate to the story arc. If it doesn’t, rework it until it does, or get rid of it. Narrative that has no place in the story will do the story no favours.
Unwanted narrative comes all different forms. The most common is the info dump. This is when the author places great blocks of unnecessary background information and history into the story, which can go on for several pages, but that same information could be told in a paragraph or two, or even a sentence. Large swathes of narrative slow the story and could bore the reader. This is why prologues are counterproductive.
Flashbacks and reminiscences are a useful tool, if they’re used correctly, but many writers don’t use them in the right way. They overuse them to the extent they become wholly reliant on them to tell the story. This not only renders the story passive, but if your story is set in the present, then it can’t be told in retrograde.
Flashbacks relate to incidents in the distant or recent past and should only be used at the right moments to explain incidents in the present story – they must relate to the present story being told, otherwise they don’t work. They should seldom occur and only appear when the story demands it.
Other things to look out for are instances of meandering narrative. This is where the narrative wanders from its present story path and goes on to talk about other unrelated things; stuff that doesn’t have much to do with the present story being told.
This also includes misplaced narrative scenes, where the writer inserts a new scene that doesn’t really have much to do with the story being told – otherwise known as narrative padding. It’s extraneous stuff that doesn’t move the story forward and interrupts the flow.
How do you know narrative is pertinent? It directly relates to the story you’re telling.
Narrative is about giving the right information rather the wrong information. Too much wrong information slows the story, interrupts the flow and kills the pace.
If you have too many meandering scenes, too many flashbacks or large chunks of brain numbing exposition, that’s when you need to start cutting. As you become more experienced the more you write, you’ll recognise these signs and you’ll make fewer mistakes with your narrative. Keep the narrative simple, sizable and relevant.