I’m excited to have my writer friend Laura Frantz as a guest blogger. She’s the gifted author of The Frontiersman’s Daughter and Courting Morrow Little, which have received rave reviews.
Having enjoyed both books, I learned that one of Laura’s many strengths is narration. Using words as her medium, she brings her characters and setting to life with consummate skill, and she’s going to share some tips with us.
Narrative: Friend or Foe?
by Laura Frantz
If you’ve read my novels, you’ve discovered I love narrative. But it nearly disqualified me from the publishing race early on. My first book, The Frontiersman’s Daughter, was rejected by a major house because, while the writing was very fine, or so they said, it was also a bit “old fashioned” or “literary” and contained more narrative than most CBA novels. Their particular focus was on dialogue-driven text, fast and furiously paced, not the sleepy prose of olden days.
Was I discouraged and tempted to change my style? Nope. I knew there were narrative lovers out there like me. 🙂 And I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.
Narrative has been defined as info the reader needs to know that contributes to moving the story forward. Basically, narrative is anything that is not dialogue or an action scene.
“Back when people had actual attention spans being 1774 to 1879 – a novelist could take a long time up front laying out the history of a character. Those days are over…” so James Scott Bell says in The Art of War for Writers. These days, you have to give the reader little bits of narrative at a time—not pages, but paragraphs, even a sentence or two, woven in with dialogue so that it’s well done, not overdone. Narrative, including the backstory Bell speaks of here, must serve a purpose.
That opening scene in your novel should be narrative-deficient and move at a brisk pace. Action/conflict and dialogue are essential—no weather openers or too much scenery, much as I love them. 🙂 You’re setting the tone for the reader, tempting them to turn that page. “Act first, explain later” as Bell so astutely says.
Many a book has been won or lost on page one. Often a reader freezes when they see big chunks of narrative. It’s unfriendly-looking. They skim. Yawn. Sometimes they put the book down. The intrepid sludge through narrative mud, hoping something interesting will emerge, waiting to return to the action. Throughout your novel, you must have a balance between narrative and dialogue/active scenes. It’s a fine dance.
A recent reviewer said of my use of narrative, “Frantz writes beautifully, and I often stopped to re-read a sentence or paragraph because of her unique way of putting things.” Nice, huh? Not if it slows the reader down and breaks the forward momentum of the story. I call this intrusive writing. Just because I’m in love with words and their rhythm doesn’t mean the reader is. Most simply want a well told story. They want to interact with your characters—see them spring to life, fall in love with them, grieve when the book is done.
Effective narrative . . .
*is best in bits, not chunks
*works best when told from the deep POV of the character
*should never stagnate
*contains sharp imagery and sparkling verbs
*has varying sentence lengths
*is essential to the story
*conveys crucial info the reader needs at that particular point in the story
*should be done so well that the reader isn’t aware there has been a break in the story
*must be properly paced so it won’t deaden emotional impact, kill tension, or result in the reader taking a nap or abandoning the book
But . . . there isn’t a writing rule that hasn’t successfully been broken, including these. As an instinctive writer, I pay more attention to my “gut” and writing instinct than craft books. You may be the same. Please don’t let yourself become so bogged down by rules that your creativity is stifled. These “rules” are merely guidelines. Above all, craft the book of your heart.
Lastly, see if you can identify the ways I’ve broken some of the “rules” and then respected others in the opening scene from Courting Morrow Little below.
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Excerpt Illustrating Laura’s Excellent Use of Narration
Morrow took out a painted paper fan, her gloved hands trembling, and recalled the look of horror on her aunt’s face moments before when she’d embarked, as if she’d stepped into a coffin instead of a keelboat. Or perhaps Aunt Etta was ruing that she’d smothered her niece in silk, given the tobacco-chewing boatmen at the oars.
…..Beneath the wide brim of her straw hat, Morrow’s eyes timorously swept the deck. Was she to be the only female on board? And what of her escort?
…..Up and down the rickety dock she looked, searching for the man her father had hired to bring her safely from Fort Pitt to Kentucke. Even with the summer sun in her eyes, it didn’t take long to find him. Amidst all the folks lining the waterfront, one man stood out and was making straight for her. Although his attire was the same as almost every other settler in sight, he moved with an air of authority that nullified the need for any introduction. Only Ezekial Click could cause the crowd to part as decisively as the Red Sea.
…..“Captain Click!” someone shouted.
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Laura Frantz is the author of The Frontiersman’s Daughter and Courting Morrow Little. She credits her grandmother as being the catalyst for her fascination with Kentucky history. Frantz’s ancestors followed Daniel Boone into Kentucky in the late 18th century and settled in Madison County, where her family still resides She is a member of the Kentucky Historical Society, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Romance Writers of America®. Frantz currently lived in the misty woods of Port Angeles, Washington, with her husband and two sons. Learn more about Laura by visiting her blog.
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And here’s a little about Laura’s latest release, Courting Morrow Little.
Morrow Little is haunted by the memory of the day her family was torn apart by raiding Shawnee warriors. Now that she is nearly a grown woman and her father is ailing, she must make difficult choices about the future. Sever men—ranging form the undesired to the unthinkable—vie for her attentions, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to a forbidden love that both terrifies and intrigues her. Can she betray the memory of her lost loved ones—and garner suspicion from her friends—by pursuing a life with him? Or should she seal her own misery by marrying a man she doesn’t love?
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Drawing with Three Chances to Win
Laura has generously offered to give away a copy of The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great by well-known literary agent Donald Maass.
Since some of you already have The Fire in Fiction, I’m adding my gently-read copies of The Frontiersman’s Daughter and Courting Morrow Little to the drawing, giving those visitors who leave a comment three chances to win a book–one per winner.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Laura by midnight Friday, November 26th (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)
On Saturday, November 27th I will hold the drawing and post the winners’ name here as well as in a comment and will contact them via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)
Congratulations to Heather, winner of The Fire in Fiction.
Congratulations to Ashley R. winner of The Frontiersman’s Daughter.
Congratulations to Adrienne, winner of Courting Morrow Little.
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
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How do you handle narrative?
Do you have other helpful tips for handling narrative?
Who are some other authors you think do a great job with narrative?
Do you have a brief example of narrative from your WIP you’d like to share?