WoW ~ Narrative: Friend or Foe?

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

About Laura

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?

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

Questions

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?


 

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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53 Responses to WoW ~ Narrative: Friend or Foe?

  1. Laura Frantz says:

    Yes, it counts, Pepper:) Phonetics…the building block to reading! And I really relate to being in a lonely place with your writing, even character-wise. And I meant every word here:) It means a lot to me that you’d take time to come by as I know you have so many demands. You are one of the busiest people I know!

  2. Laura Frantz says:

    Kav, I was just thinking about you this morning! Whenever I do that you tend to show up:) You’ve asked such a good question. Yes, who are “THEY” that decide non-narrative work is better or more popular? Marketing teams, perhaps, based on sales records? Reader polls? I tend to think it’s dollar driven and so pubs are pushing for this. The CBA is notoriously dialogue-driven but the secular market offers a much better selection in every genre for narrative work. I must admit I’ve had a huge amount of reader mail complaining of this trend. No easy answers, that’s for sure.

    I admit to wrestling with the show vs. tell debate. Sometimes it is simply better to say flatly, “She was furious” than to say, “Her pulse began to pick up in rhythm and her insides were a stew…” I doubt you struggle with this too much as I’ve heard so many fine things about your writing:) Love when you say you just about swoon over narrative that pulls you in. That’s quality deep POV and it works every time!

  3. Laura, you are a master at narrative writing. I admit that I’ve had a tendency to skip narrative at times, but you broke me of that completely. First of all, if I skipped, I would miss a beautifully phrased sentence or paragraph. Second, I would miss important pieces of information. I think the reason narrative has been given a bad name, at times, is it is often skipable.

    And why didn’t Kav share a sample?

    As a dialogue driven author, I’m pleading the fifth.

    Keli, please don’t include me in the drawing. I have, and savor, all those titles.

  4. Ashley R. says:

    Thank you for the Laura Frantz interview! Great, great author. I enjoy visiting her
    website frequently, and I am happy to be introduced to yours! I would love to be entered to win a copy of TFD to call my own.
    Thanks!

  5. Laura Frantz says:

    Lorna, You are so gracious. I feel like I’ve had dessert and Thanksgiving isn’t even here yet:) I was thinking today how my writing is becoming more dialogue-driven because of word count issues. You’re teaching me a thing or two as I read these great galleys of yours for endorsment:) There’s one line in particular I’d like to steal from you as it’s still weaving through my mind!

    And YES, I’d so love an excerpt from Kav like you said. Here, there, or anywhere:)

  6. Laura Frantz says:

    Lorna, You are so gracious. I feel like I’ve had dessert and Thanksgiving isn’t even here yet:) I was thinking today how my writing is becoming more dialogue-driven because of word count issues. You’re teaching me a thing or two as I read these great galleys of yours for endorsment:) There’s one line in particular I’d like to steal from you as it’s still weaving through my mind!

    And YES, I’d so love an excerpt from Kav like you said…here, there, or anywhere:)

  7. Laura Frantz says:

    Ashley,
    So good to see you here! I’m really enjoying every comment so much. And I love that you’d like a copy of TFD:) Am hoping your Thanksgiving is extra special and full of unexpected blessings! Thanks for taking time here ~ it’s a real treat for me.

  8. Lori Benton says:

    Hi Laura. After the time period of your novel and a wonderful review made me want to read TFD, it was your lyrical narrative (as Brenda A. put it perfectly) that hooked me. I remember reading those first few pages and thinking, “Oh, at last. At last! A CBA historical with a pace and setting I can sink my soul into to the point of total immersion (not just a toe-dabble).” You and I share that longing for narrative, especially in historicals, but someone up-stream in this comment thread mentioned narrative that is skippable (perhaps it was regarding the older books like North & South?). Anyway, I think that’s the key. Make that narrative unskippable. One way is to be sure the information included is doing double duty, like evoking mood as well describing a physical setting. Or letting the choice of the narrative content also show something about the POV character who’s filtering it to us–especially with description. That keeps it from being static. It takes me many drafts to come anywhere close to that lofty goal, and a lot of cutting. A LOT of cutting. 🙂

    Here’s a narrative-heavy snip from The Quiet in the Land, my historical in progress, which is in the aforementioned cutting stages even now. (I’ve replaced a certain character’s name with X, to avoid spoilers):

    It was the fourth day into his trek away from X, and Neil MacGregor was beginning to draw uneasy parallels between his present predicament and that of Jonah, who had gone down to Joppa in search of a ship to take him in the opposite direction of Ninevah, where the Almighty had instructed the prophet to go. Providence, seeming bent on driving home the comparison, had sent a tempest of a mountain storm on his heels, nearly drowning him as it broke over his head.

    The wind had let up after a day. The drenching rain had not, and in short order Neil had found himself swallowed whole. Not by a great fish, bethankit, but the cave in which he’d taken shelter wasn’t much drier than a fish’s belly. The air reeked of damp stone, but was breathable at least. More so than the gastric Gehenna poor Jonah had endured before being vomited back onto dry land.

    “In everything give thanks,” Neil muttered, hunkered just back from the entrance on this, his third day in the bowels of the earth. “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning you,” he added, finishing the verse from the letter to the Thessalonians–and wished immediately he had not.

    The will of God. It was a volatile topic of thought, one he’d avoided for days–seven days to be exact, counting the one on which he’d ridden from X’s cabin yard, headed resolutely toward his own Joppa.

    [end excerpt]

    I have all three books too (and highly recommend all three), so don’t enter me in the drawing.

  9. Heather says:

    I’m such a fan of Laura’s work! She is truly a master at weaving in the tiny thoughtful details without bogging down a story. What great tips too!
    I think my greatest challenge is the play-by-play of emotions that I like to give characters 😉 probably too much showing and not enough telling! You’d think that working for a time as a journalist where much of my work was ‘just the facts’ I’d learn not to be so wordy 😉 lol, guess not!
    Please do enter me in the contest! I’d love to win! And thanks for the insights Laura, I always love hearing your thoughts on the craft~

  10. Keli and Laura: I’ve been following all day. The comments and the samples are wonderful. There is still a great love of prose out there and one agent I read calls it “upmarket fiction” … fiction that is more literary in nature. the truth is, that there is always a place for the best, because the cream rises to the top.

    I thank you all for a lovely day 🙂

  11. Laura Frantz says:

    Lori,
    You’ve made my day! As usual, your take on narrative means a great deal as you do it so very well. And your excerpt, as usual, is “exquisite” as one literary agent in the industry recently said:)

    I not only feel Neil’s cave experience, I want to be in the cave with him! That’s fine writing. You seem to write in deep POV all the time and this is a great example.

    Am hoping your editing is going very well. I hate to hear you’re cutting anything:( But I know you enjoy editing even more than the first draft. Can’t wait to hear more about The Quiet in the Land. Kindred, too. Bless you for taking time here and for being such a dear friend!

  12. Laura Frantz says:

    Ramblings, So glad you’ve enjoyed all the comments/perspectives – I sure have! And I love what you said about cream rising to the top. If that’s not a good summation of strong narrative, I don’t know what is.

    I’ve just been over to your blog and love the city pic header:) I’ve only been to NYC once and it was unforgettable. It truly is a city that never sleeps. My editor lives in NYC – well, Sea Cliff. Your bio is so interesting!

  13. Laura Frantz says:

    Heather, I wonder if your love of the artistic side of things makes you love words and being wordy when you write? That sure happens to me. I don’t think of you as purple prosey, though:) I’m so blessed to have you for a reader. You’ve taught me a lot about your kind of art over the last year or so. Where does time go? Thanks so much for coming over here when your Santas are calling!

  14. Rita Gerlach says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Wonderful tips by Laura. Her use of narrative is masterful in her books.

  15. Laura Frantz says:

    Rita,
    So glad to see you here! In the midst of all your busyness you take time and I’m so thankful! You are generous in your praise but I feel like I have so far to go. I think it was Francine River who likened herself to an apprentice – and I thought, “Oh my, what does that make me?!” I’ve been wanting to tell you I’m getting ready to read Surrender the Wind. I started it back in August and read only one chapter, then was hit by deadlines and haven’t gotten back to it yet. But my break starts tomorrow and it’s top of my stack. I’m looking forward to talking to you after I’m done. I know I’m going to enjoy it. Thanks so much for your presence and words here!

  16. Susan Mason says:

    Laura,

    It’s great to see you here!

    You said: “Please don’t let yourself become so bogged down by rules that your creativity is stifled.” That’s so true and exactly what I’ve been feeling lately. Sometimes the more I study ‘how to’ books, I feel paralyzed when I try to write.

    I need to give myself permission to just write like I want to and figure the rest out later!

    Thanks for your comments.

    Keli, I have all the books, too, so don’t enter me in the draw! That little excerpt has moved Courting Morrow Little up to the top of my TBR pile!!

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! from your Canadian neighbour!

    Sue

  17. Laura Frantz says:

    Sue, So good to see you here! My Thanksgiving is now complete:) I, too, often feel stifled by all the rules. They have so little to do with how/why I write and the joy I take in writing. As soon as I start worrying about them all my joy goes out the window. And if there’s no passion on the page, then it’s a dud book.

    Hope this is a great writing and reading day for you. I just put a big bird in the oven and may try to sneak in a little reading time myself.

    Hoping you enjoy Morrow’s story. It’s such a pleasure to know you want to read my book. Bless you!
    Laura

  18. Laurie Pace says:

    Laura,
    While traveling to visit family for Thanksgiving, I finally get time to catch up on your blog and was thrilled to jump over and read your thoughts here as well.

    Writing style comparisons as you describe it reminds me much of the varied painting styles. While you have the realistic painters that work over a painting layer by layer ensuring correct light and texture, you can have an abstract artist paint the same subject in a totally loose manner with fauvistic non-reality colors.

    If true to heart, an artist finds they while they can attempt to imitate a style of another artist, the true joy comes creating from their own soul as they make their own journey across the canvas. Is that not true with writers?

    I have always wondered with writing and all the many published HOW TO books, (no different than the How to Paint books) if many writers succumb to the “method of choice to sell” over the “to thine own self be true”.

    Laura, your books are treasures on my shelves. I am buying some books for our local library in our small town for a Christmas Donation…I would love to win these (especially yours) for the Mt Vernon City Library. I have already listed your books on my list as well as Higgs’ newest release. It simply cannot get any better.

    From my teaching experience in elementary school, we need to go back to find a balance with the descriptive narrative. The children today are not challenged by today’s modern narrative fiction. True they are in love with the fiction, but it is often loosely constructed and lacking in detail. Value lies in the classical works – teaching children in both literature and art that there is more beyond the written word or picture they see.

    When viewing Picasso in his latest modern stages, it is 180 degrees from where he started with realism. There must be a continuum or evolution in creating be it writing or art. A solid writing narrative provides this in literature as it gives the needed perspective for the imagination of the reader. If the depth is not there to bring the full impact to the reader, they are left with only surface reading and not a full understanding of the ‘moment’.

    Again in painting, even the best abstract painting provides a basic foundation of ‘narrative’ before they begin to build their action.

    I am thankful for the bounty of good writers that keep me entertained. I read daily with three books going at one time. Television is only for morning news and weather. I have not been to a movie in over 30 years. Yes hubby does netflix, but absolutely nothing matches for me a well written book and that includes a constant narrative to have perspective to immerse myself into the story.

    Enjoy your Thanksgiving and time with family… we are loving every moment of it. I didn’t mean to ramble…too much turkey yesterday and I am still on the slow track.

    AND yes, there are three books traveling with me right now.

    Laurie

    • Lori Benton says:

      Laurie, your words here: “If true to heart, an artist finds they while they can attempt to imitate a style of another artist, the true joy comes creating from their own soul as they make their own journey across the canvas.”

      … make me think of a Steven Pressfield quote I read just the other day: “When a writer has found his voice, when a singer has discovered her style, they have power. We feel it. It draws us to them. Why? Because we want it too. We want to be ourselves the way they are themselves.”

      You can read that whole post here: http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2010/11/the-amnesiacs-story-3/

  19. Laura Frantz says:

    Laurie,
    Oh, your words are so beautiful and welcome! I lit up like a Christmas tree when I saw your comments:) First, thanks so much for taking time here. It’s an honor that you would read my books and want to share them with your local library. Libraries are so important and I do the same here and in KY.

    It’s fascinating to hear your perspective as an artist because it mirrors the writing experience so closely. When you say, “The true joy comes from creating their own soul as they make their own journey across the canvas” – YES! Like Lori’s comment on Pressfield, you’ve hit upon why so many books lack power or enduring value or are shallow. There is no “full impact” for the reader as you’ve said. If you write for the market, some trend, or for the bestseller lists, I believe that joy will be missing and therefore missing for your reader, as well.

    I hope that readers here will stop by and visit your amazing website/blog and see your creative heart through your paintings. It sure blesses me when I take time there!

    Like you, I’m not a TV watcher and I rarely take in a movie. Books satisfy in a way nothing else can. I’m learning to juggle several books at once:) It’s actually kind of fun and I do get more reading done!

    Praying you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I think of you so often and you’re in my prayers. God bless you for being such a light, Laurie.

  20. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by and to those who left such wonderful comments for Laura.

    I’ve held the drawing. The winner of the copy of The Fire in Fiction, which Laura so generously offered as a prize, is Heather. The winner of my gently read copy of The Frontiersman’s Daughter is Ashley R, and Adrienne won my gently read copy of Courting Morrow Little.

    Congrats, Heather, Ashley, and Adrienne! I’ll be in touch.

  21. Laura Frantz says:

    So happy for Heather, Ashley, and Adrienne! I have Heather’s addy so will mail that right out. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed all the creative comments here, especially in the midst of all the busyness of the holiday season. Again, a huge thanks to Keli, for hosting me and for having such a wonderful blog. I hope all our paths cross again!

  22. Wendy says:

    Such a great taste of Laura’s work. And what a wonderful post! I’ll be thinking about this all day. Gut versus rules. I found what you incorporated beautiful.

    The word I stuck on was balance…finding the place where action pushes forward while allowing the beauty and magic of words to fall on the page as they will.

    So glad to have read this!
    ~ Wendy

  23. Laura Frantz says:

    Wendy, You have such a beautiful way with words! I’m always struck by your “freshness” and can’t wait to read your books. Thanks so much for stopping by here. I know you’ve been busy. You are a GEM!

  24. Carla Gade says:

    I’m late to the conversation, but just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post. Laura is an expert on narrative and I loved hearing her insights and tips on the subject. I’m one who loves a lovely narrative. What Laura said about the pacing of it is an important factor to me as to how much I will enjoy it though. I don’t want an info dump, but simply something that enhances what is happening in the story and woven into it in a SEAMLESS way. It needs to feel natural, and Laura is great at doing that.
    I also like Julie Klassen’s use of narrative and have also become a fan of Jody Hedlund. I crave well told narrative. If done correctly, it flows like a gentle river interweaving through well done dialogue.

  25. Laura Frantz says:

    Carla, Thanks so much for coming over:) I love what you said about good narrative flowing like gentle river through well done dialogue. Well said! I know you’ll delight us with your own work – can’t wait to hold your book in my hands!!

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