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Narration January 25, 2013

Posted by thejinx in enduring chaos, writing.
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I have not read much writing advice in my life. I started writing stories as a child and merely continued, learning along the way. There a few different reasons I never looked into how-to books or tips on writing. Part of it was arrogance, I’m sure, though more than that I just didn’t think of it. Besides that, by the time I might have actually looked up such information, I had already given up the idea of writing as a career and was doing it just for fun.

Thus, it was fairly late in my life that I stumbled across that quintessential piece of writing advice one can find in probably most books on writing: show, don’t tell.

Not to say that I didn’t already know that, subconsciously perhaps. But it’s stuck in my mind since then. Too much, unfortunately, as tends to happen when I read advice on anything. In fact, it’s become a part of my knowledge so much that it makes me hesitate while writing; how can I show this rather than tell it? How can I eliminate the need for narration?

Because ultimately, that’s the message I got when I read and tried to follow that advice: that narration is bad.

I realize now that that is wrong. Narration has its place and can be used to great effect. Sure, it may not be as dramatic, but to help round out a story it may be the only useful method. As an example, when I was writing the second book of my trilogy for NaNoWriMo last year, trying to show things with two characters in particular was very difficult, as they are each surrounded by people with whom they’re not comfortable discussing their problems.

And what about backstory? Trying to portray all that through dialogue is not only time-consuming and challenging, but would be very difficult for it to not come out as tedious. Personally, I like when a book draws me in with details of the world that aren’t necessarily relevant to the main story, even if told through narration rather than action.

With my current novel Enduring Chaos, there’s a lot of backstory. But with the advice of ‘show, don’t tell’ – read: narration is bad – firmly in my mind when I wrote it, I ended up simply leaving out a lot of that backstory, a lot of which filled out the second draft of the book. It sufficed as a story, but I regretted leaving so much unsaid, and even entire characters being edited out of this draft.

Now that I realize the error in my interpretation of that advice, however, in this round of editing I have added a lot more back in already. I’m barely 20% of the way through the story and have already added over 10% more to the final word count than when I finished the draft last fall. Admittedly, about half of the 12,000 words I’ve added so far have been fleshing out a different character that was not better developed, but the rest have essentially been adding back in events and details from the second draft.

Because ultimately, not only do I enjoy going into such things that aren’t necessarily relevant to the main story arc, I must admit that I do have a fairly narrative style. I’ve always tried to balance it out well enough, but to try to force myself to avoid it doesn’t help me or the story.

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