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Narrative: the Thread that Pulls the Reader through the Story.

Jen here:

A common problem I see in contests or manuscripts I’m editing is that the narrative thread isn’t strong enough to pull us as readers through the story. Here are a few reasons why it fails.

A series of events versus cause-and-effect events.

A plot is not just a series of events. That is boring. It’s like me telling you about my day: I got up., I exercised, I read my email, I wrote, I ate lunch… you’re falling asleep because there is no particular reason why these things happened and nothing of consequence resulted. And there was nothing bad that happened if one of these things didn’t happen.

Too often writers hear that they need more action in their stories and they just throw in a bunch of events. What they really need is tension. And tension comes from the domino-like effect of a story set in motion by what happens in the very beginning. Because your character chose this certain path in the beginning of the story, she has now set off an irreversible series of events. That tension between disaster and success is what keeps your readers reading.

Lack of goals

What does your POV character want at the beginning of the scene? Notice I said POV character. Depending on the scene and how many POV characters you have, this could be the hero, the love interest, the villain, etc. Whoever it is, this is their scene. What do they want?

You need a goal to keep your scene moving the plot forward and to make your character proactive. Nobody likes a hero who waits to get rescued. No one finds it interesting when things just “happen” to work out. Even when our villains have goals, it makes us more emotionally engaged because now we’re afraid for the hero.

The more desperately a character wants something, the more interesting and emotionally involving the scene becomes.

Lack of conflict

We talk a lot about conflict because it is one of the hardest areas for writers. We are geared in our personal lives to avoid, minimize, or resolve conflict. It’s hard to just turn that off and revel in conflict. But that’s what we need to do.

This is not just about fighting or arguing. This is better termed obstacle, for it’s really the series of obstacles that stand in the way of your POV character getting her way. You must have this. If your POV character gets her goal without conflict, that’s boring and not emotionally engaging. The value of the goal comes from the struggle. The bigger the goal, the bigger the struggle.

Conflict must come from motivation

And while doing all that, conflict must be believable. We want powerful, original conflicts. But they have to make sense to the reader. There needs to be an underlying logic behind every action your characters take. They need to be motivated by the backstory we have discovered about them.

But, characters don’t always do the smart thing. Everyone has a weakness, a flaw, or something that would cause them to behave irrationally. Maybe an opposing character deceives them into making a mistake, or maybe they deceive themselves and make a wrong move as a result.

  • ·      What’s something your character wouldn’t do under most circumstances?
  • ·      What would force them to do it?

Taking it deeper

  • ·      What ideas about conflict spring naturally or potentially simply from the story idea?
  • ·      List potential internal conflicts you’ve uncovered as part of digging into your characters’ backstories. What external factors could you add to make these internal conflicts even worse?
  • ·      Looks for places where your main characters have desires that compete. How can you sharpen the contrast so that if they get one, they cannot get the other?
  • ·      Can you up the stakes using one of these methods?
o   Creating a deadline to increase time pressure
o   Saddling one of your main characters with an unexpected handicap
o   Revealing new, unexpected information that will make the situation worse

Now go write your story!

Jennifer and the other Pencildancers have released Worthy to Write: Blank Page Tying Your Stomach in Knots? 30 Prayers to Tackle That Fear. Jennifer's latest books~ Protective Custody: A cop burned by love falls for a key witness in a crime implicating the town’s rich and powerful.  Coming Home A strong- willed young woman must discover her brother’s killer before she’s the next victim. The prequelBe Mine, is also available. Can a simple thank you note turn into something more? Get the first chapter of Coming Home and Protective Custody at www.JenniferVanderklipp.com

Narrative Writing and What You Need to Know

Diana here:
Let’s talk about narrative writing in romance.
First, what is it? It’s the technical name for telling or writing a story using the main character who has a problem (conflict) and must interact with it. The character can’t walk away because the plot conflicts involve him in a life-changing way.

There are a lot of skills needed to write romance narrative well. The one piece missing in a lot of beginning authors books is a satisfying ending. That doesn’t mean the heroine gets the hero because in a romance that’s expected. It’s the how and the why that makes an ending that has a reader closing her eyes and thinking wow, that was so good. I have to tell my friends to get this book.

Have you seen the movie The Proposal? If not, go watch it and then come back because I’m spoiling the ending for you in 3, 2, 1…

The Proposal is the perfect movie to illustrate what needs to be done with a story to make it memorable and relate to the viewer.

Margaret Tate is ruthless when it comes to her job. Her coworkers don’t even see her as human. Then one day she finds out she is might be deported back to Canada because she’s not a United States citizen. In a meeting, she grabs her assistant Andrew Paxton and tells the head of the company they are engaged and getting married.

Andrew is not happy but agrees  to be a part of the pretend engagement if Margaret will read his book and consider publishing it.

A lot of fun stuff happens, and we watch Margaret grow and change.

Flash to the ending. We think it’s over. Margaret is packing up her office and Andrew returns.

There is a reason for the statement every story has a beginning and an end.

Here’s the critical part that makes The Proposal stick with the viewer, the big “oh no” of the conflict begins and ends at the publishing house. We go full circle. Humans like circles. We’re odd like that, our brains like completion and having your narrative end at a place that is the same as the beginning or very close to it helps the reader close that circle. This is where it’s obvious both characters have changed.

A classic book that has a great narrative ending is Gone with the Wind. It full circles back to Tara.

Think of a book that has stayed with you, did the author complete the circle? 

Look at your work, do you have a plan for the ending that will close the circle for the main characters?

8 Things Every New Writer Needs to Know

8 Things Every New Writer Needs to Know applies to almost any industry. A new job, school, systems and procedures all mean getting an education in order to move forward, use the new tool properly, and speak the jargon both conceptually and technically. Entering a new profession means a lot of time catching up to what "everybody else" already knows about the basics and the culture in order to stand equally in the workforce. We often stumble over what we don't know...

8 Things Every New Writer Needs to Know to Avoid Misunderstandings in the Publishing Industry...

1. Overnight success is real. Everyone will buy my book just because I wrote it. OR I'm going to get rich off this one book.
Reality: Learning the industry takes time and intentional effort. No one understands why a certain book becomes a mega star. If they did, all books would be.
So many people are desperately disappointed. The writing industry is complex. Jot notes when something doesn't make sense. Then systematically find out what the answers are to those questions. Study the breakout huge successes. But better, study the craft, marketing, and build your career properly with thought and intention.

2. I can write anyway I want to and send it in.
Reality: Formatting and basic skills equal the bare minimum.
Formatting a manuscript for self-publishing and traditional proposals are completely different. Proposals missing proper formatting and basic skills of grammar, spelling, and communication matter just as the basics in any job matter. Know formatting or the proposal gets trashed. But bare minimums don't win in the marketplace. Someone doing the bare minimum in an office job will be the first to go when funds are tight. Employers, like publishers and/or readers, want someone who goes beyond the basics and wows them.

3. I can do this on my own. (I don't need to go to expensive conferences or bother with local writing events.)
Reality: Networking is crucial — and more than social media.
Networking is about building relationships. Connecting on a human level in order to establish trust between individuals. Handing out a business card is not memorable. Numbers in social media are nice, but virtual relationships are not as solid as in-person connections. Have real conversations and relationships. Then build those relationships over time. Real career writers are constantly adding to their education and their industry friendships, not just their social media numbers.

4. My writing, and every word, is perfect just as it is. No one gets to change my voice.
Reality: Defending every word without accepting expert or well-intended critique (especially from a professional editor) will mark a new writer as someone that's too hard to work with and unprofessional. Defensiveness marks a writer as lacking credibility. Every professional writer understands the editing process. (It takes some work to know all the different types of editing so don't think a spell-check is the end. Editing is a complex process.)

5. I have the best story idea every publisher will want it.
Reality: There's nothing new under the sun. Different publishers have different guidelines. Find out what other books are like your idea already. Find out what publishers like that genre or topic. Don't, whatever you do, send your proposal out like buckshot. It's a waste of time and that will mark a new writer as clueless and unprofessional.

And similar...
6. I don't have to know what else is out there. I'm already unique.
Reality: I need to know what other books have been written on this idea or topic because professional proposals require comparison titles. I need to be able to come at the story/topic from a fresh direction. Do research to find out how your understanding of a story or topic is different. Write your perception in your voice.

7. I can do it my way...
Reality: Business is business. Even authors must understand the basics of business to earn an income.  Set up your business from the beginning. It's really hard to fix it later.

8. I'm better than... or I'm not as good as...
Reality: Comparing against other authors is dangerous. Competitive behavior is different from a competitive spirit. It's also unprofessional as well as unkind. Be gracious rather than and cutting in word and deed. That will mark a new writer as professional while a generous spirit will create a desire in others to work with you. But more important is what comparing yourself to others causes inside—anxiety, depression, frustration or the flip-side superiority, aloneness, and the set-up to the fall from the top. God has called you to write for a reason. It's not the same reason or plan as any other writer. Write to the plan God has given, not to the success of another. Fulfillment comes from doing what you were made to do. Don't worry about anyone else's plan or path. It'll derail you from yours.

So what now? 
You are worthy to write. You're also worth the investment. Give yourself the gift of time to learn the publishing industry and grow your career. Having experienced many of the misunderstandings, or helped others through them, the Pencildancers offer our support here on the blog and in our new book, Worthy to Write. God bless your journey.

About Angela: Angela Breidenbach writes romance through the ages, teaches the business of writing, hosts the radio show Lit Up, and is in process of getting her genealogical studies degree. She's the president of the Christian Authors Network. Angie lives in Missoula, MT with her hubby and Muse, a trained fe-lion, who can shake hands, lay down and roll over, and jump through a hoop. Surprisingly, Angie can also.
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest: @AngBreidenbach
iTunes: Lit Up With Angela Breidenbach
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