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Storytelling: Narrative Modes

Narrative modes are individual elements used to relay a story to the reader, and include dialogue, action, description, exposition, thought and scene.

Dialogue

Dialogue is the talk that is exchanged between characters. It is spoken communication and is punctuated with quotations. Dialogue can be used to impart information to the reader, show a character’s personality and unique qualities, or progress the story.

Action

Action is events portrayed as they happen in a story. Action takes time to develop and happens in a specific place at a specific time.

Action is not a “report” of something that happened. It should be described “blow-by-blow” and not as a summary. Action should have meaning and purpose. It should serve to progress the story in some way.

Description

Description is details about how something, a place, or a person looks, behaves, or functions. Description should always have purpose and not be superfluous filler. It should develop setting, characters, situation, and time period.

Description should not be self-serving or irrelevant to the situation or story. It should help orient readers in the scene. Only give the reader enough description to make sure they can accurately picture the image you want them to picture. Leave the rest to the reader’s imagination to fill in.

Exposition

Exposition is the telling of the story through the act of relaying information. It is used to explain, transition between scenes, and offer narrative summary in order to skip details of unimportant but necessary events such as average day-to-day activities like hygiene or traveling to and from locations.

Too much exposition or exposition instead of showing how a character experiences an event is referring to as “telling.” Not every part of the story should be told as exposition.

Thought

Thought, or internal dialogue, is character self-talk or the inner thoughts of a character. It may be only thoughts, or actual talk (self encouragement or disparagement) that a character tells him or her self.

In third person narration, thought is italicized to mark it as different from dialogue. First person wording (“I”) is also used in thoughts. In first person narration, thought is woven into the exposition and narration.

Scene

Scene sets the stage for a particular part of a story or event. It informs the reader of the situation the story section will take place in and offers pertinent details that help develop or provide context for the events taking place.

Special attention should be paid to the opening and closing of each scene so it does not begin or extend beyond what is relevant.

Choosing Which Mode(s) to Use

Every story has a unique balance of narrative modes based on which ones create the most appropriate feel. Modes should be varied. Stories that rely to heavily on one or a select few become monotonous.

Vary modes used to open and close scenes. Break up big chunks of dialogue with action. Avoid long sections of thought. Space out action scenes to give readers a chance to reflect and anticipate what comes next. Keep description to what is relevant and helps develop the story, setting, or characters.

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Story Structure: Overview

This series will talk about how to structure a story that keeps the reader’s attention and tells a story in the best possible way.

The Basics of Story Structure

Exposition/Introduction

This is where you will introduce the characters, establish the setting, and present the primary conflict. All of this generally happens in the first few chapters or the first act. The goal is to orient the reader in the characters’ lives before you begin adding any major conflicts.

This helps the reader connect with the characters so they will be invested in the outcome of their story. If a reader can’t connect with the main character(s), there’s a good chance they will stop reading. The setting should also be relevant and interesting, so they character appears to be existing in a real world (whether realistic or fantastical).

It’s also important to give readers a good idea of what the main problem is that the characters(s) is dealing with so they know what type of story they are reading and what the character(s) must overcome. This sets up the reader’s expectations for the rest of the story.

Rising Action

This section is where you should introduce the primary conflict and set the main storyline in motion. This should follow with the expectations you set up for the reader during the introduction. Succeeding events become more complicated as the story proceeds, creating stumbling blocks, tension, interest, and excitement.

Rising action isn’t a straight line, however, so problems and complications should be interspersed with moments of calm, reflection, or positive movement. The action will continue to rise overall, but with dips along the way. This gives the reader a break and allows time for reflection and thought.

Climax

This is the major turning point of the story. All the problems and complications established during the rising action will come to a head. There is high tension and conflict, and stakes are at their highest. The risk that things might not turn out should feel real to the reader, even if they know deep down that everything will turn out the way they are hoping.

This is often a moment of crisis that leaves the reader wondering what will happen next. If you are writing a romance, the reader expects there will be a happily ever after ending. You likely won’t get the reader to really think a happy ending is out of the question, but the goal is to make them doubt the how of how that happy ending will be reached. This heightens a reader’s investment in the outcome and deepens the connection with the characters.

Falling Action

After the climax, the story begins to calm down and starts working toward a satisfying ending. Characters decide what action to take to resolve conflict. These decisions and actions should be realistic and somewhat surprising. Easy and predictable resolutions tend to fall flat and disappoint readers. Make sure all the loose ends are tied up, explanations are revealed, and the reader learns more about how the conflict is resolved.

Resolution

At this point, the main conflict is resolved and the book ends. The story, however, should have the illusion of continuing on beyond the page. This is true even if the book is a standalone and will not have a continuation. Give the reader a chance to imagine how the characters’ lives play out. This adds to the satisfying quality of the ending.

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How does narrative voice effect storytelling?

An important part of choosing the right narrative mode involves choosing what narrative voice to use.

Narrative modes are individual elements used to relay a story to the reader, and include:
Dialogue, action, description, exposition, thought and scene.

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Dialogue is the talk that is exchanged between characters. It is spoken communication and is punctuated with quotations. It shows personality, reveals information, and gives the reader insight about the character’s thoughts, worldview, and self-perception.

Action is events portrayed as they happen in a story. Action takes time to develop and happens in a specific place. Action is not a “report” or something that happened. It should be described “blow by blow” and not as a summary.

Description is details about how something, some place, or some person looks behaves or functions. Description should have purpose. It should develop setting, characters, situation, and time period. Description should not be self-serving or irrelevant to the situation or story. It should help orient readers in the scene.

Exposition is the telling of the story through relaying information. It is used for explaining, transitions, and narrative summary to skip details of unimportant but necessary events. Too much exposition is referring to as “telling.” Not every part of the story should be told as exposition.

Thought is character self-talk or inner dialogue. It may be only thoughts, or actual talk (self encouragement or disparagement). In third person, thought is italicized to mark it as different from dialogue. First person wording (“I”) is also used in thoughts.

Scene sets the stage for a particular part of a story. It informs the reader of the situation the story section will take place in. Special attention should be paid to the open and close of each scenes so it does not begin or extend beyond what is relevant.

Narrative Voice

Narrative voice encapsulates the writer’s and narrator’s voice, viewpoint, style, tone, mood, and how a story is presented. Voice shows personality and changes depending on the character or situation. Nearly all elements of a story contribute to the voice of the story and needs to be consciously thought out to make sure it’s present in the best way for a particular story.

 

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Elements of Narrative Voice

Attitude has to do with emotion, values, and beliefs, worldview, and feelings about a particular person or situation. It reveals how the narrator speaks, their body language, reactions, and actions.

Tone isn’t just what is said but how something is said. Speed of speech, loudness/quietness, word choice, emotion behind words, and physical actions accompanying words all affect tone.

Personal style includes vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar/technical aspects, and personal preferences. This can be developed for each character to highlight uniqueness.

Choosing narrative modes to develop a distinct narrative voice

Every story has a unique balance of narrative modes based on which create the most appropriate feel. Modes should be varied. Stories that rely to heavily on one or a select few become monotonous.

  • Vary modes used to open and close scenes
  • Break up big chunks of dialogue with action
  • Avoid long sections of thought
  • Space out action scenes to give readers a chance to reflect and anticipate what comes next
  • Keep description to what is relevant and helps develop the story, setting, or characters

How a story is told is just as important as the story being told.