Today let’s talk about narrative. There are different types of narrative in literature. When I talk of narrative in this post, I’m referring to parts of the book written from the point of view the author. To achieve this type of narrative, on most occasions the story is written in third person omniscient. Now, there’s a lot to mention about POV, but to keep it simple, third person omniscient is a story where the author is omnipresent throughout the story. From this keen insight, the author knows everything about all of the characters, all of their secrets, and things other characters in the story may not know until they uncover it or is told.
Okay, I don’t want to get too technical, especially for anyone that doesn’t have a clear understanding of POV. Here’s what I want to focus on. The story I’m writing is being written in third person omniscient. My practice when writing a book is to write the story from the point of view of my characters. This means when I’m writing a chapter, if a description of a room is given, it is given as the character sees it. If I write it this way, the reader understands they are seeing the room through the character’s eyes.
Each chapter I write, the point of view should be clear to the reader. To avoid confusion, it's not wise to jump from one POV to another in the same chapter. There are, of course, moments when this is necessary, but basically, even if five characters are in a room, the author will write the scene from the point of view of only one character, and it's usually the character that has most to gain in that chapter.
Now that I have made that clear, here is what I try not and do. I try not to interject sentences and paragraphs written from my, the author’s, point of view in between my character’s point of view. For the sake of over explaining, simply put is I’m not going to interrupt a character’s point of view of all that’s happening around them and sneak in sentence from my point of view. The reason I’m not going to do this is it’s cheating. If I must pull the reader out of the point of view of my character to explain something, it means whatever I’m explaining hasn’t been made clear earlier in the story.
Imagine reading a story and the chapter you’re reading is from the character’s point of view, but every few sentences the author interjects an explanation or give details that explains why the character is doing what he’s doing. It becomes annoying and stunts the reading. This is also true when an author feels they must include backstory each time they think a further explanation needs to be given. Giving back story can be necessary, but it doesn’t need to be given in every chapter or often enough to stunt the reading.
What I’ve just described isn’t something I practice. Over the past weeks, each day when I sit down to write more of my book, I think about what I’m doing and how I can offer writing tips on this blog that will inspire writers and help them avoid making writing mistakes. I came across the issue I mentioned when I wrote a paragraph and realized the information in it hadn’t been previously explained in the story. I highlighted the area in yellow, which the technique I use to remind myself that I need to go back and add something more toward the beginning of the manuscript. And then I got to thinking, hey! This is something good to make mention of in the blog, especially since I have read indie books in the past that made this fatal mistake. I thought this would be a good way to share a different way of avoiding offering too much ‘author narrative’ or excessive backstory when writing.
The reason an author may feel extensive backstory is necessary is because they think the reader wouldn’t understand what’s happening without it. Now, don’t confuse backstory with flashbacks. Flashback is when the story is divided into what happened in the past concurrent with what’s happening in the present, and the two time periods collide at the end of the plot. Or, at least this is one way flashbacks are used. Backstory is the history or background of a fictional character and appears almost in every book in some form.
Too much backstory stunts reading. It shouldn’t be dotted throughout the book. In my opinion, backstory should be used at a minimal in most stories. So how do you tell your story without including extensive backstory? The first part of my answer is, is the backstory necessary to your plot? By keeping your reader in the present avoids the reader becoming confused. Actually, I have heard many readers state they did not like when a book had too many flashbacks.
Remember, the backstory is the background, the things that happened in the past. What I do to eliminate the need to include extensive backstory is write the story in a way that my backstory is happening now. For example, I my character was abused by his father as a child and the father is the antagonist in my book, I don't need to tell the reader everything that happened between the father and child in the past, and focus on only what's happening in their relationship now. You may ask, "Then how is the reader going to know the hate between these two people?" The answer is by the actions of the characters. The readers will sense the level of hate easily if the father and son are constantly going at each other's throat. In a story like this, the backstory can be given in a dialogue, the conversations between the father and child. For example:
"Son, why do you hate me?"
"Because you beat me at Jimmy's birthday party when I was six years old, Dad! Everyone saw what you did to me. Have you any idea how many times I was teased at school because of that beating?"
By not including lots of backstory about the beating, and only showing the contempt my father and child are showing toward each other, it makes the reader curious about what happened between these two characters in the past. You only reveal the answer at the most opportune time in the plot, and only once. This way when the reader reads it, they have an aha! moment and sense of satisfaction and closure.
Now, let’s get back to narrative. An author should not include explanations throughout their story. If something needs to be explained, it should be explained through the point of view of a character. You also shouldn't have to explain your character's action. If your character is beating a guy senseless, his personality from the beginning of the story should be seen as violent. By writing a three-dimensional character, a reader shouldn't be confused by anything that character does.
I want the reader to understand what they’re reading and make things clear, but I want to do this through POV. I also want the reader to figure some things out on their own. Remember, readers love becoming detectives while reading, picking out clues and solving the plot. So if you find yourself using author narrative in your story, try changing the POV. This always works better.
Until next time, keep writing!
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