Narrative-heavy First Drafts

Continuing with the discussion on Scene v. Narrative, a reader asks why her first drafts always seem to be overburdened with “telly” narrative. She says, “I know I’m supposed to show, not tell. Why, then, can’t I seem to do this when I’m drafting?”
Writing Tip for Today: If your first efforts on a novel or story feel weighed down by telling, my opinion is that you’re telling yourself important things about your character and the story. These things are valuable to you but may not be the best way to engage your reader. That will probably be accomplished better by scenes, oozing with concrete sensory detail, action and tension or conflict. Camera in close. However, don’t underestimate the power of learning about your character’s quirks, qualities and motivations. While this kind of narrative may not be included in the final draft (or may be pared down and sprinkled into the scenes), you as the writer need to understand your character as deeply and completely as possible. If a draft of a passage is branded “telly,” don’t be so quick to toss it. The character’s voice is a process of discovery, and early drafts are the ideal places to experiment.
Try This! Write a letter from your main character, answering what said character wants, needs and will do to get it.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

4 comments on “Narrative-heavy First Drafts

  1. I can SO relate! There was so much narrative in the 2nd chapter of my draft that many critiques suggested starting the story later, but I knew the transitions my heroine made (both physically and emotionally) in that chapter were an important part of the story. The new Chapter 2 looks almost nothing like the old one, but that first draft was valuable.

    Here’s what I did to fix it:

    Switched to 1st person and let my heroine “journal” her transition. Some of this material made it into the final version as close 3rd, deep POV–still narrative, but not so boring.

    Identified the critical points of transition. Since the emotional journey took place while traveling, I identified ways the changing setting could reflect her inner journey.

    Finally, at those critical points, I developed interactive scenes that could show her conflicts and choices. I tried writing these just as dialogue, then added back in the better parts of the narrative to enhance the action.

    That edit was a lot of work, but I think the result was worth it!

  2. Linda here. Wow, terrific effort, Lynn. I know from experience that especially if you write in 1st person (I do, a lot), then everything feels active because the character is speraking directly to the reader. Yet I’ve learned that readers crave something to look at, or experience in some sensory way. Just having a character tell the reader everything usually lets down the reader. Good for you on being willing to fix your story. ~Linda

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