Scene vs. Narrative in the Novel

While there is a place for narrative in a novel, one of the most common problems I see in first novels is the lack of scene to drive that narrative. A scene is where the reader gets to witness what’s happening. Narrative can be useful to explain that scene, but beware: the old “Resist the Urge to Explain” rule (RUE) rears its head pretty quickly.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s imagine a “scene” where the protagonist is onstage alone. She’s pretty bummed out. She sits on the cemetery wall, feeling awful. She remembers the day she learned her boyfriend had cheated. Perhaps she clenches her fists. She thinks about all the stuff she’d like to do to Mr. Cad. Grits her teeth. Remembers more about the good times. A tear slides down her cheek.
In this example, the most movement occurs when the tear rolls down her cheek.While it may serve a purpose for a while, all this interior processing makes the reader yearn for the next scene of rising action. Narrative becomes telling or explaining when it outstays its welcome. A better approach might be to weave action into the “thinking” and “feeling” she’s doing.
Also, if you keep your character onstage alone for long, the risks mount for monologues, too much interior thought and too little doing. Think of it this way–conflict is harder to build when it’s the character against himself. Get at least one other character onstage!
Try This! Write a scene similar to the example above, where your protagonist is processing something that just happened. See if you can weave action into the scene so it’s less static.

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.

2 comments on “Scene vs. Narrative in the Novel

  1. This goes hand in hand with the POV information Im giving my group. I love the “outstaying it’s welcome” thought. It’s hard to relay to new writers that all of these underlying principles really do make a difference in whether or not your reader will stay interested.
    Love this. thanks

  2. I had this problem in a whole chapter in my wip. The chapter was transitional, both literally and figuratively, as my heroine traveled to a new home and had to decide what her new life might look like. WAY too much ruminating in the original. It finally clicked when someone remarked that the story was happening TO her. The heroine had become passive and needed scenes in which she could take active steps in her own transition process. Somehow, that made sense. Much better now!

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