Category Archives: The Art of Narrative

The Art of Narrative, Part Five (Finale): Resolution

All tales must end…and of course, so must our study of the Art of Narrative! Today’s final post of the series focuses on—you guessed it—resolution.

For the last several posts I’ve explored the narrative, starting with point of view, then leading into the stages of the narrative arc, from exposition to conflict and rising action, then to climax and falling action—and just like the end of any narrative, this final piece is designed to tie everything together in a cohesive fashion.

So what exactly forms the resolution stage of a story? Often referred to as the dénouement (from the french word desnouer which means “to untie”), the resolution typically starts during the falling action stage to carry the reader through the narrative’s end. All conflicts are resolved, and the action slows while the characters’ lives return to normal (or close to it). Here the plot tension boils down, the protagonist having faced the conflict and changed the course of his/her life or situation, and thus leaving the reader with a sense of peace or catharsis.

Two alternate situations can occur in the resolution stage. In the case of a quick resolution or a more catastrophic ending, the reader may not feel a sense of closure at all, the narrative’s finale meant to draw a more shocked reaction from him or her. In other narratives such as serial fiction, the author may have used more of a cliffhanger technique to end the story in a moment of suspense or ambiguity designed to draw the reader forward. However, even cliffhangers usually have a resolution of the current plot, leaving the reader satisfied yet questioning of what’s to come.

In this post, I brought back the image of the narrative arc that I originally showed my Freshmen English classes—where I drew the resolution stage higher than the exposition stage. This change in height represents a character’s growth because, good or bad, the protagonist tends to undergo some sort of change throughout the course of the narrative. This is the very reason we keep reading—we want to see what’s going to happen, how the protagonist will face and address the issue, and what will result from the choices he or she makes. Every once in a while, we come across a book in which the character didn’t change at all; this experience can at times be disappointing, for what did we learn if the character ends up exactly where he or she started?

While readers look forward to the change of the protagonist in the narrative, we as writers naturally tend to write toward some sort of conclusion (even if it’s ugly or our characters barely change). But what about those times we want to convey a character hasn’t changed? Is it possible to provide a resolution without actually showing any character growth?

Can you think of a book you’ve read where nothing changes, and yet you still felt closure on the story? In those that I’ve read, I’ve usually chucked the book across the room—yes, literally. What about you? Please share below.

Thank you for following my journey through the Art of Narrative! It’s a concept we all use in crafting stories…and now that I’ve exposed everything behind the curtain, I think it’s time to close it to work the [not so secret] magic behind it again. [She says, rubbing her hands together. *Buah-ah-ah!*]

🙂

Happy reading and writing to everyone, and have a great weekend!

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The Art of Narrative, Part Four: Climax and Falling Action

It’s been a long intermission, but…welcome back to the Art of Narrative! Today we’ll continue our series of posts dedicated to the exploration of narrative craft.

Before discussing the next stages—climax and falling action—I’d like to briefly revisit the parts covered so far. First was the narrative arc itself, as well as the four main types of point of view—first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. (Click here to read about point of view types.) Next we discussed exposition, which included setting, character details, and mood. (Read about exposition here.) After that followed a segment on the three types of conflict—man against man, man against nature, and man against self—and the secondary conflicts that occur in the rising action stage (read more on conflict and rising action here).

So now that we’ve met the scene and the characters, in addition to the issues our protagonist must face as the stakes are raised—where does all this action inevitably lead?

To the climax, of course! It is the moment the reader anticipated for the entire narrative, the actual peak of the reading adventure where our protagonist’s conflict culminates and he or she is forced to face the issue head on. Good or bad, the climax serves as a true turning point for the story—and for this reason it becomes the most dramatic piece of the journey. Here the story brims with all the tension, intensity, and action necessary for the protagonist to find a solution.

In some cases, an author may choose the route of an anti-climax, providing a seemingly trivial solution to a significant conflict. This choice is sometimes employed to add humor to the narrative, but in other situations might be the result of poor planning (or the discovery that the original solution no longer works for the story). Readers often have mixed feelings on the employment of the anti-climax, which may or may not lead into the next stage of the narrative arc: falling action.

The falling action stage represents the series of events that will help the protagonist address the climax aftermath. In short, it is a slow unraveling of the conflict. In the case of an anti-climax, this stage might be missing entirely or may not wrap the story up as coherently as the reader might hope.

Either way, the falling action stage ultimately leads the narrative to its resolution. Stay tuned for the final installment of the Art of Narrative series, when we’ll explore this more fully.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on pieces that intentionally use an anti-climax? In stories that follow the traditional narrative path, do you prefer a quick tie-up in the falling action, or a more extended run before the resolution of the tale? Please share your thoughts below!

And of course, happy reading! 🙂


The Art of Narrative, Intermission (The Tease)

Happy Monday, everyone!

As you may know, I’ve been focusing a series of blog posts on the Art of Narrative. So far, we’ve covered point of view, exposition, and the conflict and rising action. Next up: climax. Except for one small catch…

The next episode of Third Thursday Flash is this Thursday, creating an awkward break in our examination of the narrative path. Because of this, I thought it best to call a brief intermission in our series.

While you take advantage of this time to stretch out your legs, grab some popcorn, and prepare for the next stage of the narrative arc, don’t forget that you still have until 8 p.m. PST tonight to submit any idea (a theme, words, intro sentence, or general topic) that you’d like me to use to craft a 500 to 1,000 word piece for Third Thursday Flash. Please send your idea to evariederauthor@gmail.com, and thanks for participating!

As for the narrative arc—what better place to pause than right before the peak? We’ll resume with The Art of Narrative, Part Four: Climax on Monday, and until then, I leave you with… ***Click here!***

🙂


The Art of Narrative, Part Three: Conflict and Rising Action

Just a reminder—the idea submission call for next week’s Third Thursday Flash is open until 8 p.m. PST on Monday the 8th. Please send a theme, words, intro sentence, or topic idea that you’d like me to work into a 500 to 1,000 word piece to evariederauthor@gmail.com.

And now…welcome back to the Art of Narrative, Part Three. For the last week I’ve been posting about narrative form, starting with point of view and the first stage of the narrative arc: exposition. Next up is conflict and rising action.

Life is full of complications, and in narrative, these struggles are what shift our protagonist into action. While an assortment of setting elements, character details, and a general mood launch a story, all of a sudden a conflict will break us from the exposition and carry us into the rising action stage.

Conflicts of all sorts occur in narrative writing, but they tend to fall in one of the following categories:

Man Against Man—Here the protagonist must overcome an obstacle with another being. In a crime or suspense novel, this antagonist could take the form of an evil-doer or serial killer (such as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs). In a romance, the antagonist might be a dismissive love interest or someone competing for that special someone’s heart. In a fictional biography, drama, or action, the conflict can arise with a friend gone astray, an overbearing boss, or some other opposing person (like King Claudius in Hamlet, for example).

Krishna kills Aghasura
(Aghasura acts as the antagonist, the conflict that Krishna must overcome)

Variations on this theme exist as well; man against society requires the protagonist to address issues with societal views or culture as a whole (Orwell’s 1984 is a great example). Meanwhile, man against supernatural or man against machine is more prevalent in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy novels, such as is the case in Brave New World.

Man Against Nature—In this conflict type, the protagonist must overcome an obstacle posed by a natural force. This may come in the form of a sinking ship, a stroke of lightning, or even an attack by bears. A recent example of this conflict type is in Aron Ralston’s 127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Man against fate is sometimes considered another version of this category; an example is Sophocles’s Oedipus the King.

Man Against Self—This conflict style is an internal one, forcing the protagonist to face an obstacle of his or her own making. These center around faith, ethics, or beliefs, and can also contain themes of addiction, self-destruction, or pain. An example of this style is in one of my favorite books of all time—Crank, by Ellen Hopkins, a young adult tale written in free verse about a teen who must overcome her drug addiction.

Once a narrative introduces conflict, the arc continues into the rising action stageHere, secondary conflicts begin to appear. They may take the form of lesser adversaries, or alternate antagonists. They may work with or against the story’s main conflict, but the issue is the same: they create more obstacles for the protagonist to overcome in order to reach his or her goal.

I’ve heard over the years that a traditional novel contains three main conflicts, often a merging of internal (man versus self) and external (man versus man or man versus nature). Looking back at some of my favorite tales, I can actually see three clear conflicts emerging for the protagonists in the rising action stage. This is certainly not true for all of them, and definitely not for short stories, but it is an interesting theory.

Do you notice three main conflicts in your favorite books? What about in your own writing?

Also, I’d love to know what conflict style captures your attention most. I’ve always been a fan of man against man, since I enjoy the complexities of varied personalities clashing and working together (or overcoming one another). What about you?

Thanks for continuing with me on the art of narrative journey, and please share your thoughts on conflict types in the comment section below!


The Art of Narrative, Part Two: Exposition

Welcome back!

***A quick note before we begin—the call for flash topics opens today! Please send your idea (a theme, a sentence, a prompt, or a couple of words) to evariederauthor@gmail.com. I will be choosing a topic and incorporating it into a 500 to 1,000 word piece for next week’s Third Thursday Flash. Submissions will remain open until Monday the 8th at 8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time! In your email, please let me know if you would prefer I keep your name anonymous should I pick your idea, and thanks for participating!***

Last Thursday, I started an exploration of the art of narrative. My post focused on point of view (otherwise known as POV), and now that we’ve established who the narrator/speaker is, we move into the first stage of the narrative arc: exposition.

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary Online, exposition is “1. a setting forth of the meaning or purpose (as of a writing) [and] 2. discourse or an example of it designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand.” Thus the point of the exposition is to provide the reader with background information and details that will set the tone for the rest of the work. This happens in three key parts: setting, character details, and mood.

Let’s focus on each individually.

Setting

The setting tells us where and when a story takes place, but also introduces themes and background viewpoints essential to the story. While the where is portrayed with ample sensory detail and gives the reader an idea of where he or she is about to set foot in the story, other information is provided at this stage to signal pending plot lines and narrative themes (for example, homelessness and hunger in a post-apocalyptic world, or political upheaval in an ancient time). These features help readers identify potential goals of characters they will meet, which will further their understanding of why characters make their choices. Writer and former agent Nathan Bransford wrote an excellent post about these deeper aspects of setting, which you can read here.

Depending on the plot of the story, setting may reappear throughout the work or change dramatically with each chapter (for example, a space opera might center around a ship that docks at various planets, each conveyed with new setting details, whereas a story that takes place entirely in a house will not need to add much in the showcasing of different rooms). Whether local or more broad, setting at every stage of the story helps orient the reader and provides context for the plot.

Character Details:

Along with the background detail of the setting, the exposition introduces a protagonist. A skilled writer unveils the protagonist slowly yet thoroughly, making him, her, or it accessible to the reader without creating an “info dump” of all their personal details. This gradual familiarity allows the reader to identify the character’s goals and struggles, so that they in turn will understand the intensity of the impending conflict and the character’s reaction. Though the antagonist and/or conflict is not always introduced in this stage, some motivations or issues may start to surface in preparation for the obstacle to come.

Characters must become real to their readers. This is accomplished through a portrayal of their interests, thoughts, speech patterns, behavior, appearance, and other mannerisms, as well as how they interact with others. Dialogue, inner thoughts, and actions are all compelling ways to take the reader on a journey through the characters’ personal details instead of listing them in a bland and telling way. “Joe had red hair. Joe had a big nose. Immediately, Joe lost his wallet and screamed. This was because Joe had a rager of temper, so when he started yelling everyone ran in fear.” Not so interesting, right? As writers, we must be mindful of how we introduce character details, making sure to feed traits through action so as to pull the narrative along in a smooth manner. UDL Editions by Cast provides some helpful quotes and thoughts on characterization here.

Mood:

Setting and characterization are huge aspects of a narrative—but the mood is also important. Mood is what the reader feels, a sensation that will carry him or her through the work. This mood is a foreshadowing of sorts, alerting the reader to the story’s possibilities. Word choice, tone, voice, theme, imagery, dialogue, character behavior, and setting details are all features that convey mood. A shadowed forest with heavy winds and a mumbling vagabond might alert the reader to a sinister, dark tale, while a giggling, blushing child running across a pier might indicate a lighthearted and fun tale to come.

Through each part of the exposition—setting, character details, and mood—writers prepare the reader for the narrative journey ahead. Some writers spend a great deal of time on the exposition stage, and in turn, some readers love a lengthy and detailed exposition before diving forward in the narrative. Other writers craft a shorter exposition with the hopes of letting more details reveal themselves throughout the piece.

What about you—what’s your style when it comes to exposition length and detail? What is your favorite to read?

Please share below! I’d love to hear. 🙂


The Art of Narrative, Part One: Introduction and POV

In my last post, I shared my love of short stories; one of the reasons I’m fond of them is the impressive manner in which they follow the full narrative path in a short amount of space. We are currently exploring the narrative arc and writing style in my Freshmen English classes, so the topic is fresh in my mind—and while many of us like to read and write, we have grown familiar (at least somewhat) with each stage of the narrative cycle. 

For anyone not familiar with the “narrative arc” concept, I’ve included a diagram similar to the one I used in my classes. If you Google images of the narrative arc, you’ll find that more commonly the arc is the same height in the beginning (“exposition”) and end (“resolution”). But if you think about it, most protagonists experience at least a minimal amount of growth in their narrative path, so I started drawing the resolution stage to indicate a character’s change through the course of the story (a big thanks to my clever colleague for pointing this out!).

Over the next several posts, I will be exploring the art of the narrative. I think this is valuable for two reasons: one, as writers, we get to experiment and play with the arc in our writing, but each stage is essential to whatever we create; two, as readers, the narrative arc helps define the stories that we treasure and love, and sometimes it is that very arc that perplexes/irks/mesmerizes us with the more unusual pieces we discover.

To kick off our Art of Narrative journey, I’d like to briefly talk about point of view, or POV. POV is a hot topic in the blogosphere of late, and in a moment I’m going to point you to a couple fantastic blog posts on the topic. As a refresher, there are four types of POV: first person, second person, and third person (limited or omniscient).

  • First person uses the “I” voice to maintain a story through the eyes of a single character who narrates the tale (either as a participant in the plot or a voyeuristic player of sorts). While it may seem an easy feat, the first person narrative can pose a challenge in its limited view of only one person’s perspective.
  • Second person addresses the narrator or protagonist as “you,” in essence turning you, the reader, into its character. This form is not as commonly used, but it does pack a creative punch.
  • Third person limited is perhaps the most commonly used POV; while we tend to reach for first person narrative as early writers because it is closer to home with its comfortable use of “I,” forcing oneself to step outside a bit—and still stay in the right person’s head—definitely requires some attention. This POV style may remain in one person’s perspective for the entirety of the work, or it can shift from scene to scene depending on the length of the piece.
  • Third person omniscient is less common but provides a “god-like” perspective, allowing the reader to see everything, but often not at such a great depth.

Because point of view has been such a popular topic of late, I don’t want to get into much more detail except to suggest you hop on over to two other blog posts that covered the topic in heavy (and exquisite!) detail. The first is by fellow blogger Katherine Checkley at the Intrinsic Writer. Katherine’s lovely piece on What’s the Right Point of View for Your Story? highlighted the pros and cons of each POV style, and is worth a good perusal. I’d also like to reference editor Beth Hill over at The Editor’s Blog for her thoughtful piece, The Curse of First-Person Narration. Ms. Hill points out some definite concerns that arise in the usage of the first person point of view, all of which should be kept in mind when using the style.

Though I have used a little of the first person POV in my writing, I have found I’m most comfortable writing in the third person limited style. I also prefer reading works of this point of view because I enjoy shifting across perspectives (though shifting is definitely less common in short stories). Each has its own value, and every author has a preference and best practice.

What about you? What is your favorite POV to write in? What POV do you prefer to read? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Please stay tuned next week, when I continue an exploration of the Art of Narrative. In the meantime, make sure to grab a good book this weekend and enjoy the narrative flow. 🙂


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