Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
4 Elements of Narrative That Anyone Can Learn, Alan Gelb, JaneFriedman.com
Most writers look to thread a narrative arc in a story. Certain elements need to exist before the narrative can develop. Alan Gelb believes there are four pieces of the arc:
I break down narrative into four elements: The Once, The Ordinary vs. the Extraordinary, Conflict and Tension, and The Point. When you understand how these elements act and interact, you’ll have a much stronger sense of how to tell a story.
The first element, “The Once,” involves time.
One of the first problems a writer must figure out when undertaking a narrative is how to handle time. After all, no writer (or reader) has all the time in the world.
The Once is that specific point in time at which your narrative is set — and narratives always have a beginning point. Think of fairy tales and “Once upon a time.” Think of the Bible and “In the beginning.” Think of Moby Dick and “Call me Ishmael.” Think of The Color Purple and “You better not tell nobody but God.” The beginning of any piece of writing is usually the most difficult part. You need to set a mood and a tone that will invite your reader in, and that is a challenge.
Once you establish a timeline, the reader will continue to engage in the story if there is a tug and pull between the extraordinary vs. ordinary.
Another essential challenge that a writer faces when constructing a narrative is to figure out the “extraordinary” thing in the story that is going to arrest the reader’s attention. However, the extraordinary thing does not have to take place at the beginning of the story. But whatever choice you make, you must locate the extraordinary thing that either ignites or “turns” your story.
How the narrative plays out depends on the conflict and tension that is injected into the story.
The “extraordinary” event that ignites or turns the narrative does not take place in a vacuum. It needs to be connected to a second frame that shapes your narrative, and that frame has to do with conflict and tension.
The main reason we all read, go to a movie, watch TV, or even play video games is to see how our heroes resolve conflict.
Readers stay with a story because they want to know how a particular character will handle time and conflict. This is the “point” of reading according to Gelb.
The last of the four elements that will play a critical role in your narrative is The Point. By the end of any given narrative, readers should come away with an understanding of why they have been asked to read it. They should have a sense of having come away with something real, whether it is an insight or a feeling, a laugh or a cry, a sense of indignation or empathy, or any number of other reactions. They should know The Point of what they have read.
Keeping this template in mind will allow writers to construct a narrative that engages the reader.
Writer’s Dip: Should You Quit Your Current Writing Project?, P.S. Hoffman, Writer’s Digest
When you are struggling with a writing project, should you keep going or quit? P.S. Hoffman analyzes this dilemma in his latest piece for Writer’s Digest. Some writers experience the “Dip.” Hoffman characterizes this slow-down in the writing momentum:
It’s a feeling of “overwhelming adversity,” and it only happens when you dedicate yourself to something (like writing a book), and only after you’ve put some serious effort into it.
The Dip is that sinking feeling that everything could go wrong when you most want it to go right.
Fighting the Dip means embracing the process. According to Hoffman, writing requires a level of mental exertion and the pull to give up is always lurking. He encourages writers to sink into the adversity.
Adversity sharpens us. It’s what preserves the value of what we do, and it’s what makes finishing a writing project so rewarding. In a sense, none of us would write if it were easy.
That’s why we need the Dip. And, that’s why we need to quit the wrong things.
If you are comfortable with adversity, but still not making any real progress in a writing project, it is to ask important questions about your work. Ask these five questions to determine if quitting is the right choice:
1. Do you care about this story?
2. Are you in love with this character?
3. Does that story arc actually matter to you?
4. Does this scene make you feel a strong emotion?
5. And for every distracted writer out there—is that TV show/Twitter feed/game more important to you than finishing your most important writing project ever?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then keep going. Ultimately, if the project doesn’t mean enough to you, then it might be time to move on to other work.
The Best Reviewed Books of 2019 (So Far), Literary Hub
Summer reading is in full swing and you need a good book. Eliminate the guesswork and check out The Best Reviewed Books of 2019 (So Far). Do you agree with these recommendations? Have any of these books made it into your 2019 favorite list?
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!