Sensing when it’s right
Narrative in brief
- Always aim to keep the reader reading. Don’t make it easy for them to put your book down, or to put your short story aside before finishing it.
- Don’t let there be a let up from the action. When one trouble is over another one is just beginning.
- When the action isn’t so dramatic or intense, consider using a transition to move the story forward. Also, feed the reader with tasty little morsels or hints of the drama to come.
- Plot and plan your story scene-by-scene, or by chapters so action and/or emotion rises to a crescendo at the end of that scene/chapter. Stop at a point where the reader is desperate to know what’s coming next.
- Don’t be afraid to use cliff-hangers. Let your protagonist be in some sort of predicament – emotionally, physically or both.
- If you have more than one viewpoint character, make them as interesting as each other.
- If a section is feeling even slightly long winded or tedious to you, shorten it, either in content or in the sentence structure. Or consider whether it’s even necessary. Make every word count.
- When describing people and places and things, pick out the most poignant aspects. Always tell the reader something they didn’t know.
- Create characters that the reader will be interested in.
- Use good dialogue to move the story forward. Let characters say how they are feeling.
- Hint at troubles to come though the narrative and the dialogue.
- Adjust punctuation. You can create tension through your punctuation. Add a more breathless feel to a section by deliberately shortening the sentences.
- Occasionally highlight poignant words, phrases or thoughts in italics.
- Always use the senses. Let the reader see, hear, feel, smell, touch and taste everything the character experiences.
- When you want to ‘up’ the tempo of your story, let there be a deliberate switch, something happening in the story that changes everything.
- Plan scenes to give a ‘calm before the storm’ type of feel.
- Make good use of the weather and environment to add drama and atmosphere.
- Show don’t tell: Don’t say a character is afraid/happy/excited etc, show it by how they behave and what they say, do and think.
- Read aloud. You may find that adjusting the punctuation and re-phrasing may turn something mundane into something dramatic.