When you’re writing, it’s the narrative that informs the reader of what is going on. You will use your narrative to report events, tell stories, or offer a dialogue between characters. To make this happen, it is important to develop your skills through narrative writing exercises such as there.
Following are five tips that can get you moving on the right path.
#1. One Word At a Time
A good narrative is ultimately created by following one word after another. If you can gather some other writers together, try practicing your narrative skills by creating a story by using just one word at a time. Each writer adds a word to contribute to the story and the turns rotate through. Start new sentences when it feels right, but don’t take too long to think about the word you want to add.
Make sure someone is adding the words on paper or typing them out so the story can take a literary form. The goal of this exercise is to begin thinking in sequence. Your narrative must take a logical progression in order for it to make sense to the reader.
#2. Create a Character Sketch
When you’re creating a character, the goal is to show the reader who that character is so they can create their own mental images while reading. Unfortunately, many writers fall into the trap of telling readers what their characters happen to be. Here’s the difference between showing and telling when creating a character sketch.
Telling: “John was angry. Like he was incredibly angry. He was so angry, in fact, that some people were thinking about coming up with a new term to describe his anger.
Showing: John walked into the room, flinging the door open so hard that it smashed into the wall. Without a word, he sat down, his back completely rigid. A friend approached him. “What’s wrong, John?” she asked?
“Just shut up!” John yelled.
You want to show the reader how John is angry to convey anger instead of just saying that John is angry.
In this exercise, create a character sketch involving certain common emotions. Anger can be included, but don’t forget about being joyous, disappointed, depressed, miserable, lonely, or shy.
#3. Single Lines of Brilliance
A good narrative allows the reader to fill in some of the missing components using their own imagination. To do this, you need to paint a narrative with broad literary strokes sometimes instead of specific, concrete descriptions. Have you ever seen Throw Momma From the Train? Billy Crystal’s character is trying to figure out how to describe the night and eventually he comes up with the word, “moist.” The night was moist.
That wasn’t a great narrative. Sometimes a single line of brilliance can create a story on its own. Take this example from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick: “A tiny voice asked, ‘Is he the one?’”
Get the imagination flowing and the narrative will start going. Practice writing great lines based on your ideas and sooner or later something brilliant will come out.
#4. Punk, Punk, Punk Punctuation
A narrative can be ruined by bad punctuation. Something as simple as a misplaced comma can be all it takes to drive a reader out of the world you’ve created. In this exercise, take away all of the punctuation when writing a passage for your narrative. Just write the biggest run-on sentence you’ve ever created in your life.
Then, when you’ve finished, go back and edit the punctuation. The goal here is to recognize when punctuation matters and what type of punctuation should be used. In a first draft, far too many exclamation points can be used in dialogue and far too many commas used [or missed] for separation. By reading the run-on sentence, you’ll get a better feel of where you should be putting the punctuation.
#5. Create Your World
Sometimes a narrative needs other supports besides the written word and your imagination. A real map of your world, including directions, town names, and landmarks can be an incredible reference tool. It will keep your narrative consistent with your descriptions and help you get your characters more involved with the world you’ve created.
You can draw this out. You can paint it out. You can make it a collage if you wish. There are no limitations to this exercise except that you must finish your world before you start to write your narrative.
Whether it is through visual cues or through actual writing practice, these narrative writing exercises will add depth and consistency to your work. Get started today and your writing will begin to improve from the very first efforts you make.