Tuesday 22 January 2013

Celia Bryce Virtual Writing Workshop - Plot and Narrivate

Ok, hands up who here tries to write stories? *raises mine* Ok, hands up if you guys want some advice on plotting and narrative? Well, you're in luck as, for this week, author of Anthem For Jackson Dawes, Celia Bryce is going to talk about plotting and narrative, and over the course of the week (on different blogs), she will give ideas, tips and talks about how she writes. My thanks goes to Celia for taking time to write these posts and to Ian at Bloomsbury for organizing this mini-blog tour.

Now, enough of me, let's hand it over to Celia!


Plot and Narrative are used to show and tell how a story unfolds. The plot reveals the story bit by bit, using scenes where there’s speech, action and thought. They allow the reader to step inside the book, watch what’s going on, as it goes on, and experience it at the same time as the characters. Scenes can help the reader to get to know who they’re reading about.

The narrative reveals other parts of the story which can be told just as well and just as strongly, without having to involve the characters in a scene, but which are still important to the reader. These sections of narrative can help cover weeks, months or years, in just a few sentences, paragraphs or pages.

There’s no need to show everything in scenes and no need to tell everything in narrative. We need to try to balance the two and in some stories heaps of scenes can work and in others heaps of narrative can work, but generally a good mix of the two works best. How do we choose? Let’s see. If we get up in the morning, we go to work, perhaps, or school then we come back and have something to eat, maybe watch TV and go to bed. It would be pretty boring to write or read about each and every day in scenes if nothing changes. So we can just tell what happens very simply instead, in a few words or sentences of narrative. But if, one Thursday, for example, something interesting or terrible or wonderful occurs, that’s when to use a scene, to show and involve the reader in how it happened, what was said, how the main character/characters behaved and to make the reader wonder what’s going to happen next. It’s not always easy to get it right and at times you just have to write and write till the story’s finished then have a look and see if some of the narrative can be turned into a scene or a scene turned into narrative. Or if some bits really just need to be crossed out. That happens a lot!

I think of writing a novel as rather like putting together a necklace, say a string of beads. Without the string (that is, the narrative/storyline) there’s nowhere to hang the beads (plot/scenes). That’s how I look at it. You need bits of everything. Otherwise it’s not a string of beads.

In Anthem for Jackson Dawes, the storyline is this: Megan Bright has cancer, she is treated in hospital, she recovers and is changed by the experience. This story is revealed through a number of scenes with some narrative to join them together. But if Megan’s story really was a piece of string then it would be very short and perhaps with only one or two beads on it. It certainly wouldn’t make a necklace.
If you look at a piece of string, you’ll see that it is formed from a number of strands twisted together to make it strong, hard to snap. If I’d just kept to Megan’s cancer story that would be just one strand. It could be quite weak, easy to snap. I added Jackson’s experience and intertwined it with Megan’s giving another strand to the string, making it stronger. By adding even more experiences - Gemma’s, Kipper’s, Grandad’s, Mum and Dad’s -  the piece of string growths in strength. And of course with so many more people in the story there are more beads to hang, that is, more scenes to show how they all behave when they’re with Megan. Some will be bigger than others, making them varied and interesting and the narrative will keep the scenes connected. And the necklace completed.

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