Tag Archives: narrative structure

Poetics Serendipity

8:33 a.m. — San Antonio

listening to Istanbul sung by They Might Be Giants (who have a fascinating repertoire)

Hello, there. Everyone good? Nanos, still breathing? Let’s see what we have today.

1] The first place we will visit is short but fun. Kath over at For Reading Addicts gives us How to Write Fiction: Tips From Ernest Hemingway. In her introduction Kath says: Unlike other authors, Hemingway never wrote a book on writing, but he did give good writing advice and some of this is immortalised in correspondence and articles he wrote during his life.

2] TED Talks, anyone? Yeh, I knew you’d like that. I chose a playlist that focuses on narrative: 10 talks by authors. The talks range from ‘The Politics of Fiction’ to ‘What Fear Can Teach Us’.

3] Narrative structure being the framework that holds and unfolds the story, I push it every year. While looking around this year, I found an excellent article on Wikipedia (had to be written by an author, or teacher): Plot (narrative).

4] While all the above might be of interest to the poets,here’s one just for you: The Seven Types of Poetry, by Robert Peake. We haven’t had a piece by Robert in a while, and his is an interesting viewpoint.

Okay. I mentioned I will not be around Tuesday. I will be in New Orleans. Depending on the time of day, I will be sipping coffee, or a Bloody Mary, and eating beignets, or oysters. I will see you again next Thursday for more links.

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 12/11/2015 in links, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , ,

Poetics Serendipity: Elements of Narrative Structure

7:31 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin and Strings in G Minor

Hello, everyone. Today we have the last of the prose Thursdays. I have enjoyed the chance to revisit narrative structure, but will be glad to return to poetry. The post is longish [and I abbreviated it; each aspect could take a Thursday!], but so many of you are serious about your novels — as opposed to writing  each November for the sheer discipline of it and bragging rights! For budding novelists, these are thing you need to consider. For novelists redrafting a previous work, these are things you need to check.

If narrative structure is the skeleton of the novel, these elements are what provide the muscles and the ability of the story to breathe and think and move.

Structural Divisions

A novel is usually divided into chapters and/or parts, often according to a structural design. If characters and setting change from one chapter or part to another, the writer should have a logical reason for the division. Sometimes such divisions will coincide with geographical settings and character involvement. They may signal change, or a new direction, or emphasize a point.


The setting, both time and place, contributes to almost all aspects of structuring the plot. Setting may show the way to the structural divisions of a novel; setting can reflect or parallel a character’s state of mind, or conflict; setting may contribute to noticeable patterns that help structure the novel.

Polarization of Characters

Since one of the aims of writers is to simplify life’s complexities, and since writers wish to convey an idea, writers usually line up characters so that they represent polarized values or attitudes toward life. In this way, a writer is able to point to a truth, which is revealed through the way the conflict between the characters is resolved.  Such polarization is most easily seen where there is an obvious conflict.

A rounded (as opposed to flat) character is lifelike because she has within her contradictory impulses—internal polarization.

Repetition of Patterns or Elements

The repetition of images, symbols, conflicts, or characterization form patterns that help structure the novel. The pattern sometimes provides a thread of continuity, or signals the arrival of a character, [much like a musical motif], or warns readers of impending conflict, or accompanies a moment that propels the plot forward.

Resolution of Conflict

Typically, one character (or, in an internal conflict, one aspect of a character) wants something, but another character, aspect, or force, prevents the fulfilment of that want.

The resolution of a conflict is a key in setting the thematic emphasis of the novel. The resolution should  reveal the implications for the protagonist [whose climatic decision in the face of a conflict causes the resolution], for the world of the novel and for life in general. It is important to explore in what way the resolution is appropriate for the entire plot structure of the work. [remember Freytag’s pyramid]

Narrative Point of View

Ask yourself: Who’s telling the story?

Is it some unidentified person or voice, who always uses the grammatical third person — “he,” “she,” “they”? Or is it a first-person narrative in which the identified speaker relates everything from his or her point of view? Or does the novel unfold as an unusual hybrid in which a character tells part of the story and an all-knowing narrator tells the rest?

Next decide if this narrator knows absolutely everything about the story and its characters or only some of the things we want (and need) to know. Is the narrator, in other words, an omniscient or a limited narrator? One characteristic of an omniscient narrator is that such a story-teller, unlike any human being who has ever lived, knows what’s going on inside the mind of other people (or at least other characters).

Point of view should consider the function of the frame, if present: it may establish the narrator as moral evaluator of the action to follow. The frame may provide a context that reveals the ultimate resolution or lack of it. The unreliability of the narrator may provide ambiguity of meaning for the whole work. The involvement of the narrator with the reader can be such that the narrator’s words are ultimately directed at the reader.

Ask yourself: Whose story is it?

While working through these I am struck by how the elements translate into poetry. However, that’s another thing and I need coffee. I shall see you tomorrow for the prompts roundup and next Tuesday for an image prompt [I hear poets cheering]. The blog will be dark next Thursday and Friday.

Happy writing, everyone.

Leave a comment

Posted by on 21/11/2013 in writing


Tags: , , ,

Poetry Tryouts: Eat

8:12 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Jefferson Airplane singing White Rabbit

Hello, all. I hope your autumns [or springs] are developing nicely. For those who live in the mid-northern states, I hope you and yours were not around the late season tornadoes.  Weather, as an element, is used in fiction as a structural device, both for continuity and, often, to reflect or parallel what is happening to the protagonist. The way someone eats tells us more about a person than almost any other action.Hence, you will find both as part of the patterning in the following exercise.

Poets: Write a poem where your speaker is eating and describing the weather. Allow us to see that the way she eats and the weather somehow parallel something on her mind. You may also choose to do this with a third person point of view, in which case the speaker describes a character eating and mentions the weather outside. The speaker may, or may not, know what is on the character’s mind, but should give us a sense of something.

NaNoWriMo-ers: This exercise shows how much of a story you can tell by stringing out a sequence of events in a repeating pattern. There are two parts to this pattern. One part is the meal; in each step, you will describe people eating a meal. The other part is the weather outside and the person’s physical, or mental, health. Perhaps these two are related –inner and outer weather– perhaps.

You are writing parts of a story, so don’t fall into the trap of listing details, or of telling us by telling us. Tell us by showing through actions and sensory details.

The best way for this exercise to work is to use the novel you are working on now and write these steps for it. Quantity is the goal for each step. Just keep writing. You can always cut and edit later on.

Be sure to answer all the little questions in each of the following five steps–although not necessarily in the order they are asked… feel free to add any aspects.

Select one of your favourite characters, or create a new one — even, choose someone you have been wanting to turn into a character, but the exercise works better with a character you know well, or a character you’re not sure about but want to develop.

Choose a starting year. Note that the dates in the five steps, run from September of one year through July of the next. Keep that in mind.

1. It’s Wednesday morning, 12 September, ____ (of whatever year fits your character). Your character is having breakfast alone. Where is s/he? What is s/he eating? What is the weather like outside? How is your character’s health? Expand on this breakfast.

2. It’s Friday noon, 19 December of the same year, and your character is having lunch with someone. Where are they? What are they eating? What is the weather like outside? And how is your character’s health? Expand on this lunch.

3. It’s Saturday night, 28 March of the following year, and your character is having dinner, alone. Where is s/he? What is s/he eating? What is the weather like outside? And, of course, how is your character’s health? Expand on this dinner.

4. It’s Monday, 11 July, later in the same year, and your character is having breakfast. This time s/he is with two people. What are they eating, doing, talking about? What is the weather like? And how is your character’s health? Expand on this breakfast.

5. It’s Tuesday morning, 12 July — just the next day — and your character is having breakfast alone. Where is s/he? What is s/he eating? What is the weather like outside? How is your character’s health? Expand on this breakfast.

Continuity is vital both for holding a story together and to make a reader feel they are reading a narrative written by someone who will not drop a string.

I shall see you Thursday for Part 2, Narrative Structure; Friday for the prompts roundup; and next Tuesday for an image prompt.

Happy writing, all.


Posted by on 19/11/2013 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , ,

Poetics Serendipity: Meet Freytag

8:03 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Light My Fire sung by Jose Feliciano

Hullo, all. Ready for some discourse? Grab your coffee mug. I am going to go on the assumption no one has heard of Mr. Freytag, or they have long forgotten they knew.

In the early 1800’s, Freytag published a definitive study of the narrative structure of the five-act play, about the time it was going out of fashion. Freytag’s Pyramid, as it is known, has since been found to work for plays of any number of acts, as well as novels and short stories. The pyramid may no longer be of three equal sides, but its premise underpins the narrative structure of 98% of fiction.

I know that many of you, who are writing for NaNoWriMo, are working on the novel where the rest of you are working on a novel. [Some of you are just masochists] How does Freytag’s Pyramid help you, the budding novelist? It gives you the map for laying out the skeleton of your narrative and a means of checking your material to make sure your plot is not lost in a maze.

Here are the components, as developed and revamped for lit analysis:

The exposition: tells us what it is we need to know to understand what is about to happen in the greater story. The exposition often has the inciting incident within it.

Inciting incident: begins the conflict. In something as long as a novel there are many conflicts. The majority should tie to the main character’s main conflict, the one she is trying to resolve.

Rising action: contains the main conflict and other conflicts that propel the plot towards the climactic moment.

Climactic moment: when first developed this occurred at the pinnacle of the pyramid. It’s still the pinnacle, but the arm of rising action is often longer than the falling action, so that the pyramid is lopsided.

The climactic moment usually involves the highest moment of tension. More importantly, it’s the moment when the protagonist makes the decision to do, or nor do, something to resolve their main conflict [Got that one? It’s the most important point.]

Falling action: the movement towards the resolution of the conflict, as a direct result of the decision made by the main character.

Resolution: does not necessarily mean the problem is solved, but it is resolved.

If you don’t know where to go next with your novel, check it against Freytag. Do you have everything? If you feel that your novel is a structural disaster, put it to the Freytag test.

I shall see you tomorrow for the week’s roundup of prompts; next Tuesday for a narrative prompt revolving around eating; and next Thursday for approaches to narrative structure, which covers techniques.

Happy writing, all.

Leave a comment

Posted by on 14/11/2013 in writing


Tags: , , , ,

Poetics Serendipity: Narrate This

10:12 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Woody Guthrie & Friends singing Hobo’s Lullaby on a free radio channel with a wide selection of music. If you visit, ignore everything other than the grey bar with genres, and the jukebox.

Hello. I’m here. Now I’m going to stop a moment and grab coffee and breakfast. I just walked in from the dreaded periodontist. I’m wondering if I should persuade my husband into a Martini, tonight, before I tell him the price of the upcoming ‘work to be done’. Be right back…

Okay. I promised a discussion of narrative structure, but am not feeling peppy enough for that. Instead I will give you narrative links that I have in my collection. That, and the notion that the best novel to read for a workshop in narrative structure is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. It’s the novel I used for a unit on narrative structure in fiction.

1] This first is an interesting looking site. I joined the beta when it came out a few weeks ago, but have not had the time to check it all out. It looks very promising, for both prose and poetry: Editorially. The Atlantic review states, [It] makes good on its promise, boasting a collaborative writing environment that encourages sharing and discussing work with others. The software was designed by veterans of the digital publishing industry. Go on over and check it out. I think it looks exciting as a tool for rewrites, critiquing, or general look-overs, whatever we need for a particular piece of writing.

Unscheduled break to chat with my son and grand-daughter…

2] I found this to be fascinating: Tips for Writing a Novel: Know the Difference Between Plot and Story. Ignore the fact that the writer would like you to sign up for his course [alternatively, you might sign up for his course!]. What Steve Alcorn has to say is invaluable. I particularly appreciated: The trick is to figure out the structure of your novel before you even start typing. As I say, narrative structure is key.

3] Descriptive writing is something many of us find difficult. In the context of something like a novel, it can become overwhelming. The site I am sending you to appears to be an education one, but what they say on the page makes sense and clears away a lot of underbrush. My favourite is point four which says, more colourfully, that if we don’t know where we are going then neither will the reader. A short and easy read.

4] I rather like the list at this site. The blogger gives us Seven Tips for Descriptive Writing. The tips are from a journalism professor at Columbia and Brooklyn Colleges. They are short and to the point. Do we know most of them? Yes. Do we remember most of them? Not so much. It’s a quick read.

Poets: All of these apply to some degree to our genre. Give the posts a look.

I shall see you tomorrow for the week’s prompts roundup; Tuesday for a prompt to do with narrative consciousness; and next Thursday for the last of our narrative Thursdays.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 07/11/2013 in links, writing


Tags: , , , , ,

Poem Tryouts: A Narrative Slant

7:37 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to The Drifters singing Under the Boardwalk

Hello, all. I have a gorgeous Fall day outside. I’m almost tempted to go out; don’t worry, I’ll quash that. If you were with me last November, you know that during this month I give narrative prompts, to give the NaNoWriMo set something to think about, maybe something to move them forward if they are stuck. I suggest they adapt all the exercises for whatever they are working on. I do realise this means we might not see quite so many things posted.

Poets, do not despair, I shall give you an adaptation for your prompt. You may also do your own adaptation of the exercise.

Today’s exercise might seem a little wacky, but trust me.

A solid structure that underpins and carries the plot forward is one of the biggest challenges for a first-time novelist. The idea of this exercise is to tell you what to write without your worrying about what it does. At the end, when you re-order the paragraphs, you’ll have your story’s structure in miniature and can use it as a mirror against the larger story.

To make it easier for me to set out the steps, I am keeping the original exercise which casts its story around the finding of a body. Novelists, you can replace body with anything: make sure it’s a conflict integral to your story. Don’t try to unravel as you write, just follow the steps A through J.

A.  Write the paragraph that appears just before the discovery of a body.

Or, before he walked out the door; or, before the cows trampled the corn crop; or, before the alien spaceship crash-landed; or, before she signed the will disinheriting her family; or, well, you get the idea.

B.  Write the paragraph that appears just after the discovery of a body.

Or, after he walked out the door; or, after the cows trampled the corn crop; or, after the alien spaceship crash-landed; or, after she signed the will disinheriting her family; or, …

C.  Write the paragraph that appears just before paragraph #A.

D.  Write the dialogue that takes place sometime before paragraph #C.

E.  Write the paragraph that appears just after paragraph #B.

F.  Write the dialogue that takes place sometime after paragraph #E.

G.  Write the first paragraph of the story containing these paragraphs.

H.   Write the last paragraph of the story containing these paragraphs.

I.  Write the paragraph that appears between paragraphs #A and #B.

Number your paragraphs to indicate the proper order of the story:
J.  Complete the story.

The paragraphs should be healthy ones, not sketches. If you find yourself writing more than a paragraph for some steps, that’s fine.

Poets, take the word ‘body’ and look at this page from Scroll down the entire page. They offer new meanings under each apparent repeated, or similar, opening definition. Also, they have a list of 82 quotes that revolve around the meaning of body.

Write your poem with one, or more, of the definitions in mind. Or, pick one of the quotes as your spark. Let us know which one.

If you have not seen the results of last week’s image prompt, stop by to read some. They were a lot of fun to read.

I shall see you Thursday for a talk on narrative structure; Friday for the week’s prompt roundup; and next Tuesday for an exercise on narrative consciousness.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 05/11/2013 in exercises, poetry, writing


Tags: , , , ,

  • creative commons license