Narrative is the second building block of fiction. Whatever isn’t dialogue is narrative — the part where you tell (narrate) the story through your words rather than those of your characters. Many of the same rules apply. It must be purposeful. It must be well paced. It must be concise and entertaining. Above all, it must keep the momentum of the story going.

Make certain each narrative segment serves a purpose. It can describe the physical setting and the characters’ appearance in order to create an alternate reality in the reader’s mind. It can reveal background or technical information the reader needs to know in order to understand the significance of current or future events. It can let the reader into the viewpoint character’s mind by describing his or her thoughts, feelings, and plans. It can describe the actions of non-viewpoint characters in order to illuminate those characters’ personality and motivations. It can provide a smooth transition from one scene or chapter to the next. If what you have written does not do one of the above, chances are it needs to be deleted.

As with dialogue, long stretches of narrative can be a death knell to a reader’s interest, especially if all it does is set the stage or give background or technical details. There are times when a scene is mostly or completely narrated, but this should happen only in an action scene wherein there is no opportunity for dialogue. A lone character might be engaged in an activity central to the story, or several characters might be in a situation wherein conversation is impossible. A scene might describe a particular menace that is on its way to the characters. Whatever its purpose, it must ratchet up the suspense and increase our awareness of the conflict and tension inherent in the story. If it does not do so, it is always best to ration narrative in smaller doses and intersperse it with dialogue.

Word efficiency is central to good narrative. Don’t ramble. Use a thesaurus to find words that convey your meaning succinctly. Example: you’re describing the eyes of a female character who is gentle and kind and projects an air of vulnerability. You write: Her brown eyes were large and soft . . . . But what if you used this instead: she had doe eyes . . . ? The word doe takes the place of three ho-hum words even as it paints a mental picture that will stay with the reader. You’ve tightened your narrative and given it a boost forward.

Using the active voice rather than the passive is another helpful technique. Take an old cliche as an example: A good time was had by all. Now consider: Everyone had a good time. You’ve dropped two words and simplified a statement that isn’t particularly consequential to whatever you are describing. Or: The park was crowded with people who had come to see the Fourth of July fireworks. A more concise version: Fourth of July revelers swarmed the park. You've condensed sixteen words into seven, resulting in a punchier sentence.

Action is what drives a story. Since expository narrative is often an action stopper, it is important that it be compelling to read. Include only relevant details that will not be revealed elsewhere or in other ways. Avoid long complicated sentences and flowery prose. Use straightforward language that offers the most bang for the reader’s buck. Write tight, effective narrative, and you have taken a giant step toward learning your craft.

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