Friday, May 15, 2015

Narrative: Do You Overuse It?

Does This Character Frequent Your Fiction?

Narrative! It's very useful in its place, but as SF/F fans we've all read those behemoths whose narrator is the most prevalentand the most boringcharacter in the novel.

Don't get me wrong; I love detailed, long, involved novels. However, length shouldn't be a license to spew every detail of every happening in every country or planet of your universe all over the page. Instead, length should be used to develop your actual characters and reveal the plot.

"You don't have to hit your readers over the head with a huge iron chunk of narration to prove you've thoroughly conceived your world."

So, how to know if you're overutilizing The Evil Narrator?

Well, take a look at your first chapter, especially your first several pages. Are there huge chunks of paragraph? Is there no dialogue in sight? Then you may be overusing narrative. When does your MCor any charactershow up? If your answer is the first page, then you are probably getting right to your story. If there's no character for your readers to engage with, then you may want to rethink your first chapter approach.

In some ways, especially at the beginning stages of writing a novel, I find narrative to be easiest to write. I will sit down at the keyboard and out comes all this detail. It's fascinating, and I have a great time writing it, but in the end most of this narration is never used in the finished work. I'll either reveal the details in dialogue and action, or I'll keep it in mind to explain the structure of the world.

If you are confident in the structure and sense of your own SF/F world, your readers will trust you. You don't have to hit them over the head with a huge iron chunk of narration to prove you've thoroughly conceived your world. The most amazing novels are ones where the details of the worlds are revealed throughout the entire novel or novels. This takes patience and aforethought.

An example of excellence in world- (or galaxy-) building is Jack Vance's Oikumene. This galaxial structure is revealed throughout the five Demon Princes novels he wrote over the course of 17 years. A specific example of Vance's patience is the Rigel Concourse: 26 habitable planets orbiting the sun Rigel. Since such a solar system is probably impossible even in our vast galaxy, Vance explains it by saying that the planets were towed into perfect orbits by some advanced, now-vanished race. Yet, instead of instantly telling us ad nauseam about all the planets in the Concourse, he saves details of many of them for subsequent novels.

This patience can also be a gift to you, the writer. By leaving a few, choice details nebulous in your own mind, you can have the luxury of filling in those informational gaps with details that will best suit your evolving story.

Narration. Is it fun to write? Yes of course! All that creativity without the bossy characters getting in there and mucking around messing things up. Is it necessary? Yes, at some points narration is definitely vital. Yet, it's better to use characters and action to reveal most details of your well-conceived world rather than having your narrator brag all about it. Narration is best when it's a minor character.