Narrative flow can be difficult to define, which makes it difficult to understand. However, most writers are also readers, so you may be more familiar with narrative flow than you might think! While reading, have you ever:
- Found yourself turning page after page, unable to put a book down?
- Been so engrossed you haven’t noticed someone talking to you?
- Completely forgotten you’ve been reading at all?
If you answered yes to any of these, that’s excellent! You’re already familiar with narrative flow. Narrative flow simply refers to how a story moves. A piece of writing with narrative flow is like a peaceful stream, while one without it might be more like a river blocked by a dam.
When a story flows, readers will absorb the narrative like a sponge. The goal of narrative flow is for readers to forget a piece of writing is a piece of writing. You want your readers to buy your story’s descriptions, feel a sense of continuity in the plot, and understand the story’s elements as natural. This requires fulfilling readers’ expectations before they even have them.
If that sounds impossible, don’t worry! It’s easy to do by manipulating pace. Narrative flow is all about language, so simple editing tricks can help you vastly improve the flow of your novel.
1. Follow a Consistent Point of View
Nothing is more jarring than an inconsistent point of view, so once you’ve chosen one, stick to it. If your story is in the first person, your narrator has to be present in every scene he describes. If your writing in limited third person, don’t suddenly reveal the thoughts of another character.
While it’s easy to slip up and switch to a different point of view, doing so is confusing for readers and interrupts their reading. If you make them do a literary double take (where they have to scan backwards through your novel to understand what you’re saying), you’re sacrificing flow. The reader should never say, “Wait, what?”
2. Beware of Adjectives; Cut Adverbs
Adjectives are useful to liven or clarify but shouldn’t be overused. You don’t want weak nouns and verbs with a whack ton of modifiers. Instead of saying, “He ran with his small and fuzzy dog,” it’s better to say, “He raced with his Pomeranian.” By cutting the adjectives, the reader actually has more information and fewer words, both of which aid flow.
Be careful using adjectives that might seem powerful but actually don’t communicate much to the reader. Consider the adjective “beautiful.” By cutting it, you can’t be lazy and tell the reader that something is beautiful; you must show them.
Perhaps most importantly, be on the watch for adverbs in your writing. Some adverbs are redundant. Don’t say “loudly blared,” as “blared” implies loudness.
Worse, some adverbs contradict meaning. Something cannot be “very unique,” as “unique” cannot be compared.
3. Use Tense to Your Advantage
The English language has a huge variety of tenses and loads of irregular verbs, making it easy to use three words in place of one to communicate the same information. For example, the past perfect progressive tense would read, “She had been reading,” while the simple past tense would read, “She read.” An easy way to drive readers forward is to keep it simple! Literally.
Use the simple past, present, and future tenses to manipulate the immediacy of your words. If you want to completely cheat the system, use the present tense. It’s overlooked but obvious: since the present tense is, well, in the present, using it makes readers feel like the story is occurring with immediacy.
Take the following example: instead of “He watched as the hawk darted,” use “He watches as the hawk darts,” to place the reader in the moment. This helps the pace, and with a strong pace, readers will plow through the story. That’s exactly what you want!
4. Read Everything Out Loud
This advice is often applied to dialogue to make speech believable, but less often elsewhere. For example, unnecessary punctuation; breaks in sentences, paragraphs, or scenes; and too many short or long sentences can be detrimental. Luckily, all of these can be easily detected by reading your writing out loud.
While editing, you may notice you sometimes have to sacrifice grammar for the tempo of your story. What’s important is that your writing flows and is clear; if it accomplishes both, it doesn’t necessarily matter if it’s grammatically incorrect.
Nailing your novel’s fluidity is vital to making your story impossible to put down. While it can be difficult at first, editing will help ensure your novel has a good flow. Luckily, creating narrative flow doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Actually, it’s quite easy with these simple editing tricks!