How to Keep Your Story Moving With a Cohesive Narrative

How to Keep Your Story Moving With a Cohesive Narrative PinterestSometimes it’s easy for authors to believe that just because we have something interesting to say, readers will automatically be interested. Unfortunately, however, it’s not that simple. What readers require, first and foremost, is a cohesive narrative.

Readers are sensitive creatures who require delicate handling and a minimum of distractions if they’re to read our stories all the way through. One of the quickest ways to allow our overestimation of our raw storytelling abilities to interrupt readers’ interest is to insert unnecessary and irrelevant deviations into our main stories.

A recent historical novel offers a good example.

Right smack in the middle of his rip-roaring medieval tale, the author plunked an entire chapter featuring a long, meandering, and generally incomprehensible fable, told as a veiled allegory by one of the characters. You can almost see the wheels of his story throwing sparks as it slams on the brakes.

So much for rip-roaring.

Many readers will skip right over a chapter like this to get back to the juicy parts; a few might even give up altogether and put the book down, never to pick it up again.

Even if the story-within-a-story in this particular novel had been gripping in its own right, readers would still have suffered distraction and impatience, as a result of being ripped from their what’s-gonna-happen-next mindset into a lengthy period of delay.

If you have pertinent information to share, you can probably find a more effective—and more succinct—way to present it. If, after analyzing it, you realize it really isn’t all that pertinent after all, it’s probably time to start killing some darlings.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Are there any darlings you’ve had to kill to maintain a cohesive narrative? Tell me in the comments!

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Thanks. I’m going through this right now in my WiP. I’m trying to ‘trim the fat’, getting out all the unnecessary garble. So hard, but so needed.

  2. Why don’t you ever mention the names of books you use as “bad examples”? I find it useful to read such books so I can try to learn from others’ mistakes. Besides the “rip-roaring Medieval tale” part sounds interesting.

  3. But those darlings are so cute and sweet and they look back up at you from the page with those lovely, innocent saucer eyes….OK…OK..I’ll kill ’em. 🙂

  4. Ive been frustrated by this issue. As a reader, I just want to keep going without sidelines. As a writer, even though it’s hard to push that delete button, boring the reader is the last thing I want to do. We writers need this reminder to stay on the beat.

  5. @Christine: That’s an exhausting process. But I always feel much “freer” in the end, kind of like shedding a bunch of unneeded pounds!

    @Fionnuala: I’ve chosen not to mention the bad examples both because I feel publicly haranguing other authors is unprofessional and because art, as an inherently subjective form, doesn’t garner universal opinions. Just because I find fault with a book doesn’t mean the book itself is worthless. However, if you’d like to email me, I’d be willing to share the “bad” titles privately.

    @Mohamed: Writers gotta be ruthless… and a little sadistic!

    @Jan: I think writers, in general, tend to be much more entertained by their own work than their readers will be. The trick is figuring out where we’re indulging ourselves and then ruthlessly wielding the ax.

  6. “Minimal distractions.” That about says it all. And those distractions can come in a number of ways. The wise author/self-editor will take the necessary time needed to approach his story objectively, see the distractions for what they are, then either replace or remove them completely. We have to come at it as a reader, as we would any other book.

    Good post, Katie!

  7. Objectivity is arguably (or not-so-arguably, in my book) the most important skill any author can learn. If we can look at our stories and see them as readers will see them, we’re way ahead of the ballgame!

  8. I think this is good advice, especially for writers still in the process of learning the craft of what makes a compelling novel. I try to adhere to this philosophy in my own writing. On the other hand, I find that many of my favourite novels include these very deviations – and they also tend to be some of my favourite passages. Do you consider such deviations inherently indulgent?

  9. Ultimately, it depends on the story and its general tone. Some stories (Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange comes to mind) are delightful in their very randomness. On the other hand, in the book I reference in the video, the deviation was the only one in the entire book and didn’t match what preceded or followed it.

  10. This post is right on! I’m in the midst of trying to figure this out now. Even when you really like something, if it’s not moving the story forward of adding to character depth and understanding, out it must go, but it’s hard!

    Thanks for stopping by my site today. It’s nice to “see” you. Oh, btw, I love your vlogs. They’re great snippets of knowledge.

  11. That’s why I always keep a “delete” folder. When I have to cut my darlings, I take comfort in knowing I might be able to resuscitate them in a later story.

  12. How true. I remember reading the highly touted, CABINET OF CURIOSITIES. Ughh! There were whole chapters I literally skimmed through hurriedly and angrily.

    I really did want to know how it ended. But by the time I reached the end, I swore I would never read another book by the writing team that authored it. Sadly, I had already bought another book in the series — which I never read, by the way.

    Thank you for the eloquent, gracious comment you wrote on my own blog. It meant a great deal to me. Roland

  13. Oh, that particular writing team is award-winning and best-selling authors. I didn’t feel it would hurt them by mentioning the title of the book.

    K.M., you’re right. My tastes are purely subjective and my own. I personally believe that each author has his own partiuclar “darlings” that kept in for the sake of a good working relationship between the two authors. Of course that is just a theory of mine.

  14. Oh, I’m not thinking my posts are going to smash anyone’s reputation or book sales. But I figure if I can get my point across without ruining someone’s day, why not? 🙂

    You’re very welcome for the comment. Your post has stayed with me all day.

  15. Great post. A corollary would be, how do we as writers know when something is utterly fascinating for us but maybe not as much for most of our readers? I suppose it’s like when an editor deletes your favorite line — maybe it was your favorite because it was too tied to you. (That still doesn’t mean I’m happy when that line is cut!)

  16. We can’t please everyone. The line one reader hates will be the very bit that another adores. I always tell people they have to write for themselves, but, admittedly, that can get tricky when it comes to killing darlings!

  17. Super helpful as always! Thanks KM!


  1. […] a novel to be cohesive—and a character’s motivation, single-mindedly sufficient to prove the stakes—one goal […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.