Why Narrative Isn't a Bad Thing

How to Write Compelling Narrative

Why Narrative Isn't a Bad ThingModern authors are taught the only way to keep readers’ attention is keep the writing action-oriented. You must show not tell, dramatize your scenes, and keep characters doing and talking and in the moment every step of the way.

These so-called rules are prevalent for good reason. Readers read because they want to see the characters, not just be told about them. Unfortunately, this can often cause writers to be leery of including any lengthy narrative in a story.

Will Lengthy Narrative Bore Your Readers?

My Name Is Memory Ann BrasharesAnn Brashares’s My Name Is Memory does a good job disproving this fear of narrative.

Her book, which features a narrator who has lived more than a thousand years, includes much backstory and explanation, in which the narrator reveals his extensive history to readers.

Much of this history is dramatized, but much of it includes lengthy narrative, unbroken by dialogue or definable action. In fact, the first half of the first chapter is almost entirely narrative.

At first glance, this may seem to be a major gaffe on the author’s part. Doesn’t she know readers are bored if they have to go more than two paragraphs without somebody talking or doing something?

The Benefit of Compelling Internal Narrative

Brashares, however, obviously knew something else: namely, that, when well done, narrative can be just as interesting as other fictional techniques.

A fascinating character with a lively voice and an interesting story to share can impart information through his narrative that will not only influence action and dialogue to follow, but which will also deepen the scope of the book and enthrall readers.

Of course, the key is doing it well. Like all of fiction, narrative must be vital to the story, or readers will start yawning and cast it aside. But, so long as what your character is telling us is important, we’re likely to stay glued to your page!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What do you think makes narrative (no action, no dialogue) “compelling”? Tell me in the comments!

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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. Very helpful. We must remember to use all the tools in our boxes.

  2. You bring up an interesting point. Normally, a good balance of dialogue and narration is not something that I notice. Like the background details faithfully poured in to the Lord of the Rings sets, you don’t notice them much except in the back of your mind; but when they aren’t there, you notice.

    I was reading a book a few weeks ago which incorporated both lengthy sections of dialogue and lengthy sections of narration. Unfortunately, the author did it unevenly. Nearly all recollection was narration, whereas nearly all of the present interaction was bland dialogue. It was so uneven that in the end I cast the book aside, and I haven’t worked up the courage to finish it.

  3. @Galadriel: That can be a hard thing to remember since there are so many tools in there!

    @Jenny: When story crafting is done well, you *don’t* recognize it. That’s the magic of fiction!

  4. Oh, yeah, those boxes are stuffed.

  5. Means we’ll never run out of options – just that we’ll sometimes forget what those options are!

  6. True. Narration can be just as important as dialogue in a story. If used well, the readers won’t get bored, but that’s the key. “WELL.”

    Some authors do it unevenly so much that a reader casts it aside like Jenny.

    So, a writer must find a perfect balance between dialogue and narration, so that the reader won’t be bored and so that the writer can get the information into the reader’s mind.

    It’s a tough task to make narration seem exciting, so why not make the next tip be a post on how narration can be made more exciting?

    Please and thank you. Oh, and of course, write on!

  7. I’ll see what I can do about an exciting narration post! In the meantime, I think the primary key is to make sure everything said in narration moves the plot forward.

  8. Oh this is fantastic information. I need it bad. I’m a dialogue junky. I almost never know where to put my narrative, but you explained it well.

    Saying that if the story is interesting than the reader won’t leave you. I think when a writer has a great voice, narrative is more interesting too ;o)

    Great video! Like the change up ;o)

    Thank you!

  9. You hear so much negativity regarding “telling,” that it can sometimes be hard not to approach narrative without fear and trembling. But it’s a vital part of any story.

  10. THANKS for the affirmation, KM! I’ve been reading so long, I’m starting to see trends in writing styles. And while I agree that *telling* is bad, you’re so right that if the narrator is engaging and has a fun voice, narrative can work.

    Once again, you rule. And those little vlogs are such a nice break in my blog reading. What’s in that cup??? ;p j/k

  11. Writing is *definitely* faddish. It’s a sure bet that the latest trend in the Victorian era wouldn’t cut it today – and vice versa. But, under all the glittery, here-today-gone-tomorrow trends, solid craftsmanship remains pretty much the same.

    What’s in the cup? Can’t tell. It’s a trade secret. 😉

  12. Thanks for this post! I was just having a discussion on this topic with another writer…how any time I summarize in narrative, inevitably some critiquers cry, “Show, don’t tell!” If I “showed” everything, I’d never write a book that was less than 300,000 words long. 😀

    There is a place for narrative, just like there is a place for the well-used adverb. Rules crop up when language and devices are abused. Don’t be an abuser, and you should be fine, right?

  13. One thing I always have to keep in mind (both when critting and receiving crits) is that “critique mode” makes readers hyper-sensitive. Critters are *looking* for broken rules to highlight, and, as a result, it can often be easy for them to miss the big picture. Studying the use and balance of narrative in good books is one of the best ways I know of to discover how to do it well.

  14. Since I used too much narrative and not enough dialogue in my first two books, I’m worried I’ll do it again in this one. A balance is the key, and I need to find that balance.

    Like the change! 😉

  15. What I’ve seen has been pretty balanced. I’d say good job so far!

  16. Good to know! Thanks! 🙂

  17. You’re welcome!

  18. This is very true! I think it’s easier to “pull off” when you write in the First Person rather than the Third Person, but definitely it can be done! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

  19. I would agree. Readers are generally more tolerate of a first-person narrator, well, narrating, than they are of third-person narrative, which can be seen as the author bloviating.

  20. I guess the thing that really matter is actually how powerful your story is. Then comes the rules. And if your story has enough potential and a good reason, you can gladly break any of them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The “rules” are always there for a purpose, and even the masters only break them cautiously and with good reason.

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