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Narrating Your Story In A Lean Style, by Kashmira Sheth

Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth

Many recent novels sometimes seem lean in the way they are written. The reader is in charge of filling in some of the blanks. These kinds of stories are rich in characters and voice but short on extraneous narration. This writing style often helps readers feel a great kinship with the main character. This lean narration is not just used for transitions from one scene to another, or from one physical place to another, but is also used for the emotional journey.

In teen novels this has to be done carefully and judiciously. If done too much, readers may feel like they didn’t get into a character’s emotional world. It could cause the reader to feel apathetic toward the protagonist and he might lose interest in the story.

One way to use lean narration while avoiding the pitfalls is to have fully fleshed out scenes with dialogues and sensory details that are relevant to the interior landscapes of the characters involved. The mood (eg. upbeat, happy, gloomy, tense or sad) can be enhanced with narrative details, dialogue and action tags.

For example, if your main character is having an argument with his parents about not doing well in school, his body language during the argument could carry the scene as much as the words he lashes out at them. At the end of the argument, what your character decides to do can tell readers how he feels about what just happened. Does he take his books out and just stare at them? Does he start studying? Or does he go for a run to clear his head and to get away from his parents?

The setting can also tell the reader a lot.  If your protagonist goes running in a rain shower, this may help show how he is desperate to get out, and maybe his mood turns more gloomy and sour. The setting can influence what your character is feeling, and you can convey this without too much narration. If he goes out for a run on a beautiful, sunny day, it is easier to believe his mood turns better.

How your character responds to the world around them also gives clues to your character’s state of mind. Say he goes out on a drizzly, cold day and, instead of making him feel terrible, it invigorates him. He feels that his argument with his parents is only one small part of his life. Just as he knows the sun will shine again, he knows things will get better with his parents. In this case, his response to the situation may indicate an inner strength and an optimistic nature. All of this can be done in a few sentences. Yet it reveals a lot about the protagonist and moves the story forward.

By using settings, metaphors, active verbs and small details that echo your main character’s feelings and disposition, you can move the story forward in a lean but satisfying way.


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Writing Teen Novels

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. ailsaabraham #

    I agree. Reading a lot of French novels I find the endless description of surroundings becomes a real chore. The reader ploughs through them, trying to get to the next bit of “plot”. Characterisation and conversation is vital to me both as a reader and a writer but unless the surroundings are vital to the story I think they can be skimmed over.

    August 3, 2013

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