The Technicalities of Creative Writing, Part 1: Narrative Modes

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There is another side to Creative Writing, one that has less to do with inspiration and letting your imagination run free on paper, but which involves a lot of eliminating, evaluating, repositioning, and table flipping. This less romantic, technical side is still an important -and rather interesting- part of the creative process, because it is necessary to make sure your work is pleasing in structure and coherence as well as style, creativity and ideology. This also gives you a better understanding of your own abilities and provides the necessary tools that can help to improve your weaknesses. This series of articles will look at some of those aspects of the technical side of Creative Writing, to see what techniques and methods can be used, and how to use them to turn your ideas into a creative text that will make sense to the readers and, hopefully, also be enjoyable.

A good place to start is deciding in what way you want to present your ideas – how the images in your head should be experienced by the reader. There are many different narrative modes that can be used when writing fiction (and some can be applied to non-fiction as well), but the most practical ones are: Action, Description, Exposition, Summary, Introspection, and Dialogue (which will be discussed in a subsequent part of this series).

Action is showing how an event happens, while it happens; directly depicting what is going on, rather than reporting what was going on. An example of Action would be:

Three kittens tumble around on the floor, mewing and biting at each other.

Description is used to invent, recreate or visually present actions, events, places or people, which will create a more detailed image of the kittens:

Three small kittens -one grey with little white socks, the other two with ginger coats- were tumbling about on the living room floor, mewing shrilly as they playfully bit at each other.

Description and Exposition can seem somewhat similar, but Description focuses mostly on the immediate events at that point in a narrative, whereas Exposition is used to give important background information, such as a character’s backstory or prior plot events:

The three little kittens that were tumbling around on the living room floor had been found only a week ago by their new owner, who had rescued them from a dumpster at the end of the street.

Sometimes it might not be necessary to relate all the details of an event, for which the Summary can be used, which can prevent a story from becoming repetitive or boring. This method can also function to connect one part of a story to another, or to show the progression of an emotional state over an extended period of time, or simply to vary the pace of a story:

During the kittens’ first month at their new owner’s place they did little else than tumbling about on the floor and play with each other. When they had grown accustomed to the new house, they were finally allowed to go outside and explore the neighbourhood.

One of the great things about Creative Writing is that the world you create is not just a physical world, where you only see and know what’s on the outside, but you also get to explore the emotional and psychological worlds of your characters. This can be done using the Introspection method, which is sometimes referred to as interior monologue, or self-talk:

Although it was she who had rescued the kittens, she felt that they had saved her just as much. The loneliness had been creeping up on her, and she had almost surrendered to the urge to finally join her dear late husband in that better place above. She’d been on her way to the station, deciding that a fast train would also mean a fast end, when she heard the kittens mewing in the dumpster.

‘They called me back…’ she thought as she watched them play. ‘They called me back, so I can’t be done here yet. Not yet.’

These narrative modes all allow an idea or image to be seen from different perspectives. Some things might work better using a certain method. A fight scene, for example, wouldn’t be as exciting if done in Summary instead of Action. And sometimes it is possible that a scene fluctuates between a whole variety of different methods, depending on how you wish to present certain actions or events. The manner in which these methods are used, and to what extent, is completely up to the individual writer, although if only one or two different narrative modes are used in a story it runs the risk of becoming a little monotonous, especially if it’s a longer story. It is very easy, if you’ve found you’re very good at something or really enjoy writing in a specific way, to stay in your comfort-zone, which can cause your writing to stagnate. It’s always good to check your work on its pace and style, which is easier if you have the right tools to refer back to.

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