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You can improve the quality of your writing through the use of some tried and tested techniques.

This lesson discusses the techniques that will help you lay the foundation for a solid plot that engages the reader. It also discusses perspective, character, and dialogue, and their influence on the narrative.

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Words, Pictures and Tales to Tell

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and it’s true! Pictures can capture beautiful moments in time and freeze them there for eternity. But can those gorgeous pictures capture everything about an experience beyond that one moment? Can pictures express emotions and sentiment? Can pictures make comparisons, suggest metaphors, create dramatic tensions, or resolve in a happy ending? It seems that a picture might be a great inspiration for telling a tale. However, if we want to tell a complete story from beginning to end, we surely will be needing those ‘one thousand words’ in order to capture all the joys, sorrows, thoughts, and feelings that one picture can only suggest!In reality, not all stories need the ‘one thousand words’ mentioned in the cliche about the picture. Rather, to write a successful story, a writer needs to employ a variety of narrative techniques that can grab and hold a reader’s attention. In this lesson we will focus on a few narrative techniques you can use to develop plot, deepen character, and create good pacing in your fiction writing.

With these tools in hand, you’ll be able to craft a tale that is as vivid as any picture you’ve ever seen!

Shaping the Plot of Your Story: Backstory and Foreshadowing

As you might know, the beginning of a story is frequently the hardest part to write because it contains so much information! It is where you lay out the essential elements of your story, including the basic ‘who’, ‘where’, and ‘when’. Even so, it is also a good place to put exciting elements such as backstory and foreshadowing, two narrative techniques that will capture a reader’s interest early on.Backstory is information that the writer includes that happened before the story really begins.

Sometimes backstory helps give characters depth in terms of their thoughts, fears, and desires. Here’s one simple example: imagine you are writing a story about a cat that was afraid of mice. You might give a little bit of backstory that tells the reader ”how” the cat became afraid of its own prey, so as to gain the sympathy of the reader.Similarly, backstory can shed light on your characters’ motivations for their words and actions.

Say, for example, that you have two characters who hate each other intensely. Providing backstory about why they hate each other would help the reader to understand the intensity of their hatred. You can further explore their motivations using backstory throughout your work. Be careful, though! Don’t let the backstory overwhelm the actual story.

Foreshadowing is a very flexible technique that writers use to suggest what might happen later in the story. It is an effective way to draw the reader into your writing and keep them invested in the outcome. Foreshadowing can be very subtle and principally relies on imagery and/or dialogue, though writers may develop it through any number of techniques.

In this case, imagine that you are writing a story about two lonely people. You might include somewhere at the beginning an image of a heart, or some hopeful dialogue in which one of the characters wishes to meet his or her soulmate. Simply bringing up the subject of love through a poetic image or a meaningful conversation suggests to the reader that maybe the story will develop into a beautiful romance. The foreshadowing at the beginning will increase the focus on the characters’ love story and further engage the reader.

Writing Strong Characters That Help Carry the Plot

One of the most important decisions you will have to make when writing your story is the point of view of the story. Is the narrator a character? Then you may want a first person narration, in which one of your characters directly participates in the action.

Or you could choose a third person narrator, which is a voice that narrates what is happening without participating directly in the action. The third person narrator is frequently omniscient: the narrator ”knows everything” about the plot, the characters, their motivations and even their dark secrets. Deciding how much information you want to divulge about your characters will (in part) determine which kind of narrator you will use.

Pacing: ‘Change it up’ and keep your story moving

Whichever type of narrator you choose, you will find that the narrative voice will affect the pacing of your story. Pacing is the rate at which the plot advances, while also providing the necessary descriptions of characters and setting.

Sometimes fiction writing can spend a lot of time on description without much interaction between characters, and the story grinds to a halt. One way to keep the plot moving forward is to have the characters talk to each other. Strategic dialogue between characters is a great way to establish backstory and new developments in the plot.Be careful not to be too chatty, though! Too much dialogue can be confusing if it is not mixed with some descriptive passages.Blending description with dialogue has the effect of creating distinct voices for each character, while also creating a good pace.

Creating a healthy balance between description and dialogue is the definition of good pacing. You will also need transitions between the characters’ voices in order to avoid a ‘choppy’ feel. Intermittent descriptions of your characters expressions, thoughts, surroundings, or physical actions can break up sections of straight dialogue, providing the reader with additional information about plot and character.In the long run, the point of using narrative techniques such as these are to increase reader engagement. Readers will always appreciate a solid plot, vivid characters, and even pacing in any story.

Lesson Summary

Backstory is a narrative technique that provides information about the motivations of characters in order to give them personal depth. Foreshadowing is the insertion of an image or piece of dialogue that predicts or suggests a future outcome within the story.

Good pacing is achieved by strategically mixing description and dialogue to keep the story moving. These techniques can together help you create a convincing an engrossing narrative.

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