Power of the Narrative

I envy those who write well-structured, professional blog posts with carefully crafted points and lovely headings. I read a handful of them daily for writing advice and am grateful for their skillfully presented information.

That style, though, doesn’t suit my skill set and, thankfully, I’ve ceased to worry about it. I’ve come to recognize the value of what I do and how I do it. Last week, while editing my blog post, I had a revelation about my style that led to a worldbuilding breakthrough.

I write narratives.

That’s it. Pretty simple.

A class I took for fun. This seems like a lifetime ago..

I wrote more formal papers in college and received excellent grades for them. In fact, my theatre instructor requested a copy of one to use as a teaching aid when I returned for a couple of classes over a decade ago. Seriously.

I still do that from time to time, but these days I much prefer to do what I’m doing here.

Telling a story.

What happened?

Storytelling. Multiple novels, novelettes, novellas, and short stories happened. Okay, in truth, I don’t know if drafting changed me or if I’ve settled into my preferred writing method or both.

It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that it’s influenced all I do. In looking back on my life, I guess I should have known.

As an isolated child, I lived in the stories in my head. That led to often answering questions in story form. Some adults found it amusing or interesting. Others, not so much. Skip ahead to my working years when few wanted to send me an email because everyone else’s twenty word reply was my thousand word reply.

I wasn’t well suited for the workplace.

Several years ago I discovered my preferred novel planning method was the narrative outline, which I’ve blogged about before. My scattered notes become a short narrative, then a longer narrative, and so on. Even before that I was writing reference narratives about airships, potions, witchcraft, and other topics.

©Christina Anne Hawthorne, 2014
Photo: CA Hawthorne

The narrative outlines are a combination of telling the story to myself while providing direction about process. At times they’re funny, sarcastic, and even self-depreciating as I remind myself to not do this, that, and the other thing because it was awful when I did it before.

They’re even more conversational than what you’re reading here. It’s important to note, though, that I only read them once.

The reference narratives begin conversationally, but then I edit them into a textbook voice. I often reference them and don’t want to later wade through any unnecessary information.

Given all this, you’d think I’d have solved my long-standing history problem already. Nah.

For a long while I’ve struggled to create histories for Ancient Aramon, the Emprensen Empire, and Pannulus. I tried lists in various formats. I made spreadsheets of one design or another where I could fill in all the nice little boxes. Brain lock.

Yes, sometimes, when it comes to self-examination, I’m oh so dense.

Finally, though, some underpaid worker in my head turned on a light while I was editing last week’s blog. Still not convinced, I decided to start with a more conversational voice where I examined the idea of a narrative history. It literally started like this:

Yeah, I’m at it again.

Okay, here’s the thing with the history. I’m thinking too much in terms of a non-magic world like Earth. Yeah, there are similarities, but there are also huge differences. Think outside the box a bit! Good gosh.

All right, two things have brought all this into focus. The first was the Harmony Disruption when all the machines in Aramon ceased to function. That led to the Empire conquering them with ease. The ramifications of that event continue to be felt throughout central Tremjara. In Riparia’s time it’s referred to simply as the special issue…

Note how, in the third paragraph, I slipped into narrative history telling. I even jumped to Pannulus later on and worked out a few issues. Before I was consciously aware I’d written over a thousand words. I need much, much more, but it showed me the way to salvation.

As I did with my witchcraft narrative, I can go back through it later, break it into sections, and highlight key words and dates.

That’s solves a problem for me. Go me!

The larger reason for this post, though, is for anyone else who has a similar problem.

Why this works for me, I don’t know. Maybe it’s all my time writing narrative. Maybe it’s my INFJ brain. Maybe it’s because a narrative provides me the freedom to chase patterns, a gift since childhood that was ignored.

Regardless, what matters is that the narrative format works better for some of us. This could be a solution for someone, or a piece of a puzzle.

Please, by all means, use this idea. Build on it. Modify it.


About Christina Anne Hawthorne

Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I'm a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what's within.
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4 Responses to Power of the Narrative

  1. Tom says:

    This was a really interesting read. I graduated last summer, so have found myself gradually drifting from the classic method of writing effective historiography, but I’m still getting used to how I want to write blog posts. My stories are there own thing, and I’m still finding my voice, so it was interesting to read your perspective

    • Great points, Tom. Yes, by all means, experiment, find the voice that works for you. Stretch that classic training and mold it to be a part of your voice.

      When I became serious about writing fiction my voice was more academic. After all, that was how I was taught. I’d read it and would be so proud of those sentences. The stories? Not so much. Too little heart. Too little soul. Too little me. The best journey of all is the one that leads to self-discovery.

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