Using narrative templates
At this point, you might have a full-fledged idea for a story. Or, you might have only a single line. Maybe you have just a concept, like “Werewolves, but on the moon…?”
The previous two lessons on narrative design give you a template for some basic options to explore as you write a narrative. Regardless of whether you’re a pantser or plotter, you will still have to know how you want to modify a template in terms of style, timing, and worldbuilding. All these considerations form the foundation of a narrative that you then build upon, regardless of how much you already have written or planned.
Your style is your unique way of combining words. Even if you can mimic other people’s styles, you still have one of your own—which may, in itself, be a pastiche of other people’s styles. To be derivative here is a good and normal thing. After all, you learned how to write by reading, so your writing style probably reflects the habits of your favorite voices.
No matter what, your perspectives are unique, as you are the only one who has lived the entirety of your life. You don’t need to worry about what your style is and whether it matches norms and trends. While there are gatekeepers who might turn away your work because your style doesn’t match theirs, remember that your style is yours alone, and that you will always write in your own style, no matter how it’s perceived or understood by others—you will never lack a style. So long as you persist, someone out there will see your commitment and confidence. Your work will find its readership, even if—and especially if—you’re writing for yourself.
You’ve probably heard of comic timing. But timing doesn’t just apply to stand-up comics. It also applies to the timing of your prose: where you use punctuation, where you use whitespace, where you put your paragraph and section breaks, where you choose to repeat a word, what the rhythm of your sentences is like, where they start and end, whether or not they’re run-on sentences…
Essentially, timing is a reflection of your 氣 qì, or interior energy, in that you show where you are conceptually taking breaths and pausing. Although audiobooks exist, the primary function of prose isn’t to be conveyed aloud—that’s the function of poetry. With prose, you have more leeway with how you want to structure your words and pauses. However, because of that, readers have higher expectations for the clarity and legibility of prose, versus poetry (and lyrics and song), which people tend to give passes if they don’t understand all of it.
Whether it’s your own bedroom, the top of Mt Chomolungma, or a generation ship leaving the Milky Way galaxy, every story you write takes place somewhere. That “somewhere” is the world of your story, which you can build up, or leave unbuilt for a particular effect. While we usually talk about secondary worlds or speculative settings when it comes to the word “worldbuilding,” the term also applies to mundane times and places in our own world.
Worldbuilding is a process of creating or replicating a setting for your story. It’s a huge topic in itself and is outside the scope of this course. You can find courses on worldbuilding at the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Clarion West also hosts worldbuilding courses.
Reading comprehension exercises
- Define style, timing, and worldbuilding.
- Select three stories you enjoy from different genres.
- Summarize their plots and narratives.
- Explicate the authors’ use of style, timing, and worldbuilding.
- Compare and contrast the emotional effects of each piece.
- Freewrite for ten minutes.
- Read your freewriting aloud.
- Observe where you pause for breath.
- Consider whether you need to change your use of punctuation, whitespace, and/or breaks to fine-tune your timing.