Novel Essentials: Narrative Style
One of the most common axioms in writing is “show, don’t tell.” The atmosphere bluntly stated in the sentence, “It was an eerie night,” for example, can be more evocatively conveyed by describing the pallid moonlight, the ragged clouds casting wavering shadows on finger-like branches, or the wind whining like a lonely dog through the tree-tops. In many cases, “show, don’t tell” is a useful and effective tool. But a writer focusing too intently on imagery, similes, and vivid description risks losing the story’s momentum and alienating readers through overly stylistic prose. Perhaps counterintuitively, the best method of telling a memorable story is often to write simply and candidly, using metaphor and simile only when they will heighten the narrative and being direct—“telling” readers what they need to know—when the aim is to move the plot forward or to establish without ambiguity a character’s emotions or the ambience of a scene.
For a sense of well-executed directness in writing, we will look at examples from such writers as E. M. Forster, Willa Cather, Jane Austen, C.P. Snow, and Leo Tolstoy, and we will experiment with showing versus telling in a series of in-class writing exercises. By the end of the seminar, participants will have gained a better sense of when to employ these different narrative styles and why.
Part of GrubStreet's Novel Essentials Series, led by Ursula DeYoung and dedicated to exploring the fundamental building blocks of the novel. Classes include:
Previous Students Say
- "Inspired Me to Write More"
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- Study Published Writing
- In-Class Writing
- Class Discussion
- The Novel
- Short Fiction