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Brilliant Fiction Narrative in Four Stages

From Drab or Quiet to Can't Put It Down.  

What's one of the best ways to ensure a publishing contract? Master the art of writing fiction narrative, of course. But what does that mean, and are you sure you know the difference between relatively quiet  narrative and cinematic, verve-packed narrative? Are you setting your standards high enough? Are you aware of the level of craft and attention to detail necessary to make you into a great writer? And btw, why shouldn't you strive to be a great writer? All it takes is work.

New writers set standards for themselves while often remaining ignorant of just how high their standards must be raised in order to become as competitive as possible in the current literary or commercial book marketplace.

Rather than tell, let's show examples of how to take reasonably good fiction narrative and transform it by making it as competitive and energetic as possible. We will add imagery, metaphor, emotion, more active verbs, and better sentence structure. And BTW, for this exercise we're going to channel Ray Bradbury and Eudora Welty at the same time in order to reach a final stage of pretty damn good. But don't let this freak you. They learned the hard way, took their lumps like everyone else, and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote  just like everyone else

Let's begin with a hypothetical chunk of speculative fiction narrative. The imagination needs a boost and the passive voice is obvious. No emotions or tension either, therefore characters flatter than they should be. The writer could also benefit by injecting a bit more meaningful detail.

THE ORIGINAL CHUNK

(Good enough for Tor.Com)

Senna and Father usually set the traps together, because it was she who had the knack of following animals to their habitat. Father was blind to it--he could never see the trails that marked the passage of his future meal. But to Senna, it was, and always had been, part of what her eyes could see. The newer the path, the easier she could see it.

As a toddler, Senna had quickly learned what the signs meant: little leavings, like drops of water. Besides the wetness and the small size of the drops, there was a sort of colorful glimmer to each one. She could tell at a glance the difference between a human and an animal, or between the different species.

MORE IMAGINATION AND COMPLEXITY ADDED

(a second enhancement draft, good enough for authors with a huge fan base)

Senna and Father usually set traps together, because it was Senna who possessed the knack of seeing paths the animals always used.

Father was blind to it. He could never view the thin shimmering trails in the air that marked the passage of living creatures through the world. But to Senna, it was, and always had been, part of what her eyes could see. The newer the path, the bluer the shimmer; older ones were green or waned to yellow; the truly ancient ones tended toward red.

As a toddler, Senna had quickly learned what the shimmering meant, because she could see everyone leaving trails behind them as they went. Besides the color, there was a sort of signature to each one, and over the years, Senna became adept at recognizing them. She could tell at a glance the difference between a human and an animal, or between the different species, and if she looked closely, she could sort out the tracks so clearly that he could follow the path of a single person or individual beast.

MORE ACTIVE VERBS AND REFINED SENTENCES 

(third or fourth draft -- eliminate any last vestiges of passive)

Senna and her father set the traps together, for Senna possessed the unique ability to see the trails of the animals they hunted.

Father never saw the thin and shimmering trails in the air that marked the passage of living creatures through the world. His blindness to it seemed like a failure to him. But to Senna, her "trail eyes," as she called them, felt natural and effortless, always a part of her vision. The newer the path of the animal, the more blue the shimmer. Older ones glowed in hues of green or waned to yellow, and the truly ancient ones softened to a dark red.

As a toddler, Senna quickly learned what the shimmering meant, because she saw everyone leaving trails behind them as they walked or ran. Besides the color, a signature of sorts attached to each one, and over the years, Senna became adept at recognizing them. She knew at a glance the difference between a human and an animal, or between the various species, and if she looked closely, she could sort out the tracks so clearly that following the path of a single person or individual beast came easily.

MORE INFUSION OF IMAGINATION, NUANCE, AND EMOTION

(draft five or six -- towards a major award - National Book or Nebula?)  

Senna and her father set the traps together, for Senna possessed the power to see the trails of the animals they hunted--often dangerous trails that led the two of them into wounding thickets or up the slick trunks of tamarand trees, following wild Cholu monkeys that set traps for predators like themselves.

Father never saw the thin shimmering trails in the air, scattered all around and leading every which way, looking as if interweaving spiders had drawn impossibly gigantic webs-- only parts of which might be seen at any one time. He could not mark the passage of living creatures through the world, and his blindness to it felt like a failure to him. At times he found himself jealous of Senna, irritated by her instincts that contradicted his own hunting wisdom. But to Senna, her "trail eyes," as she called them, felt natural, her ability effortless and always part of her vision. The newer the path of the animal, the more blue the shimmer. Older ones glowed in hues of green or waned to yellow, and the truly ancient ones softened to a dark red.

As a toddler, Senna quickly learned what the shimmering meant, because she saw everyone leaving trails behind them as they walked or ran. Besides the color, a unique scent attached to each one, and over the years, Senna became adept at recognizing them. Many a time her father watched in a befuddled daze as his daughter stooped to one knee and lightly sniffed the air, breathing in the molecules in one part per million infused with the gossamer thread of trail. To her, humans smelled a bit salty and raw, and most animals too, but with a scent of warm earth about them. She sorted the tracks so keenly with her eyes and nose that following the path of a single human or beast came easily.

Father could only fume, or act amazed, depending on the hour and his mood. Senna avoided him if the mood darkened, and she feared that any further development of her power might make him feel even more obsolete and irritable, for her power grew each day. She knew that soon, she would detect the odors with her eyes alone, the hue of the trail invoking the scent within her.

_______________

THE METHOD

Do the analysis on the fiction narrative examples above and learn for yourself what it takes to make a huge difference in the quality of your writing. Note how the potential conflict with the father developed and caused complication and therefore tension, and note also the non-passive voice, and more importantly, the injections of imaginative imagery and circumstance, as well as more development of setting (e.g., the thickets, trees, monkeys, etc.).

Experiment with gradually evolving your own block of sample narrative through the four stages. Be aggressive with your work.

You'll be glad you did, and so will all your future readers.

_______________

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