Narrative current helps hold a story together. Many stories do a lot of things well but then struggle with just one or two major things that drag the manuscript down. Story is, unfortunately, one of those major things that writers struggle with.
I want to focus on one important aspect of story, narrative current—that is making the reader want to keep turning the page because they feel like the elements of the novel are all leading somewhere. SO IMPORTANT! Say a writer writes well and has interesting characters and many wonderful scenes BUT somehow they don’t feel like they fit together. They aren’t connecting and, perhaps even more important, the story doesn’t feel like it is going anywhere; it feels a bit stagnant. What makes a story feel active is a sense of narrative current.
Narrative current demands that the reader feels a sense that the whole narrative is taking the reader someplace. The scenes in the story have to be constructed in such a way that the reader feels compelled to find out where this current is carrying them and not just what the scene is about. Connections between scenes are essential. The writer chooses the right details because he or she finds this current and so it puts them in the right place when they’re creating narrative.
A strategy to give your writing narrative current is the following: understand what your narratives are. NOT just what the story is ABOUT but what happens because of what the story is about. For example, say one aspect of the story is that it’s a love story or a relationship story. Figure out where this aspect of the story ends in your novel. Then look in your novel for the progression of the love story from beginning to end…what happens in each scene. Build from scene to scene with an eye on making each active and making each move the story forward. If your characters get married, then every scene about their relationship should be leading the reader to that—although obviously there will be setbacks and struggles along the way. If they break up in the end then you design your scenes with this in mind. Of course your characters will face all kinds of problems. When I say there is a progression, I don’t mean a straight line. There will be ups and downs. But if you know where the end destination is you can design these fails to give the reader an even stronger feeling that the journey is leading to your ending.
This might all sound like plot and it certainly is plot but plot is too narrow of a description. It’s not just about what happens in each scene. The evolution of a relationship has to do with how characters feel and how they react to their feelings and about how these translate into actions. It is also about what happens within the story. Narrative current is an important aspect of making your story a story and not just a collection of episodes.