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Narrative Techniques: Dialogue, Pacing, Description & Reflection

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  • 0:03 Keep Your Story Moving
  • 1:07 Dialogue
  • 2:30 Pacing
  • 3:30 Description
  • 4:19 Reflection
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathy Wilson

Cathy Wilson has taught college literature and composition, junior-high and high-school English, and secondary art. She has a master's degree in American Literature.

Here is a toolkit of techniques to engage your audience and keep them reading, including dialogue, pacing, description and reflection. Try some of these in your next narrative essay!

Keep Your Story Moving

I just finished reading the last book of one of my favorite series, and I could hardly put it down! Have you ever had that experience, maybe when you read a book from your favorite fantasy or romance series? It's the kind of story that can keep you up reading all night, maybe with a flashlight under the covers.

There are certain things that you can do to make this type of magic happen for your readers. You can use the techniques for just about any type of writing, but it works the very best when you're writing narratives, which is another way of saying writing stories.

Today, we will talk about four important techniques that you can use to keep your readers turning pages right to the end of your story. These include dialogue, which means writing conversations; pacing, which means how fast your story unfolds; description, which simply means describing something (a person, a place, a feeling, a situation, and more); and reflection, which means personal conclusions or explanations about your story.

Dialogue

Sometimes I like to be a dialogue detective. I sit on a park bench or at a table in the coffee shop, and I make notes of what people say as they pass by to get ideas for writing dialogue for my stories. Good dialogue makes it sound like people are actually talking, but it's something more, because you need to choose things to say that move your story along. Dialogue can help you understand characters. It can create interest and make your story move faster.

Still, don't be tempted to write dialog like this:

'Hey, wazzup?'

'Nothing much. You?'

'Nothing.'

…and so on. Instead, write conversations more like this:

'Oh, no! My bike has a flat!' said Jim.

'Hey, don't worry,' said Susan, 'I've got a toolkit right here.'

'Oh, thank goodness,' said Jim. 'I'm supposed to be at band practice in thirty minutes!'

See how this conversation puts you right in the story? You'll understand a lot about the characters just from reading the dialogue.

Here are some pointers for formatting dialogue in your story:

  • Use quotation marks and put punctuation inside quotation marks.
  • Start a new paragraph for each speaker.
  • Mostly use 'said' instead of more flowery verbs.
  • Make the dialogue sound like something that someone would really say.

Pacing

Pacing means how fast your story unfolds. Isn't it frustrating to watch a movie or read a story that just goes too slowly? Here are two real, solid ways you can control the pace of your story.

If you're writing a short story and not a novel, you don't have many pages to tell your tale. Therefore, you have a tough task in front of you: cut away extra words. Most of us use too many words when we write. Let the story sit for a couple of days and then read it aloud. Any time you see that you wrote an idea twice, or with more words than you need, courageously delete the extra.

Another way to control the pacing is to mix it up. This means that you use short sentences with active verbs for scenes with intense action, while you use longer sentences with more details or description, for slower scenes.

Description

When it's time to write those descriptive scenes, you can control the pace by the words you pick. When you select a noun, which is a person, place or thing, choose words that are specific and concrete. Specific means an exact word, like 'dachshund' instead of 'dog.' Concrete (in narrative writing) means using the five senses: see, hear, taste, touch and smell.

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