Writing – Learning Narration

I’m in the process of writing my next novel, VOODOO ROBOT CHILI, and was asked by my editor David Bischoff to look at Chapter Nine of GOD SAVE THE MARK, by Donald Westlake. Dave had found some of my narration a bit lacking (perhaps not the first time, but sadly not the last ). He told me to read this chapter to better understand how Westlake applies showing (not telling) with clear details as part of his narration.

Well, I read the chapter and it was quite an eye opener. Here is a short excerpt  that I found exemplary of this lesson. It’s a scene where a naked woman in in bed (what better scene is there anyway?) gets rather excited upon seeing the main character break in to her home.

Beside her, farther from the lamp, the mound of a second person, still asleep.

But not for long. Neither taking her hand from the lamp nor her eyes from me, the woman began to pummel the mound with her other fist, crying, “George! George, wake up! A prowler, George!”

I was frozen. I was incapable of movement or speech, and so could neither escape nor explain. I just stood there, like Lot’s wife.

The mound abruptly sat up, proving to be a man with a remarkably heavy jaw and a remarkably hairy chest. He didn’t look at me at all.

Instead, he looked at the woman and said, slowly and dangerously,

 “Who’s this George?”

One has no choice but to laugh. But my take away from this was to see how Westlake writes narration. Bit by bit (as long as it’s funny or interesting) he unfolds the action taking place. Also, notice how Westlake uses the dialog. It’s both informational (he’s not George it would seem), and used to drive home the scene’s emotion and humor.

Typically, I’m use more dialog, and then inserting narration to break things up, giving the reader a chance to absorb what was said. In this case it’s just the opposite. We see lots of plot driven narration, using “dialog” to break it up and add flavor. Isn’t it wonderful?

Once again I’m happy to have someone like Dave pointing me in the right direction. It’s another example why I say it’s good to work with professionals. Getting pointers like this, just at the right time in my writing, is truly invaluable.

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