Narrative Flow


           Here is something that I’d like to see carved in stone: If you’re staring at a blank piece of paper (or screen),
                               It’s because you don’t know what to write.
          Th-th-that’s all, folks. It’s NOT because you’re too busy, sleepy, or stressed out. It’s also not because you’re lazy or a bad writer. (Note I didn’t say you don’t know HOW to write.) In fact, most of the time it’s not psychological at all. It’s an ailment called Lack-Of-Outline-itis.
            There are lots of reasons why you may not know EXACTLY what to say – that’s what you figure out during the writing part – but as long as you know what happens next in your story, you can say SOMETHING. You can keep the narrative flow going.
            Narrative flow: This is the interplay between events and the reactions your characters have to those events. In Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight, Bella moves to Washington State (action). Bella is lonely (reaction). Bella meets Edward (action) and falls in love with him (reaction). Then Bella discovers through Edward’s actions (action) that Edward is a vampire, and decides to stay with him anyway (reaction). Every story follows this pattern of Action/Reaction. The reaction leads to more action, which in turn produces other reactions in consequence. 
            Pebbles in the pond.
            In a relatively simple narrative like Twilight (I say “simple” because it’s written as a first-person narrative, which limits the point of view to one, and the scope of the action to what the narrator experiences), most of the actions and reactions are either going to be Bella’s or those of someone close to Bella, and everything is seen from her point of view. But in something more complex – say Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, in which Sonny’s death triggers a gang war which nearly kills Vito Corleone and changes the trajectory of youngest son Michael’s life from that of an upper middle-class war veteran with a future to that of Heir Apparent of a powerful Mafia family, while planting the seeds of betrayal in the slow-witted mind of the middle son, Fredo. The story is more convoluted than Twilight, but it’s still the same progression: Action (arrow) reaction (arrow) leading to another action (arrow) and consequent reaction.
            Needless to say, every action must be necessary to the story, and must also at least seem (to the reader) to be inevitable, even if it’s surprising. When Michael Corleone’s car is blown up in Sicily with his new bride inside, it’s a surprise to the reader, but it’s also perfectly understandable in the context of a gang war so pernicious that it reaches beyond national boundaries.
            My point is, all events in a good novel occur for a REASON, and they all move the story forward.