How to Improve a Dying Narrative

Ah, yes. Death. The natural and inescapable course of all living things. One might even say non-living things as well: iron rusts, wood rots, wax melts, and light fades from memory. These are terms for the end, and the end of life is death. But who knows what lies beyond the pale that separates the dead from those living? Perhaps we may never know…

Now that I’ve properly wasted the first paragraph in gibbering philosophy, and I can properly launch into the article. So, picture the scene: you’re staring at the screen through half-closed eyelids. A yawn escapes your slack jaw. Your fingers move slowly as you type out words at the speed of Microsoft Edge’s response time. Something is wrong. You just can’t tell what it is.

The more you write, the more you’re able to distinguish between this and just being tired: writing excessively leaves you with a clear mind of what story there is left to write, but you lack sufficient motivation to put it into words on paper. A dying narrative is something different…and worse.

Most writers have a kind of “spidey sense” when it comes to a dying narrative. What they sense (remember, you might not be able to pinpoint it directly, but you know it’s there) is sometimes that the narrative is sagging (or, more accurately, dying). This is more common a problem in new readers, and it is unfortunately more of a problem for them to solve.

But fear not! I’m about to give you a few tips that will help you revive a dying narrative and dispel that dreaded writers block! (writer’s block doesn’t really exist; I’m just using it as a term to refer to an unwillingness to write) A dying narrative is a pretty big problem with a simple solution, but as the Clone Wars proverb says:

The #1 solution is to rewrite completely. One of Brandon Sanderson’s most popular novels, the Way of Kings, initially was a failed experiment and a dying narrative. Since Way of Kings is pretty twisty and turny in its plot, it’s easy to see why. Sanderson abandoned the project and came back to it after his career as a writer really took off, rewriting it into a decent novel.

However, rewriting it a huge pain in the backside and is only to be turned to as a method of last resort. Unless you have the mental fortitude to start from scratch, I would recommend a salvaging operation. This is where you go back, examine the narrative, improve what you can, and scrap what you cannot.

When you attempt a salvage op, (short for operation), your biggest concern is to understand the motives behind people and actions. Usually, the reason why the narrative is dying is that there isn’t strong enough of a motive behind what is happening in the story and why.

First examine the motives of your heroes. Why does Bruce Wayne do what he does? Well, because…he’s good. Lame! Let’s change that to “he has a moral standard that he follows to inspire others to do good and be heroes themselves”, and is motivated by revenge to destroy evil because a street thug killed his parents. Ha! There we go. That’s good writing. Put yourself in the hero’s shoes: “What string of events would have to happen to me before X?”

Where a lot of people fall short is neglecting to make their villain have motive. The old “Muahahahaha! Now I will rule the world!” comic book-style lost its appeal long ago. Evil for the sake of it is shamefully weak. There is one exception: Heath Ledger’s Joker from the Dark Knight trilogy–this is because Joker is supposed to be the ultimate villain: he seeks to inspire evil in other people by doing evil. Joker is evil because he is evil: he enjoys it, he has no conscience, and his entire character is consumed by evil. There is literally no good in him. If someone had exposed just a little good in Joker’s character, he would have been extremely weak. Again, the exception to the rule, so stick to something simple: the villain turns to crime to help his dying wife (Mr. Freeze), but since evil is corrupting, it corrupts his character into a nihilistic monster who is self-serving and completely evil.

Remember, we’re looking for a lot of things when it comes to improving a dying narrative. Take a look at the motive, and that will solve 95% of your meaningful problems. Just being aware that the narrative is sagging is enough to move a young writer to action, and that in itself is enough to sniff out a lot of problems in the manuscript.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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