05 March 2018

Three things writers should know about narrative momentum

Charlotte Mendelson, author and CBC tutor
by Charlotte Mendelson Writing Tips

Charlotte Mendelson is one of the small team of tutors who teach our creative writing courses. She’s the author of four novels, all published by Picador: Love in Idleness, Daughters of Jerusalem, When We Were Bad and Almost English (as well as one gardening memoir) and has 20 years experience as a fiction editor and publisher.

Here she gives us three points about narrative momentum – that certain magical something that makes some novels un-put-downable; and the absence of which makes others pretty much un-pick-uppable. What exactly is it and how do you get it into your writing? Over to Charlotte … 

(1) It’s difficult to do: I don’t give a damn if your beautiful adverbs were highly praised by your English teacher. Most of us can write a good sentence. Trickier by far is learning how to write the kind of sentences which propel the reader onward, so that they are so absorbed and compelled they forget their stop on the train.

(2) It isn’t the same as action: You don’t need car chases or the Horror of War to make your novel compelling. It’s far more important to have characters with whom your reader is engaged, so that the reader wants to know: what will they do? How will they cope with this?  And that’s what keeps those pages turning.

(3) It’s vital:  As a publisher, many of the novels I rejected were well-written, with a great premise, but failed to keep me sufficiently interested in the characters’ dilemmas and hopes and fears. As a novelist, it’s this that I try to create on every page. And, as a tutor, it’s what I spend most time on with my students. What does your protagonist want?  What do they need? Because nothing matters more than this: make me care.

To get help with the narrative momentum in your novel, apply for one of our up-coming selective novel-writing courses, or join one of our six-week courses for all-comers: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel  or Edit & Pitch Your Novel.


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