Tip #39: Writing A Realistic Narrative

What is the difference between a realistic and unrealistic narrative? Read a story written by a child, or any naff fiction. Do you notice a common trend?

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(Blogger momentarily distracted by blackbird flying up to have a chat)

Mary Sue

One lady is the perfect example of this.

Mary Sue does not always do the right thing, but at least she is honest about it. Her narrator says “Mary robbed the bank and felt really sorry for all the innocent people she tied up.” This is where it gets unrealistic.

"I apologise." - whoever drew this insanity.
“I apologise.” – whoever drew Mary Sue in those shorts

Your character could be an absolute saint, never doing or saying a single thing wrong. It’s fiction. Who are we to judge? But the narrator is a bridge between the fictional character and real-life reader. They have to stay true to reality.

In this example, the narrator might portray Mary Sue as a heroine. Tying up innocent people is described as a noble act, like she is the female Robin Hood.

Or the narrator lies about her motivation. “She did it all for the greater good.” But we see her spend the cash on new clothes and a fast car.

Maybe the narrator does say Mary Sue felt sorry about what she did, but then the reader discovers this is not the case. She laughs it off with her friends, mocking the security guard who fainted in fear.

Inside the tortured mind of Mary "Shotgun" Sue
Inside the tortured mind of Mary “Shotgun” Sue

A blank space. The narrator does not know what events/thoughts/feelings happened in this vital interval, so they leave it blank. These details are left to the reader’s imagination.

What is a realistic narrative?

It does not matter if the characters are all perfect Mary Sues. The narrator is imperfect in their interpretation or recollection of events. There is something at odds between the events and how they are described.

Yours might be an omniscient narrator, seeing inside the head of every character, but this only concerns what they know. How they feel about the events in the story is up to you, the author.

An imperfect narrator = a realistic narrative.

Example

She pressed the shotgun barrel up in the bank teller’s face so that it tapped the glass screen.

“Empty the cash into this bag. Do it now!” she said, her voice a hard hiss through the ragged mouth hole of her balaclava.

“I’ll do it. Please, don’t shoot.” the teller said.

He began whimpering as he reached for the emergency alarm hidden beneath the counter. His fingers were shaking, slippery with sweat.

That was the moment when I tore the roof away in a shower of rubble and shattered tiles. My clawed hand reached down, plucked them both up and popped them in my mouth. Delicious.

I, Algobog, have no flaws
Algobog, a narrative voice you can’t argue with

If you know Mary Sue, what does she think about all of this? Is she willing to release a press statement about her recent spree of armed robberies? We’re here to listen, not to judge.

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8 thoughts on “Tip #39: Writing A Realistic Narrative

  1. All right, I’ve read this 3 times and I’m still not sure I’m following you. How is the narrator not always omniscient? At least in a third person narrative? Are you talking about how a narrator just reports what he sees, not being aware of the motivation and is as surprised as the reader when the truth comes out? I’m sounding rather dense, I’m afraid. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a bit of a struggle for me to explain…
      Sometimes the third person narrator reports from the protagonist’s point of view, knowing only the thoughts inside his head but able to see the expressions of other characters.
      Alternatively, the plot focuses on just a few characters but the narrator knows what minor characters are thinking as well.
      So in one, Bob thinks he has said the wrong thing and Jess looks upset. In the omniscient narrative, Bob thinks he has said the wrong thing and Jess thinks he is a tactless brute.
      Essentially the distinction is how much you choose to pull out from other characters’ minds. One gives a bird’s eye view, the other is looking out through the eyes of Bob.
      Maybe I’ll write a whole post about narrative in general. I feel like my thoughts are getting tangled here!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok, that clears it up a little. Perhaps this is just something I’ve never paid attention to in reading. Now, I’ll be more aware of it. And I suppose as long as the writer is consistent in maintaining the narrative, either technique works, right? (Algobog would make a wonderful children’s story character!)

    Liked by 1 person

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