Narrative and Exposition (Part 2)

Good writers weave exposition subtly into the action so that it doesn’t interrupt the narrative flow. Proper exposition appears to derive directly from the viewpoint character’s thoughts or memories.

In the proper blending of narrative and exposition, the author communicates information to the reader through:

  1. What the characters say,
  2. What the characters do,
  3. What the main character thinks, and
  4. What the main character remembers.

This blending is achieved by using detail, dialogue, and description—the components of the Three-D Technique.

Detail: Use the specific rather than the general.

Dialogue: Direct conversations between the characters, especially characters in conflict, reveal their personalities. Dialogue moves the story along and turns narrative into interesting conversation. Develop a different style for each character.

Description: Draw from all five senses to describe the setting and the characters. Use sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch to create a mood.

Narrative and Exposition (Part 1)

The proper use of narrative and exposition in short stories and novels is one of the keys to writing successful fiction and using fictional techniques.

Narrative: is the objective reporting of your story, that which can be pictured visually in concrete images in the readers’ imaginations. It is what the characters do in the action of the story.

Exposition: is information, often interpretive and/or subjective funneled through the viewpoint character, to shed light on the action. It includes comments, opinions, reactions, explanations, and feelings (Definitions by Carole Gift Page, used with permission).

Faulty exposition interrupts the narrative flow, shatters the illusion of reality, and embarrassingly reveals the mechanics of fiction writing just like a playwright jumping on stage and interrupting a play during a performance.

Writing from the Heart (Part 9)

“Show, Don’t Tell!” is stated over and over again in writing books and articles at writers’ conferences. But what do those words really mean?

Often on first rough drafts, writers tell the story in a narrative form either from an observer’s viewpoint or from the main character’s mind. Both of these locations are boring. Readers want to participate in the action. They want to experience the events that occur as they are happening. They want to crawl inside the skin of the main character and feel what he or she is feeling. They want to hear what the person is saying and what is being said to that character. Thus, whether you are writing fiction or a true personal experience story, action and dialogue become the vehicles to move your story along and to keep your readers interested in reading your story as you write from the heart.

This concludes the nine-part series on “Writing from the Heart.”

Writing from the Heart (Part 8)

You want to meet the felt needs as well as the real needs of your audience. You want them to say, “That’s what I needed today,” or “I didn’t know anyone else felt that way.” You want to leave them with a “take-away” message—something they can take into their own lives and use for their own personal growth. You want to offer them hope and help them grow closer to the Lord.

Some years ago a woman at a writers’ conference purchased my book, Rest Stops for Single Moms. The next morning, she came to me with tears in her eyes and said, “I didn’t know anyone knew how I felt, but you do.”

The real need of people is to receive Christ, but their felt need is to be entertained. If they lay down our books and magazine articles with a bookmark stuck inside and never pick them up again, we have let down our readers—and we have let down God. It’s a sin to bore the reader with the Gospel. God deserves our very best.

Writing from the Heart (Part 7)

“Written words change lives” because reading gives each individual reader a chance to digest what the author is saying. The author’s words become part of each reader as they formulate their own opinion on the topic.

In a personal experience article, the story line becomes the vehicle to relate the message you want to convey to your readers. This is true in nonfiction books and novels also. It may be a moral lesson, an ethical issue, or a religious truth. You want to provide insight and instruction for your readers. They must own their own belief system and values to live by. Relating to a story results from having the humanness come through with which the readers can identify.

Today’s writing is moving from the didactic to the anecdotal. If you are writing current social issues articles, make sure you include personal experience stories in these articles as vignettes. Personal experience stories also add a new dimension to nonfiction books, helping readers to better identify with your message.

Writing from the Heart (Part 6)

When you write, picture one individual in your mind—someone you want to touch with that particular message at that point in time. When I was writing the stories for Rest Stops for Single Moms I pictured a different single mom in my mind with each devotional. Each one was written specifically for one woman. Yet many who have read the book feel that I am speaking directly to them. That’s because many single moms have experienced the incidents described in the vignettes.

Make your readers laugh. Make your readers cry. Instead of causing your characters to cry, create tears in your reader’s eyes. Here is the beginning of a story from Rest Stops for Single Moms. Any empty nesters?

The Apron Strings

[Starts with a quote] There are only two lasting things we can give our children. One is roots, the other, wings. –Author Unknown

One of the most difficult times for me as a mother was allowing my oldest son to go away to college. When he graduated from high school, I wrote him the following letter:

Dear Richard,

Today is your high school graduation. I have spent the last eighteen years teaching and guiding you. Now it is time to let you go and to allow you to choose your own way.

As you were growing up, I shared your victories and defeats. I cheered at your swim meets and applauded at your cello concerts. I watched a skinny, freckle-faced blonde boy change into a handsome, six-foot-three muscular young man.

As a mother, the hardest job for me is to let go—to allow our roles to change. I worked hard at being your mother, and now I want to enjoy being your friend. As a token of my feelings and my confidence in you, I’m enclosing my apron strings in this letter. They are cut off from my apron to symbolize your total freedom.

Yet, you know that I will be only a phone call away. I want to continue to share your life, to hear about your experiences, to be there when you need me. The difference is that now you are in the driver’s seat, and I’m the passenger.

I believe in you, and I love you very much. Congratulations, Son!

All my love,


He cried when he read that letter, and our roles really did change.

Writing from the Heart (Part 5)

We don’t have to undergo an exact experience in order to write about it, but we need to feel passionately about our subject. We can use a similar emotional response within ourselves to evoke a reaction in our readers. If God hasn’t touched you on a particular subject, you aren’t going to touch your readers. Write from your experiences. Write about what is around you—the everyday occurrences. Be aware of interesting details or parallels in life. Write from your heart.

For an example, I will use my book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye: Healing and Hope for Suicide Victims and Survivors I wrote it with the same two co-authors who coauthored Wounded by Words with me. Karen’s son committed suicide, and Jeenie deals with suicide survivors in her practice as a marriage and family therapist. No one close to me has taken their own life, but I have several friends whose sons have, and it is a subject I feel passionately about, so I feel comfortable writing about the subject. We used stories of many people who have been touched by the suicide of a loved one, or who had contemplated suicide at one time. Many of the stories are written under pseudonyms. It was the hardest book to write of the more than 30 I have written.


Writing from the Heart (Part 4)

Here is an example of how I made myself vulnerable in a story from my book, Wounded by Words, titled “The Accident.”

“Richard, what happened?” I gasped as the front door opened, and my oldest son walked in. His head was bleeding, and he had a petrified look on his face.

His brother Mike followed and said, “If you think he looks bad, wait until you see the car!”

“I don’t care about the car. I care about you two. What happened?” I asked again.

“We dropped off a couple of the guys after water polo practice. Dave was hanging out the window, so I reached over and pulled him back in,” said Richard.

“And the car rolled forward and hit a tree,” added Mike. “Richard had unfastened his seatbelt, so when the car stopped, he hit the windshield. I think he did more damage to the car than the tree did.”

I saw that the cut on Richard’s forehead was minor, so I cleaned it up and put a Band-Aid on it. “Do you hurt anywhere? Do you feel dizzy?”

“My neck hurts,” Richard said, rubbing the back of his neck.”

“We’d better get that checked out at the emergency room,” I said. I opened the front door and looked at the car. The front window was shattered. “Oh, no! We probably shouldn’t drive that car. I’ll call Dad at work. It’s 7:00 P.M. Surely he can come home and take us to the hospital.”

I dialed my husband’s office number. When he answered I said, “Richard’s been in a car accident. His head broke the windshield, and his neck is injured.” My voice sounded on the edge of hysteria. “He drove home after the accident, but I’m afraid to drive him to the hospital with the windshield broken. Can you please come home right away and take us?”

“No, I’m in a business meeting,” was his curt reply.“We really need you to drive us to the hospital!” I pleaded.

“I said no! You deal with it!” he shouted. Then he hung up on me.

Acid churned in my stomach, but I said in a resigned voice, “Come on, Richard. I’ll take you to the emergency room.” Fighting back tears, I slowly drove the damaged station wagon to the hospital, which thankfully was nearby.

I was careful to use Richard’s words, to run the story by him, and to ask his permission to publish it.

Writing from the Heart (Part 3)

Next, to get in touch with your readers and touch their hearts, you need to be willing to step out in faith and share yourself. Be open and honest in your writing and willing to reveal your innermost thoughts. I’ll warn you—it will make you transparent and vulnerable.

You need to be willing to take a risk. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your audience. Look at stories in the Bible: David, Joseph, and Paul, for example. We know of their weaknesses as well as their strengths by the accounts told of them. People cannot relate to someone who is not vulnerable. Be careful not to make your characters (real or imaginary) too perfect. On the other hand, don’t air your dirty laundry or anyone else’s. If your material is sensitive, you might consider writing under a pseudonym.

We can help others through our shortcomings, our mistakes, and our failures. We can share the lessons we’ve learned. We can say, “I don’t walk in your shoes, but this is what I’ve been through, and this is how I coped.” We must appear real to our audience to be of value to them. This is what I try to do in all my writing. In my book, Wounded by Words, I made myself vulnerable and showed how I had been verbally abused as did one of my co-authors. Our third co-author is a family therapist who provides counseling and encouragement in the book to those wounded by words. We also gathered many other people’s stories to add credibility to the book.

Writing from the Heart (Part 2)

The tips and techniques I will give for writing from the heart will work for articles, personal experience stories, devotionals, and even fiction. I use all these techniques in my nonfiction books also.

Now, how do we write from the heart?

First, be in tune with your audience. To write effectively you need to spend time talking to your audience and understanding their needs. It helps to be actively involved with them in church groups or wherever they are.

For a year I was editor of a children’s magazine, Trails ‘N’ Treasures, and I also taught Sunday school for eight years. Plus, I have a build in critique staff of 12 grandchildren. I carefully listen to their opinions. We can’t write what we want them to read; we have to write what appeals to them, or they won’t read it.

For example: When I was writing an early reader book, I wrote: “The monkey reached for the rope.” My granddaughter stopped me and said, “Grandma, ‘reached for’ is boring! The monkey ‘grabbed’ the rope.” She was right. “Grabbed” made it sound much more exciting.

We need to: Stop. Listen. And then Write!