Add Depth to Your Characters by Using the Narrative Part of Your Scenes

by Edie Melson
I love to read,
and I spend a lot of my reading time with novels. I also spend a lot of my
editing time working with fiction writers. And one thing almost all beginning
(and some not so beginning) writers struggle with is characterization. 
And I’ve found
one way to add depth to your characters is through the narrative.
The narrative
is the part of the book that isn’t dialogue. It’s mainly classified as
description, but when done right is so much more. It sets the stage for the
reader, giving them a context for the story. It involves all five of the
senses, and there is definitely a learning curve to getting it right.
But the key to
good narrative is POV (point of view). Point of View is determined by whose
eyes the reader is seeing the scene through. I don’t want to go into all the
rules of POV here, but instead want to give you some things to consider when
you’re describing what we’re experiencing through a character’s POV.
When I’m
writing a scene the first thing I do is get the framework in place. For me, that’s
dialogue. I tend to hear my characters’ voices in my head before I see the
story unfold. After I have the basis of the scene, I go back and begin to fill
in the setting. Here’s what I ask the POV character to help me visualize what’s
What does the
setting look like. If it’s a room, I want to know about the lighting and the
size and the furnishings. If it’s out of doors, I want to know what time of day
it is and what the surroundings are.
Then I move on
and ask the character what he’s hearing around him.
  • I ask what he’s
  • I also ask
    about touch and even taste.

And here’s
where it ties into characterization.

  • I ask my
    character WHY he’s noticing these things.

Think about it.
We live in a world rich with sights, sounds, smells, etc. And we all have
different filters. Put seven people in a room for five minutes, then remove
them and ask them to describe their experiences and you’ll get different things
from different people. Maybe one person noticed the smell of the lilacs in a
vase on a table. Ask why and you may find out that lilacs were his mother’s favorite
flower or a scent his grandmother always wore.
Another person
will mention the lemon yellow of the walls. Perhaps it’s the same shade her
mother painted the kitchen in the house where she grew up. The possibilities
are endless and the answers your characters give will often surprise you.
Everything your
character notices won’t necessarily have a story behind it. Sometimes something
just catches our eye, with no rhyme or reason. But take time to ask your
character why and the insights you’ll uncover will add a depth and dimension to
your writing, just wait and see.
Edie Melson is
the author of four books, as well as a freelance editor with years of
experience in the publishing industry. Her popular blog, The Write Conversation,
reaches thousands of writers each month, and she’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.
Her bestselling ebook on social media has just been updated and re-released as Connections:
Social Media & Networking Techniques for Writers.
the Social Media Mentor at My Book
and the social media director for Southern Writers Magazine.
You can connect with Edie through Twitter
and Facebook.