Crafting Your Narrative

This year I’ve been exploring the world of art through painting as well as writing – partly as a result of the pandemic lockdown, partly as a culmination of years of ‘dabbling’ in acrylics. A few weekends ago I decided to take the first step to taking my art to the next level and enrolled in a class about turning your creativity into a business. I was pretty nervous as my painting still feels very new and fragile, but came away feeling inspired and, perhaps more importantly, with the realization that this new approach to painting could also inform my writing career as well. The first exercise in the class was entitled ‘crafting your narrative’ and it became such an important exercise (for me at least) that I wanted to blog about it!

So what is ‘crafting your narrative’? Well, basically it is an initial exercise designed to make you think about your own creative narrative – what makes you and what you craft unique. Honestly, I can’t say I’d ever thought of looking at myself this way. All my elevator pitches and synopses have been focused on a particular book I’ve written and what makes it ‘unique’, rather than focusing on myself as a writer. When it came to my painting, the class prompts examined not only the media and mode of expression I use, but also what inspired me and how I thought my work made other people feel. In the end the (rough draft) that I came up with for myself as a painter was “I create abstract acrylic paintings that explore color, symmetries, shapes, and the relationship between the natural world and our interior selves…” Not bad I thought for a first attempt, but then I immediately began to think about how I would craft a similar narrative about myself as a writer…and soon realized just how much harder that would be!

Crafting your own narrative is, I discovered, much more challenging than summarizing a book for an elevator pitch – yet it makes perfect sense. As we discussed in class, when you are trying to differentiate yourself as any kind of creative, it’s vital to know who you are and what makes your work unique. So I set about trying to craft a narrative the same way I had for myself as a painter…and so far I’ve really only come up with a very rough statement that I am a fiction writer ‘who writes about bold, intriguing women against a backdrop of real and re-imagined histories’. Of course this doesn’t sound like most of my books at all – or me – so crafting my own narrative is definitely still a work in progress:)

So TKZers, how would you craft your own narrative as a writer? How (in one sentence of two) would you describe yourself as a writer and what makes your work unique? Do you find this exercise as challenging as I do?

Quick note: It’s fall break this week and we’re embarking on a driving trip round our beautiful home state of Colorado, so my internet access will be a little bit more limited today than usual – but I will be checking in!

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Crafting Your Narrative

  1. Thought-provoking concept, Clare.

    Seems like this would be closely related to the question: Why do I write?

    To communicate, to share thoughts and feelings that others may have but can’t express.

    To dig inside other people’s heads, through fictional characters, and explore reasons for their actions–both good and bad.

    To leave the world a little better place through my stories.

    • Thanks Debbie! Yes, they are related questions – I thought the crafting your own narrative was interesting as it also goes to the heart of a writer’s ‘brand’ -something that is always tricky to express!

  2. Having grown up with Mad magazine, I’ve always appreciated a sharp, satirical, and funny stab at sacred cows. When I first started writing I thought I might like to do comic novels, a la Tom Robbins. Then I learned how hard it was to sell those, and went to concentrating on thrillers. But I try to weave in some of that humorous bite into each book. Not to overtake the suspense, but add to it as a counterpoint, similar to what Hitchcock does in his movies.

  3. Tough yet compelling question, Clare. As I write in two different genres, it’s difficult to craft one narrative sound bite to encapsulate both. I’ll give it shot..

    “Waltzing with fictional serial killers and breathing new life into real but dead female serial killers in history.”

  4. Hi Clare,

    This is an amazing and challenging exercise for me, especially since I’m in the middle of a transformation of what I write, going from fantasy to mystery, from dark to lighter fiction. So, crafting my own narrative as a writer is doubly appropriate for me, in this moment.

    Here goes. I truly believe we are all in this together, and I strive to show that in my fiction, while creating a compelling emotional ride for the reader (which I crave myself when I read fiction). I’ll work on refining this further. Thank you!

  5. You opened with ‘turning your art into a business’. This is my cue to give a shout out to the Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the the Arts. A group of volunteers who can help you pay your bills with your art. This would include up and coming writers as well. This is the link to the St. Louis Area chapter. There are chapters in most major cities today.

    https://vlaa.org/

    Elaine, have you ever read the credits page on vlaa.org?

    • Most state bar associations have listings of attorneys who specialize in the creative arts and copyright. Many of them offer pro bono advice for those of us who aren’t bestsellers.

  6. The term professional writers use for this is branding. I had a hard time figuring out my own brand because I published across so many genres including paranormal romance, soft science fiction, romantic suspense, and a bit of fantasy. Finally, I decided on adventure because even my romances had a very strong element of adventure and action. I cannot stop myself from shoving my poor heroines off a metaphorical or real cliff. I had “Adventure in the Past, Present, and Future” as part of my home page visuals for years. My writing and teaching blog is “Adventures in Writing.”

    One thing I’ve always warned those newer in the craft about is not to brand yourself too soon in your journey, particularly in your own head, because you don’t want to stifle your choices as you work toward being publishable. Try new directions and voices until you find the ones that fit.

  7. Interesting post, Clare.

    I once attended an authors retreat where we were given an exercise to find out who we were as writers, what stories we should focus on writing, and how the major themes of our personal lives play into all that. Its outcome was similar to what you describe as “narrative”.

    I came away knowing that a major theme in my life is relationships, particularly broken ones, and how to mend them and reconcile. Not exactly crime/thriller material, but several of my relationships have been scary of a sort. Also, I discovered I always root for the underdog, even if I think they’re wrong.

    The catalyst (the exercise) for this discovery was to list 3-5 movies that have made an impact on my life, those that I watch over and over again, and that contain a theme that burrows into me. All of the movies I chose wrapped themselves around my heart and mind. It was an illuminating exercise to say the least.

    For me, it’s important to write stories that inspire us to be better humans. I want my stories to elevate my readers’ thinking, and encourage them to be the best they can be. If I can write just one story which accomplishes that, I’ll be happy.

  8. Wonderful, thought-provoking exercise to begin my writing week!

    I write cozy mysteries, so here’s what I came up with:

    I want to present the reader with an interesting puzzle to solve and to do it in the context of characters who are building relationships, encountering problems, and learning some important lessons about life. I’d like to challenge my readers to think.

  9. Interesting exercise! I’ll have to think about the movies I watch over and over! I love the emphasis on solving the puzzle.

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