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12.4: Narration

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    This chapter is brought to you by Dana Anderson.\(^{163}\)

    Once upon a time there was…

    Sound familiar? We’ve grown up listening to and reading stories that follow this format. But storytelling isn’t limited to children’s fairytales and fiction novels. Storytelling, or narration, is a powerful composition strategy that can connect and engage an audience. Filmmaker Andrew Stanton\(^{164}\) (Toy Story and WALL-E) believes that “Stories can cross the barriers of time–past, present, and future–and allow us to experience the similarities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.”1 These connections help make the audience care. And when an audience cares, or is invested in your story, that’s powerful.

    Why Narration?

    As writers, we use narration for many purposes and in varying situations. Most often, when people think of narration, they associate it with fiction or novels–storytelling for entertainment. Yes, this is true, but narration can also be very effective in other writing. We may choose to recount a historical event through a first-person narrative. Or we may even use a compelling story to persuade an audience to take action.

    How and when you use narration depends primarily on your purpose.

    Narrative Elements

    No matter the purpose or situation, there are common features to narrative writing:

    • Event: What happened? Who was involved? The event or series of events drives your story.
    • Setting: When and where did it happen? Create and build the story world. This helps to establish context for the story.
    • Descriptive Details: What makes the story come alive? Use vivid words, sensory details, and figurative language to build a dominant impression. Try to show, not tell (See Description chapter).

    Consistent Point of View:

    Who’s telling the story? Narratives are often told in first person or third person. It’s important to choose the appropriate point of view because your entire story is filtered through this perspective and lens.

    • First Person: I, we
    • Second Person: you, your
    • Third Person: he, she, it, they
    • Omniscient Third Person: all-knowing

    Clear Organization:

    How does the story unfold? The story should flow and have a clear sense order. But remember, not all stories start at the beginning. Many stories include flashbacks and flash forwards. Use transitions (finally, next, later, earlier, three days later, as the season changed from fall to winter, a week passed) to clearly guide your audience through the story.

    Point / goal / lesson:

    Why does the story matter? Before you even begin composing the story, it’s essential to determine the significance of the event and the purpose of sharing the story. Ask yourself: Why am I sharing this story?


    Dialogue is another way to bring life to your narrative. Dialogue is conversation or people speaking in your story. Engaging dialogue goes beyond what is simply being said to include description of non-verbal communication (facial expressions, body movement, changes in tone and speed of speech) and characterization. The way people speak and interact while talking reveals much about them and the situation. Writing natural sounding dialogue is not easy. Effective dialogue must serve more than one purpose – it should:

    • Drive the plot forward,
    • Reveal information about the characters, and
    • Build tension or introduce conflict.

    Dialogue is a great way to show, rather than tell.

    Basic Dialogue Rules

    1. Use a comma between the dialogue and the tag line.
      1. “I want to go to the beach,” she said.
    2. End punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.
      1. He asked, “Where’s the champagne?”
    3. When a tag line interrupts a sentence, it should be set off by commas.
      1. “That is,” Wesley said, “that neither you nor me is her boy.”
    4. Every time you switch to a different speaker, start a new paragraph.
      1. Even if the speaker says only one word, with no accompanying attribution or action, it is a separate paragraph.
    5. Start a new paragraph when you wish to draw the reader’s attention to a different character, even if that character doesn’t actually speak.
    6. For internal dialogue, italics are appropriate.

    Sample Dialogue

    “So, what was it really like?” I asked.

    “I’ve told you. It was amazing.”

    I shifted to my side so I could look at her. “You have to give me more than that,” I insisted, “and not the mom and dad version.”

    Liv mirrored my move to her side and propped up her head with her arm. Her blue eyes searched my greens, looking for the right words. “I shouldn’t–”

    We broke our gaze as we heard our mom call for us. Once again, I didn’t get the truth.

    Want An Example?

    “The Man of the House” by Ivery Lue Baynham\(^{165}\)

    The Beginning

    Her name is Anita. She is no more than nine years of age. Yet her experiences and comprehensions are wise beyond her years. As tears drip down her caramel complexioned cheeks, she holds him. A limp lifeless body, crumpled and broken by the same man who has just defiled her youth and innocence. The young boy in her arms calls himself her protector, the man of the house who will make things right. He believes in God and they have both been taught the glories and the benevolent love God has for his children. In Sunday school, they would learn all the Greatness of the Lord. How Jesus overcame odds that seemed impossible. They would sing songs like “Nothing is too big or too small for God to move,” and read scriptures that state things like, “With God on your side no weapon formed against you can prosper.” Her little brother who now lies in her arms unconscious has obviously taken their parent’s word, the word of their Grandmother, the word of their aunts, uncles, pastors, and deacons to heart. He thought and believed in God so whole heartedly that he confronted Momma’s boyfriend when he heard his sister saying, “No. Stop it nobody is supposed to touch that.”

    Her tears begin to stir the little stick-shaped boy in her arms, only two years younger than herself. She draws him closer as he wakes. She is crying for his pain and not her own. She loves him. Not because he is her only little brother, not because he has seen what she endures so they are the only ones that know Momma’s boyfriend’s little secret. She loves and admires her little brother because he has a courage that she, at times like this, wishes he did not. She admires his heart and his reckless abandon for himself for his love of others. She knows that he is only trying to be the Man that Sista’ (their Grandmother) and Little Momma (their great-grandmother) taught him to be. She is not crying for herself; she is crying for his pain. Not the busted lips or bloody nose, no those wounds heal all too quickly. See she knows her little brother. She knows his heart and his will. She is crying for how he will blame himself for not being able to stop the men who take her innocence and sense of safety again and again. Her tears are for his self-hatred. Her baby brother will inevitably place disdain upon himself for having a penis and the destructive way that his lack of power will eventually corrupt his thoughts until it saturates his heart. She knows that his innocence has been forever tainted not unlike her own. She cries because although his body is stirred by her tears her baby brother is no more. He has died there in her arms and what will awaken will never be the wide-eyed, loving, little red-head she called Ivery. Her little brother is stirring as the moisture flows from her face to his. This is the last time she will ever hold him again. This is the last time he will ever be vulnerable to anyone including her whom he would give his own life to save. The baby is no more.

    Manhood is a harsh world of pain and sacrifice he will come to know well. He sees her tears, her eyes are closed, she is trembling with hurt and shame. His eyes well but he doesn’t cry. In that moment, he has made a vow to his sister.

    He will never let anyone hurt her again. He will never fail his family again. He swears to himself that he will find a way to protect his sisters and mother. His pain becomes a deep rage that will not be fulfilled. He has become what she fears the most. A man...

    Loss; Broken Perception of Masculinity

    Tina, my eldest sister, call makes it through between my calling and texting. She’s somber in tone, her voice lifeless and devoid of any emotion. As if she has been completely and totally drained of any further emotional output. There is a long silence after my “What’s wrong?” no time for hello. I am shoving this violation of my life into the hidden place within my heart that all the unexplainable and uncontrollable things go. I do this because I am needed. In my life this is the epitome of what Manhood is about; absorbing pain.

    I am being called because I can help; I have the power that we as men call upon to rectify wrongs and injustices. I have ANGER. Anger and RAGE are the tools used by men to even scores. Get people back who have wronged you or those you love. I am prepared because like anyone who knows how to be a Man will tell you, preparation is the key to success. As an African-American male, I am always prepared. Throughout my life there has always been so many things to be angry about. I was taught that a real man is ever ready and stable. I wonder now in hindsight how does a “REAL” man prepare for loss? How does this perception of a Man actually fare when living in the real world?

    My eldest sister begins to weep slowly, silently at first, until this too is drained from her being. As the man, she has leaned on for three decades now I brace myself to consume the sorrow of her heart. This is how I will uplift her. My sister who is my elder, yet my gender has made me her rock and corner stone. The man of the house. Silence. She tries to collect herself to speak. “Ivery, she’s dead. A, Anita, Ivery, Anita is dead. She’s dead!” I no longer feel like her rock. The Man in me falters. The little boy who has been locked away behind years of emotional scar tissue begins to tremble.

    My armor has lost its ability to induce fear. I was waiting for the target to direct my ever-ready rage. The dogs are no longer scratching at the door of my heart awaiting their next victim. There is silence. A cold wind is filling my lungs, yet the room is hot enough for my pores to continue to release beads of sweat, in the attempt to lower my body heat. I feel numb. There is an unfamiliar moisture beginning its way from my eye to my check and down my face. These are tears. The only foe I have never defeated. The only advisory that my anger and rage shy away from. I am face to face with Loss. I am hurt. My world has stopped.

    Pain is the one thing that every individual on this planet will have in common with any other person. Pain is a Universal experience that has no regard for age, ethnicity or social status and tax brackets. Pain is pain.

    The Power of Perception

    As an African American male growing up in the inner city, I was taught strength by my Great-grandmother and my grandmother. My family has always been featured in our city’s newspaper every few decades or so. We have always uniquely had at least five generations of living relatives. This exceptional wealth of knowledge unexpectedly creates unconscious benefits as well as unconscious weaknesses. These are called Sticomas. Having the availability of not only my great-grandmother but my grandmother’s wisdom and guidance has always been a crucial part of my upbringing. Oddly my Masculinity has been based on women. The experiences that those women had with men, be they joyous or painful. Seeing these women continue to open their hearts and become vulnerable repeatedly to men, led me to hold women in a regard I have yet to be able to explain. There is an unspoken, unnamed strength that the women in my family carry. Not just my relatives, all women have this inner strength. Women are held in such a high regard perhaps because the elder men of my culture/family are dead.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have uncles that would take me from time to time. Nothing as consistent as the teachings from these women. Of what my manhood was and should be. Shootings, drugs, crime, and prison statistically destroy more Men in the community that I grew up in than any forces of nature. Strangely, when I think back on my youth, I cannot honestly remember a single male from my city dying of what would be considered natural causes.

    Being a devoted Baptist family, I was taught to trust in the Lord and that God has a divine plan for us all. The only requirement to have a long life, so I thought, was to be obedient. We learned to use the lessons of strength, justice, the universal law of love that I was taught, and to help one another. I learned from having two older sisters how to speak from the heart to a woman. I was taught that being a rock was what manhood was all about: to constantly grow and improve. To talk about feelings but never show any. “Real men don’t cry” or “Man up boy, we don’t have any punks in this family.” Can’t forget my favorite “Stop crying like a girl or I’ll give you something to cry about!” These are just a few jewels of advice passed down about being a man, by the women of my family. Nobody likes to lose. I more than others, because Life is supposed to be filled with winners. Like most other little boys, I was constantly taught to win. I wanted to have some form of control in my life. This kind of thinking was instilled in me at a young age because I was the “man of my home” (fatherless household with two older sisters and no brothers). I was the rock, the dependable one in times of crisis and need. This was my identity that I worked diligently to maintain, cultivate and grow within me. I gained a very important reputation based on causing others to fear me. To be able to inflict pain became the greatest tool I ever learned as a child. In the world of men fear is control. To be able to instill fear in the hearts of adults became paramount to keep my sisters and mother safe. In my youth having such adult responsibilities helped me to be successful at every task I had set my sights on. I won, I was unbreakable, I would bend but never break. I could hurt others with a vicious conviction. I was the man.

    I never included my own biological father as he was never truly present in my life. Nor have I ever counted any of the wasted sacks of skin that my mother dated who called themselves men. This unique situation opened the door to many misunderstandings on what it is to be a man. As well as what type of relationship women desire from the men in their lives. My sister Anita and I managed to get into adulthood without overwhelming resentment. There became an element of fear I felt from her, that I then didn’t understand. It was a barrier that defined the bond between the rebel spirit that was my sister Anita and I.

    Anita and I moved to Minneapolis from Indiana in the mid 90’s which drew us closer as siblings. In my adolescence there was a time when we only fought like cats and dogs, some of the most vicious physical combat I have ever experienced in my life. A time that I knew she loved me, but in our teen years anyone who met us would wonder why we were constantly trying to kill one another. Being the only two kids in school with the country twang of our Indiana accents, to being left to defend one another from the city of Minneapolis with its ever present evils. We forged a new connection. Through the time away from our home city, Anita and I not only bonded but we grew as individuals. My sister would become my biggest fan and the inspiration behind much of the change in my life. Responsible for the open vulnerability you are reading at this very moment.

    Anita, who supported my secret desires to write and draw as a child, would later in life be the one who would teach me by example. She taught me, I could break the stereotype of thug and gangster. She nurtured my feminine side. Always affirming in me to put my emotions into my lyrics and writing. It felt as though she loved me again and I was her brother once again. Anita, who always believed that I had something to offer the world and pushed me to make better choices. Because to her I had potential to be the “Man” our family needed. A new kind of Man. One she could trust, and other women would trust as well. My trophies for wrestling and martial arts meant nil if anything to her, she would support my music, spoken-word poetry and writing. She cared nothing at all about the praise I received for being the “man” many had taught me I needed to be. In hindsight I see how the man I had become in my teens caused her disappointment, pain and fear. It was as if she knew me better than I knew myself at times. It makes sense considering I am the only little brother she ever had. She became my best friend, supporter and fan of my work. Be it written, spoken word or a hip-hop performance she was always front and center cheering me on to do more with my life than to settle for the perception of a Black male. She always supported my creativity, or the “girl in me” as she sometimes put it.

    I had just turned thirty and was very much excited about my life. I felt like I was winning at the game of life. I was in complete assurance and comfort in the course my life was heading. I was actually the MAN. All the critical stats for the Perception of Masculinity were in place; I had my car, my apartment, great career, family starting to come together, and I was sporadically performing my music. I thought to myself one bright Sunday morning, life is good, God is good, I made it. I was very much full of the false self I had presented to everyone. The Ego-based self that is centered on the things of my life rather than the relationships that make life worth living. My perception of my Masculinity and Manhood had become about what I had. I lost sight of the relationships that create memories. So, covered in my emotional scars I had become immune to emotions, besides, I am a man. I can control mine. So full of myself I was confident that I had become invincible. “The MAN indeed.” I had experienced many losses in life already. Yet, because I had economic success, I overlooked those vital experiences. We may not, at times be aware of some of our loses, or we may not have realized what we experienced were actually losses. Loss is not the enemy; not facing its existence is the enemy of emotional development.

    Full of my grandiose manhood I announced to my girlfriend “We are going to church! God is good, and we are blessed.” Just at that very moment I received a phone call. I recognized the number as my mother’s, so I quickly answered expecting good news on my perfect day. All I can hear were guttural screams and sobs, no words, the tears and screams the only communications her brain allowing her to give me.

    The connection is lost. I sit confused, “What the fuck was that?” before I can stand my phone is ringing again, this is the voice of my eldest sister Tina. I answer, more of the screaming, no words, and only deep sobs and labored breathing. The connection is lost. At this point I am up and dressed, the “MAN” instinct I was taught is now reverting to anger and impatience. I try to call both back, but lines are busy and this feeling in my gut is eating me alive. It is a feeling I swore off in my youth, so long ago I barely remember it. For me, this means that every time I wanted to be held or to feel loved, I had to hide my tears. Or I would be ridiculed by those I adored and loved, I had to become hard and callused to be a man, right?

    Yet I am not, and have never been, the cold-hearted gang banger or drug dealer the media and society have made me out to be. I am the little boy who sat with his sisters and cried because they were hurt. “He” has always been there still but buried deep and stashed away in my heart with everything else that would make me look weak. “He” is always scratching the surface, attempting to escape the darkness that I have imprisoned him in to be the man I am trained to be. I grew scars in my soul to become a man in my heart. The “MAN”, with no expression of emotion other than anger leaves me in a state of inquiry. I am so totally lost. I feel something, it is very real, and it is also very familiar, because it is little Ivery. The little boy in his sister’s arms in so much pain that his sister cries for him. He is crying because I will not, I cannot, we are no longer the same person. I am a man and I was taught “he” is a sissy, a punk and that is why he remains locked away.

    “He” is the embarrassment of my manhood, or at least what I have been taught it means to be a man. “He” is the reminder of my weakness, which I swore would never happen again! Yet “he” is here. Now very present, and his pain is stronger than my will.

    I have often been told, and it saddens me to admit that I have said, “Real men don’t cry” and as the thought of the limits that this phrase puts on a young man roam my mind. I wonder how I can be a man while honoring the boy trapped in my heart who only wants to have his sister hold him one last time before she is gone forever.

    In my age and growth, I have come to express things differently than I used to. I have come to understand the true strength of masculinity is in vulnerability. The willingness to be bare and open with those I meet. Yet this too is often misunderstood. In a song I recorded entitled “When hearts turn cold” I state, “Real G’s don’t cry, but that’s a lie. Look at me G don’t you see the tears in my eyes?” This line perfectly captures the turn of my life, the direction that men in the community and on the campus where I attend college will inevitably need to travel toward.

    The question I ask myself, is how can I encourage the men in my neighborhood and on campus to be men of valor and honor? How can I lead them by example while letting go of the codes of masculinity that our communities feed us? The women in our homes, neighborhoods, and in our schools, expect from us? The answers to these questions remain unclear even now, so I use my tears to fill my pen and create poetry, lyrics and works like these.

    These truths are the heart behind my conversation and the way I speak. These lessons are taught through the pain of survival. I have changed my perception of others by changing the perception of myself to me. The perception of what it is to be a MAN. From the Man of the house.

    \(^{163}\)Anderson, Dana. “Narration.” Writing Unleashed, Version 1. NDSCS; 2016

    \(^{164}\)Standton, Andrew. “The Clues to a Great Story.” TED2012, Feb. 2012, TED,

    \(^{165}\)The Man of the House by Ivery Lue Baynham is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International license. https://

    This page titled 12.4: Narration is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dana Anderson (Independent Published) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.