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Qualities of a Good Narrative 2: Self-referencing

I like to say that a narrative is a sphere in the shape of a line. One reason I say this is self-referencing: the various ways a good narrative refers to itself. At the moment, I can think of three kinds of narrative self-reference.

Intertemporal references occur between earlier and later sections of the piece. The narrator or the characters mention planned or possible future events and observed or experienced past events. This has the effect of connecting past and future in the text the way they are connected in our brains through memory and imagination.

Put Your Milestones Where Your Mouth Is

One of the trickiest skills in storytelling is positioning milestones to reflect plot hierarchy. It's tricky because plot hierarchy can be difficult to identify. When a story springs full-formed in our fevered brain or eeks drip by drop from our curious pen, we tend to see it as an inviolable whole--and our veneration for the Muse makes us balk at the thought of reshaping it. The consumer, however, doesn't give a fig for our Muse. She wants a good story well told. Assuming we've provided the good story, the next step is to tell it well. That requires unity and coherence.

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