Narrative Braid — The Teller And The Tale

The other day in the Sharpening the Quill Writers’ Workshop I lead every month, I talked about what’s known as the Universal Story in narrative — the common structure beneath all kinds of narrative.  It has a triune form (as do most fairy tales and religious imagery, but that’s something for another day) and consists of:

1.  a beginning with what is familiar/comfortable … and how the protagonist is separated from the familiar.

2.  a middle period of resistance and struggle

3.  and finally and ‘end’ containing a transformation and return.

"Story" is more spiral than line.

“Story” is more spiral than line.

The Universal Story, and how a writer responds to it, also suggests that the process of writing a story actually creates the same narrative for the writer during the process of writing.  The writer begins with confidence and comfort, is soon confronted with the undeniable fact that she will not be able to create the story she first envisioned, and thus, there is a sense of separation.  But she carries on. She continues, takes up the challenge, even though she may want to quit (resistance) or move on to some other, possibly easier story.  She struggles.  Some days she feels she’s on the right track, others she despairs.  And then, finally, there comes — often with a mighty heave and soul-cracking effort — the moment when she enters into the final battle with her angel-of-creation, and in this wrestling comes to understand what the narrative is really about, and why she’s writing it, which may not be anything like what she first imagined.

She finishes the draft, not only having created a narrative but having deepening her understanding of her world and how she relates to it.

The Universal Story tells us this is the same journey  — the eternal journey of life — which her characters travel.

Then, after a period of comfort and rest, the writer looks at that draft, and begins the journey again, in the editing process.  So do her characters.  And so on. . . and so on . . .

Each time the writer enters this cycle, although the stages are the same, the writer’s perspective has changed and so, something new is learned by the writing of each new story, memoir or novel.

This is, I suggest, one of the great gifts of writing. When I hear emerging writers focusing more on publishing than on truly experiencing this process I admit to feeling sad. In the final analysis, this is the most important thing about being a writer.  It’s not how many copies you sell on Amazon; its about how the act of writing transforms you.




  1. Paula Heilbrun on February 26, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Very nice and helpful post. Reminds me why I love to write. Thank you!

    • Lauren B. Davis on February 26, 2013 at 10:00 am

      Thanks for commenting, Paul. Keep writing!!

  2. Lynda Tam on March 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I love the concept of the story journey as a spiral and not a line. It makes me think about the space beyond the inner and outer parts of the spiral and, like a nautilus shell, a spiral where the entry and the ending are not necessarily where we think they are.

    The image of the spiral is very beautiful. Where is it from?

    Warm regards.

    • Lauren B. Davis on March 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      Hi Lynda, thanks so much for your comment. It’s funny you should talk about the nautilus shell. I’m reading “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” right now, and loving it! What a great metaphor for our lives. You might like it.

      As to the image — it is lovely, isn’t it. I just found it on the web. If you google it, you’ll find it again, I’m sure.

      Thanks again. Lauren

  3. Petra Scheller on September 2, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Emulating nature works best…the Fibonacci principle…the Golden Section! Great little film found on the internet is .

    I suspect that if you peel away at a great story, you will lay bare many Golden Sections!

    Still in awe of your Empty Room!

    • Lauren B. Davis on September 3, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Thanks, Petra. I’ll look for that film. Sounds intriguing. Hope all is well with you.

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