How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 1

How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 1

Let’s start by creating a fresh sample of prose:

  • Take 5-10 minutes
  • Create a fragment of NEW fiction, nothing you’ve started or thought of before.
  • Create 1-2 paragraphs minimum.
  • This does NOT have to be good or exciting or “correct” in any way. Write about ANYTHING or ANYONE. This is only a sample! Just get some words on paper.
  • Pay close attention to your thought process as you write.

Done? Great! Now take a few minutes and think about this: What aspects of writing “theory” came to mind as you created your sample? Did you think consciously of plot? Character? Setting? Point of view? Spelling? Punctuation? Sentence structures? Or did your subconscious simply bake all that stuff into your prose as you wrote? Let’s take sentence structures as an example (that is, the concept of simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences). Did any of the four sentence structures consciously come to mind as you wrote? Maybe they did, but my guess is, they probably didn’t.

Point Number 1: Many writers are afraid to dig deeper into writing theory because they fear too much theory will cause them to lose the magic of the writing process. Or, they fear too much theory will introduce too much structure to their writing, making their work (or their writing process) formulaic. Does the concept of sentence structures make you worry about losing the magic of your writing process? Does the concept of sentence structures force you or your writing process to be formulaic? Of course not! And neither will The NORTAV Method.

Now, let’s continue with our sentence structure analogy. Take a few more minutes and look at your sample. Can you break up your prose into blocks, based on sentence structures? Here’s an example of prose, followed by a color-coded example:

When Flueric reached the center of the square, he slipped between an elderly couple studying a crumpled map of the city and a silver-haired priest clutching a Bible to his chest.

“Scusi, pardon me,” Fleuric said.

He stepped onto a narrow granite rim that ran around the obelisk, and his view improved immensely. From here he could see over the heads of the crowd, beyond Bernini’s great fascade, over the pillars and the saints that crowned the cornices of the court of St. Peter, all the way to the rooftop of the Sistine Chapel herself.

“Visiting?” the priest asked Flueric. “I can’t quite place your accent.”

Flueric looked down on the priest. Though he was clearly an older man, his smile was warm and childlike. His cheeks were freshly shaved, a spot of tissue still stuck to a nick on his neck. His eyes were cast to the side, pale, milky. The eyes of a blind man.

“In a manner of speaking,” Flueric said.

“Have you seen the catacombs?” the priest asked. “I remember how amazed I was the first time I saw them.”

“Yes,” Flueric said. “It took me a while to find them, too. They used to bury the dead there in secret. Christians.”

The priest nodded. “I haven’t been there in over fifty years. My parents took me there when I was young. It feels like yesterday…”

Sentence Structure Blocks

Notice each sentence is color coded to represent its structure or the fact that it does not have a structure…i.e. a fragment or run-on sentence. You automatically, subconsciously, created your prose sample by stacking or linking together sentences or “blocks” of different structural types to represent your story. And, by understanding how sentence structures work at a conscious level, if you didn’t apply them correctly during the writing process you can go back during the editing and revision process to improve and/or correct your sentence structures. So, at least from a sentence structure perspective, you already have the tools and knowledge to create professional quality writing. But writing is not prose. Prose is writing that specifically reflects either the perceptions and activities of a character, or the thoughts and opinions of a narrator, or a combination of both, in order to tell a story.

Point Number 2: The NORTAV Method works in a very similar way to sentence structures. Prose is created by stacking or linking together different types of blocks called “beats.” Here’s a color-coded example, using the same snippet:

Prose Beats

Notice there are thirteen different types of beats. For this introduction, we will cover the first six “primary” beats, called NORTAVs.


These six primary beats, these NORTAVs, can be mixed together (sort of like primary colors of paint) to form the remaining seven beats, which you can learn all about in the book. As this blog series continues, I will cover the six NORTAVs individually, show you how and when to construct them, and how five of them are used to create one very specific style of prose, a base or root style of prose called Direct Character Experience. By learning when and how to properly construct and combine all thirteen beats, you will have all the tools and knowledge you need to create professional quality prose.

That’s it for Part 1. See you at Part 2!

Click here to view list of all parts of this post series.

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