How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 6

How to Construct Professional Quality Prose–An Introduction to The NORTAV Method: Part 6

If you didn’t start with Part 1 do so now.

At this point, you should know that:

  • Prose is constructed by using thirteen different types of beats to create three different styles of prose.
  • The first or “base” style of prose, Direct Character Experience (DCE), reflects the perceptions and activities of a character, with no sense of a narrator.
  • The character through whom these DCE perceptions are reflected, and through whom the reader experiences them, is the focal character.
  • There are six basic or “primary” beat types called NORTAVs. That is, Narration, Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • Five of these six beat types are used to create DCE: Observations, Reactions, Thoughts, Actions, and Vocalizations.
  • So far we have covered Actions, Observations, Reactions, and Thoughts.


  • Now let’s move on to Vocalizations.

    Vocalizations

    A Vocalization beat describes the voluntary vocal sounds produced by a focal character–speech, grunts, groans, etc. –as the story unfolds, moment to moment. To continue to show how beats are linked one to another, and to maintain the narrative context we established so far, I will add examples of Vocalization beats to our previous examples. However, I am not going to tack them directly after the Thought beats (where we left off). I am going to insert a minor Action beat before the Vocalization beat. Why? you may ask. I will fully explain the reason in Part 7. The short answer is, even though any NORTAV can follow any other, provided they are linked in a stimulus/response or logical manner, there is a particular order I will to call attention to in Part 7, and that order requires that I insert an Action beat between the Thought and Vocalization beats. Again, we will label the beats in our examples using beat markers such as: [N], [O], [R], [T], [A], [V].

    Vocalization examples (with minor Actions inserted):

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]Ginny grinned. [R] A warm feeling rushed through Harry. [T] He was beginning to like Ginny. A lot. [A] He took her hand. [V] “Let’s head down to the river where it’s quiet,” he told her.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]It was slick, covered in hamburger grease. [R] “Gross!” [T] She should have known better than to let Mary use it first. [A] She wiped her hand on her napkin. [V] “Damn it, Mary. You are the sloppiest person I’ve ever met,” she said.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” the man said. [R] The boy froze in mid stride. [T] What was the man planning to do? [A] The boy pointed back at the house. [V] “Aren’t you going to help my sister?” he asked.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]A reek of moth balls and mold wafted out of the room. [R] Her stomach roiled. [T] No one had been here for a long time. A very long time. [A] She stepped inside. [V] “What a mess,” she muttered.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven. [R] His tail went berserk, slamming a happy rhythm onto the hardwood floor. [T] Yum. This is a good bone, the dog thought. [A] It chomped off a piece and gnawed it into gew. [V] “Woof!”


  • A few things about Vocalizations. First, remember a vocalization is a voluntary sound made by the focal character. It may not be a word or sentence. It may be a growl, a groan, or a grunt, provided the growl, groan, or grunt is voluntary and not involuntary. If it’s involuntary, the growl, groan, or grunt is a Reaction. Second, a vocalization is not a sound or speech that comes from a non-focal character. Those are rendered as Observations because it is the focal character that “hears” the other character speaking. Remember, in DCE everything is presented to the reader through the activities and senses of the focal character. Last, when speech or sounds are summarized, they are no longer DCE. For instance “He told her everything he knew.” is not a DCE Vocalization. The narrator has summarized the speech for the reader.

    A note about keeping your narrator’s presence out of Vocalization: Direct sounds or speech from the focal character is nearly always rendered directly. If the vocalization is speech, it is put in quotations. Nothing could be more direct. If its a sound, it’s stated directly, as in “he grunted.” But, when you add vocalization tags (he said, he asked, he called out, etc.), you inherently are “telling” the reader the focal character is speaking, and thus the narrator is detectable. However, readers are so used to this mechanic, the narrator is virtually ignored if the tags are kept simple and to a minimum when tagging the focal character’s speech. You can get away with more when tagging the speech of a non-focal character, as that speech is part of the focal character’s Observation, and thus the added tag information comes across to the reader as a description of how the speech sounds to the focal character, as opposed to sounding like narrative intrusion. For more on this, see The NORTAV Method for Writers.

    Let’s see some more examples of a narrator intruding on Vocalizations:

  • [A]Harry nodded. [O]He saw Ginny grin, [R] and he felt a warm sensation rush through him. [T] It occurred to Harry that he liked Ginny, which for a boy his age was unusual. [A] With a typically awkward teenage smile, he took her hand. [V] “Let’s head down to the river where it’s quiet,” he told her, his face beaming.
  • [A]Sally reached over and snatched the ketchup bottle from Mary’s hand. [O]She could feel it, slick and covered in hamburger grease. “Gross!” she said before she could stop herself. [T] She should have known better than to use the bottle after her, she chided herself. [A] Disgusted, though not nearly as disgusted as she was about to become, she wiped her hand on her napkin [V] and swore at Mary for the next ten minutes.
  • [A]The boy stumbled across the lawn, waving his hands in the air. [O]”Don’t come any closer!” he heard the man say. Immediately, the boy froze in mid stride. [T] He wondered what the man was going to do. [A] The boy pointed back at the house, not knowing that Katie had already succumbed to the virus. [V] “Aren’t you going to help my sister?” the boy asked, the fear clear in his voice, the fear of a boy who was about to lose everything.
  • [A]She took a long, deep breath, blew it out, and started for the door. She grabbed the knob and pushed. [O]She smelt a reek of moth balls and mold wafting out of the room and felt her stomach roil. [T] No one had been here for a long time, she realized. This was her first thought, but it wasn’t the last. [A] Ignoring her nausea, she stepped inside. [V] “What a mess,” she muttered in a voice so low she couldn’t hear it herself.
  • [A]The bulldog wagged its tail. [O]The bone tasted like heaven to the dog. As a result, his tail went berserk, slamming a happy rhythm onto the hardwood floor. [T] Yum, the happy dog thought. [A] With what might have been a grin, it chomped off a piece and gnawed it into gew. [V] “Woof!” the dog exclaimed in a bark that sounded almost human.


  • Characteristics of Vocalizations:

  • Vocalizations are voluntary vocal sounds made by the focal character. Don’t confuse them with involuntary focal character vocal sounds (Reactions) or vocal speech or sounds made by non-focal characters (Observations).
  • Vocalizations can be as short as a word or as long as a few paragraphs of monologue.
  • Keep your Vocalization tags as short and simple as possible. Tags for the speech or sounds made by non-focal characters can be more elaborate.

  • Repeating Reminder #1: Examining NORTAVs is not like examining grammar. With grammar there is an objective right or wrong answer. With NORTAVs, things are far more subjective. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one beat type. Sometimes a beat is clearly of one prose style. (This is your prose construction goal!). Many times, however, if the narrative context is poorly established or if the beats are poorly constructed, a beat might be experienced (and therefore defined) as more than one type of beat, and therefore it could be defined as belonging to more than one style of prose. Thus, two readers can arrive at two different, yet equally valid impressions. The result: potential confusion. As a reader, this is a bad thing. As a writer, it’s absolutely lethal to the quality of your prose.

    Let’s end this part by creating some Vocalizations. You saved your work from Part 5, right?

  • Take some time and create at least 30 minor, related Actions, and linke them back the Thoughts you created. Then follow the Actions with 30 Vocalizations that are linked back to the Actions.
  • Vary the types of Actions (though they should be short and minor) and the length of the Vocalizations.
  • Vary the type of Vocalization: speech and sound.
  • There should be a minimal sense of a narrator in your Vocalizations tags. Keep them short and simple.
  • Save your work!


  • Done? Great! Post some examples here if you’d like!

    Repeating Reminder #2: You are learning how to work with NORTAVs (by using ORTAVs and avoiding Ns) to create one specific, “primary” style of prose: DCE. You are not attempting to change your current writing style! You are attempting to learn the fundamentals of prose construction so you can use that knowledge consciously (either during your writing phase or your editing phase) to eventually create professional quality prose in your own style. Or, if you are already experienced, your goal is to learn the knowledge so you can polish your prose to an even more professional shine.

    That’s it for Part 6. See you at Part 7!

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

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