Finding Flow

As we discussed earlier in the week description can be used to create pauses in narrative and varies depending upon style but description can also affect the flow of prose. The description we use affects the rhythm of a sentence which affects the flow of our proses. For example a long sentence of description might keep a story flowing steadily while a short choppy description gives a sense of speed and movement.

An obvious difference would be the different ways of describing a drive through the country and an action scene. The drive, assuming we’re not speeding round corners and so on, is steady and moves in one direction with the focus constant while a fight can be fast and the direction may be constant but the focus is constantly changing.

However, this doesn’t only apply to the difference between action and inaction. It applies to any situation where we want the flow to change whether it’s a character becoming scared or anxious or thoughtful. Obviously our overall style doesn’t change but in a character’s moment of panic a descriptive writer may become more bare-bones, while in a moment of introspection a bare-bones writer might become more descriptive. It isn’t only the length of description we use that affects the flow of our writing it’s the words we choose too.

A poet once told me that writing is putting the right words in the right place. The trick is to figure out where that right place is, we can’t automatically say that cursing doesn’t fit into a proclamation of love because that would depend on the characters, just because they’re proclaiming their love doesn’t mean it has to be romantic, nor does the presence of cursing imply that it isn’t romantic. Whatever our style of writing different words have different sounds and rhythms. Sticking with the curse words in English they tend to have harsh sounds that draw attention to them beyond emphasis through repetition. So a harsh sounding word in the middle of a sentence draws attention to itself. This is alright if we want that rhythm but if we’re trying to create a smooth flowing sentence then we might want to change a harsh word for a softer sounding one.

If we go back to action scenes words associated with action are often, but not always, sharp and abrupt, such as punch, kick, jab. The same is true of pain words, sharp, stab, sting. Whereas words associated with gentleness are often less harsh, caress, soft, tender. These words all change the rhythm of a sentence and the way a sentence is read and sounds. As such sometimes when we read a sentence back and it doesn’t seem quite right it isn’t always the sentence itself that is the problem, sometimes it is simply a matter of changing the wording to create the flow we want.

This doesn’t mean we can’t mix and match words to make apparent contradictions if we wanted to we could have a soft sting, if we wanted. However by saying soft sting it suggests a sensation that is not entirely unpleasant where as a sting on its own might suggest an unpleasant one. The alliterative affect also changes the rhythm, softening the word sting. By changing the way we use the word we’ve changed both the sound, the meaning and the rhythm. In doing so we’ve taken a word that is usually associated with pain, and possibly action, and made it sensual.

So when we’re describing something it is as important to consider what we say and how we say it. It’s also important to remember that this doesn’t matter in first drafts, we may come up with some good phrases in first drafts but we don’t have to spend long periods on word choice. First drafts are about getting it down and editing is about refining, fiddling with word choices will wait.


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