Whenever you read something, whether you actually realize it or not, you are speaking the words on the page/screen aloud in your head. Even while you’re reading these words right now…there’s a voice in your head narrating the text for you. Then again, there are some people who actually read out loud, and that’s ok too. However, when you read something in your head, even though you don’t have to use your lips or your tongue or control your breathing…the same rules apply. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you may find yourself doing these things anyway. And I’m willing to bet that a majority of your readers do too.
When I talk about writer ‘flow’, I’m talking about the ease and comfort that people experience when reading the words that you wrote. This is an aside from content, plot, or character. It’s different. Subtle. You have to make an effort to notice it and smooth things out if you want your project to be as awesome as it possibly can be. How do we do that? Well, that’s what this month’s article is all about! So…let’s talk about writer ‘flow’! 🙂
Have you ever read a story that you really LIKED, but kept stumbling over words every now and then…preventing you from loving it as much as you really wanted to? Sometimes its due to spelling errors, or maybe just awkward wording in a sentence, or sometimes there’s a language barrier and certain phrases don’t translate well. Whatever it is, it can cause that inner narrator to pause or get confused, and that can interrupt the flow of a story. See…there’s a rhythm in writing that may seem natural to you guys as authors, but the truth is, it’s a skill that you build over time with a ton of practice. If we go back and read our earlier works, we may be able to see the difference in our old rhythm and our new one. At least that’s how it is for me. The word usage isn’t as refined, the sentences aren’t as well structured…I can always tell my older work from my newer stuff. I guarantee you that my readers can too. So, I think it’s important to go back and pay attention to what we’ve done in the past and compare to what we do now. You may be surprised to see a pretty big evolution there.
I really started noticing this when I began re-editing my stories for ebook releases. Some sentences needed to be rewritten to keep from sounding…’clumsy’. Sometimes I would add new material, reword certain scenes, or add a little finesse to the dialogue to make sure that the rhythm that I was looking for could be maintained throughout the project. The first rule of creating a flow for your stories? Keep it consistent. Let the tone and feel of your scene play itself through, and then if you decide to shift speeds, segue into it as smoothly as possible. Try to picture the colors changing, like a sunset. It doesn’t go from high noon to midnight in a snap. There’s a slow and steady transition from one to the other. A sunset. A sunrise. Give yourself enough space to move through your story with graceful curves instead of harsh angles.
Hmmm…wait, is this making sense? Hehehe, let me try to put this into words that may seem a bit more ‘user friendly’. There’s nothing mystical or philosophical about writer flow. It’s just a means of taking notice of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
When you get a chance, read some of your writing out loud to yourself. Treat it like an actor’s audition. Put your feeling and emotion into it. Look at the text on the screen, think about the character and the scene, and then read it out loud. If you have trouble with a word or two, or if it sounds awkward when read aloud…think about how you could change that sentence around to make it sound better and create the emotional vibe that you’re going for. Sometimes, changing a single word or adding a few extra can create a whole new ‘feel’ for your story. I happen to be a bit obsessive about this kind of thing, myself. Hehehe, which is one of the reasons that I know that anyone who offered to be my editor would end up in a mental hospital by the time I got through nitpicking my own stuff to the point of madness. But stories are personal portraits of who I am. If I don’t feel it, how can I expect my readers to feel it. So, occasionally I read through a sentence or line of dialogue, and I’ll realize that it could be done a little bit better. For example, sometimes I’ll say something like…”We stared at each other.” Which is simple enough, but I might go back later and change it to…”We stared at one another.” it’s saying the same thing, but sometimes ‘one another’ sounds slightly more intimate in my mind. (Hehehe, I told you it was insanity!) I might change the word ‘hug’ to ’embrace’, or the word ‘beauty’ to ‘allure’. It all depends on how I’m reading the sentence and how it makes me feel. Always be aware of your emotions when you’re reading your own work. You’ll know when you’ve got the flow just right. Just keep at it.
Now, if you find yourself reading out loud and you stumble over the way a sentence is worded…fix it. Try thinking about what you’re trying to say with that particular sentence, then close your eyes and try to convey the same message ‘naturally’. As if you were talking to a random person on the street. Treat the story as if it was some sort of high school or office gossip that you witnessed yesterday, and now you’re telling somebody else about it. Don’t think about the writing aspect of it. No mechanics, no structure…just say it like you would say it to a regular person. Let it come out smoothly. If you speak a different language, say it in your own language where you feel most at home, and let it roll out naturally. It’s possible to overwork a sentence and over plan our dialogue when we’re writing. Sometimes simplicity is the key. If you find yourself having to reread a sentence, if there’s a clumsy jumble of words on the page, if you run out of breath or feel that there’s an awkward pause that shouldn’t be there…get rid of it. Smooth it out. Grab some mental sandpaper and wear it down until those rough edges are gone. Because if you stumble physically, you’ll stumble the same way mentally. And so will your readers.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the length of your sentences create pacing. Make sure that the pacing matches the tone that you’re looking for. Longer sentences slow things down. It gives your readers time to absorb more details, inhale all of the fragrances you’ve provided them, experience beauty and color. You can use this tactic to flesh out emotional events and deep conversations. Shorter sentences, however, speed things up. This makes the heart beat faster. It puts you in a different state of mind. Short sentences can be used to increase tension. To enhance the heated back and forth of an argument. To shuffle your readers through an intense action scene. Every time you use a period, it’s like an editor’s cut in a movie. Cut, cut, cut, cut…look over there, look over here now, back to you. But always remember to try to keep your flow consistent from one moment to the next. Don’t throw your readers off with a weird mix of the two. Remember the sunset? If you start off with long sentences that are full of detail and flowery language…and then want the scene to change into something more aggressive or intense…start making your sentences shorter and shorter as you progress forward. Let it smoothly transform from one extreme to the other without it coming off as jolting or out of place. And vice versa for the opposite effect. Again, this is subtle when it comes to writing, but if you read enough stories and have practiced writing your own, you’ll be able to ‘feel’ the difference once you start paying attention to it.
Now…this isn’t an exact science. Nothing artistic or creative ever is. That’s what makes art beautiful. The freedom from rules and regulations, and the dreamlike ability to express yourself without boundaries. But I hope that bringing your attention to the idea of writer flow will help you to notice it a bit more when your writing your own story or reading somebody else’s. That way, you can build your own methods of pulling this off and develop your own instincts on how to use it to be the best writer you can be. I feel that writing is both an art and a craft. The craft is being able to put words together and tell a good story. But the art is being able to transcend that craft and translate your emotions for your readers to feel it the way that you do. That only comes with dedication and practice. So keep at it! And I’ll be cheering for you the whole way!
Take care! And happy writing!