Friday, April 6, 2012

A to Z Challenge: Flow

Looks like I'm all about the subtle issues this year. Today's issue of choice is flow.

Credit
It isn't something that you can see. You have to sense it. Which of course makes it nearly impossible for a writer to detect on his or her own.

Still, it can be done, if the writer takes at least a few weeks off to get a bit of distance from the story.



Once that's done, the writer needs to do two things.

Firstly a fast read through of the story. Reading through your work in as close to a single sitting as possible will hopefully show you where there are lulls in the story that nearly grinds its progress to a halt. Or conversely, where things are happening on top of each other so fast that the reader won't be able to catch up.

If the pace is too slow, either shorten the period before the next big event, or work something exciting into the lull. If it's too fast, you might want to look into bridging scenes. These are slower scenes designed to give the characters and the readers a chance to rest before the next thing happens. It gives them all the opportunity to think of the events just past before the next one. If those scenes aren't there, the story won't have an impact on the readers, because they won't have a chance to sink in.

The second thing that a writer needs to do is an out-loud reading of the manuscript. This is to catch the tiny things that hurt the flow. Words that repeat, sentences always of exact same length, or similar sentence structures repeating too close to each other. Same goes for paragraphs. Think I'm being nit-picky? Try this:

Inspecting the room, he walked in. People stopped talking and started staring. Pausing for a moment, he frowned. Why were they staring like that?

Doesn't feel nice to read, does it?

Compare this:

He walked into the room, careful to look relaxed while he inspected its occupants. Silence fell as he made his way to the bar. Frowning, he ordered a drink and took a sip. Why were they staring?

Still not the best lines ever, but lots better than before. So when you read out loud and things feel weird, look for repetitions and change them up.

Flow issues take a bit of effort to spot but once you know about them, they're among the most clear-cut issues to fix. Only one more thing: The fast read is best done during revisions while you're making big changes to the story. The loud read works best right at the end when you only need to change wording and such.

Look Out for These:


1) Long periods of unending action or no action.

2) Something sounding or feeling off when reading. Few people can catch structure repetition, so if you can't put a finger on what's wrong, go looking for repetitions.

3) Crit partners or betas pointing out the above. LISTEN to them. Odds are they'll catch flow issues much better than you will.

What do you do to catch flow issues while editing? Are you one of the lucky few with a natural feel for flow, or do you have to go looking for the problem?

64 comments:

  1. Great tips. You're right about getting the pace just right...off to check my WIP to see if there are long periods of nothing happening (I'm prone to those!)

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    1. Thanks! I hope you catch all of them. ;-)

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  2. Am I one of the lucky ones? So far, none of my critters have said anything about flow.

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    1. Me neither. Usually I catch flow issues before anyone else gets to see the story.

      That's one thing I do see on my own, fortunately. :-D

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  3. Reading it out loud is a great way to get a feel for flow.

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    1. One of the best. Thanks for stopping by! :-)

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  4. Pacing is the one thing that separates the good writers from the great writers. Either a writer has it or doesn't. It knowing when to pull back when needed or let it all out all at the right moment. Like music, writing has a rhythm, too. Go too fast, and the reader doesn't know what's going on. Go too slow, and the reader may throw the book in the trash. Like a conductor, a writer has to know when to hit the beats at the right time.

    Beautiful post, Misha! :)

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    1. Thanks Jack! Glad you enjoyed it.

      I can only hope that I'm one of those writers falling on the right side of the separation line. :-)

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  5. This is something I try to fix all the time. I love action and have to make sure that I have the right amount and not flood my readers with it.

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    1. Fortunately, putting in rest periods is a bit easier than getting rid of boring scenes. :-D

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  6. My critique partners and test readers really help me with flow.

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    1. Interestingly, flow is one of the few things that I can self-diagnose. ;-)

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  7. This is great. Where flow and pace get me is while inserting backstory. Grr.... I'm getting better at it, but still find abrupt points at times.

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    1. Backstory can be such a pain in the ass. Best way to deal with it is to put it in in as little doses as possible. That usually keeps the flow going while still bringing necessary information across to the reader.

      :-)

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  8. It's always surprising how much shows up when you read your work out loud. I've also tried creating a simple graph to show peeks and lulls in tension/action scene by scene. Some might call this prevaricating!

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    1. That's an intriguing idea. Never tried to represent flow graphically...

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  9. Greaty-great post!

    Shelly
    http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

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  10. I actually keep a tally of how many times I use certain words, then crack out the thesaurus to help me replace them. I don't know why but when I'm writing the first draft all my fancy words seems to disappear out of my head!

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    1. The same happens to me. I'm definitely going to have to go through my ms with a fine-toothed comb before handing it over to my betas. :-D

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  11. Really interesting post! I'm not a writer, but I love to read and can appreciate how difficult writing a book must be!

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    1. It's actually frighteningly easy, once you're addicted. ;-P

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  12. I do suffer from flow even in my short stories, sometimes my Beta finds it monotonous in the middle. I am rewriting my NaNo Sci-fi novel precisely because of that.

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    1. Middles do seem to have a tendency to flag, for some reason. I'll be doing a post about them on N-day. :-)

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  13. I will seriously use these tips. Thanks

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you find them useful. :-)

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  14. Reading my novella all in one go - with a pen for quick marks of things that needed attention - is the best thing I've done. Especially when I discovered a character saying she didn't believe in Heaven and two chapters later explaining what it would look like! Quick word-maneouvre and it was sorted!

    I love reading out loud too, but have to wait until I'm alone!

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    1. That's another way to find lots of issues: printing and marking with pen. No idea why it works, but it does.

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  15. I think I have a good sense of flow with my writing. I know when something sounds bad and when it's lyrical. Flow is very important, it's yet another component a writer has to master.

    Thank you for this Misha!

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    1. Yeah this is definitely one of the more important (and tricky) things to master.

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  16. More great insights! Thanks Misha.

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  17. That's such good advice. I can't spot flow problems at all until I've had some good distance from the story. My beta readers are great at pointing out my repetition problems too. Great post!

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    1. Yeah CPs and Betas are worth their weight in gold when it comes to finding flow problems.

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  18. I'm enjoying your posts about writing. Can't wait to read the rest of the alphabet!

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  19. Flow is something that you must sense. A perfect explanation. Critique partners are so invaluable.

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    1. Thanks! I always thank my lucky stars that I found such wonderful and helpful crits. :-)

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  20. Excellent suggestions. Rereading in a big block after a few days is usually a good way for me to catch these problems. And I've become a big fan of beta readers because not everyone's mind works like mine. I'm trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge this month.

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    1. Oh yes, the perspective difference that comes from having someone else read a story can be very useful.

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  21. Appreciate your post on writing. I'm counting down until my first book is done, but am not brave enough to post a ticker : )
    Definitely bookmarking this. Best of luck to you as you finish up

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    1. Hahahaha yeah it was quite scary to make the commitment public.

      Glad that the post was helpful. :-)

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  22. Great tips and advice. I'm going to learn something here! Thanks!

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    1. I'd be thrilled if my posts were of some use to you.

      :-)

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  23. Those are some marvelous tips that you gave out there, very helpful. Indeed one has to distance himself from the creation to see its flaws, often we skip over the tiny problems unconsciously when we are too close it.

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    1. Yes... the saying "missing the forest between the trees " applies. :-)

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  24. Great tips and reminders. I'm pleased to see I have some good habits developing and will learn more from these.

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    1. That's very good. I can give hundreds of tips, but they simply come from my own habits that I formed out of experience and necessity. Every writer needs to do it on his/her own...

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  25. I think my story flows okay, but I'll soon find out if others agree :-)

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    1. Yes, often the proof of a story's flow lies in the reader's opinion. :-)

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  26. Great post. I love your advice on varying sentence structure, I will definitely bear that in mind. It's such a hard balance to strike between action and "rest" periods.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you found value in what I wrote. :-)

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  27. Hi, really interesting points you bring up and very helpful, to boot. Thanks for the input. Trying to hit all the blogs this month. Best regards to you. Ruby

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    1. Thanks!

      I'm trying to hit 1000 blogs this month, so not nearly as ambitious as you. ;-)

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  28. I'm a big believer in reading the manuscript aloud. It helps catch so many things. Dialogue that's off, awkward sentences, and so on. I also do the "fast" read.

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    1. Yes reading a ms can catch much more than just flow issues. It's really useful because of it. :-)

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  29. THere is editing software to catch word and phrase repetitions, which I think is the best thing invented for writers -- but unfortunately nothing easy to catch structure repetitions like your example, except of course your three excellent suggestions - thank you!

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    1. Ooooh! I wants one. Where do I get it? :-)

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  30. Flow is something so many people (not excluding myself here) can use help with, I think this is a great blog post with real practical advice :)

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    1. I'm glad if you found some use in my tips. Thank you for stopping by!

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  31. This is great! I make a big deal about flow when I'm looking over my works or reviewing someone else's work. I try to compare it to music. If this story were a symphony, would it smoothly transition from one point to another or would it jarringly stop and start at various points making it unpleasant to play or listen to?

    Sarah @ The Writer's Experiment

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  32. Good one... keep writing and updating us with the latest stuff

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