By: Linda S. Clare
The conversation you, the writer, have with the reader is one of promises and explanations. While good writing feels like a natural, unforced conversation, it should not try to recreate real speech—we’re all over the place when we chat in real life. By contrast, every word of a story must point readers forward to its climax and resolution.
Take a look at your work in progress. Are there places where you’ve waxed poetic about the weather? Unless your story is about someone who lives through a bad storm, most of these “descriptive details” just slow the pace and bore readers. I’m not saying to delete every descriptive phrase, but most of the time good writers either use it to further develop the character/story or keep these descriptions minimal.
A good way to judge your own work is to record the actual events/actions of a scene and the descriptions or “other info” the scene provides. Aim for as few non-action sentences as you can. What’s the ratio? The answer will probably tell you if your pace is too fast or slow. Many writers err on the side of slowness—either to show the reader how beautiful the writing is or because they haven’t yet learned the art of conversing with the reader.
VARY SENTENCE RHYTHM
Take a look at that same scene. Do the sentences vary in length or are they all about the same? A steady beat tends to put readers to sleep. If they are generally all the same length, consider changing some to be shorter or longer. And how about your sentences’ construction? Do they all begin the same way, with subject, verb, direct object? Again, a steady rhythm tends to become a predictable drone and that’s the danger. You want your reader’s ear to be surprised and intrigued, not lulled to sleep.
Experiment with different sentence constructions. Warning: Yoda-speak (Try you must.) hardly ever works. And while we’re on the subject, be careful about using seldom-used or technical words too often in your work. Words such as and, so, said, and even house tend to slip the reader’s notice. But by repeating a word which sticks out to readers (Smith made several inflammatory remarks during the debate. The final resolution had an inflammatory effect on the nation.), you imply that there’s a reason for it. The reason had better be more than you liked the sound of the word or you couldn’t think up a different one. If you don’t intend to communicate that pattern, the result is less than satisfying, and may even annoy readers.
MANAGE YOUR READERS
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