Sunday, February 8, 2015

Time, Tides—and Writers

Waves and tides ebb and flow, occasionally punctuated by unpredictable upheavals, as anyone knows from standing in the surf or gliding across it.

Tip: Pleasure comes from both patterns and unexpected disruption of them.

Most writers discover the rhythms of language one at a time. The most obvious one escalates from conflict to climax. But like those varieties of ocean waves, novels offer many interacting rhythms.

~ The protagonist’s journey
Christopher Vogler famously argued that the rhythm of all fiction, from screenplay to novel, comes from a hero reluctantly agreeing to confront a troubled world and change it. Ideally, this rhythm climaxes with self-knowledge for the hero and justice for the world.

~ An arc for each sub-plot.
The best novels intersect several interconnected journeys. For each of these, relief disappears over and over until the final pages offer resolution—or failure.

~ Scene versus sequel or summary.
Regardless of what you call whatever’s out of scene, every novel has a basic rhythm of drama, condensation, drama, condensation. The trick is creating seamless flow.

~ Rhythm within the sentence, paragraph, scene.
Humans appreciate three-part structure: issue, development, resolution. Happily, you can employ this to revise fiction at every level.

That’s lots of patterns. Now what?

·         * Notice. Just considering the relationships between patterns helps you see your manuscript more clearly, so you can revise it more effectively.

·         * Vary. You want tension on every page, yes. But do you want all tension all the time? No.

·        *  Accentuate. The fun of patterns is enjoying relief until—whoosh—a monster wave changes the landscape. That gets everyone’s attention. Use emphasis to reveal significance.

·         * Surprise. The reader didn’t see that breaker coming any more than the character did. Astonishment is among fiction’s greatest joys. But not by cheating. Every gigantic groundswell must feel probable. In fiction that means you provided a clear yet subtle hint a while back.

Pattern-recognition originally helped the earliest humans distinguish tall grass from predator, something to eat from something to avoid. In fiction, pattern and disruption control everything from aesthetics to momentum, tension, and empathy. Use the rhythms of your fiction to make waves.

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