Friday, October 4, 2013

Does Your Writing Have Rhythm?

Mary has had her great "ah-ha!" moments courtesy of James Scott Bell. Ashley blogged late last week about her experiences on the sidelines of ACFW. So I would say it's my turn to share the best of what I learned. ;-)

I sat through one complete class this year at ACFW and I picked the best of the best to sit in, let me tell you! If you think in the economy of words, you'd probably use as few as possible, right? But how often do we actually think about how short we should write instead of how many words we need to make a novel?

Less is more

One hour was simply not enough to soak up all that Brandilyn Collins had to teach us. I could easily sit through an entire early bird on what she had to tell. 

Words fascinate me. More than just stringing them together to tell a story, but words that evoke emotions. Develop a setting. Show the reader what is happening upon the screen we call a page. 

And I use too many of them. 
Click on the photo to see the changes Brandilyn made to a certain section of my manuscript.

One hour was enough to show me that so much more can be said in a stronger way if we use less words and more powerful words.

The key to this is the power behind the words. For example, take the before and after of these sentences I rewrote after Brandilyn's class:


A warm hand cupped Ellie’s elbow and guided her back to the spot where the brown-tinged grass caved under the press of her black shoes.


A warm hand cupped Ellie’s elbow, guiding her back to where the brown-tinged grass caved under her black shoes. 

How about another one? One that is a little more dramatic in the changes.

She wanted to stop them. Grab their perfect black scarves, coats, gloves. Make them realize this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She was supposed to be able to learn how to be a good wife instead of a good widow. She would have planned better, tried harder had she known…

Ellie wanted to stop them. Grab their perfect scarves and coats. Make them see this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. She was supposed to have the chance to learn how to be a good wife. Not a widow. 

Do you see that not only did I use less words, but I also used more powerful words? The second one packed more of a punch right? And because I actually used less words your brain didn't have to dig through all the extraneous stuff just to find the meaning to the sentence and the paragraph.

Sentence length also dramatically affects the rhythm and communicates without words to the reader their emotions. If your sentences are filled with descriptions and are long languid run-on sentences, and your scene is a fight, what emotion are you going to evoke in your reader? Not fear. In fact (and this happens to me too often), I'll be reading (or rather skimming) something and realize two paragraphs in that this was a fight/kidnapping/disagreement/argument and I had NO idea because the descriptions, word choice and sentence length did not cue me into the fact that there was something happening!

Word selection in and of itself is not enough. Once I started thinking about the length of my physical sentences, the sound of my writing started to change. You want the overall flow to match the mood of the scene, so keep this in the forefront of your mind as you are editing and changing. So often I didn't so much rewrite what I had written, but cut the extra words that were only drowning the important pieces of information. Once I started looking at my story in this way, I found plenty of places to cut the extra verbiage!

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people. 


Jeanne Takenaka said...

I love this, Casey. One thing I've heard is that when you have an intense scene, keep the sentence short. Keep the pace fast. I tend to be more wordy, so I'm going to take your suggestions and begin applying them. I'm also looking forward to receiving my CD's from ACFW. I think I'll listen to Brandilyn's first. :)

Casey said...

That is so incredibly correct! I'm the same way...tending towards wordiness that is. Brandilyn's class is definitely the first one to grab! :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

This was so fantastic, I want more. Can you do another post with more from Bandilyn's class. Wow!

Casey said...

I might have to Mare. ;-)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

LOVED that class!!!! Great stuff here, Case!

Casey said...

I didn't even know you were in it, Amy! Glad there was another rebel taking it. ;-)

Lana Williams said...

Great post, Casey! Amazing what those small tweaks can do! Thanks for sharing!