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?

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64 thoughts on “A to Z Challenge: Flow

  1. 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! πŸ™‚

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

    πŸ™‚

  13. 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…

  14. 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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