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Rhythm in Writing

Something that can be explained and possibly learned, but can’t really be taught.

This is one of the reasons that I do not believe that “anyone” can write. I also think that “anyone” is just an anagram of “annoy” with an extra letter, but I digress. I’ve been a beta reader for a fair number of people, of varying degrees of talent and technical skill, and in that experience, I have found that one of the most innate skills that a writer must have is a sense of rhythm. And that most people who try to write, do not have it.

It’s one thing to tell a hopeful to vary their sentences in length, but what about tone? What about story progression? Perhaps if you are an intuitive editor, you can tell someone that they need to put in a fight so that they have an excuse to vary from the witty banter that has been going on for five pages, and give over some time to description. Or that the exposition can continue, but only through dialogue or internal monologue after so much showing. (Sometimes you do have to reiterate what you hope people just pick up on without any telling)

These kinds of decisions are made all the time in writing fiction, and really anything. For natural writers, the ones who are writing because they have talent and like it–or however you want to define it–it either comes easily or without notice. For those whom I tend to call teenyboppers, it doesn’t happen at all.

Teenyboppers write what they think, some even do it via stream of consciousness. They do not check facts, nor research, and often do not have a grasp of common sense or a good vocabulary. They write characters from television–for some reason, the influence or urge to write has not come from actual books–that they do not even understand from a writer’s point of view. It isn’t writing, it’s using a medium for wish fulfilment.

Which is fine so long as it remains a personal document, and the creator doesn’t shriek for recognition of their nonexistent talent.

Small tangent, but back to my point: these are most of what I have seen in many requests for beta-reading. The rare good writers need technical pointers or maybe stronger characters, better development. But the actual rhythm is fine.

An example of bad rhythm that anyone can explain is that of bullet sentences. This is simply a barrage of short sentences, usually complete rather than fragments, that have the exact same rhythm and basically create a jarring monotone.

He aimed the gun. She leaped for it. They struggled for control. The gun went off. He hit the floor.

Although it is best practise to use shorter sentences in an action scene, this is ridiculous. There’s no up or down, and all of the sentences are structurally similar. (barring, perhaps, the second to last) But a good rhythm comes from varying not only structure and length, but the feel of the sentence.

She broke the lake surface like a baseball through a window. The cold hit her first. Then an ache began in her lungs. She stretched and started kicking, struggling to swim in the icy water. Her hand hit against something hard. A layer of ice had frozen over the lake.

Sure, these are pretty awful bits. But the second is more engaging. This is also not the only place where rhythm is necessary. It’s much more difficult to keep a goo rhythm throughout a narrative or even just a chapter.

The first chapter of my book, A Good Boy’s Guide to Breaking Things, is a good example of rhythm in short-term events. The viewpoint character goes from searching for cigarettes on corpses, to fending off a couple of looters, to taking one of them on as a companion, and then finally attacking other looters and breaking things because the world has gone mad. The way I wrote them, these events lead quite naturally one into the other, but they are also not the same thing over and over.

A boring series of events, no matter how well they connect, is an example of bad rhythm. Man comes home from work. His wife makes dinner. They talk about selling some of his old things to make a bit of extra money. They do the dishes and go to bed.

Aside from not being very dramatic–which, by the by, is not a killer problem–they have the same exact rhythm, one event to another. The everyday stuff is not particularly individualised or punctuated by conflict. A more interesting version, without losing the mundane world aspect would be: After Daddy Daughter Day, man comes home from work. His wife has burned dinner, but neither mentions it. They talk about ways to increase their income so that they can adopt. They fight about the wife getting a job. Man goes to bed while wife stays up to do the dishes.

I hope I’ve made some kind of point, or at least been interesting. I haven’t meant to imply that the way to make a story better or more interesting is simply to add more words. Being simple can be the best way to go. I just tend to think with more words.

Here, just so that there can be an example of short and simple that works. Detective takes job. Client disappears. FBI detains Detective. Detective escapes FBI. Best friend is found dead with client.

 

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Little Yellow Ducks

Listening to: Lifehouse – Just Another Name
via FoxyTunes

We beat the anti-gay bill!  First news I got when I got home and I had to run up and tell mum right off.  Nicest thing I could have heard this morning.  I just sat and relaxed for the first time since Sunday morning.  Maybe that’s why I was so anxious?  Just not being quite sure.  I feel better, in any case.  They’ll try again, hate is a stubborn drive, but people won’t stand for it.  I love being about to say that about things that matter.

Some fun stuff happened at work too.  There was this evil chair that was quite broken though.  Scared the crap out of me trying to sit in it and get work done.  It lurched in both directions, forwards and back.  I was certain that if I didn’t balance myself perfectly, I would fall and humiliate/hurt meself.  And the mail volume got so low that they pushed off everyone who had an end tour up to ten o’clock.  At 6:26, of all times.  I was rather amazed.

But I got to a really good bit of A Game of Thrones.  I rather like the character of Samwell Tarly.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because he’s so open about admitting to his cowardice.  The other characters’ reactions to him reminded me oddly of Flashman.  Not the character, but the style of the books.  Not sure why.  Speaking of Flashy, I can actually read some of the paperbacks I have.  I’m still missing some, but I do have the audiobooks to fill gaps.

I put off writing my Philip homework for pretty much the entire week, bad me.  But last night at lunch I just sat down and booted up my netbook.  Took me fifteen minutes to write a chiefly dialogue-driven scene between him and Trey.  It was kind of funny.  I wrote it based on the prompt and a line I really wanted to include that was basically just a Lucy Porter is Short joke.  So dumb, but whatever works, right?  It was fun anyway.  I had time to sit and read it back for mild editing purposes too.

But I’ll post that tomorrow.

Today the first two chapters of Daf and Rhys are going to get picked on by the other WotW-ers.  I hope they give me some feedback that inadvertently helps with the part I’ve been trying to edit.  Even after editing it, I think I need to just scrap it and rewrite.  There’s too much dragging on, for one thing.  There are also mistakes that get me lost.

I think I’ll take some of my favourite bits instead of trying to save the whole thing, and just cobble those into new, streamlined bits.  It’s probably the best route.  However, that will take longer, and it’ll be harder to do on the netbook.  For some reason, that kind of revising is easier on a large screen.  It could just be an aesthetics thing.

All right, it’s half past three now.  I need to get going on arranging my stuff and washing my hair so that’s all out of the way as quickly as possible.

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Day Seventeen D&R

Listening to: Two Door Cinema Club – Eat That Up, It’s Good For You
via FoxyTunes

Well, today was a total cock-up.

Because the last three days have been getting steadily worse, I decided that I needed to change tactics and edit those to see what I can salvage, what needs to be thrown away, and then start writing again from the repairs.  Fortunately, my goal since beginning has not been to write a novel NaNoWriMo style, merely to write a minimum of a thousand words every day.

Today I wrote my homework for next weeks WotW meeting, more Philip.  He’s our mascot, so that’ll be consistent, though he is now run on prompts instead of merely being one himself.  Eilonwy has the coolest long-running setup for him, and I’d love to end up on a track like that–I’m inthpired :B–but we shall see what we see.

So that’s the plan.  Keep on writing every day, while repairing Daf and Rhys’s last chapter and a half.  Which brings us to the cock-up.  Apparently there are things to do this evening, so I have not only had no chance to edit a single line, but I won’t.

So yeah.  Hurrah.  Let’s hope tomorrow isn’t such a massive punch in the bollocks.

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And now for some serious business

Listening to: Cheryl Lynn – Got to Be real
via FoxyTunes

A topic that I have wanted to go over for some time is the idea of an inner editor.  In fact, I’ve probably gone on about it before, but the topic popped into my mind recently, so I have to deal with it or fester in some ridiculous way.

Unlike people in NaNoWriMo, I do not vilify this part of myself.  It baffles me to this day to think that anyone would.  The inner editor is part of thinking and/or reading like a writer.  It’s actually comparable to video game design, specifically playing video games like a designer.

He said that when doing that, it is necessary to experience and enjoy (or not) games the way that a player normally does, but also to view them from a distance.  To not miss the experience, but also to take in the details and mechanics.

That’s kind of how I view the inner editor.  That part of you that goes with the flow of writing, while also looking at the syntax and bone structure as you go along.

The problem, I suspect, is that the staff of NaNoWrimo don’t even understand what they mean when they say “inner editor”.

A real inner editor, to me, is what I described when comparing it to video game design.  I get when I’m writing something and I think in mechanics.  Stuff like There isn’t enough description here, or this is getting blocky, I need to some dialogue here.

Stuff like that.  Helpful stuff.  It may slow me down sometimes, but ultimately it makes for a better story and saves me time in the long run.  Because when I give in to that inner editor mode, it keeps the writing from being as crap as it might have been.

What they seem to think an inner editor seems more like Self Doubt.  Selfflagellation is touted about as if that’s the inner editor’s job.  An uncaring voice that does nothing but tell you that you can’t write and should just give up, ad nauseum.  That isn’t an inner editor at all.

Consider the phrase for just a second, guys.

Inner: means that it’s a voice or whatever in your head.  Simple as toast.

Editor: points out errors and suggests ways to repair them.

This is nothing like just telling someone that they are terrible.  In the industry, yes, editors are allowed to tell writers that they suck.  But that isn’t their bloody nominal duty.

Self doubt, on the other hand is not at all the same thing.  Self doubt only wants to tell you that you stink and should not be allowed to use a pen to do anything but sign checks and doodle on the back of your conference notes when you’re bored.

That’s not editing.  It’s certainly inner, but it doesn’t even tell you what the errors are.  Even some really “mean” editors will usually give you tips, unless they’re hopelessly polite and you’ve given them utter smeg.

That’s what I assume anyway.  Having read a few books about editing and the publishing industry written by editors.  So I think it’s a fair approximation.

Anyway, that annoys me.  When people just get it wrong and it becomes this stupid cultural thing.  It has become NaNoWriMo parlance to talk about the inner editor so that it becomes yet another excuse not to write, or to procrastinate.  I dislike excuses.  Reasons are fine, but too often they degrade to excuse level.

Irritating in the extreme.

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Who’s the big nerd? ME

Listening to: Jonathan Coulton – We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions
via FoxyTunes

Someone left a comment on my AU Oz picture from forever ago, about Nick Chopper possibly having children.  It isn’t a terribly evolved conversation, but I took it seriously, since the other person appeared to have put some thought into the subject, if not particularly how it connected to the picture.  Not that the picture had much to spark Oz-ite discussion, considering it was a very anthropomorphic and dumb AU thing I did on a whim.

My second comment into this conversation made me step back and actually look at what I had said.

I *know vaguely that Forever in Oz had something about their progeny, but that’s apocrypha. As far as I know, Nick hasn’t got any canonical children, even via Chopfyt.

This was supposed to be an AU group in any case, not requiring a terribly cogent link to the original. If I ever gave it another go, I think I’d choose different characters, like the Hungry Tiger, a much-changed Ozma, and maybe Prince Inga or the Shaggy Man’s brother.

After clicking “send” I realised just how terribly nerdy this sounds.  If I wrote anything Ozesque, it would certainly be my own magical land.  All the best Oz books are the ones before the Big Brother crap that I have talked about, and then Rinkitink of Oz, which barely bothers to include Ozma and all of the problematic bits I touched on.  It was just a good story with  new things.  I was really glad to not run into all the pitfalls he’d made for himself over the years, the conflict-sinks and boring bits.

Tonight I think I’ll make a map and populate it, initially basing it on the Oz model.  I like the idea of a central city blossoming out into countries with their own unique traits and settings.  However, I already think that it’ll end up being rather darker and unhappy than the magical land.  I needs me my conflict, and I have this apocalyptic tendency to break stuff.

You see this face?  This is my innocent face.  :3

Lately I’ve been reading a couple of different designer’s blogs, and I got myself thinking about stuff like that again.  Mostly I’ve been thinking about the lack of variegated body types in my stories.  People tend to fall to a default I have, and I don’t know why.  So I though I’d draw up some silhouettes while the characters of a my largely unshared WIP are still nebulous and undefined.  I know some of their names, and I know exactly what Wraith Queen Lily of the Valley looks like.  Prince Albert, less so, although I have his details.

I didn’t have time to do more than one though, so this will have to suffice for now.  It’s been too long since I’ve tried to just draw something quickly, and it’s been way too long since I did a proper silhouette.  Plus, I keep getting called away to do things.  It’ll almost be a relief when I leave and my shift starts.  At least once I get to work, I’ll know exactly what’s expected of me, and everything that I can do within certain parameters.

I don’t understand why wordpress will constantly log me out, even in the middle of writing a bloody draft.  It just kicks me out and I don’t even realise until I try to click publish or upload media.  Why is this?

I’m almost done editing what I printed out of TWOTW, but the last time that I tried to print out a bit more, the printer had a small fit–even though it was only about 30 pages.  I made it stop after about six, because it was making me nervous.  Either I need to give it another go and just deal, or I need to find another way to print this out.  Maybe I’ll use my free proof copy from CreateSpace for the second edit.  That’d be easier.

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dashing about

Listening to: Joey McIntyre – Here We Go Again
via FoxyTunes

There are any number of things I need to cram into my short, short day.  Some financial stuff, an appointment, and I need to find time to write, draw, and drink water.  It’s all pretty basic.

The lexicon is still nebulous and unwritten, but I have a better idea of how I want it to get done.  It may even get a website just for kicks, because I want to figure out a way to either mesh character sketches and “articles”, or just go with articles.  I shall have fun with it.  :3

Gotta dash, there’s a definite need for a shower sitting on my head.  Greasy hair!

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Merry mishmash

Listening to: Goot – I Love Your Existence
via FoxyTunes

Hindsight is not actually twenty twenty, it’s more… well, just more.  It can be wrong, so giving it that old adage is a bit like giving a character in a themed book a misnomer.

I really do not like the dialogue in Princess Academy.  It can be disjointed and just plain bad most of the time, and other times it’s just an extension of how flat all of the characters are.  Exposition is very poorly done.  Which is a shame, since it’s a cute story that is otherwise well told… no, wait, I tell a lie.  It isn’t a well told story at all.  But it is a very well constructed story.  I should be so lucky that I might one day be able to put events and clues together like that.

Yes, I know it’s a book for little girls.  It’s called Princess Academy.  But I’ve been spoiled by Fly By Night.  Same age group, possibly same genre.

The characters are a little bit too slow in putting stuff together, Miri spends entirely too much time being a Mary Sue, and the things which would otherwise be quite interesting, such as the strife and tension between the lowlanders and mountain people, are characterised and developed with all of the grace and subtlety of a hammer falling on a glass foot.

I’m a bit tired.

While I was able to do very little editing last night, since I chose to walk around on more of my breaks and spent the lunch half-hour talking to Jared, I did think rather a lot on it.  The manuscript, such as it is, is incredibly rough.  There are a lot of reasons for this, one of which is that I didn’t plan a single word before I started writing, and I was just writing for the heck of it in the beginning.

I remember there being a point where everything fit, and it all slid in place, but it was at all times something that I never stopped to think about while writing.  This has resulted in some major crapfesting, and errors up the wazoo.  And I bloody love it.  I can’t help it, I love finding these mistakes that I completely missed while writing.

It means that I just keep going without worrying.  That’s kind of a major accomplishment for me.  To not worry over everything, to not fuss.  It will all be ironed out in the end.

I’ll make notes, there will be a sort of lexicon for this world.  Artemis will certainly need it, and will possibly have a better first draft for all that.  Maybe.  It’d be nice.

When I started Athena’s story, I didn’t even know… well, anything.  I didn’t know my character’s backstory, gender, or name until it came up as it came up.  Artemis, I know a bit more about.

The setting is still not concrete, but it’s a world that exists now.  I was basically creating it as I wrote, discarding and tacking on what I thought of as I went.  The characters’ ages and personalities came into being like primordial sludge out of the moors.  The world gained a history, a system of government complete with corruption and secrets.  The monsters are going to get a lot of attention.  I get to make up a good deal of them.

New topic!

Last night I had an idea for two characters, a girl called Noga who just ran away to escape the army or a life of pacifism, and another girl called Siobhan who discovers that she can create entire realities if she gets drunk enough on the right mix of alcoholic beverages.

I have no idea what they will do, but it will have to do with war and loss.  In a cynical humour plus candy floss sort of way.  There is supposed to be romance, but I don’t know if they will get on well enough for it to work.  After all, my best romantic pairs are the ones that I don’t know get together before I start.

Squid and Ando (whom I will change to Szabo if I ever edit that) were fun, and Trevor and Ianto ended up doing all right, but I had vague ideas about Gremlin and Eleuin that did not pan out at all.  So we shall see about that particular subplot.  For now, war, pacifism, liquor, and world-creation.  I have some things I want to do first.