Do you ever read a piece of writing and find yourself not into it, but unable to pinpoint why? Like all the content is fine, even of the typical fare that you be into, but you find yourself realizing you wouldn’t mind if your kindle froze, or your dead-tree book spontaneously combusted and you had to throw it out the nearest window?
Well I’m not going to explain the entirely of the reason for that, but one of my goals as a writer is to identify and understand the more specific, subtle aspects of prose that make it ‘good.’
I’ve read or critiqued a few pieces recently and noticed one factor which can contribute to that dull factor of poor writing:
Writing without Gravity
Now, I don’t mean that a book’s characters float around with no gravitational pull to keep them grounded! What I mean is that the there is the crafting of the words doesn’t give any sense of whats important and what is less so.
In one example I was reading a piece about a young family that (as revealed by the blurb and title of the book) were about to be tragically hit by a bomb. The scene began with the father and his daughters interacting in the front yard, taking photos etc before prom. It wasn’t hard to see that the scene was intended to develop some empathy for the characters before a sudden shocking explosion. The problem with the scene (Aside from perhaps being somewhat melodramatic) was that when this bomb hit, there wasn’t really any variance in the flow of the prose.
To be more specific, the nature of the words describing the family’s interaction beforehand was much the same as the words describing the flames and impact of the bomb killing all the characters we’d just met.
Just to clarify I’m not saying that prose always has to vary in specific ways, but rather that prose needs to be crafted to give a sense of the importance of different content. It’s similar to filmography and editing, a cheesy example being a zoom into a characters face before an important piece of dialogue. Again not saying that this is the specific method that is needed for good storytelling, but just that ‘gravity’ is one aspect of prose a writer should be aware of.
Professional writers (or the books they sell) tend to show skillful attention to this level of craft. Have to ever noticed that in a good book you don’t tend to miss anything? And not because you remember every single detail of the novel (well maybe you do but most of us don’t have that kind of attention and recall) but because the writing successfully highlights and draws attention to key elements.
So how does one give their writing a sense of gravity?
Well here are a few things I’ve noted from good works:
- The description supports the story – I’ve noticed that in my earlier writing I tended to try and describe everyone and everything near to the MC. Good work uses description overtly to set the scene, but more subtly to signal what is important and whats not. Another example is cookie cutter descriptions of characters, rookies tend to give everyone in their book a profile, whereas a good work tends to use description as needed.
- Using format for advantage – you’ve probably noted that most novels that use chapters will typically end chapters in a suspenseful way, whether with cliffhangers important revelations or some other equally compelling content. Most people present this as a slightly mercantile strategy to keep a reader turning the page, but equally important is that this technique gives weight to whatever you present in the final words of a chapter. A similar approach can be made towards sentences and paragraphs. (Always a caveat) Important content doesn’t have to be at the end of a chapter or sequence but it should be placed intentionally for impact.
- You might also have seen this tidbit before about varying sentence length. I agree with the premise, and believe that this technique helps to develop gravity. It’s not about any specific sentence structure being particularly useful for important content, but how sentences interact. Having a short, sharp sentence among longer run-ons will make the shorter sentence stand out.
I’m sure there will be more techniques to add gravity to a work, but I hope I’ve provided enough here to present a convincing thesis!
Do you have any thoughts on gravity?
What about other obscure tips that you don’t often see in typical writing advice circuits?
Anything you want me to blog/rant/discuss in the future?