Flow

An excerpt from Franz Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor. The octaves at the beginning followed by rests of the same rhythmic value create an ominous effect.

Writing is made up of not just units (like words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.) but the arrangement of these units. Like music, whose rhythmic logic is the flow of notes and rests, writing, too, is the flow of words and breaths. To have true power of language is to be aware of this interplay between sound and silence. Orators, who literally breathe words into life, can mesmerize their listeners with carefully measured lines. And I’ve found that the most compelling written language does this too.

On this note of flow, I want to dismiss some writers’ advice to write for yourself. Storytelling is storytelling, period, regardless of medium. Flow is hard to maintain in writing because it is an inherently solipsistic storytelling medium. And if you write to yourself you can easily get carried away with details or linguistic acrobatics that do nothing to advance the story itself. When you tell your friend about the car crash you got into earlier that morning, you won’t, for the sake of narrative impact, mention how you went about making your breakfast, right? So before you write anything, pretend to tell it to someone. (And technically who this someone is matters–we tell stories differently to different people. But some things are universal: for example, you don’t want your audience to become bored.)

Posted by James

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