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Thread: How much of your writing content is improvised for the sake of rhythm?

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    Soon I will be invincible Question's Avatar
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    How much of your writing content is improvised for the sake of rhythm?

    Do you let the rhythm of your writing dictate a lot of the information you include (i.e. you’re subconsciously aware that the next sentence needs another clause or two to sound good, so you select more details to balance it out) or do you always think up exactly what needs to be conveyed and then put it down as clearly and succinctly as possible?

    I used to do the latter, but I had trouble creating longer, more varied sentences. After I thought up ideas, it was difficult to stretch or squash them in a way that sounded good. My writing was choppy for a long time. I eventually started covering what needed to be covered and then expanding the resulting sentences with whatever relevant details I could think up until they were long or short enough to sound “right”.

    It’s a useful trick, but it worries me a little because I feel like I don’t have as much control of my writing as I want. When I make up my mind to include a scene, a sizeable chunk of the scene's details/description are pertinent but improvised. It's difficult to plan ahead if the end result of each chapter is usually very different from what you envisioned.

    Is this kind of improvisation something any of you do when constructing your sentences? And if not, and you think it's a very bad habit, how can I get around this? I don't know how else to create writing that flows, because simply finding ways to join the sentences I would otherwise write isn't enough to give my writing the rhythm it needs*.

    *IT MAY HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE WAY I THINK; THE IMAGES I COME UP WITH (AND, AS A RESULT, WANT THE READER TO SEE) TEND TO BE VERY SIMPLE. THEY'RE EASY TO GET ACROSS AND SO THEIR DESCRIPTIONS ARE OFTEN SHORT.WHEN I ADD DETAILS TO MAKE A SENTENCE FLOW, THE END RESULT SOUNDS GOOD BUT USUALLY DEVIATES SLIGHTLY FROM MY INITIAL OVERALL INTENTION BECAUSE I ALREADY GOT EVERYTHING I WANTED ACROSS WITH THE FIRST PART OF THE DESCRIPTION.

    FOR EXAMPLE, LET'S SAY I WANT THE READER TO KNOW THAT THERE IS A BOY MOVING TOWARD A HOUSE. LET'S ALSO ASSUME THAT (IN CONTEXT) THE SENTENCE ISN'T LONG ENOUGH. I DON'T SEE HOW TO DRAW OUT THE IDEA, AND THE SENTENCES ON EITHER SIDE ARE TOO FAR AWAY (CONCEPTUALLY) TO MELD THEM WITH THE CURRENT SENTENCE. IT WOULD BE JARRING TO THE READER. IN THIS CASE, I MIGHT GIVE THE BOY A LIMP OR STRANGE CLOTHES OR SOME OTHER TRAIT I DIDN'T PLAN FOR TO BULK UP THE SENTENCE, AS THERE ISN'T ANYTHING ELSE RELEVANT I CAN THINK TO ADD TO FLESH IT OUT.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Question View Post
    When I make up my mind to include a scene, a sizeable chunk of the scene's details/description are pertinent but improvised. It's difficult to plan ahead if the end result of each chapter is usually very different from what you envisioned.
    Sounds like a completely healthy way to write. You don't need to slavishly follow a "plan" if something comes along as you write and feels right for inclusion. Compulsive adherence to overplanning has murdered a lot of manuscripts, IMO. Many writers don't plan much at all. If something is pertinent, it's pertinent, whether you planned to include it at the beginning, or not. Good stories tend to grow in an organic way.

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    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    I think of writing as a means of telepathic communication. Through the words I put on the page/screen, the image in my mind is transported into the image in the reader's mind.

    Words that fail to do that work don't get included. Period, no discussion.

    I don't think about the length of sentences as I'm writing. I think about making sure the sentence says what I need it to say. Some sentences naturally have to do more work, some do less. That rather takes care of the kind of "rhythm" you're talking about.

    As a reader, if I'm noticing something as nit-picky as how long or short sentences are in a book, that means that I'm not engaged in the story and that's a MUCH bigger problem.
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    Definitely the first one. I try to avoid writing where all the sentence lengths and cadences are the same.

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    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Keeper of Fort Blanket L.C. Blackwell's Avatar
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    I play a lot with rhythm and flow, because I "hear" the writing in my head somehow, and if it reads in a way that "sounds" clunky, it bothers me. (It's a lot like music: I sense the beats, and I know when they're on the timing or off.)

    Usually, though, I select details I want to include, and then play with word order, synonyms or filler words to get whatever rhythmic effect I'm seeking. The details themselves go or stay as the story needs.

    P.S. Sentence length is only a part of written rhythm. The beats and pauses created by syllables and punctuation, and the unspoken sounds the brain puts with words, are just as important.

    However, I wouldn't advise you to over-analyze by looking for that stuff. If you're sensitive to it, you'll catch it by instinct, and if you're not, you'll drive yourself crazy.
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    The colors! THE COLORS! leahzero's Avatar
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    Yep, I let rhythm dictate details, action, and other things. There are always more bits of information in a scene than I can (or should) convey, so I let the rhythm of my sentences dictate how much is shown.

    Poetry and language are very important to me. They're not important to everyone. I prefer writing by authors who value those things, too.
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    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    Most of my writing centres around its rhythm, like a word dance. I like it that way, even if it doesn't always make sense.
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    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    It's a consideration, but not a deciding factor. Meaning takes precedence, and only after I've figured out what I want to say do I figure out if I'm saying it how I want. Letting the how dictate the what sounds like a tick that you need to keep in check so it doesn't become detrimental to your writing.
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  10. #10
    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    It's a consideration, but not a deciding factor. Meaning takes precedence, and only after I've figured out what I want to say do I figure out if I'm saying it how I want. Letting the how dictate the what sounds like a tick that you need to keep in check so it doesn't become detrimental to your writing.
    I do think this depends a lot on what you're writing, or even the genre you fall into. Writing for rhythm may seem fairly strange in a SF or fantasy book that is very plot focused, but in a romance or a work of lit fiction it may contribute to the mood of the writing (and the way the words sound together).
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    Happy Spring!! backslashbaby's Avatar
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    I think rhythm is very important, so I do change sentences to better suit the rhythm. I don't think I change the details, but I might throw in a few more, sure. Mostly I rephrase until the rhythm works.

    Actually, in my writing, I'm usually having to take things out due to rhythm I hate it when everything is really pertinent, because it's so hard to figure out how to say it with fewer words. It's easy if I ever get to add them!
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    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaspargoryan View Post
    I do think this depends a lot on what you're writing, or even the genre you fall into. Writing for rhythm may seem fairly strange in a SF or fantasy book that is very plot focused, but in a romance or a work of lit fiction it may contribute to the mood of the writing (and the way the words sound together).
    I'd buy this explanation for literary fiction, where style seems to take precedence over substance sometimes, but in any genre fiction MEANING has to be paramount. As I said, rhythm and flow is a CONSIDERATION, but it's not as important as saying what you mean as clearly as possible to tell the story as well as you can. If your story makes no sense, pretty sentences won't save it.

    Quote Originally Posted by backslashbaby View Post
    Mostly I rephrase until the rhythm works.
    THIS. Rephrasing is fine, but adding extraneous crap just to pad out sentences and make them sound better is not, in my opinion.
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  13. #13
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    I'd buy this explanation for literary fiction, where style seems to take precedence over substance sometimes, but in any genre fiction MEANING has to be paramount. As I said, rhythm and flow is a CONSIDERATION, but it's not as important as saying what you mean as clearly as possible to tell the story as well as you can. If your story makes no sense, pretty sentences won't save it.
    But sometimes style is substance.
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    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    But sometimes style is substance.
    Maybe my opinion is influenced by the fact that I think that's a load of bullshit, and in general I denounce literary fiction as a bunch of pretentious wank.
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  15. #15
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    Maybe my opinion is influenced by the fact that I think that's a load of bullshit, and in general I denounce literary fiction as a bunch of pretentious wank.
    Ouch.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    I'd buy this explanation for literary fiction, where style seems to take precedence over substance sometimes, but in any genre fiction MEANING has to be paramount. As I said, rhythm and flow is a CONSIDERATION, but it's not as important as saying what you mean as clearly as possible to tell the story as well as you can. If your story makes no sense, pretty sentences won't save it.
    Lit fic is pretty much all I read (and write), so that's the angle from which I come at it

    THIS. Rephrasing is fine, but adding extraneous crap just to pad out sentences and make them sound better is not, in my opinion.
    This isn't the same as what I'm talking about. What I mean is that I hear or feel or whatever the rhythm of what I'm trying to say and then write it. So mood might be more apt, I guess.
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  17. #17
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Ouch.

    Kuwi, writer of literary fiction
    Quote Originally Posted by annaspargoryan View Post
    Lit fic is pretty much all I read (and write)
    I didn't realise this was a lit fic debate. You mighta mentioned that and saved yourself from being subjected to my opinion - but you did ask for it (opinion)




    Quote Originally Posted by annaspargoryan View Post
    This isn't the same as what I'm talking about. What I mean is that I hear or feel or whatever the rhythm of what I'm trying to say and then write it. So mood might be more apt, I guess.
    That's not what you originally said. You asked:

    Quote Originally Posted by annaspargoryan View Post
    Do you let the rhythm of your writing dictate a lot of the information you include?
    That's what I was responding to. My answer is obviously going to be influenced by the way you phrased the question. I was asked for my opinion on whether I think the above is a bad habit, but if you're just looking for validation of your writing methods, I'm obviously in the wrong thread.

    I'll remedy that right now.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Question View Post
    Do you let the rhythm of your writing dictate a lot of the information you include (i.e. you’re subconsciously aware that the next sentence needs another clause or two to sound good, so you select more details to balance it out) or do you always think up exactly what needs to be conveyed and then put it down as clearly and succinctly as possible?
    Everything depends on the story--the narrative, the characters themselves--but I am aware of rhythm. I'll sometimes rearrange a sentence that sounds contrary to the overall cadence of a paragraph. Generally, I just move words around, although I have moved whole sentences in a paragraph until I'm satisfied with the way it sounds when read aloud.

    As a general rule, the gist of what I need to say is there already, and remains uncompromised.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    That's not what you originally said. You asked:



    That's what I was responding to. My answer is obviously going to be influenced by the way you phrased the question. I was asked for my opinion on whether I think the above is a bad habit, but if you're just looking for validation of your writing methods, I'm obviously in the wrong thread.

    I'll remedy that right now.

    Say wut? I didn't ask that - that's from the OP I don't seek validation from anyone on my writing methods, I just think the matter of music in writing is interesting.
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    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    I didn't realise this was a lit fic debate. You mighta mentioned that and saved yourself from being subjected to my opinion - but you did ask for it (opinion)

    Hey, RYFW.

    I could've said that straight-up genre fiction is boring because it forsakes style for plain-ol'-plot, but I didn't. Nor do I actually believe that, but it wouldn't been an easy position to fall back on as a reflexive come-back. (IMO, the only difference between "literary fiction" and "genre fiction" is where the central conflict lies — in straight-up genre fiction it tends to be external, and in literary fiction it tends to be internal; everything else is the same; it has nothing to do with style.)

    As for writing content vs. rhythm? In great fiction, all are considerations. Rhythm, cadence, meaning, connotation and denotation, implication and insinuation. Neglect any one and the story suffers.

    ETA: Plus, if you're making it up as you go along, there's no real difference between the two.
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    My narrators' voices—rhythm is an important subset of voice!—are a big part of their character, and rhythm shapes tone and emotion a hell of a lot, so yes, my answer's "a decent amount," though I couldn't put a number on it. It's probably low double-digit %s? Maybe higher. I don't think of it while writing. Idk. For those character- and tone/emotion-related reasons, and at least a few others, I don't think this is putting style ahead of substance at all. And I think style and substance are wedded with a non-divorce clause (or at least a prohibitive alimony) anyway.

    *In the most recent story I completed it was at least half, but that was a satirical story featuring a [real person I know]-cum-superhero (I love that x-cum-y construction and its pardonable dirtiness), and my narrator's voice was even more foregrounded than usual.
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    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaspargoryan View Post
    Say wut? I didn't ask that - that's from the OP I don't seek validation from anyone on my writing methods, I just think the matter of music in writing is interesting.
    Ah... yes, quite. My bad, putting words in your mouth there. Chalk it up to not being quite all there pre-coffee on first day back at work for 8 days, methinks


    My apologies.
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  23. #23
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Hey, RYFW.

    I could've said that straight-up genre fiction is boring because it forsakes style for plain-ol'-plot, but I didn't. Nor do I actually believe that, but it wouldn't been an easy position to fall back on as a reflexive come-back.
    You're entitled to express any opinion you like, I won't blame you for it, I just may not agree with it. Disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing though is silly, so I'm glad you didn't make such a claim if you don't believe it

    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    (IMO, the only difference between "literary fiction" and "genre fiction" is where the central conflict lies — in straight-up genre fiction it tends to be external, and in literary fiction it tends to be internal; everything else is the same; it has nothing to do with style.)
    IMO, the only difference between literary fiction and plain ole mainstream fiction is the author trying too hard to be writerly

    That's my opinion, which goes without saying you will disagree with. That's ok though, life would be boring if we all agreed
    Last edited by Kallithrix; 01-02-2013 at 03:32 PM.
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  24. #24
    By any other name... RedRose's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Question View Post
    Do you let the rhythm of your writing dictate a lot of the information you include (i.e. you’re subconsciously aware that the next sentence needs another clause or two to sound good, so you select more details to balance it out) or do you always think up exactly what needs to be conveyed and then put it down as clearly and succinctly as possible?

    I used to do the latter, but I had trouble creating longer, more varied sentences. After I thought up ideas, it was difficult to stretch or squash them in a way that sounded good. My writing was choppy for a long time. I eventually started covering what needed to be covered and then expanding the resulting sentences with whatever relevant details I could think up until they were long or short enough to sound “right”.


    .
    This question was pretty confusing Question, but I understood after reading it about four times. No offence meant there, but maybe some of what you're talking about is bleeding through the question itself.

    I also write poetry and rhythm in my novels is something I have to watch out for -- I can make passages into poems if I'm not careful. In fact, in the beginning, my experience with poetry made me unable to clearly see what needed to go and what needed to stay in my MS.

    So go to any book that you really like, and make sure it has sentences that you love. Pick which part of the book (scene) that would suit. Just say you want to examine a murder scene because, hey, you also have a murder scene in your novel. Try to write your story with the same sentence lengths that are used there in the published novel.

    I came up against the same problem when I started to write love scenes. The sentences are a lot longer in them. Yeah. Picture me sitting at the comp for many, many, many hours, brain powered by whatever bad thing I could grab, trying my best to manipulate those damn words into longer sentences! The point is you can do it!!

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  25. #25
    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    IMO, the only difference between literary fiction and plain ole mainstream fiction is the author trying too hard to be writerly

    That's my opinion, which goes without saying you will disagree with. That's ok though, life would be boring if we all agreed
    And I respect your opinion, but I can't help but find it disrespectful to those of us who wrote literary fiction, and have rather different goals than "trying too hard to be writerly."
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