In writing circles, we tend to develop our own little dictionary of concepts and phrases that could only ever apply to weirdos like us. I mean, who in their right mind could coin phrases as oddly specific as “Writer’s Block” or “Worldbuilder’s Disease”? When you see weird crap like that, you just KNOW it was some pretentious author type that had to invent a phrase just to express his personal frustrations.
It’s really one of my favorite parts of this community, all the peculiar slang and implications that come with being a novelist. It let’s you know that you’re a special snowflake in a community of special snowflakes. Which would imply that we’re not that special to begin with.
ANYWAY, it goes without saying that I love to dabble in the art of coining “pointless” terms and other such time-wasters. But today’s pointless term is not as oddly specific or precise as the one’s I’ve mentioned earlier. In fact, if you were to ask your standard author what they thought of it, they’d tell you it was more ambiguous than a starfish’s gender.
And whom is the recipient of this finely tuned metaphor? Well, the concept of Flow no less! But before we get down to the nuts and bolts of this headache waiting to happen, let’s see what the ever-reliable interwebs have to tell us about this.
Okay, so ignoring the fetish that the internet has with using streams as a definition, let’s see how we can apply this to writing. Flow, is a type of movement, but as you’ve already guessed, it’s very specific in how it works. To be true to the internet definitions, let’s use the stream as an example.
A stream always moves in a winding, smooth fashion that is seamless in its execution. There are barely any abrupt stops when it comes to them, as they would rather curve around in a flawless pattern. If we were to abstract this definition from its natural and concrete conception and place it in the context of novel-writing, we could replace the pattern of the stream for a word that novelists are more familiar with. Consistency.
So, Flow in a literary work would be the measure of how consistent the aspects of a novel are to one another. But what does this even mean you ask? Well, my dearest readers, a HELLUVA lot of things.
For starters, to the superficial mind, Flow’s use could seem very apparent when it comes to the style of writing or language in a book. If you want to find out how a book’s prose is consistent, you can see it in a variety of areas. When it comes to word choice, a similar pattern of word “categories” can be seen. A novel won’t usually contain complex language unless all of it is composed of language on the same level, and the same goes for the opposite. But this is obvious.
In the literary device department, it can come off as more nuanced. For example, I find that whenever I use alliteration, it’s almost always in a lighthearted scene. To contrast this, I usually only use metaphors during heavy sessions of description and in moments were there exist no words to express an emotion. But either way, these literary devices crop up at a consistent rate during these specific portions of my writing. Of course, this is different for everyone.
So yeah, now you know everything there is to know about Flow in your narrative. Bye, bye, everyone!
Did you seriously expect me to just end my diatribe right then and there? I haven’t even gotten to the DEEP and EDGY portions of this post. So what if I told you that Flow had a whole other level of complexity attached to it? Would you believe me?
Of course you would! This is the internet, where misinformation and gullible spectators abound! But yes, as you MUST have guessed, the plot does thicken.
You see, while it is true that Flow’s most apparent use comes in the form of language, there’s another use of flow that doesn’t come to mind as often. Yet this one is just as important, if not, more important than the Flow of your prose.
And this is Narrative Flow.
Narrative Flow is a whole other can of worms that opens up so many subtopics that I won’t be able to capture the entire idea in this one article (foreshadowing!?!?!?) but to me, it boils down to just a few things.
The Flow of your plot, the Flow of your themes, and the Flow of your characters. Inside of these one could get into all sorts of detailed micro-categories, but since I’m not fond of giving my readers headaches–usually–but let’s shoot down the simple ones first.
The Flow of your plot is basically your pacing. I’d use that word, if it wasn’t for the fact that it wasn’t enough of a vague definition to cover all of the topics listed in this article. Both have to do with the order in which events in your story occur and the speed with which they are dealt with.
See? That’s already one down. Only two more to go.
The Flow of your themes is how consistent the message you’re trying to put forward in the book is. For example, if you want to write a book that is anti-war, chances are that you don’t want to treat your battle scenes as glorious and epic sequences. You’re likely going to portray war as something nasty and brutal. Instead of opening with a charging squad of bayonets, you’d probably prefer opening up with a man getting amputated inside of the trenches.
This of course, means that you’ll have to make sacrifices. But what’s life without sacrifices?
If you want to make an action story, chances are that you can’t dedicate too much time to that romantic subplot. If you want to make a story that deals with the evil nestled in the hearts of men, chances are that making most of your protagonists into a bunch of goody-two-shoes is also a bad idea. If you want to make a story centered around finding your identity, you probably don’t want a protagonist who is already self-actualized. So on and so forth.
Finally, there is the Flow of your characters. This deals with the kind of people who your characters are. This is centered around the idea that our characters should be treated as human beings, not as pawns that are being dragged around for the sole purpose of story. What does this mean? A couple of things.
For starters, to keep consistent characters, you must come to grips with the fact that some of the personalities you crafted will prevent your plot from moving forward at the rate you want it to. Let’s say that your MC is named Billy, and Billy is a paranoid freak. Suppose that Billy get’s an email that says he needs to write down a special code in a website in order to stop the nuclear apocalypse (this is an example for a reason).
Now, any ordinary person would just rush down to write the codes, but a character like Billy complicates matters. He’ll probably be more reluctant to write down the codes. What if it’s just a way to hack into his bank account? What if it was just spam? Or worse, what if typing down that code was the key to activating the nuclear armaments? Billy is paranoid, so these questions will have a toll on his mind. And this is a good thing.
While it might slow down the plot, it will make Billy’s character seem real. Instead of just having Billy get a burst of common sense all of a sudden, you decided to make him react according to what you had built him up to be. And readers will appreciate that far more than speeding along the plot.
So, as you take all of these into consideration, why not ponder a few questions? Are there literary devices that you use in specific portions or moments of your books? Do you find one of the types of Flow more confusing than the others? Are your characters often the reason for your story being so slow? Do you think everything I’ve said is meaningless drivel? If so, type down in the comments!
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.