November 29, 2011

Momentum, Part Three: Does Freewriting Work?

Posted in Flow, flow in writing, writing techniques tagged , , , at 8:28 am by Rebecca Hein

Techniques for scene, action, and character development are all very well, but they can affect your momentum the same way a really analytical practice session does a musician. Maybe you need to know the mechanics of bowing; maybe not. But if you can bow smoothly and change direction without breaking the sound simply by getting moving and staying moving, why entangle yourself in technique?

The writer’s equivalent of “getting moving” is freewriting, and the more of it I do, the more often I get excellent first drafts. Needing a minimum of revisions, they pour out on their own energy, revealing their structure and inviting me to just step aside.


November 23, 2011

Momentum, Part Two: Uneven Bowing

Posted in Flow, flow in writing tagged , at 5:26 am by Rebecca Hein

We all struggle with difficult passages in our writing, where it feels like we’re running into obstacles, no matter which way we turn. If we were dancing, we’d have the proverbial two left feet. Yet the solution to this off-kilter feel can be surprisingly simple.

In cello playing, uneven bow strokes are the equivalent of two left feet. You play two or three notes on a downstroke, then just one on the following upstroke. So it’s literally a case of three steps forward, one step back.

If awkwardly done, it feels clumsy and worse yet, it quickly works you to one end of the bow or the other. Then you have to stop and re-position the bow.

Yet when things are rolling along just right, you play in the same three or four-inch section of the bow, and it feels like a perpetual-motion machine. The one-note upstroke feels equal to the three-note downstroke. In a sense, it is equal because in one note you’re traveling as far as you did with the previous three. Obviously the single-note stroke has to move three times as fast as the three-note stroke, but it doesn’t feel that way. Perfectly balanced and going nearly on its own momentum, uneven bowing sails on and on with hardly any effort for what should be the harder stroke.

For writers, getting unstuck and re-establishing forward motion is the key. As with uneven bowing, nothing is gained by flailing around in “two left foot” mode. Instead, it’s necessary to get moving again; freely pouring out the words, with momentum as your primary goal. Having re-established this feeling of freedom and flow, you return to your difficult passage where you’re more likely to sail through it just as a cellist sails through the perpetual motion of uneven bowing.

November 16, 2011

Momentum, Part One: Launching Yourself

Posted in Flow, flow in writing, Practice Writing tagged , , , at 2:23 pm by Rebecca Hein

More than ninety percent of my technical problems on the cello solve themselves when I get moving. The more energy I give to the back-and-forth motion of my bow arm or the oscillating of my left hand in vibrato, the better my other skills work. Plus I don’t have to think about them at all.

“Just get going” is equally sound advice for writers. Put your pencil on the paper and start wiggling it. Or, if you’re a modern type, put your fingers on the keyboard and start tapping out the words. Content is immaterial because you’re aiming for flow.

November 8, 2011

Conveying Necessary Information

Posted in Fiction Writing tagged , , at 10:12 am by Rebecca Hein

Cellists learn to move from one note to the next without disrupting the flow of rhythm and melody. We want the audience to notice the music, not the technique that brings music alive.

A good story is the same. Moved forward with certain techniques, it captures our attention and we don’t notice all the devices the author uses to convey information. For example, early in The Forgotten Door, a young adult novel by Alexander Key, Mary Bean is talking to her husband, Thomas, about two minor characters. She tells him, “They’re related, you know.”

The setting makes it obvious that Thomas would already know this; therefore Mary wouldn’t need to say it. Yet we take in the information without realizing that this comment is implausible.

Key has already created enough suspense in his plot, as well as sympathy with Jon, the protagonist, that we’re wrapped up in the story. Thus a simple, artificial device works because the “music” of this tale is louder than its technique.

November 2, 2011

Fiction Writing: Specific Devices

Posted in Fiction Writing tagged , at 1:40 pm by Rebecca Hein

In cello playing, as we have seen, changing bow direction must be disguised because it breaks the sound. But we also have to move our hands up and down the fingerboard to switch from one note to another, otherwise known as shifting.

In a good shift, the landing point is perfect, like hitting the bullseye in archery. You can make this easier by slowing your bow stroke as you approach the moment of change, and waiting until your left hand is on target, or so close that it might as well be there.

Planned and calculated, this is a straightforward technique for clean shifting. In writing, you can also plan and calculate to move your story forward, and one of the simplest devices is the exchange of information between two characters.

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