Flow Good, Ebb Bad
Fictional writing should offer a rhythm, a pattern, and a sound. Together these elements create what’s needed for any decent narrative: flow. Without flow, readers will soon find themselves disinterested in what you’ve written and, frankly, perturbed at you.
Here’s an example of what I mean from my novel, Curse Me Not. Read this passage, not for content, but for comprehension.
Outside the house, Cal and I retraced our steps along the stone path toward his car. I don’t think either of us were in the mood to talk yet. I know I wasn’t. The visual memory of what was even then attacking poor Brenda Duffey was like a shock scene from a horror movie. I couldn’t seem to wipe it from my mind.
The rhythm in this passage comes from varying the sentence lengths and having each sentence add to the progression of the story. The pattern comes from maintaining a consistent perspective (in this case, the first person point-of-view), which allows the reader to follow the narrative while gaining insight into the characters. The sound comes from exactly what you would expect. Even while reading silently to ourselves, we “sound” out what we read in our heads. Thus, there needs to be room for taking ”mental” breaths while reading. In the end, the combination of rhythm, pattern, and sound creates a flow for the narrative that leads the reader forward in such a way as to enhance comprehension and interest.
So, do I check each paragraph for flow as I write? Lord, no! I’d never get anything done. Instead, once I finish a project, I’ll ask a writer-friend or beta reader to check for “ebbing” instead. It’s easier and less subjective. If a passage confuses or tires the reader, that passage needs a second, and possibly third, look.
But frankly, there’s no better way to gauge flow in one’s writing than in reading it out loud, slowly, several days later, and preferably with a glass of wine in hand. When I do this, I almost always catch my “ebbs,” bad little buggers that they are.