Movement and Rhythm in Fiction

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I take a lot of photographs of mountains, but as my header indicates, I also like grasses. Although our summer garden isn’t sunny enough to grow many of them, I often have a pot of Japanese Blood Grass on my deck that spans more than one season. Wild grasses catch my eye during many of my photo journeys.

Grasses 5

There’s something about how grasses dip and sway with grace in a breeze… how their subdued, freeze-dried colours blend into any landscape. Theirs is a soft, unobtrusive kind of beauty, but their movement creates magic. Have you ever been on the prairies just before harvest and watched the wind dance through a field of oats or wheat? The ripples play out with a rhythm like ocean waves.

Grasses 2

In garden landscaping I’ve heard a well designed yard should feature distinctive rhythms, an apparently random repetition of colours, heights and textures that begs the eye to flow from one place in the garden to another. Without realizing why, the casual visitor enjoys a display that’s meant to reflect the personal taste of the homeowner.

Grass 1

I believe our writing should have the same result. Whatever the genre, words should undulate through a scene, enticing the reader into a mission of discovery without drawing attention to their task.

Writers love to play with words, sometimes a little too much. In a Vancouver Sun article several years ago, I suggested, “Shutting readers out is never an author’s intention. Why then do talented writers construct carefully choreographed pieces of literary ingenuity that require a reader to stop and admire their cleverness? When the view is that spectacular, the journey itself grinds to a halt.” I love the special effect of words in poetry. In fiction, not so much; I’d prefer they remain inconspicuous.

Grasses 4

I’m not sure how one deliberately sets out to achieve that kind of movement and rhythm in writing, but I notice when it’s missing. When I read part of my manuscript aloud and stumble over the words, run out of breath before the end of a sentence, or add words that aren’t actually there, I know the piece still needs work.

Are you conscious of trying to create subtle rhythms in your writing? How do you evaluate ‘flow’?

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“The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40:8 – NIV

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“I walk without flinching through the burning cathedral of the summer,
My bank of wild grass is majestic and full of music.
It is a fire that solitude presses against my lips.”

Violette Leduc

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