Thursday, October 6, 2011

The rhythm of writing

Good morning, all!

As I prepare for my holiday weekend excursion (off to Boston, hell yeah!) I am trying to get ahead on my rewriting. It's going pretty well so far: normally I revise very quickly, but I'm retyping almost everything to imbue the narrative with a little more voice. I just finished chapter four rewrites, and I'm happy, even though I'm sure I'll make more tweaks on my second pass. Since I've spent most of my time so far expanding the beginning, I'm just now getting to some of the creepier scenes in the story, which comes with all sorts of fun new challenges.

Writing something scary can be so tricky, because horror is such a visual genre. You don't have a lot of the same tricks that, say, moviemakers do: you can't show the reader the terrifying face of your monster, you can't really make the reader jump, and you can't add a creepy score to the scene. The best horror novels I've read rely instead on a steadily building tension throughout the story. One way they build this tension is through rhythm.

It's hard to describe what a talented writer can do with this technique, but when they pull it off, it's amazing. It's like the text itself is imitating the protagonist's heartbeat. These scenes start off slow, normal, and innocuous enough. As the readers start to get hints that something is wrong here, the scene starts to pick up, move faster. The sentences might get wild and breathless or choppy and frantic, but either way, the readers find themselves tearing through the scene because they can't stand not knowing what happens. Finally, when the tension reaches unbearable levels, it breaks, usually with what TV Tropes would call a 'Wham Line.' (Which is pretty much just how it sounds: a line of text or dialogue, usually a single sentence, that reaches out and smacks you in the face.)

This is, of course, a lot harder than it sounds, but I am practicing in the hopes that I'll get better at it. When I write a scary scene, I try to imagine the 'beats,' like a drum that starts off steady and even and gets wilder and quicker with every sentence. I can't say if it's working or not, but I really, really hope it does!

Do you incorporate rhythm into your writing?


  1. I'm planning to write a YA horror novel soon, and this is one thing I worry about. We don't have the same tricks we can use like film makers. :(

  2. Hi Rebecca. I'm here from the blogfest, and just wanted to say thanks so much for signing up!

  3. Oh, man, you're exactly right! It is one of the things Stephen King does so well... those words or symbols that keep popping up closer and closer together... things you don't understand at first. Redrum, Redrum... Good luck mastering this!

  4. haha for my blog rhythm comes into effect almost every single post, for my books a little here and there.

  5. Wow, great picks! And I love your blog. Glad I signed up for this contest and stopped by. Consider me a new follower!


  6. PIF! :) Interesting, about writing beats. Suspense can be hard. It's something I had to practice, too. I found Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham helpful, and a friend at mine is very good at writing tense scenes. So, I copied her for awhile. It was a way to learn.