Getting any story to flow is a common problem that all writers face from time to time and there are numerous reasons behind why it sometimes proves difficult to get the narrative to work and make sure it stays that way.
When a story does flow, that’s when a writer is really focused and ‘in the zone’. It means that the words just keep flowing and the writer has to write until the scene or chapter is completed. Some people keep going until tiredness sets in. Creativity is at a peak; thoughts and ideas come naturally and seem so effortless.
But then there are other times when nothing much happens and the flow of the story stutters and seems more of a chore than an enjoyable experience.
When we think of ‘flow’, it’s the seamless quality of the story that matters. When a story doesn’t flow, then there are problems either with the narrative/story or the approach used by the writer.
Stories should flow smoothly; the writing should come easily, however sometimes this is far from the case. The process can sometimes be anything but smooth, and it’s one of those things that doesn’t magically appear at the click of the fingers – writers have to work very hard to establish it and maintain it.
Creating flow, however, is down to technique and a bit of experience.
Things that Affect Story Flow
There’s no getting around it, but bad writing really does affect the flow. Bad sentence structures, poor grammar, lack of clarity, no description and poor dialogue can disrupt the course of the story and put the reader off. There is little flow, if at all.
Contrived and stilted writing doesn’t help, either. This happens when writers try too hard. The thing to remember is that you’re not out to impress readers with fancy words or overly complicated sentences, but rather to entertain them with an amazing story told as effectively as possible. Leave the fancy words and the complex sentences to those who are masters of it.
Wrongly formatted dialogue can inhibit story flow. Learn how to set out dialogue correctly, with correct punctuation, and make it pertinent and punchy so that it engages the reader instead of confusing them because they’re unsure who is doing the talking or the action.
Huge chunks of narrative or boring description can bring the story flow to a full stop. Readers don’t have much patience, so when faced with overly long paragraphs, they tend to switch off. Info dumps don’t help the story in any way. That said, not all huge blocks of description will necessarily impede story flow. Written properly, larger sections of well written description, balanced with narrative and dialogue, actually help the flow of the story. The art is not to overdo them – every descriptive passage has its place.
Unless you are deliberately writing a story out of sequence (for dramatic effect, for instance) make sure that you write the story in the correct order of events that run parallel to the plot. In other words, the story starts at a crucial moment and moves along a timeline in chronological order, with one event or incident leading up to another until the exciting conclusion of the story. That way, the story won’t confuse the reader, but more importantly, the entire flow of the story is linear, logical and smooth.
Other aspects that can mess with the story flow are the choice of chapter or scene breaks. By their very nature, they break the flow of the story, but they do so briefly and seamlessly, with good effect. It’s important that you don’t pop a scene break in the middle of an important scene. That will kill the flow instantly and ruin any emotion, tone, mood or atmosphere you’ve created, and thus interrupt the reader’s focus.
Carefully place your scene breaks and chapters. If done correctly, the reader will barely notice a deliberate break in the flow that is also essential for it to continue.
Ways to ensure the story flows:
- Make sure you have a plan to work to – you’ll know roughly where you’re going and what will happen. This helps to avoid writers block and the inevitable struggle to force the writing.
- Plot points – these are essential in order to keep narrative momentum. Make sure you plot your story.
- Make sure you know the important turning points in the story, i.e. the key incidents that cause twists and turns to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.
- Ensure dialogue is correctly formatted. Keep it pertinent and punchy.
- Don’t overcomplicate sentences or go with obscure or fancy words. Keep it simple and clear.
- Keep the narrative, description and dialogue balanced. Avoid info dumps and huge blocks of narrative.
- Always try to escalate the action. The more in escalates, the more tension, conflict and excitement you create, so the story flow should be effortless.
- Keep your story events in order – it’s easier for the reader to follow.
- Choose your scene breaks and chapter breaks carefully. Try to end each one on a mini cliff hanger to ensure the reader stays glued to the story.
If you really want to know if your story flows, then read it aloud. You will soon learn if it stutters, pauses, drags, meanders and so on. If it flows properly, you should be able to read it without hesitation or pause. It simply works. Words flow. Sentences flow. Paragraphs flow. In fact, the entire book flows.
Story flow is down to technique and having a feel for the entire story. Take the time and don’t rush the process and the story flow will come naturally.
Next week: Better writing – Begin to/started to/decided to – why you should avoid these.