We all love to watch streams and rivers—they’re almost addictive! What attracts us? Most likely it’s the motion. The water may bump over rocks, dive down cliffs, and divert around logs, but its movement is never interrupted. As writers we want to create that same consistent flow for our readers.
Sites such as GrammarFlip might offer a helpful review of classroom-oriented ideas about fluidity. But when working writers think of flow, words like “fluid,” and “unbroken” come to mind. How can we guarantee those descriptors will apply to our writing? By taking specific steps.
1. Proof listen
We know the importance of proofreading to identify errors. Proof listening is equally important. Read your piece aloud, and any time you stumble over words or phrases, mark them. While they may be grammatically correct, if your choices interrupt the reader, they can ruin flow.
A word might contain too many syllables, or a phrase might contain too many adjectives or adverbs. Less is always more when creating a tight piece.
2. Identify and eliminate
You’ve likely heard William Faulkner’s suggestion to “kill your darlings.” That favorite beautifully-crafted word or phrase that shines forth from the page is likely to blind readers and stop them in their reading tracks. Your job is to keep readers moving through skillfully balanced words and phrases. Eliminate terms that leap from the page and shatter text momentum.
Take this sentence, for example. “While Faulkner is known for his use of compound sentences including long, languorous, lovingly-crafted phrases that any English instructor might label ‘over-writing,’ he was seldom guilty of including words that jumped off the page.”
Taking Faulkner’s advice, you can likely spot a darling that calls out for attention.
Excise the whole languorous bit, and what remains is a perfectly sensible and sense-filled statement: “While Faulkner is known for his use of compound sentences that any English instructor might label ‘over-writing,’ he was seldom guilty of including words that jumped off the page.”
3. Remove repetition
This advice refers to multiple usage of the same letters or terms, but also to phrases that have become retreads.
While a strong metaphor delights readers once, it will distract them when used a second time.
“You’re such a peach, Mary.”
“Thanks. And I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else on this peachy day.”
Fruit comparisons have their place, but not in two consecutive sentences.
While a bit of alliteration proves alluring, too much can be downright choppy—“the rabbit ran rapidly, rushing to rescue the race.”
Because we tend to write the way we speak, we insert “filler” terms such as “of course” or “actually” where they aren’t actually needed.
Of course, you’d never be guilty of doing this. But just in case, you can apply your editor’s scalpel to actually remove the duplicates.
This challenge falls under the repetition category, because tens of thousands of your peers have repeated the same phrase until what began as a powerful truth has lost its effect. Picture a once-beautiful balloon that slowly loses air until it collapses into a shapeless blob.
Examples of major groan-producing offenders include: you know me better than I know myself, ignorance is bliss, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, makes my blood run cold, and you can lead a horse to water.
If you don’t trust this advice, perform a simple Google search for “examples of clichés” and see 43,000,000 sites pop up—in 0.54 seconds, no less. Stop wearing out these sentiments, people! Use your own words to rescue such exhausted phrases and push readers ahead instead of pulling them back through time.
4. Guarantee transition
Avoid forcing readers to re-read for understanding. Aim to smoothly guide readers from one paragraph (or stanza or line) to the next. Proper punctuation is essential for this. If in doubt, consult a source, like The Purdue OWL, or engage Grammarly on your computer. Movement can also be accomplished through use of transition words or phrases, signaling your reader as to how paragraphs relate.
Simple ordering terms such as “next,” “then,” “later,” or turning words like “despite,” “in addition to,” or “another,” guarantee that movement.
5. Value consistency
You may write in present tense, from a female point of view, incorporate Southern slang, eliminate all upper-case letters, or italicize every word. Just do so consistently throughout so as not to confuse your reader. While some of your stylistic choices may be questionable, their consistency should not.
6. Prioritize coherency
Write understandable sentences that sparkle with clarity. You can easily convert quick thoughts, such as “Justin, who was tall, spoke too fast, and Joe’s brother that ate too much were very different” to the more coherent “Compared to his shorter brother Joe, Justin was quick-spoken and had a reputation for eating meals that could feed a soccer team.” Now the reader clearly distinguishes the fast-talking, tall, hungry Justin from his shorter brother Joe.
As you polish that special piece, keep flow in mind. Your readers will appreciate your efforts.
If you enjoyed learning about flow, you might enjoy other guest blogs focused on great writing.