David Jauss on Flow in Fiction

David Jauss doesn’t shy away from difficult topics nor does he come up short in providing useful insights into important aspects of fiction writing. In Chapter 3 of “On Writing Fiction” (Writer’s Digest Books, 2011), “What We Talk About When We Talk About Flow,” Jauss tackles the complex meanings people imply when they talk about the flow of a book or story.

Why is this discussion important for writers? Certainly any writer who wants to earn praise for the way his/her story “flows,” can benefit from reading this chapter more than one time. It may take two readings to begin to internalize some of the concepts Jauss explicates, including how when we talk about flow we are saying something not only about variation in sentence structure and length, about syntax, but also about what he calls “rhythmic mimesis” – the rhythm of individual sentences, paragraphs and chapters, as well as the rhythm of the entire work.

As in the other chapters of this stimulating volume, Jauss provides examples that help the reader see what he’s writing about. He also quotes from a variety of sources, bringing knowledge from related fields to bear on the topic.

The word I keep using when referring to this book is “liberating.” Jauss’ discussion of flow is perhaps less about liberating the writer from outmoded strictures than the chapters on point of view and not being confined to “write what you know,” but it nevertheless frees the writer to listen to that inner voice that drives one to write. The discussion encourages writers to hear the music of the story that often comes before the actual words are put down on paper. Mentioned in passing is a tip that I find extremely useful, which is reading my writing out loud.

I recently had the occasion to read from my novel The Expendable Man plus a few pages from a work in progress. Reading the passages out loud prior to the event helped me see where I was excessively wordy and where the FLOW of a sentence was encumbered. Even after considerable pre-event edits when reading at the event, I found myself skipping over certain phrases which were obviously unnecessary to the telling of the story or which again interfered with the FLOW of the story.

Fiction writers will find Jauss’ book not only liberating, but full of insights and tips that will well justify the time put in to read and re-read it.

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