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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #320

Updated on August 3, 2020

So, I’m Watching the Weather the Other Night

I’ve got this sort of love affair with meteorology and weather forecasting. I’ve just always found it interesting, how all of those elements i.e. wind, jet stream, humidity, air pressure, work in harmony and create the weather we see daily.

It also amazes me how accurate the meteorologists can be with the help of computer models. A couple weeks ago our local weather person ( a shout out to Shannon on KOMO TV) said it would start raining at 8:11 p.m., and by God it started raining at 8:11 p.m. I felt like standing up and applauding for her.

There is, of course, no magic to it at all. The equator is the engine that starts it all, and the jet stream is the steering wheel, sending systems in particular directions, each system interacting with the atmosphere and causing the rain, the sleet, the snow, and the glorious sunny days. Cause and effect at its finest, as easy to predict as the actions of some humans.

Treat people with love and respect, and love and respect will be visited down upon you. Treat people with scorn and derision, and disrespect will arrive at your doorstep.

Just random thoughts on this Monday. Let’s see what the mail has for us today.

Welcome to the Mail Room!
Welcome to the Mail Room!

Rhythm and Flow

From Danny: “I read articles about writing, and quite a few mention rhythm and flow. I don’t understand that concept or how to achieve it. Any help would be appreciated.”

Cool question, Danny! Yes, I can help with that.

Read this passage and then we’ll dissect it:

“She went to the shop. She bought ingredients. She prepared Beef Rendang. She let it simmer for 5 hours. The house filled with exotic smells. She cooked rice. She waited for her husband. They ate a delicious dinner. She thought life was good.”

What did you notice? You should have noticed that almost every sentence is the same length. You should have noticed that the paragraph reads like a machine gun firing at the enemy, short, choppy sounds spitting forth.

That’s rhythm in writing! It’s not particularly good rhythm, but it’s rhythm nonetheless.

Now read this passage, from the Grapes of Wrath:

“TO THE RED COUNTRY and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The plows crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover. In the last part of May the sky grew pale and the clouds that had hung in high puffs for so long in the spring were dissipated. The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try any more. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.”

What did you notice about the rhythm of that paragraph? It’s almost somber in mood. It reads slower, like it is weighted down with weariness from the hot sun. It flows, but in a grudging way.

That’s rhythm in writing!

Punctuation, length of words, length of sentences, these things affect the flow of a written piece. Generally speaking, the use of short words quickens the pace of a paragraph; the use of long words slows the pace. The same is true of paragraphs.

When I work with students, I ask them to read a paragraph of their work out loud. What do they hear? Sometimes they can see it simply by looking at their piece. I have had students who wrote sentences all of the same length, and paragraphs all with three sentences in each. You can literally see that when you look at the manuscript, and if you can see it you can hear it.

That’s rhythm in writing! It’s important and you should pay close attention to it. It is a talent/skill which separates an excellent writer from the good writers.

The flow of your writing, hopefully, is like this tranquil river....toss in some rapids and you've got it.
The flow of your writing, hopefully, is like this tranquil river....toss in some rapids and you've got it.

Nuance in Writing

From Jennifer: “What is nuance in writing, and how do you achieve it?”

What a great question, Jennifer! I love questions like this one.

Webster’s defines nuance as a subtle difference or distinction in expression. Let me give you an example to show what this means.

Instead of saying someone was unhappy, try expressing the unhappiness like this:

“He walked into the room with heavy feet, slumped in the chair, and sighed.”

That’s nuance in writing.

To put it another way, nuance is showing rather than telling.

I hope that helps!

Any Dreams Remaining?

From Sheila: “Bill, do you still have great dreams regarding your writing career? I started out thinking I would write brilliant novels which would appeal to thousands; now my goals are considerably less-lofty.”

I’m with you, Sheila, and I get it.

No, I really don’t have any lofty goals. My dreams of being a best-selling novelist are gone, and I don’t mean that to sound depressing. I’m not depressed about my writing career at all. I still gain great satisfaction in writing a novel. I am very pleased with the growth I have shown over the years, and I have a loyal group of followers who love my works. That’s enough for me! Perhaps, if I was younger, I would still chase the Pulitzer Prize, but it’s just not in me these days. Now I write for pleasure and I’m fine with the reduced goals and faded dreams.

There is so much nuance in this photo of my lovely wife.
There is so much nuance in this photo of my lovely wife.

The Days Grow Shorter

You can feel it in August; at least you can in the Pacific Northwest. We will have hot days, but the heat doesn’t stay around as long into the evening. The sun is lower in the sky, and it doesn’t stay with us as long into the evening, so the heat does not have a chance to cling to us as long each day. There is a coolness in the evenings that was missing in July. The mornings are a bit crisper.

Nature doing its thing! Blame it on the equator, or blame it on the jet stream, or just kick back and enjoy the hell out of this thing we call life.

Treat people with love and respect, and the glow you receive will last long into the night. It seems like such a simple thing to do, you know? And yet we see just the opposite, in all directions, as we gaze out at the world.

I surely do hope we all learn to get along with each other sooner rather than later.

Have a great day! Stay safe, stay healthy, and be happy.

And do all things with love!

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”


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