I know it seems like books are just a streaming head movie of fantasy and a lot of writers do write with that going on in their head, but I spend at least twenty percent of my brain crafting the structure of the paragraphs, length of the sentences, number of words in a paragraph, to create a certain effect on how the story is read.
You probably don’t even notice it.
You probably don’t even realize why you keep going. You say to yourself: I’ll just read the next chapter and then I’m really going to get back to work or go to sleep.
I recently posted the following section out of Hate.dat on Facebook and it was interesting how one friend who had no idea I write, reacted to it. (That weird, right? That I would have friends who don’t know that I write? It takes me a really long time to get around to mentioning it and usually it’s by accident. What that says about me? I have no idea.) Anyway, it was a private exchange and I try to honor privacy always so I won’t repost it here, but it was interesting.
You should be able to break out hunks of a novel to stand alone as a teaser and make a reader want the rest. When I’m editing, I tag these sections and give them the most attention because these are the rebar on which the cinderblocks are set for the entire novel.
Here is one section and tags for the purpose of each paragraph.
The streets of Haiti are like many Caribbean streets in that they are worn to shit, painted in colorful island art, and overrun with street vendors and thieves. The houses are cinderblock and tin roof, some are tile, but there is something about Haiti, and all the former French colonies, that just says “a living hell” in a profoundly sad way that no other country can create quite as well as France.
(1 – get your attention)
The Dutch islands are ecumenical in layout and design of the homes. The balanced geographical ratio of plantation life and prison were clearly planned out. Their old forts and prison were designed for maximum public humiliation and cruelty. Most Dutch Caribbean prisons are below street level in towns with slits along the street for people to kick in dog shit and human waste. The ceilings are so low no one can stand fully upright in one. And if it rains, and it rains a lot here in the islands, all the garbage of the street runs into the communal cells. The Dutch did not screw around when it came to punishment; they had beautiful homes and places for recreation and their prisons were miserable in a weirdly social kind of way.
(2 – you probably can’t hear the chains pulling you up to the point of free fall, but maybe now you will. This paragraph is longer to draw out the effect.)
The Spanish islands built prisons with deep dark cells, walls a million miles thick and slits opening to the ocean that bring in sunlight only a few hours a day. They let prisoners see an ocean that would never carry them home, in a cell where no one would ever hear their screams for mercy.
(3 – That first emotional drop to use gravity to fling you up higher for the full rush of the ride. It’s a little shorter with slight emotional swing.)
But the French? Their ancient prisons are entire islands, like Haiti. They built nothing here that would last, few homes of note, and they left nothing here of any value for the inmates to remember them by, and that seems to suit the people of Haiti just fine.
(4 – to use a World War Z phrase, “the train has left the station” … hold on for the ride. Slam down the point and then go..)
The thinking used to be, or at least I learned it to be: Leave each paragraph-page-chapter on a cliff hanger to force the reader into the next for the ending of the previous. They will keep reading just to find out what happens next.
In the digital-eBook age this concept is blurred because the chapters blend one into the next and readers will stop wherever. I still use that method a little but not in the way it used to be employed. I’ve almost stopped altogether, actually. I suspect I would fail a college writing class if I took one at this point. I am no longer fit for the standard rules of writing. I have broken free.
Which is why no editor would want to touch me. ;-) And why I no longer even ask.
After reading hundreds of novels on eReaders over the years I felt like the books were not taking full advantage of the platform. I mean that, not in the way the “new media” believes, where you can interact with pictures, link out to additional context, etc. I believe the writing, the core of the content being delivered to the human brain, needs to be revamped for how people read on a digital device. Patterns, pulls, dips and sharp edges, man. Fun stuff.
Let’s face it, what kind of series about a computer programmer would this be if it was not tailored for an eReading audience?
I haven’t perfected it, yet. It’s a trade off between getting the scenes “on paper” out of my head and then taking some time to rework the flow of the scene.
And then some days? Like today. I just write. ;-)