It's a word commonly tossed around between writers, editors, etc ... and we all nod like sages and say "Ah, yesssss. Flow."
What is flow? If you dissect "flow", what will you see?
Flow is exactly what it says it is. When you think of "flow", you think of water. And water runs smoothly, without interruption (unless, of course, there's a dam, and we're going to ignore that part for the sake of the metaphor).
How do you know if your writing flows?
First of all, follow the #1 Rule: READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD.
Seriously. And I don't mean mutter it out loud. Read it like you mean it. And if you're reading along, thinking how beautiful the story is, what a great writer you are, how the world is going to love this ... then all of sudden a word sticks in your mouth, well, that is what I call (in the very technical Genevieve dictionary) non-flow. STOP. Now, what made you stop (aside from my commanding voice)? Was it a specific word? Was it the way the sentence was formed? Maybe switching a verb will help. Maybe moving the subject and object around will ease the roadblock. Maybe trashing the entire sentence will clear it up. It may seem rough, but really, do you need that sentence? Or is it just there to contribute to word count? Is it a need or a want?
Okay. You finished fixing that. Take a deep breath and read on. No cheating. READ IT OUT LOUD. This time you don't exactly trip on a word, but you kind of skip over something that makes you uncomfortable, or that you don't think matters. Well, it does matter. It matters that you get rid of it. Analyze that sentence and either remedy the situation or cut the whole thing.
The thing is, in writing, every sentence, every word counts. You can't write the most brilliant opening sentence ever written, then follow it with a dud. Take it seriously. Take the time to examine everything.
Does it make sense?
He closed the window and exhaled, watching the silver coils of his cigarette smoke drift into the trees.
Hands up everyone who sees the problem with that one. Fix.
Does it matter?
It was raining so hard she thought they might all wash away. It made her think of laundry. Crows struggled through the wind ...
Okay. So that's a lame example, but it's hard to come up with these. Anyway ... Laundry? Pretty sure that's unimportant. Delete.
Does one paragraph resemble another?
By this I mean ... let's say the opening paragraph is beautiful, brilliantly poetic, intelligent, soul searching stuff ... and the second is a clean description of a door. Make the door poetic, or make the other stuff cleaner. One or the other. Not both. Fix.
Does the destination justify the journey?
This is tough because you don't want to get too nit-picky. Here are a couple of examples, both of them wrong:
1) He was sitting in the love seat when the doorbell rang. "Hello, George."
2) When he heard the doorbell, Frank leaned forward, tightened his thigh muscles and unfolded his kness, rising to his feet and placing one foot in front of the other ...
Does paragraph 2 follow paragraph 3 or is it too much of a leap?
You don't have to stay on one subject throughout every single paragraph, but make your bridges smooth. Don't go from talking about Cindy's mother to the faulty carburater in Fred's Honda, unless you bridge them somehow. Maybe she drives the car to the shop?
Go with the flow, grasshopper. Relax, breathe and READ OUT LOUD.
Plot is not what makes a story unique. After all, rumour has it there are only between seven and thirty-seven story plots in existence; everything else is a variation on the theme. (For the record, I'm not sure I agree with that, but I'm hardly qualified to argue.) Characters who win or break our hearts as they take over the story, well, they're not what makes a story unique either. Neither is setting. No, what makes each manuscript unique is the particular Voice of the author. Some authors' Voices have similarities to other authors' Voices, and some authors use a variety of Voices for different genres. A Voice can be light and approachable, dark and melodious, quick or slow. But each one is individual. The trick to writing a book is ... well, that it isn't actually a trick. It's an experience. In order to get into the story, in order to write something people will want to read, an author has to take a journey into the minds and souls of their characters, using the language as it flows. They have to write what they (or rather, their characters) feel, not what they think other people might feel. The only way to do that is just to tell is like it is and not let anything else influence the words. That is Voice. Here are opening paragraphs of some of my own work, just to show how my own Voice varies: From Under the Same Sky: (the Voice of a young girl with psychic gifts) He has always been there. That fact is as important to me as my own heartbeat. I first saw him when we were children: a young boy with eyes as dark as rain-soaked mud, staring at me from under a mane of chestnut hair. I kept him secret, invisible to everyone but me. He should have been invisible to me as well, because he was never really there, on the same windblown land, under the same sky. We never stood together, never touched as other people did. Our eyes met, and our thoughts, but our bodies were like opposite banks of a river. From Tides of Honour: (the Voice of an 18 year old fisherman in 1914) There had been talk. Lots of talk. They just hadn't paid much attention to it. The papers had hinted at faraway verbal battles, political tension strung like barbed wire all over Europe. Danny had read some and it was interesting reading, to a point. From Unscripted (ironically): (the Voice of a modern day writer) I have a theory. Not sure if it's a useful theory, but it's there, and it's been bugging me. My theory is that there are three basic voices that everyone hears in their heads. And finally, from my first attempt at a children's book (untitled for now): It all started the day Jessica found the tiny gold ring in the playground. It had sparkled in the sun along with thousands of tiny pebbles, but it had caught Jessie's eye nonetheless. Not because it was perfectly round, or gold, but because it really did sparkle. Like stars, only better. Like when Jessie's mom and dad drove them home late from Grandma's house and Jessie pretended to be asleep in the back seat of the car. But how could she have slept? The sky was like the dark purple of her wizard cape, twinkling with billions and billions of real live stars. A good Voice jumps off the page. It compels the reader, draws them in without ever letting them know that's what is happening. If an author is true to that Voice, and it's an interesting Voice, it can be difficult for an Agent to resist. Voice can be a difficult hurdle for some Editors, because while it may be important to refine the work, it is imperative that the Voice remain the same. In order to do that, the Editor has to slip into the author's mind ... as they have slipped into that of their character. A little disorienting, wouldn't you think? And yet I love it. I love the sensation of losing myself along the way, of being a part of something else no one has ever seen before – besides the author, that is. Here are a couple of openings from some of the books I've edited recently. The words may have had to be rearranged or even replaced, excessive descriptive wording might have needed pruning, but in the end, the Voice of the author remains. Voice is the core to every story. With each one of these books I wore a different hat. Saving Nathaniel by Jillian Brookes-Ward She was wet. She was cold. She was late. In her haste to get out of the pouring rain, Megan fumbled with her keys, darted through the heavy door and slammed it behind her. She took a moment to confirm the damage to her torn umbrella to be terminal. ‘A lot of bloody use you were!’ She rammed it into the waiting mouth of the waste bin, kicking the bin for good measure. Empty Chairs by Stacey Danson There is no place to start this but with my own memories. The sexual abuse began, I think, when I was around three years of age ... maybe four. Simon's Choice by Charlotte Castle “Sarah! Hurry up!” Sarah thundered down the stairs. Porridge, the yellow Labrador, bounded behind her. The little girl stopped in front of her mother, chin lifted defiantly. “I'm not wearing it, Mum.” Do you have a distinctive Voice? One that connects with readers? One that makes them want to turn pages? ... Or do you need help finding that Voice? Maybe I can help. Contact me through this site if you have any questions on this or any other aspect of editing.