it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
matociquala

it's a small crime, and i've got no excuse

People keep asking me what I mean by line of direction. It's actually a term I stole borrowed from cpolk, back when we were having our tremendous initial revelation that writing is like everything else. I believe she borrowed it from film.

What it means is the sustained line of the reader's attention; the subtle way the director (in film) or the author (in text) uses craft to guide the focus of the reader smoothly through the narrative. It encompasses a lot of tools: in film, cuts, closeups, focus, reaction shots. In writing, transitions, paragraph and sentence hooks, rhythmical and metrical tricks, bits of linking dialogue. In other words, when done well, it guides the reader safely through the shoals of reading, and when done poorly, it can cause him to get left behind in the starting gate, bumped coming out, or stumble and go down under an avalanche of hooves.

For example, here is a passage with (gratuitously, exagerattedly) poor line of direction.

At the corner of the window, a waxen spider spun.

Rien did not move her rag to break the threads and sweep the cobweb down. Rien knew the prisoner was of noble blood by her chains. She pressed to the wall between that window and the door and held her breath, praying like the spider that no eye would fall on her, as Lady Ariane Conn and her knights brought the naked prisoner from Engine in. Rien's trained eye saw the spider by the way her spinning caught the light.

The chains writhed at the prisoner's wrists, quicksilver loops of nanotech. The girl was tall, almost sexless in her slenderness and anything but sensual, though she was naked except for streaks of indigo blood, and dirt, and manacles. In terms of energy, the chains costlier than rubies and more rare, but forestalling any untoward transformations. 

The prisoner's bony face was square, and tired sweat stuck her dirt-brown hair to her cheeks and shoulders. The only breadth on her, other than across the jaw and cheekbones, was in the wiry muscles of her shoulders and her chest. Even her bare feet were narrow and elegant.


Usually, the problem is more subtle than this, an issue of misplaced phrases and things that do not logically lead the mind from one position to the next, with flow. Anything that causes the reader to have to pause and figure out what just happened is [usually] bad. It breaks narrative tension. When narrative tension is broken, people put the book down and go get a cup of tea.

Same passage, with things put right:

At the corner of the window, a waxen spider spun.

Rien's trained eye saw the spider, the way her spinning caught the light. But Rien did not move her rag to break the threads and sweep the cobweb down. She pressed to the wall between that window and the door and held her breath, praying like the spider that no eye would fall on her, as Lady Ariane Conn and her knights brought the naked prisoner from Engine in.

Rien knew the prisoner was of noble blood by her chains. They writhed at her wrists, quicksilver loops of nanotech. In terms of energy, costlier than rubies and more rare, but forestalling any untoward transformations.

The girl was tall, almost sexless in her slenderness and anything but sensual, though she was naked except for streaks of indigo blood, and dirt, and manacles. Her bony face was square, and tired sweat stuck her dirt-brown hair to her cheeks and shoulders. The only breadth on her, other than across the jaw and cheekbones, was in the wiry muscles of her shoulders and her chest. Even her bare feet were narrow and elegant.




Completely unrelated, but fun:

Blues magician: Johnny Winter at Woodstock. Johnny Winter (in platform boots and a leather tophat, no less) takes Keith Richards out behind the woodshed for a word.
Tags: line of direction, media, music, writing craft wank
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