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bear by san

March 2017

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froud tapestry

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.

Comments

Nicely done.

And as good an example in the post itself as the samples. You're putting the reader on a float in a log ride. You want them to get excited, thrilled, even thoroughly soaked, but you don't want them caring about any bumps where the float hits the chute walls while they're on board. The ride should flow smoothly.
Pretty hot.. But keef dont play lead guitar, he does something else. God knows what, but it works.. Interesting that Winters fingerpicks, like an old folkie..

Saw him and Shuggie otis have an ass whipping contest years ago... Winters got whupped.
Yeah, he plays like an old redneck. It's great.

...Well, he is an old redneck, after all.

I loved the bit in the Woodstock clip where he takes his hands off the guitar (note ringing and ringing) fishes out his slide, puts the slide on (note still ringing), does a little shuffle dance step and picks right back up again where he left right off.

Apparently he's sworn off rock and roll, and is playing nothing but e-lec-trick blues these days.

There's a great riff in the comic book Grimjack--rock and roll legend Johnny Melnibone, with his giant black rune-carved Stratocaster, Soulsinger.
yes-o.. notice he is playing a fender 12 string, (all time world's ugliest peghead award winner) with six strings... Probably because the neck is a little wider, so the strings at the bridge allow a little more room for bare finger picking... Sounds a lot like Billy Gibbons when he shuffles, don't he?
Now I'm going to have to listen to some back to back.

OH THE HUMANITY.
Hmm. I don't know what it says that I'm much more conscious of managing line-of-direction in poetry than in prose. Possibly that I'm more often struggling with, ah, syntactical exhuberance, or more am likely to attempt liberties that compromize it in the name of fitting the form. Or simply that I know more about the formal language tools for managing it in verse than for prose.

---L.
Wow. This is one of those things that I've been pretty much blissfully ignorant of for the duration, because it never occurred to me to do it the wrong way.

Now, of course, it's one more thing to fret over. :-|

[Nah, I kid - as someone who writes entirely too many user manuals, natural progression is something I would have to warp consciously.]
Yes. Thanks for posting. I had to figure this out on my own. I wish I'd known about this early on. I call it "logic flow" or something. They should really point this out in workshops.
Grrrrrrrr Typo Faeries.

Grown-up writer.
Flow is one of those things I've done reasonably well on an instictive level, but I have started to work on in a more thoughtful manner as I try to turn into a grow-up writer.