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bear by san

March 2017

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writing dust rengeek shakespeare

over his white bones when they are bare oh, the wind shall blow forevermore, oh

There, got another hundred-odd pages of Dust got through. It's an odd sort of book for me, very linear, just a nice little quest and mystery plot.

I think I like it. And I like the language in it, too.

Which is good, because I need to start writing Chill in January.


In comments, melissima asked for an explanation of beats, how to hear them and so forth. It's a good question, and a complicated one.

The simplest explanation is that the beats in a story are where the emphasis falls. And if you think of them like the points in a song where the rhythm and the melody converge, you won't be far wrong.

There are hard beats and not so hard beats and all kinds of beats in between. In Guy Gavriel Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry, when [spoiler] says, "Oh, my very dear." That's a hard beat. So is Bigwig telling Woundwort "My chief rabbit told me to hold this run." It's called a beat because you can almost feel it, thump, in your bones; it's a moment when the momentum of the story stops, hard, and you poise on the lip of a revelation and bang. Thump. Wham.

Something just changed. Somebody realized The Awful Troof. Somebody--often the reader--just had something illuminated.

And the narrative needs a built-in-rhythmical pause there, to let the reader assimilate the revelation before she carries on.

There's a thing called "stepping on your beats," which means, more or less, that the writer is inserting his pauses (which may be pragraph breaks, section breaks, changes in the rhythym of the language) in the wrong place to support the revelations. In that case, it causes the same problem as if the drummer is off the beat. There's no thump. Nothing brings home that this is a big moment, and thus the reader may skim past it.

So when we say listening for the beats, what we mean is that you're hearing the places in which the prosody of the story supports the narrative. (N.B: prosody is not quite the same thing as rhetoric. Prosody is an aspect or technique of rhetoric. Hey, nobody ever said that this was easy.)

It's also possible to hit your beats too hard, at which point one becomes unsubtle. As an example, ellipsis poisoning, which is when... the writer... begins to write... as if... William... Shatner... were... pronouncing... every... line.

Ahem.

Not that I'm prone to that or anything.

Comments

This is fabulous.

You know, on the one hand, I'm terribly good at finding other writers' beats. I mean, better than the writers are. I'm all, "Dude, you are SO stepping on your own beats," and they all, ARE stepping on their own beats and such.

But on the other hand, I'm ALWAYS stepping on my own beats.

It's hammer syndrome. "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

In other words, the thing you are working on hardest in your own prose is the thing you will keep picking up on in other people's prose.

Which is why, for beginning and intermediate writers, critting somebody else is usually more useful to them than to the other person.
Interesting; how about some more examples?

Another way to set things off, especially when you can't do a scene break and make it a curtain line, is to use complex grammar leading up to the 'beat' and winding down from it, and plain simple grammar for the 'beat' and a couple of sentences either side to frame it.

Also, what about Steven King's idea of shape of the paragraphs on the page as 'map of intent'?

First I've heard of it. I understand he's pretty sensible about this writing thing.
It's also possible to hit your beats too hard, at which point one becomes unsubtle. As an example, ellipsis poisoning, which is when... the writer... begins to write... as if... William... Shatner... were... pronouncing... every... line.

I only recently began reading (and am enjoying) your blog, but I think I shall love you forever for this bit on my pet peeve. I usually call it flat-out abuse, but "ellipsis poisoning" is lovely, and a slightly subtler denigration. :D
I love it when people ask the questions I'm too stupid to ask myself.
I think this is the third thing I've read that explains beats since I came across the teaser mentions (probably here) but now it's coalescing. (Yes, three different explanations. I actually prefer that learning method.)

Thank you, you brave questioners, whoever you are.
Naturally, "beats" has at least one other meaning as applied to writing: A small, meaningless action used to break up dialog or whatever.

For examples, see the umpteen 1940s and 1950s sf stories in which characters light cigarettes, puff on them, etc. In almost all (I know of three exceptions), this has nothing to do with the plot. Or with characterization. Or with background.
Yes, I just dug out an old post about that and reposted it at my LJ here:
http://houseboatonstyx.livejournal.com/60293.html
Well explained.
We try.

Sometimes it doesn't WORK, mind you. But we try.
So when we say listening for the beats, what we mean is that you're hearing the places in which the prosody of the story supports the narrative. (N.B: prosody is not quite the same thing as rhetoric. Prosody is an aspect or technique of rhetoric. Hey, nobody ever said that this was easy.)

Very good description of it. Good examples!

It's also possible to hit your beats too hard, at which point one becomes unsubtle. As an example, ellipsis poisoning, which is when... the writer... begins to write... as if... William... Shatner... were... pronouncing... every... line.

Ahem.

Not that I'm prone to that or anything.


Or perhaps -- just perhaps -- a love of dashes, both en- and em- ? ;^) Thank heaven no one ever sees the first drafts, here.

And is anyone else concerned that editors no longer have time to edit? It's hard enough to look back at your first novel, if you had editorial input. How are people doing it, when editors are no longer given time to write?
My editors edit.

I dunno where all these editors who supposedly never edit are, but I would like it if somebody would send me a few. I could be lazier, then, and do fewer revisions. ;-)
I thought that beats were, like, major narrative chunks. Perhaps this usage comes from television writing.

Using your definition of "beat," I know that I put them right before changes of PoV -- in the current book, there's a medium-sized one in the middle of each chapter and a big one at the end of each chapter. Because I have given myself an artificial limit of one "#" per chapter (I'm not sure this was wise, but I'm going to stick with it for the duration of the first draft anyway) I don't have any major beats smaller than that. I have lots and lots of minor beats, though, for which I abuse parentheses and em-dashes and ellipses and semicolons and periods and paragraph breaks and any other damnfool thing I find lying around. Mostly in dialog. Far too much.

I loves me them semicolons; loves them to bits.
I love semi-colons too, perhaps a little too much.

A first draft of a story I did recently read wonderfully when read aloud, but on the page it looked like the semi-colons had staged an uprising.
So a beat is the "Luke, I am your father" moment?

I guess my question is whether there's a temptation from amateur writers to overkill the moment, get all flowery with the prose? Should the revelatory piece of dialogue eb treated no differently by the writer than the rest of the dialogue (trusting the reader to find the revelation in the moment), or should it be framed by prose that acts as a big flashing neon signs highlighting it? Or is it somewhere inbetween?

More importantly am I making any sense?
And so is Luke's "Nooooooooo!"

Well, that word "should." We hates it. The truth is, there is no should. There are no rules. There are techniques that work and techniques that don't work, and one technique may work in one scene and not in the next.

Sorry, man.
*love* these posts! I think I love ellipses a little too much, also...(not to emphasize that too much, of course) -- but I wonder how much of this is intuitive and how much we, as writers, need to be aware of it -- any thoughts? (I also love me my em dashes, sigh)
I'm actually a big proponent of getting conscious of everything you try to do, and then doing it mindfully until it becomes automatic.

But that's my process, and it may not work for others. I find that for me, instinctual is a synonym for "sloppy."