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Reader Momentum

Had an interesting discussion in a writer’s group the other day that got me thinking about reader momentum on a micro scale. It sounds weird, I know, but I think it’s important.

 Someone had written a couple sentences that had this basic structure:

   The hero wanted to do something, however it was too difficult to do. But he knew that he had to try.

Yes, I’ve substituted in placeholders for all the specifics, but hopefully you get the idea. Ignoring the issue of starting a sentence with “but,” does something not seem right about those sentences?

After pondering about it longer than I probably should have, I realized the problem was that each “however” and “but” felt like a change in direction, and those changes came too quickly.

Imagine the sentence is a road. The reader is headed in one direction to start (“the hero wanted to do something”). When the “however” is reached, it’s like a turn in the road. Turns are exciting. Turns are good. We’re jazzed and ready to go in this new direction, and then there’s another turn (“but he knew…”) that takes us right back to the original path. It feels, in a very small way, as though we’ve been cheated. We had a turn, but nothing happened.

In contrast, what about something like this:

   The hero wanted to do something, however it was too difficult to do. The problem gnawed at him. Try as he might, he just couldn’t figure out the solution. Frustrated day faded into sleepless night. Come morning, he realized that he had to try anyway, even if he had no chance.

Ignoring the purple, what do you think? Really all I did was put some space between the  two turns. I like it better, though. It gives the reader more time to enjoy the journey.

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Posted May 11, 2012 in Writing
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