Finding the Rhythm of a Scene

Rhythm in writing may be the hardest technique to master because it’s the hardest to teach. Some writers may say that it’s a concept to ignore, and they could be correct. But I find myself considering the rhythm of how a scene is unfolding, usually when it’s a pivotal one. So if you think finding the rhythm of a scene will help your story, read on.

Before You Write, Read

The first step in mastering rhythm in writing is to read. The more you read, the more you pick up on, even without noticing it consciously, how a particular author or genre lays out scenes. That absorption of rhythm will be your guide as you work on your own stories. It does with me. As I craft on a scene, my gut tightens when I sense it’s not working, like a drummer hitting the wrong beat. I’ve learned to pay attention to that tightening and then devote time pulling the scene apart to figure out exactly where and why it’s gone off the rails.

If you trust your intuition, which is based on your experience, then you can develop a rhythm of your own.

Different Scenes, Different Rhythms

What is the point of your scene? The answer will have a great impact on its rhythm.

When I wrote the climax to my mystery short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I knew God had given me something special and didn’t want to ruin it. My main character Rae is discovering who tried to murder her mother twenty years ago and who her father is. I didn’t want the scene to wallow in sentimentality, but also didn’t want to avoid the big emotions. So I had to balance it, find a rhythm. I solved this problem by adding humor to the scene, lightly, inserting it when I felt the deep emotions might overwhelm the story. This alternation between humor and serious emotions established a rhythm for the scene.

In the climax of my YA novel, A Shadow on the Snow, Rae confronts a stalker, both with words and action. Because this is a tense, suspenseful scene, I wrote a lot of one-line paragraphs. That makes for quicker reading, mimicking the rapid way Rae has to process the quickly-changing situation. Slowing the rhythm with a lot of description would work against the mood I hoped to create.

But in the middle of Shadow, Rae has a heart-to-heart talk with her father that forms the theme and crux of their relationship. Here the pace can be slower because it’s an intense, uninterrupted conversation and I wanted the reader to have time to digest what’s being said, like Rae is. The dialogue is the star of this scene, so the rhythm here is to minimize dialogue and action tags, only adding those that keep the conversation moving and the reader grounded in the scene.

Here’s my previous post on using rhythm in your writing.

Do you think finding rhythm of a scene is important? Why or why not?

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