Writing is a river

We’re paddling downstream, to our right are boulders, sand bars and thickets full of snags. To our left, a mud bank that stretches on for miles. Sometimes the water is deep and dark, others times shallow. Sometimes it’s clear like glass or muddy and polluted. There are rapids and smooth stretches; occasionally a waterfall rumbles in the distance.

As writers we must traverse this river ever trying to maintain a steady, center-stream course.

Setting is the thickets, woods and reaching branches. Too much description of the place or environment—that is, info dumping—and our readers will get snared, get trapped by the empty details.

Characterization is the sand bars, slips of river sand that will capture our boat and bog our readers down. Too much depiction of a character’s appearance, demeanor, or behavior—telling us about them, not showing—will disturb us and invite our readers to leave our foundered boat.

Events are the boulders, the cliffs and caves, that must come in cycles. Pacing of happenings is crucial: too much and you wear out your reader, too frequent and you fail to give proper due to the build-up and crescendos that events engender.

Along the left bank, the muddy slick that offers few rocks, little sand and only a bush or two, our readers will become bored, leave us, skipping forward in search of an entertaining feature in the landscape.

As writers we must navigate between these banks.

The plot is the river features, the rapids, and quite runs, the boulders, sand bars and submerged snags. The story is the bends and turns, the camping spots, the portages, the beginning and the end.

And the water? The water is dialog. It carries us along the story. It runs fast and slow, dirty and clear. It gives us cause to learn about the characters, care about them as they encounter the obstacles along their route. And remember them when our journey is complete.

Too much setting, characterization or cascading events will capsize our reader. Too little will induce sleep and abandonment. Too little water will ground us in the gravel. Too much and we’ll drown.

Writing is a river, steer well young captains.


7 thoughts on “Writing is a river

  1. If I were to step into the water, i.e. read the writing, I would get wet and the river would change me and become my unique experience which in turn would potentially change my thinking, my mood, possibly even my life. I have read books that have changed my life. Stories sometimes become personal guides to new beliefs leading to new futures. Every culture has it stories, which inform the inhabitants understanding of themselves and others and their world. Blessing to all the story tellers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent metaphor. Way over done and belabored, but 🙂
    Sometimes that river just runs and runs and sometimes it’s shallow and sometimes it’s fun and sometimes like all over it’s full of shit, but it’s still the river of dialogue…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was the Rachel Maddow version. That woman says the same thing six different way in the attempt, I suppose, to give different versions for mentalities; in the hopes the saturate everyone (at the expense of boring 3/4’s of us).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, I made hard hat (safety) videos in the 70s for OSHA and others. The script guys did it teh same way – tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them again. Reiterate with another example. Tell them what you’ve told them. Like all training movies. Here’s the cash register. Here’s how it works. Did you get that? It works like this…The sea was green. Green was the sea. In all its vast greeness the sea remained the green sea.

        Liked by 1 person

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