Logical Flow Propels Pacing

As we look at this item about pacing, it may sound familiar, because it is related to plot:

Events flow logically in cause-and-effect relationships.

That is, each scene doesn’t just happen after the prior scene, it happens because of the prior scene.

When events flow from one to the other in a cascade of causes and effects, you have a plot that is profluent. We did discuss this idea before, especially under the organic model proposed by Steven James in his book Story Trumps Structure.

Writing instructors don’t often use the word profluent, and it’s a shame. I learned it from John Gardner, who uses it in his book The Art of Fiction.

You’ll notice that profluent has the same Latin root, fluere, as fluid. A profluent plot is one that runs like a river down its course. Some stories are white water, and some are gentle streams. Either way, a profluent plot carries the readers along like leaves caught in a current. They will be drawn deeper into the story by the need to find out what effects will result from the causes you’ve set up in each scene.

Photo by Peter Mazurek • freeimages.com

At this stage of editing, examine your scenes to make sure they feed into one another like a series of waterfalls. Each plotline can be thought of as its own stream. Within each stream, make sure that the causes of each happening are at least hinted at in a previous scene.

You don’t have to dramatize every single cause before you show its effect, but beware of skipping over things the reader may care about. If the hero’s airline flight is cancelled, you might want to skip over his six-hour wait for another flight. But if the wait causes him to become short-tempered and start a fight with his seatmate, then we’ll want to see a hint of the frustration and temper building. If the fight comes out of nowhere, simply because it seems to serve the plot, it will feel unnatural, like a bucket of Gatorade suddenly poured into the stream.

You needn’t stay with each plotline continually. Flitting back and forth among them, like a bird visiting multiple rivers, is an excellent fiction technique, as it will build reader interest about what’s going on in the other streams.

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