If you ask me, one of the most annoying things about being a writer is all of the contradictory advice that gets thrown around. If you ask ten writers a question about craft or technique, you’ll get ten different answers.
There’s a reason for this, of course. Writing is an art, more than a science. It’s governed by ever-changing ideas regarding what is acceptable or even in fashion. You can argue that grammar is relatively fixed, but what about things like use of slang, the effectiveness of storytelling techniques, what makes dialogue ring true—those things that can make or break a story but can’t be fixed with a good sentence diagram? Those are the things that writer’s end up giving conflicting advice about—heck, they contradict themselves half the time. And what’s worse is that a lot of times it the advice can be downright vague.
How to Make Writing Flow
How many times as a writer have you heard the following: “it just doesn’t flow”? What the heck does that mean? We have all probably read writing that doesn’t “flow” in some hard to describe way, but that phrase does us no good at all when we try to fix this “flowlessness” in our own writing. So what is flow in writing? Is it language? Is it cadence? Is it style? Is it the equally vague writing voice we also hear so much about?
I think the answer is that it can be any of these things—or a combination. When someone suggests that your writing doesn’t “flow” (it’s going to happen, no way around it), try asking her to clarify. Does the problem seem to be with the structure or organization of your narrative? Does the awkwardness stem from sentence structure (after all a sentence can be grammatically correct, but still seem clumsy)? Is the dialogue clunky? Does the problem lie in the pacing of the story? By asking these questions you’ll get a clearer idea what isn’t working for your reader.
As for voice in writing—that one is a bit tougher (my advice is plenty of reading and lots of writing will help you find it).
As suggested above, the key to a helpful writing critique is specificity. If you’re being critiqued, be sure to ask plenty of questions to help clarify the feedback you receive. And if you give a critique, put yourself in the other writer’s shoes and give them the best feedback and advice you can. Don’t tell them that it doesn’t flow.
For an interesting discussion of the ever illusive “flow” check out a great excerpt from On Writing Fiction by author David Jauss.