How to improve the flow of your writing

When writing a story, your prose can often feel jumbled.

Muddled.

Disconnected.

Like it just doesn’t flow.

And for a long time, I never knew a clear, tangible tactic for fixing that problem, except by feel or by trial and error. Then I learned a simple, but effective trick for improving flow:

Go from the known to the unknown: use the last few words of one sentence to set up the information that’s about to appear at the beginning of the next one.

Here’s what I mean:

Think of it like crossing a stream, hopping from rock to rock — each rock acts as both a landing spot and a launching point. Writing and revising your sentences to serve a similar purpose can go a long way in improving the flow of your prose.

Let’s start by taking a look at a paragraph (prepared by yours truly) that doesn’t do this, resulting in a somewhat bumpy flow:

Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” had always inexplicably drawn Henry in. The painting was framed as a poster on his wall, and he often stared into its dizzying swirls of blue and yellow, and its fiery cypress tree — marveling at the chaos that entrenched the village scene. Henry had always hoped that Vincent was able to find some peace in expelling this vision from his mind and onto the canvas.

Feels a bit disconnected, doesn’t it? It’s still largely readable, but there isn’t much of a continuity of ideas bridging the sentences — no connective tissue to smooth out your journey through the prose. 

Now let’s look at the same paragraph again, but with some simple rearranging done to ensure that the information that ends each sentence also kicks off the next one (I put these hand-offs in bold):

Henry had always felt inexplicably drawn to Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” The painting was framed as a poster on his wall, and he often stared into its dizzying swirls of blue and yellow, and its fiery cypress tree — marveling at the chaos that entrenched the village scene. With such a vision expelled from the mind and onto the canvas, Henry had always hoped that Vincent was able to find some peace.

Now that reads a little better, doesn’t it? You’ll notice I didn’t even change up my word choice. Sometimes you’ll have to swap out words or change the order of your sentences, but even just rearranging information can often add a lot connectivity.

This obviously won’t be possible in every sentence and paragraph, but it’s a great rule of thumb when you want to smooth out your prose. I hope this proves as helpful to you all as it has been for me!

Good luck, and good writing, everybody.

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