This indirect or left-branching sentence builds tension and creates excitement because it slows down the pace of the story.
by Gila Green
Have you ever seen any of these comments in the margins of your work?
If you answered "yes," you should immediately browse through your writer's toolbox of literary devices for pacing solutions—specifically how to slow the pace down.
One device many writers threw out of their toolboxes long ago was indirect writing. Most of us were told by everyone from our high school English teachers to published writers in creative writing programs that direct writing is good writing and indirect writing is bad writing. That's often true. But completely eliminating indirect writing is also a surefire way for many writers to ruin the pace of their work. They write each line so directly that the story is over before it begins; there's never any time to savor the scene, in particular the climax or mini climaxes; there's no hair-standing-on-end time; and no goose-bumps-down-the-arms moments because the piece is just too, well, direct.
If slowing down the pace is a stumbling block for you try indirect writing when you want to create threatening, exciting, suspense-driven scenes and most definitely when you approach mini climaxes or climaxes. One way to do this is with left-branching sentences.
What are left-branching sentences? Here's an example of what they are not. Often, the clearest method of written communication is subject-verb-object, with any details (clauses and sub-clauses) you want to throw in coming afterwards.
For example: Jennifer swallows the last copy of the code before she takes one final look at the gleaming diamond, reaches out her trembling fingers, turns the dial, waits for the click of the miniature door and locks the priceless jewel in the safe. This is a classic right-branching sentence. The sentence leans or branches out to the right and I'm sure you'd agree it is clear because I used the subject (Jennifer)-verb (swallows)-object (code) formula.
As the writer, I can move on without any fear of the editor's red pen. But wait. What if this sentence appears towards the climax of a story in any genre? Might a "yawn" or "anti-climax" comment show up in the margins? The answer is, yes.
Here's the same sentence when it is left-branching: Jennifer takes one final look at the gleaming diamond, reaches out her trembling fingers, turns the dial, waits for the click of the miniature door and locks the priceless jewel in the safe before she swallows the last copy of the code. This indirect or left-branching sentence builds tension and creates excitement because it slows down the pace of the story; I forced you to wait to find out what happened to that irreplaceable code.
The next time your pace is running away from you, lean those lines before the climax to the left and watch those glaring red editor's notes disappear.
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