Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Rhythm Method

Marjoe Gortner

I first learned about rhythm from Marjoe Gortner, child evangelist, actor, and son of evangelists, when I saw him on a late-night talk show. He explained the four beats to working up a crowd, the one his parents used at revivals and taught him to use. It was very simple and seemed too obvious, but then he demonstrated. In a very short time he had the audience rocking with him. It was a fascinating demonstration. The rhythm was 1, 2, 3, 4, repeated several times with increasing intensity, reaching a high point on the last beat. Vary the pace, mostly through the first three, but always build to an intense scene. Gortner did it with his voice, the speed of delivery, and his tone; even his pacing across the stage speeded up and his gestures got tighter, sharper. Writers do the same thing with their words on paper, changing the pace, tightening, and building from scene to scene.
You must have some scenes that give the reader time to catch his breath, then start building the tension again. But remember there’s always an overriding problem that has to reach out and touch the main characters from time to time, usually just when the character thinks she can relax.
End all the scenes with something unanswered, unsolved. Introduce a new problem before solving the current one. You can briefly lull the character into thinking the water is safe, but the reader better see the shark cutting through the waves toward her. Don’t let the reader completely relax. She has to want to know what happens next.

5 comments:

Fiona said...

Very good analysis Ellis, but a very difficult point to achieve. Thank you.
Una Tiers

Kathleen Delaney said...

Well said, and very true. It does, however, take a lot of practice to learn how to do that well.

Ellis Vidler said...

Una and Kathy,
It isn't easy. There are so many things to remember, but I do think the more you write, the easier it is. I hope so, anyway. :-)

Polly said...

If the reader expects something, don't give it to her. Bring her to the brink, then let it go. I always find it's brilliant in a movie when the music indicates that something bad is going to happen, and then it doesn't. If it happened, it would make the scene predictable. Same in a book. When you KNOW something is going to happen, you're neither surprised nor engaged when it does. You knew it all along. But when it doesn't, you're hooked. At least that's the way I see it.

Nancy Lauzon said...

Interesting idea, and this usually happens in novels I really enjoy!