Friday, June 11, 2010

Writing as an Art —Words That Dance

Last month, we discussed “words that sing,” and a number of you transformed a mundane paragraph into a powerful dissonant melody. How did you do this? You awakened the lackluster scene and infused it with chords of pain and despair and negativity. Well done, all who participated in this writing exercise.

Now let’s venture a bit farther into the musical element of writing. Without question, well-chosen words bring melodic harmony, agonizing discord, and dramatic crescendos and decrescendos to the printed page. Interestingly, the medium that delivers this compelling symphony is . . . dance. Dance? Think about it.

What is dance? Action. Expression. Power. Whether the smooth flow of a waltz, the seething emotions of a tango, the gymnastics of break dancing, the happy conclusion of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, or the poignant sadness of his Swan Lake, action creates the dynamic of the scene. Without action, without expression, without power, there can be no dance. Without action, without expression, without power—without strong verbs—the most eloquent words fall flat.

Imagine that you are sitting in the front row of a large theatre. Spotlights draw your attention to the beautiful velvet curtains. You wait. The orchestra assembles in the pit, and its members fine tune their instruments. Then the conductor appears. Whining violins and the hum of human chatter cease as though an invisible operator had flipped an “off” switch. The maestro taps his baton on the score stand. House lights and curtain warmers dim. Spots high above encapsulate him in a white ray; he raises his arms. The music swells, and the curtains open. You sit forward in your seat when the stage lights begin to glow. In a moment, their brilliance illuminates a magnificent backdrop. Your heart yearns to walk into the scene, but the way is obscured. Then the dancers appear. Life fills the empty stage. The passions, the hopes, the dreams, and the heartbreak grip you. You “walk” into the scene.

What pulled you into the heart of the above scenario? Was it not the action? The dance?

Write a scene that dances. (It need not be about dancing.) Use verbs that give it power, warmth, emotion, verbs that invite your reader to come in, stay for a while, become part of the story. If you have questions, please ask. We’ll do our best to answer them.

Linda Lane works as a writer, editor, and publisher. She particularly enjoys helping new writers to hone their craft.


  1. What pulled me in was the anticipation, the building of suspense.

    Straight From Hel

  2. The anticipation and the building of suspense, yes.
    And I remembered the time my Mom took me to see Swan Lake, my first experience of the Ballet.

    As I read your piece, I - in my mind - once more was the 6 years old girl sitting on her sweaty hands on the plush, red chair in the old Emperor Alexander's theater, smelling all the smells, hearing all the sounds: even the tapping of the ballerinas' shoes, as they effortlessly floated around the stage like fairies.

    Thank you. It was a nice memory. It might get turned into a story.

    Regards from Finland

  3. Pulled in by anticipation that builds - words and images that don't stop the flow.

  4. Great illustration of the power of rhythm in writing.

    When you mentioned dance, I immediately thought about this scene from the opening of a WIP:

    After putting the money in her purse, Tracy stood in the middle of the room wondering how to get past the awkwardness, finally closing her eyes against her inhibitions.

    There, that's better.

    She let her body sway to a melody playing in her mind. The moves felt stilted at first, like the music was out of sync and she couldn't find the rhythm, but she forced herself to keep moving.

    Slowly, a memory of having done this before surfaced.

    Remembering brought back the delicious feeling of sensuality that had so excited her last year when she'd danced for Brad. She’d felt an incredible sense of power at that moment and now she drew on that power.

    Confidence synchronized her movements and she let the inner heat build. In a crackling slither of beads she drew the shawl across her shoulder, then down over her breasts, feeling a surge of warm excitement as her nipples peaked.

    A quick tug on the back zipper released the fabric of her black crepe dress.

    Drawing the moment out, she slipped one cap sleeve down her arm then the other. Free from restraint, the dress slid like a caress across her body, releasing a subtle scent of sweet perfume before settling in a soft puddle at her feet.

  5. The stage is set beautifully. I confess I prefer to concentrate on dialogues...

    Really Angelic

  6. I loved the metaphor of the theater. I'm going to hold that metaphor in the back of my mind whenever I'm writing now. An excellent way to look at things... Heck, I even have a character who sees the whole world as a stage for him to prance about on.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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