Today’s guest post comes from Sam Ball, author of A Lady Of Sorrows. He’s sharing the theory he has developed for his writing, and it certainly sounds unique! Check it out below, plus more about his latest release!
Manipulating the Reader’s Memory and Perception of Time: A Theory
by Sam Ball
Ernest Hemingway used concise sentencing and stretched a word’s meaning to its breaking point. This created tension and immediacy in stories that may otherwise have seemed dull and meaningless. James Joyce pushed description to its limits with his epic Ulysses, a 265,000-word monstrosity that takes place over the course of a single day in the life of an ordinary man. Had Hemingway written Ulysses, there would likely be no exploring on a parapet, and we’d have only met Stephen Dedalus at the end, if at all. Five sentences would shrink to one, and Homer would exist between the lines, though the meaning would still exist. Had Joyce written Old Man And The Sea, seconds would tick by like hours, and you’d be driven mad by your suffering, suffocating on a putrid, viscous air from rotting marlin carcass.
I’ve extracted a theory of broader impact from a pairing of ideas in the seeming disparate styles of these two iconoclasts. By parsing words’ meanings, using rhythm, and, rather than avoiding lengthy phrases and sentence structure but employing them deliberately, you can add depth and weight, and give wholly different experiences – sometimes different stories altogether – to a reader, depending on their state of mind. Your story can grow and change, expand or contrast, without ever trading a word, on an empirical level. Unlike film, for instance, the written word isn’t bound by frames that go stagnant over time. Words, like the mind, are fluid. Books are interactive. They construct memories. In two parts, a theory I’ve developed, which I’ve put into practice in my debut novel, “A Lady Of Sorrows,” posits that, by writing with cadence and structuring a prose in deliberate, multisyllabic peaks and monosyllabic valleys, a writer has the ability to force a reader’s recollection of events in a story and compose the passage of time.
We create cadence to break it. Cadence can be used to lull the reader, in a sense. It gives a comfortable pattern that reader becomes used to. To establish cadence may only need a few paragraphs, but once established, if maintained throughout a chapter or manuscript, it can be used to disrupt the reader’s flow of thought and cause a reaction to force their focus on the immediate moment. Breaking the cadence causes the moment to stand out. This can be done a number of times throughout a chapter to build a series of moments that will be retained by the reader. When used to its deft extreme, a story written about one thing, or seemingly nothing at all, can be recalled as something else completely, potentially providing the reader with two wholly different experiences.
Precise use of syllables can force the reader’s perception of time. In the mind of the reader, time is perceived in exponential patterns caused by the use of multi- and mono-syllabic words. For example, think of each single-syllable word as the passage of approximately a finger-snapping “second”. If two words together are each a single syllable, the impact on perception is of approximately two “seconds”. Using multisyllabic words next to each other in a sentence grows the length of time in recollection exponentially. So, two words together with three syllables each don’t express the passage of six seconds but rather nine in the reader’s recall. Using words in this effect draws the moment out as the reader works through a sentence. This exponential effect resets wherever a single-syllable word is injected.
To have impact, to bring weight, to build memories from chapter to chapter, use cadence and break it. Use syllables, in a sense like musical notes, in peaks and valleys. Like music, is composition. Like film, it’s a collection of images building towards a moment. The more able you are to direct the reader’s attention towards that moment, the more effective your story will be as a memory that lingers long after the book has been put down.
I’ll end with an example of my theory on display. A short excerpt from my book, “A Lady Of Sorrows,” written entirely with this theory in mind. The excerpt sees the main character being led by a boy through a forest. Note the cadence, the use of multisyllabic words stretching the moment, pulling it taut like a rubber band, followed by the release – the cadence halting halfway into a sentence, and a string of single-syllable words to add a blunt-force impact. When the moment ends, see how it lingers, fully-realized, in your mind:
Beyond her sight in the misty thick, the wind began to roar. She faltered, wanted to stop, but the boy tugged on her arm and pulled her ahead. Nearer to the sound they came, she started to question his judgment. She feared they might be wandering into the respite of something fierce. A vicious, thundering yowl burst out of the ground. It charged at them and they were blasted; soaked by a hot, wet breath. She thought certainly they were standing before a mountainous beast hiding in the fog. In wanton delirium, its gaping maw salivating, waiting for an unsuspecting meal to climb onto its tongue. The wind whipped by, pulled her hair back in a fist, and almost took her down. An assaulting rain slapped her clothes. The ground went sodden beneath her. She struggled to stay on her feet. Perhaps, she thought, she was already on its tongue.
A Lady Of Sorrows by Sam Ball
At the end of the world, life is a purgatory. Mankind is indifferent to the tomb. But when one woman awakes to find that all she knows has disappeared, she departs on an odyssey to rebuild. She journeys into the forests and the prisons, as a concubine, revolutionary, and mother. All the while, she’s haunted by shadowy abductors and plagued by unearthly dreams that send her outside reality as she knows it, into the fraying strands of space and time. In her struggle for survival, something else takes hold. An animus grows within her. It gives her strength and guides her toward an unknown fate. But if she loses her way, if she forgets herself, if she refuses her destiny, it will mean the end of all existence.
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About the Author: Sam Ball is a prolific writer, having penned works for, and inspired artists from, the industries of stage, film, and music (‘Cough Up Crimson’, a side project featuring members of the psychedelic metal band ‘Minsk’, took their band name from a line in the novel ‘A Lady Of Sorrows’). His greatest interest, however, is on the page. His work is meant to explore, experiment with, and exploit the symbiosis which exists between the reader’s interaction with the page and what’s retained in memory as a means of furthering visionary potential in the reader.
Sam is currently working on ‘Stately Valley Staci’, a neo-noir reimagining of three Norse myths set against the backdrop of corporate greed in middle American.
You can follow Sam on Twitter @sdball3 and watch him make a fool of himself as he posts messages of no consequence or substance.