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How to Write Fiction

4) Rhythm

Author: Nathaniel Slattery
Posted: Month of the Holy Rosary, 25th Day, Year of Our Lord 2023

Rhythm, I think, is a natural thing which most authors sense, or at least I do. Therefore, it can be hard to break it down into a technical approach as I have done previously. Let this be more in the manner of feeling it out, then, and maybe God shall have me structure it in the future.

Three parts

Let us begin with the beginning, namely, my previous article on how to start a story. Most likely these three approaches mentioned there are certain portion of the necessary perfect rhythm of narrative, whether there be a single pattern, a fractal pattern, or several sequential patterns.


So, if we start with the best, which is tranquility, we might call this rest, so far as it is a part of the rhythm. It is like the silence of eternity before those words, “In the Beginning”, which we all know is the true and invisible sound which we cannot grasp except through created things. This is the Alpha and Omega surrounding time, containing it, that for which time comes into being, sequentially, in order for Man to be made, that he may grasp it by his intellect and worship its Denizen and Lord.

I think between Genesis and my previous article we can get this. Genesis follows with “Be light made.”, and there was either construction or action besides rest. So which is light? I suppose I have skipped over: God made the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and voice, and the Spirit of God hovered over the great abyss. This, then, is like violence in its formlessness, violence being a type of action wherein sudden things happen to present a mess of details to be sorted out later. Whereas light is like rest or the division wherein things are sorted out. The true division of the waters (because we cannot clearly grasp what has occurred with the light, and even moreso the invisible creation signified in the word heavens) is like construction, and this occurs on day two.

Therefore, a good beginning has many hidden elements encompassing truly all the story. But we are men and not Auctor Vitae, Cor Jesu. Therefore, I think this is best accomplished by proceeding all the way to the end and then turning back to the beginning, much the same as the process whereby the Bible is best understood.


Alright, so for simplicity (notice here the subtlety), first comes tranquility, a type of rest in the rhythm, then violence, a type of action that introduces surprising and formless facts, and then these facts are sorted out one way or another. By violence, I do not necessarily mean anyone is hurt. I can give you an example from that same story which I mentioned previously:

Over four days, the main character is cutting down a tree with his father. On the fourth day, at noon, it falls. At the same time, there is an earthquake. Now this ends, and it becomes apparent that the sun has ceased to move.

This is the violence. The earthquake is not so great to hurt anybody, but it is unexpected and confusing, introducing new facts into the story which become the essential conflict. This is not to say that I did not do any construction, for over the course of the four days, I introduced some of the culture, the pagan religion, and the state of the main character, who is anticipating betrothal. But all of these things except for the cultural aspect, which is very bare, can be considered under the head of tranquility, since the violence makes them unreliable and unsustainable.

Another book is more subtle in this manner. After beginning with a character’s farm chores, he leaves his family for a journey. This journey has been long planned and cannot be described as stemming from a principle of violence except for one occurrence: at the conclusion of his chores, at the breakfast table, his wife suddenly launches into grief. It is this grief which is the violence, for it introduces a host of surprising facts to the reader, that are then sorted out through the rest of the story.

For an example from another’s book, Bilbo’s decision to put on the ring and disappear at the beginning of the Fellowship is a case of subtle violence. I do not necessarily encourage you to read Tolkien.


After the violence, there is only one more element which I have already introduced, and that is construction. Now, this gives me a good chance to talk of travel or the passing of time. Authors often hesitate to consume large amounts of time in their books without content, and if you have content to cover, then you ought to. Particularly if there is necessary explanation, and also after violence when the formless facts float around under the great light.

This is the work of division, which is counter-intuitive, but it is in all creative works. You must separate the good from the evil, the just from the unjust. It used to be that every piece of food we ate even had this principle, and it is still the reality. Let me not indulge too much but be plain in my speech.

Depending on the nature of the story and how bound you are to any character’s perspective, you might explain things plainly, cryptically, or with uncertainty. If you explain it plainly, it must be because you are forced to or else because the response to the rising conflict is interesting enough of its own that there is no need to hold anything back. Such is the case often with immoral characters who create their own problems. I, for instance, had a character become a bounty hunter. First, he won a card game, next he bought a vehicle, third he traveled aimlessly, fourth he encountered a criminal and slew him, fifth the authority arrived, sixth he was informed of the bounty and how to collect it. The violence obviously was the criminal, but the authority explain to him exactly what to do in plain language, and this involved travel and task. He was disordered and ignorant enough, and the setting itself was interesting enough, that having him simply do what he was told was a good bit of story. The plain construction delivered by the authority was enough.

Three motive powers, briefly

I shall have to speak at great length on characters in a different lesson. But the element here in rhythm is construction, and construction is the ordering of materials already received. There is always a limit to how much might be ordered together at one time, and this depends on the three motive powers of a story: plot, world, and character. In this case, you can see how character is the determining factor, but the other two are also in operation. Now, these three shall also likely be their own lesson, but to correct something which I taught on video, I will define these for you: Character is the personalities which operate in a story, in a shaky hierarchy depending upon their development, when oftentimes underdeveloped supplant overdeveloped or overdeveloped suddenly fall away. World is the setting, the environment, the place and time, season and rules which surround the characters, of which they operate in consideration. Plot is the sum total of the operations of the characters and the world previously having taken place, carrying with it an inertial force that must be either overcome, delayed, or succumbed to. It also incorporates all sense of justice or morality which is not delegated to character and world, namely, it is where God might operate directly, or whatever false god the hack writers worship (usually chance).

Preparing for the next phases

In construction, it is important to have a mind for the next phases. This means to leave open elements for the next coming of violence, and to have a time of operation which provides rest. The former can be harder and takes some ingenuity. In this case, it was of the person killed, the criminal, who has relatives and friends to avenge himself.

For the latter, we now speak of passing of time. I required the main character to go somewhere else in order to collect the bounty. This is the coming to rest, since he might have a period of reflection in the time it takes to arrive at the location, or else when he gets there, he might naturally enjoy his earnings and also explore the place. This is now a return to tranquility.

In Conclusion

This, then, is the sequence: tranquility, violence, construction. These layer up as often many cycles are going simultaneously depending upon your skill. But I say that for good rhythm, they ought to take equal amounts of time and usually in the same order, without mixing them together. You will ask, if several cycles are simultaneous, how do you keep from mixing them together? Simple: no matter what all needs doing, do it sequentially. Obey the cycle for time and order. For instance, let me draw it out:

One chapter to show the character’s average life (tranquility)  
One chapter to introduce the main conflict (violence)  
One chapter to explain some questions about the main conflict (construction)  
One chapter in which the characters have a peaceful conversation unrelated to the conflict (tranquility)One paragraph introducing a new conflict in the midst of this dialogue, minor conflict (violence) 
 One paragraph then answers the surprising conflict, perhaps within the same dialogue (construction) 
 Dialogue returns to peace or else the characters leave and think on other things for one paragraph (tranquility) 
New chapter One page introducing a more serious difficulty, perhaps touching on the main conflict (violence)
  One page within the same chapter, the character begins to solve or respond to this conflict (construction)
Either this chapter deals with the main conflict or else the next does and is entirely taken up with it, but without that interior rhythm taking place, the main conflict becomes again an oppressive and fresh force (violence) The solution works, and things come together over about a page (tranquility)
Another chapter in which because of the new sense of the demand of the main conflict, all characters respond (construction)  
The last chapter in which the main conflict is solved (tranquility)End of the story 

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