Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Writing Workshop - Part 4 - Harmony


A Writing Workshop on a Topic Everyone Hates--Revision

Part 4 - HARMONY

I’d like to start with the same quote I used for Part 1:

“I can’t write five words but that I want to change seven.”
Dorothy Parker

HARMONY is the last part of my workshop on revision.  HARMONY in its simplest form is scene setting.  Do the words you use to describe your setting evoke a certain time or place?

HARMONY is also characterization.  Do the words your characters speak and their actions ring true?  Does your Regency era earl speak like one?  Does your tough cop sound like one?

HARMONY is evoking a feeling.  It’s tied directly to the amount of research you do.  Even if you have created your own world, you must look your work over to see if your characters behave consistently.  Did you make rules for your world and are you following them?

Word choice is very important for creating HARMONY.  Weed out anachronistic words and objects.  In a civil war scene, don’t have your heroine say her heart raced like an Indy car.  That’s a blatant example, but you see what I mean.

That said, I find that when writing medieval romance it isn’t possible to write only in the vocabulary of the times.  When I use anachronistic words and phrases, I try to pick ones that won’t jerk the reader out of the story.

In a recent book I read, set in the early 1970s, the character heats his dinner in a microwave oven.  This stopped me cold.  I had to go look up when microwave ovens were in common use in homes.  The important lesson here is not whether the author was right, but that he picked something that pulled me out of the reading experience.  Try not to do that.

Using dialect is hard.  I’ve taken my editor’s advice here and I try to confine it to secondary characters and above all, I try to be consistent.

Sometimes you have to use anachronisms so your writing has CLARITY.  Sometimes CLARITY problems result when you are striving for HARMONY.

I like to think of a stew when I’m thinking HARMONY.  You can use too much “flavoring” or too much salt and ruin the dish.  How much is too much “flavoring” for your story?
Reading widely, especially outside your genre, can really help you achieve a balance.

Here’s an example of word choice:
He raced his horse full-throttle across the plain.

What’s wrong with this sentence?
Maybe everything if the book takes place before the internal combustion engine exists.
And maybe nothing if the story is a contemporary and the character is a rancher.

Another HARMONY example:
Life is a struggle.
Life is a bitch.

The two sentences may express the same idea, but the second one is inappropriate in a 17th century historical romance.

Synopsis writing is another place that really needs to have HARMONY and CLARITY woven tightly together.  Can you explain clearly while giving the flavor of your setting so you evoke empathy for your characters.

Remember, empathy hooks the reader and makes the reader turn the page.

In summary, HARMONY is a direct reflection of your research and your vocabulary.

Check your scene setting and characters for consistency.  If you find an inconsistency, smooth it out, or make sure there’s plenty of motivation behind your characters’ actions.

So, that’s it.  Before you send your book off to an editor or agent or upload it to Smashwords, go over it for UNITY, CLARITY, EMPHASIS, and HARMONY.

I hope this workshop has been helpful.  I’ve asked you to think of a tree when you examine your work for UNITY.  I’ve asked you to think of a telegram when thinking of CLARITY, and the makeup on a woman’s face for EMPHASIS.  Now, I’ve added the idea of thinking of a stew when examining your work for HARMONY.  How much did you spice that stew?

Pick whatever works for you, but remember my favorite writing quote . . .

“You must write your first draft with your heart.  You rewrite with your head.  The first key to writing is . . . to write, not to think!”
From the movie, Finding Forester

Look for my new book . . .

Visit AnnLawrence.com for excerpts, contests, and buy links for all my books!


  1. Every author needs to read this workshop. I hate it when a gross anachronism jars me out of an otherwise terrific story. Research is critical, even for writers of contemporary novels, since technology is changing so rapidly. A terrific lesson!

  2. I'm glad you found it helpful! Thanks for commenting!