Friday, October 21, 2005

Profluence

Profluence: flow, the tendency to move forward, a steady progression. I've never really seen this word used except in the context of writing fiction. In particular, John Gardner writes of it in his book, The Art of Fiction. Any story, to be satisfying, must be profluent.

Profluence is a necessary part of any narrative, fiction or non-fiction, because all narrative (as opposed to essay and most non-fiction) contains an embedded timeline; whether or not it proceeds chronologically, a narrative describes a series of related events related, and these events move through time.

Another way of saying this is that time elapses during a story, and this happens both at the micro level and the macro level. The best stories, whether genre or literary, drag the reader along not just from event to event, but from sentence to sentence and from phrase to phrase.

How this happens at the macro level is easy to see: this thing happens and then that thing happens. It's a plot summary. At the micro level it's slightly trickier, but it all depends on the verbs.

For example.

"The dog was in the habit of eating his daily meal in the late afternoon." : Describes a habitual action. No time elapses in this sentence.

"The dog was eating his bowl of kibble." : not habitual, but still, no time elapses. This sentence reduces the act of eating to a static event, a moment frozen in time.

"The dog ate his food." : slightly better. This could have the same meaning as the previous example, but it could mean that the dog ate the entire bowl, implying that some time has elapsed, although the duration is indefinite.

"The dog approached his bowl, sniffed the unfamiliar kibble, and grudgingly took a piece into his mouth." : this is real-time. The act described takes about as long as the time it takes to read the sentence (or at least the reader can imagine the scene with enough specificity to know how long it takes).

Good writing carefully modulates the flow of time in this way, moving back and forth from real-time to more static description, but never letting things bog down for long.