The wave formula writing device was first described by Edith Wharton, and quickly became a standard for writers in the mid-late twentieth century, though it has fallen out of favor more lately. While it’s fallen from fashion, it still works as a good writing exercise, especially teaching you (forcing you to find ways) to show instead of tell. Wave Formula appears in three parts, to solve a writer’s common problem: How to introduce a character to the reader quickly and succinctly.
The presentation in three parts:
1. Feelings of the character
2. Actions of the character, or gestures
3. Dialogue of the character
Ms. Wharton said this device was like a wave making its way to the shore.
1. The motive or feelings is the power of the wind driving the wave.
2. Action or gesture is like the wave as it suddenly appears, rising, rolling up the beach.
3. The dialogue or speech is like the foam on the crest of the wave as it breaks and spills over.
Wave formula was popular, in part because writers did a lot more telling and lot less showing back then. But it’s still a fluid, smooth, effective introduction of a character, and with little twists, it still works.
Here’s a few I’ve done over the years to keep my skills sharp. (And yes, the first is in that unpopular POV…universal.)
Angrily, Josh tossed the picnic basket to the sand, scattering sandwiches, the lovely grapes he’d chosen and washed with such care. “I didn’t ask you here to talk about Robert. I asked you to lunch to talk about us.”
Amused, Cheryl laughed, the sound oddly chilling. She stood from the sunny yellow picnic blanket and propped a hand on her hip. “Us? There is no us, Josh. Never has been. Never will be.”
Confusion swept through him, followed quickly by embarrassed warmth which he knew showed on his fair features. Tommy wiped his damp palms down his dress slacks, the gesture wrinkling the fine fabric, unlike the denim he usually wore. “Good morning, Mrs. Robinson. Um. I really like that, um, outfit. Ma’am.”
Pleased with the effect of the blood red polish on her nails, Emily held out all ten to admire them. “I do declare, there is something about red nail polish that is purely decadent, don’t you think?”
Drunk and prevented entrance to his own home, Cameron roared with anger. He beat the door with his fists, the sound booming as he screame. “Evelyn, you open this door. You hear me? You open this door or you’ll regret it! I promise you. You’ll regret kicking me out of my own home!”
Do you *have* to introduce a scene or character in this order and with this presentation? No. Of course not. As we’ve said many time before, there isn’t just one way to write. A writer can introduces a character, emotion and dialogue any way he wishes. This is the wave formula method, and it stimulates us to write with the active voice when the exercise itself draws us to passive voice.
Anyone want to play?
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