There are many elements to a successful story. When we think about how one tells a good story, we tend to jump to topics like believable characters or plot arcs. These are, of course, essential. But there are smaller, less noticeable elements that can be employed to keep a reader engaged. One of these is word order.
Books are written word by word and readers digest them in the same fashion. We’ve all heard the advice to pick strong verbs and choose descriptive words. This is very important, but equally important is where in a sentence and/or paragraph we place those power words. The term “Backloading” refers to placing power words at the end of a sentence to increase impact.
Why would placing your power words at the end of sentences make them stronger? Because when our eyes hit a period, we pause. When we hit the end of a paragraph we pause longer. And the end of a chapter? Yeah, you get the point. The word right before that pause gets emphasis in our brain because it sticks with us during that pause. Think of it as a bell that resounds longer than other words. Knowing that, it is clear that giving your reader the strongest image/word to stick in their brain will ramp up your writing.
Consider this very simple example as an ending line of a chapter:
I ran because I had no choice.
I had no choice. I ran.
Now both of these are simple with verbs that that aren’t very exciting. That said, the word order in the first sentence puts the final emphasis on the word “choice” where as in the second lets the word “ran” resound. Which seems more immediate? Ending on the action verb “ran” right?
Let’s look at something a little more complicated.
She lashed out with jagged nails that sliced scythe-like through the air.
She lashed out, her jagged nails slicing the air like a scythe.
Which sentence do you find more intense? Both say basically the same thing and both are perfectly good sentences, but most of you probably said that sentence two had a little more power. The word “scythe” is a very descriptive end note. It resounds. Nothing is wrong with the word “air” and that sentence appearing in a story would not be wrong–it just wouldn’t have quite as much power as it could.
Does this mean you need to try to backload every single sentence you write? No, of course not. Many times backloading would make the sentence cumbersome. It would be best to skip backloading if moving the power words to the end of the sentence would make it grammatically awkward.
So when is the best time to backload a sentence?
The ends of scenes/chapters are definitely a prime spots. Also, think about it whenever you want to put special emphasis on a word or idea. A good example of a place you might need extra emphasis would be when revealing a secret.
Backloading is also an idea you can use for whole sentences–not just words. If you have something important to say, it can sometimes get lost in the middle of a paragraph. Putting it at the end of the paragraph draws attention to the idea.
The footsteps drew closer and I held my breath, crouching lower in my hiding spot. The door opened and light filled the room, leaving me blind. I blinked rapidly, anxious for my eyes to adjust. My vision returned slowly, revealing first the outline of a person, then the navy blue jacket and narrow shoulders of a woman with a mop of blonde hair. I gasped. Mary. It couldn’t be. She couldn’t be the spy. But then what was she doing here? Mary turned as if she’d heard my sound of dismay, and I tensed . . . /
The footsteps drew closer and I held my breath, crouching lower in my hiding spot. The door opened and light filled the room, leaving me blind. I blinked rapidly, anxious for my eyes to adjust. My vision returned slowly, revealing first the outline of a person, then the navy blue jacket and narrow shoulders of a woman with a mop of blonde hair. I gasped. Mary.
It couldn’t be. She couldn’t be the spy. But then what was she doing here?
Mary turned as if she’d heard my sound of dismay, and I tensed . . . /
Okay, so that’s a very quickly written example, but do you see how the reveal that Mary was the woman who’d entered the room got a little lost in the middle of the first paragraph? In the second, that reveal ends the paragraph and jumps out at the reader.
Backloading can be a very powerful tool in your wordsmithing arsenal. It isn’t something that should slow you down when you’re writing a first draft, but it can add some extra umph to your sentences so should be considered when you’re revising.
That’s it for me today. Have a happy Thursday everyone. I hope this post helps you ramp up your word power!