I've noticed particularly that writers are having difficulty emphasizing passages in their stories, and I've seen similar techniques attempted to draw attention to things, techniques that don't quite work. There are two ways writers tend to accent passages: set the line off typographically, or turn up the amplitude on the prose.
What I mean by this is when a writer makes a sentence or a sentence fragment into a paragraph of its own. You've seen it before, I'm sure. The story is going along, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
And then there's this sentence.
The story then continues, blah blah blah blah blah. This tactic generally fails, for two reasons. The first reason is that we've all seen this done a bunch of times before. It's a cliché and so it doesn't surprise us (and therefore doesn't move us emotionally). The second reason this fails is because it likely doesn't solve the real problem in the story's structure. More on that in a minute.
What I mean by this is when a writer wraps the bit of prose they want to emphasize up in florid or ecstatic or frenetic language, to heighten the emotional intensity of the passage. You know, the story is going along and Johnny walked down the corridor, moving against the tide of his fellow students, making his way to his locker. He had only a minute before his next class began and he was in a hurry. Johnny found his locker, spun open the combination lock and found his chemistry text. As he angrily slammed the uncaring locker shut, he heard the metal hinges' high-pitched squeaking that scraped tinnily with all the rushing agony he felt for his young life, a miniscule wail lost in the terrific indifferent din of the echoey corridor and so on and so forth for fifty or sixty words and really Johnny's just slamming his locker door but we want to show that he's upset.
This doesn't usually work because in general there's a stylistic shift into the purplest of prose and the actual meaning of the sentence gets buried under all the modifiers and editorializing. In the sentence above, every noun has at least one adjective, every verb at least one adverb, and I'm also telling you how Johnny felt and about what. More effective would be "Johnny slammed his locker door." Really it would, especially if you've solved the structural problems of emphasis.
I promised to talk about structure, didn't I? Yes, I see that I did. Anyway, the biggest failure when writers attempt to emphasize something is structural. It's not the sentence's fault that it doesn't jump off the page the way you want. You need to leave that sentence alone. There are two good rules that I try to follow when I want to emphasize a passage:
1. Use the simplest, plainest language I can in the emphasized passage, because it's the story event that I am trying to highlight, not my godlike prose style.
2. Prepare the event in the preceding passages.
Rule Number 1 is very important, and you can easily lose momentum by throwing a lot of poesy prosey at your
The thing is, a story is an object. It's a thing, that takes up space and has a discrete size and a set beginning, middle and end. It's right there on the page; you can see it for yourself. And within this object are traffic patterns and forces at motion. You've put them there yourself. Sometimes the forces don't go anywhere, or they don't go in the direction you want. This means that your story is broken.
This object of a story should have a single most important moment in it. It can be the Joycean "epiphanic moment" where the protagonist sees something and his life is forever changed. Or it can be simply the moment where the central conflict of the story is either resolved or not, the "crisis moment." Whatever you're doing, be it Joyce-style or Chekhov-style, you should know what the One Big Moment in your story is. And all of your storytelling should aim to set up that moment. The prose on either side of that moment should not muddy the issues, should not lessen that moment, should not for God's sake comment upon that moment. If the moment you're going for does not stand out, does not create emotion in your reader, you should look at the shape of the story. You should look for movement within your story that contradicts what you're attempting. You should look for vagueness that muddles the meaning of your One Big Moment. Don't just look at your Moment, look at the whole story. Very likely, the sentence you are laboring over for hours and hours is not the real problem.
It's hard to really illustrate this without an actual example or two, I know, but time is short and I have stuff to do at the office, so I'll just leave you where you are. The structural lessons are hardest to learn, so if you're just starting out writing stories, I push Rule Number 1 at you and suggest you work with that for a few stories.
*Or, perhaps, I have aesthetic differences with most writers and I label those differences "areas to improve" in other writers.