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Alliteration - makes poetry out of prose
And Songs out of Speeches
Have you noticed J K Rowling's extensive use of alliteration? That figure of speech must be one of the many tricks up her sleeve. Here are some examples for you from her:
1. ...flat on his back in a flowerbed outside number four.
2. ...he had hidden himself behind a large hydrangea bush...
3. ...vanished from view before Uncle Vernon's voice...
4. ...smoking on street corners and throwing stones at passing cars
5. Eyes streaming, he swayed, trying to focus on the street to spot the
source of the noise, but he had barely staggered upright...
6. ...resisted the temptation to tie his trunk to his broomstick and set off
7...hiding in flowerbeds in the hope of hearing something
All the above were from the first few pages of the Order of the Phoenix. Did you notice the recurring sounds? That's alliteration. Read the lines aloud and you will see that prose can take on a lyrical quality when such figures of speech are employed. The last example from Rowling, also has rhyme which is alliteration at the end of words and lines: hiding, hearing, something. Alliteration normally occurs, or is used, for first syllables, but not always. Though some call them 'front rhymes.'
"The sibilant sermons of the snake as she discoursed upon the disposition of my sinner's soul seemed ceaseless." Gregory Kirschling, The Gargoyle.
Here are two clever tricks combined. Apart from the shameless alliteration, there is onomatopoeia...read the line aloud please. When you read it aloud, you would appear to speak in parseltongue like Harry Potter! You hiss, due to the profuseness of the sibilants in that sentence. Profuseness of the sibilants in that sentence? Horrors, I seem to have been infected too.
Whomping Willows and Dudley Dursley
In the humourous tradition of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, J K Rowling gives many of her characters alliterative names: Dedalus Diggle, Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff... These lend the characters a spoof-like, stylized quality, and, of course, make them funny. Methinks she overindulges in them, though she gives readers a lot of fun.
Aliiterative names make the characters unreal and flat, reminding me that I'm in a story, a farce, not in real life. Just when I get really lost in that world. But she is wise enough not to give her important characters such names. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley... They are fleshed out characters, real persons, you know.
Tongue Twisters and Tennyson's Treats
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. That's one of the earliest examples of alliteration I picked up and a tongue twister. And this one: Betty Botter bought a bit of butter...
Alfred Tennyson was known to spend hours and sometimes days to get a line just right. Just right and without the strain and pain showing. Check this out:
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet
Myriads of rivulets, hurrying through the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.
Close your eyes and repeat the lines and you can see the rivulets hurrying through the lawn and hear the bees hum. Those lines are the last lines of his Come down, O Maid.
That's not overuse or misuse of alliteration, since it is verse, and contributes to an onomatopoeiac experience. We have to restrain ourselves in prose, and be very, very careful when we want to convey seriousness.
That is the warning implied: Overdo your alliteration, and your prose becomes unreal and frivolous, twisting the tongues of your readers to the bargain. But use it wisely, along with rhyme or onomatopoeia and your writing can be set to music.