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Finding The Rhythm In Your Writing
One of the Best
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I have a dream today!”
If you have often wondered what all the fuss about rhythm in writing is, you need look no further than some of the great speeches in history. The section above, from Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, is a classic example of rhythm in writing.
So what is rhythm with regards to writing?
Rhythm in writing is the ebb and flow of the words. It involves patterns and sentence structure so that your words have a pace and a beat….just like music.
Rhythm is one of the least mentioned aspects of writing and one of the least understood, but it is crucial to master it so that your good writing can become great writing.
Finding a rhythm to your writing is not an easy task, so let’s take a look at a few tips that can help you begin to learn this important aspect of writing.
Vary Sentence Length
Writers fall into comfortable patterns, and one pattern they are prone to is the length of a sentence. Try varying the word count from time to time, and try to have the length of the sentence match that which you are trying to say.
If you are trying to portray excitement, shorter sentences are probably best. If you are trying to portray boredom, then rambling sentences might work there. Ask yourselves what it is you are trying to say. What emotions do you wish to evoke in the reader, and then vary sentence length to achieve those emotions. Notice the flow in King’s speech….from one sentence to the next, it is like a musical score. Remember that you are the conductor of the written word, so grab your baton and lead your orchestra.
A Great Book To Have
Do you feel your writing has rhythm?
Shift Words and Phrases Around for Better Effect
Remember that there is great flexibility in the English language, so use that flexibility to your advantage. In fact, I’ll go you one further and tell you that at times it is perfectly alright to break some of the grammar rules that we were taught in school.
Instead of “he quietly listened,” perhaps you could write “he listened quietly” for better flow, or “he listened with the quietness of a church mouse.”
I will say this again and I’ll probably say it several more times before this article is finished: your writing must flow. Using only short sentences is like drilling a cavity without painkiller. Using one long sentence after another is like being stuck in a small room with a Russian novelist. Neither are great options!
JFK Inaugural Speech
The Bible For Freelance Writers
Learn to Write in Fragments
I know, I know, Sister Mary Joseph is rolling over in her grave at this very moment. How dare I suggest that you break the rules of English?
At times, proper English gets in the way of great writing. You can quote me on that. J Think about it for a second. We all talk in sentence fragments from time to time. It is our natural, default way of talking, right?
I was thumbing through “The Grapes of Wrath” in preparation for this article, and to my joyous wonder Steinbeck wrote sentence fragments throughout that book. He understood, and you should as well, that rules are meant to be broken at times when it benefits the end result.
Just don’t do it too often or people will come to suspect that you don’t have a clue how to write properly. (if you were paying attention I just broke another rule).
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Mood to Rhythm and Rhythm to Mood
Stop right now and head to YouTube. Pull up the speech by JFK where he says “ask not what your country can do for you…..” and listen to the rhythm of that speech. It is a thing of wonder. His words, phrases, and sentence length match the mood of what he is trying to convey. The same is true of King’s speech. Listen to that one on YouTube if you want to better grasp how mood can affect rhythm and vice versa.
If you are describing nature then your words should sound like a gentle brook flowing over smooth rocks. If you are describing a revolution then your words should sound like explosions and misery. As a general rule, words with hard consonants carry harsher sounds and thus convey a harsher emotion.
Practice, grasshoppers, and see if you don’t agree.
Listen to the flow of words on MLK speech
Build It up and Tear It Down
Again I refer you to King’s speech. You will notice that he repeats phrases to build up the rhythm until he reaches the climax. It is like an orchestra building tempo and then a new section begins, slower, more relaxed, and then……
Use the counterpoint of tension and relief in your writing. Build, build and build and then strip away the tension and allow the readers a moment to catch their breath. This is a very effective way of writing. It engages the reader. One can almost feel the heartbeat of the reader increase as the words drive them forward, and then the pulse slows as the writing slows. It is a beautiful thing to see when it is done by a master.
Now That You Know How to Do It….just Do It!
I am going to start from the assumption that all of you want to become better writers. Whether you write SEO content or you write novels, your goal should be to improve and be the best that you can be. These tips will help you to accomplish that task.
Practice makes perfect so get out there and practice. Becoming an exceptional writer takes work; it does not happen by accident.
For those of you who play a musical instrument, this should come easier than for those who are musically challenged. Listen to the music. Feel the emotions. Now translate that into words and you will be well on your way to becoming a good writer.
Listen to the music….feel the music….become the music.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”