|Posted by Kristen Hamilton on September 26, 2018 at 6:00 PM|
One mark of a talented author is rhythmic writing, but this can be a difficult writing strength to master. Rhythm in writing is defined as the way the words and sounds come together, usually to create a beat. Long sentences might sound smoother but more rich and complex, and short sentences are snappier and easier to understand. When these two types of sentences are combined, they can create an incredible rhythm to your writing.
Punctuation and stress patterns of words make up the rhythm of a sentence, making long sentences sound smoother and short sentences snappier. If you read a paragraph and find yourself drawn in with a smooth flow of sentences, alternating between long and short sentences, you're reading something with good rhythm.
The number-one way to achieve rhythm in your writing is to vary the length of sentences. Use a mix of short and long sentences to create beautiful prose. Offset longer paragraphs with short, one-sentence paragraphs, especially to draw attention to something.
Let's take a look at Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See:
"When she opens the bedroom window, the noise of the airplanes becomes louder. Otherwise, the night is dreadfully silent: no engines, no voices, no clatter. No sirens. No footfalls on the cobbles. Not even gulls. Just a high tide, one block away and six stories below, lapping at the base of the city walls.
And something else.
Something rattling softly, very close. She eases open the left-hand shutter and runs her fingers up the slats of the right. A sheet of paper has lodged there."
Do you see that magic? Better yet, can you feel it? That's what rhythmic writing is all about.
Let's also take a look at Insights: If Boys Never Learn, Men Won't Know by Quincy C. Newell, which I edited. I read this example in the corresponding Facebook video.
Did you know that there is no such thing as fear? Really, it doesn't exist. Fear is a name that was created to identify a biological reaction that your body has to certain external and internal stimuli. That's why fear is purely individual. Every person has a different set of "fears" that's personal only to them.
Need another example? Let's go deeper and take a look at this awesome illustration of sentence lengths by Gary Provost:
Fun, right? You can see here that the one step to creating rhythmic writing is to vary the length and type of your sentences. This creates cadence, which better engages readers and pushes them forward, encouraging them to keep reading. But, of course, in doing this one thing, you must follow some rules:
1. Don't overuse any one sentence type or length, as this can become distracting. (Take a look at the first paragraph in the image above.)
2. Read your work aloud. It's the best way to see if anything is "off" with the rhythm of your writing. A too-long sentence might make you run out of breath, or too many short sentences in a row will make your writing sound choppy.
3. Notice the words or syllables that naturally become stressed in the rhythm of your writing. Are these the words you want emphasized? If not, something needs to change. Our brains naturally pay more attention to the beginnings and endings of sentences and paragraphs--that's why, when I'm editing, I pay close attention to how sentences end, generally swapping out weaker words for strong, emotion-filled ones. We also naturally emphasize shorter sentences and words, so these stick out more, whether we're reading silently or aloud.
Some tips and tricks:
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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of
Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing
services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several
authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have
Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she
can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her
four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,
eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is
likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.