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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Received: Rhythm in Writing Makes a BIG Difference

There are lots of questions we ask ourselves while we’re creating or revising a story. Is this scene flowing? Are my characters speaking in believable ways? Is this chapter about a three-legged poodle joining a street gang engaging enough? As careful and crazy diligent writers, we break our stories into tiny parts and investigate each one. The minutiae of choosing the right word or a strong sentence can consume us.

Ultimately, we want to know if we’re communicating effectively and if people “get” what we’ve written. Considering the rhythm of our words is one critical step. It can be the difference between someone reading your book in one day or in one month…same characters, same content.

And by “rhythm,” I’m referring to the combination of three things:

1) How Words Sound in Your Noggin – When the majority of people read, their brains reproduce the same sounds as if they were reading out loud. Crazy, right? This means one VERY important and albeit obvious thing… your writing needs to sound good when spoken. If you can, get a friend and read it out loud to her. Encourage her to tell you when something is confusing or sounds squidgy. While you’re reading you’ll come across all sorts of sentences that stick in your mouth like peanut butter. Change them. If you can’t even read them well, and you wrote them, what do you think they’ll sound like to others? Reading out loud is your first line of defense against suckage.

2) The Effect Sentence Length Has on Reading Ease – When all of your sentences are short, they sound choppy. When they’re all long, they become increasingly difficult to understand. Vary those puppies up. Sentences that are all one length have the sound equivalent of monotonous tones. And boring isn’t sexy. Monotonous sentences can kill your exciting content.

3) Writing the Way Humans Actually Speak – Most people worry about dialogue having a good “flow” and sounding realistic. We phrase our dialogue to be easily understandable and to roll off the tongue. But what about all the other sentences? In my opinion, every single sentence should be approached the same way dialogue is. They should be easy to say, interesting to listen to, and have a voice.

As far as I know, “rhythm” (in the way I used it) isn’t writing jargon. I made it up. But if I’ve explained it in a way that you could both easily understand and easily read out loud, then I’ve done my job. I’ve created something and convinced you of its viability and importance. I’ve told you a story.

Happy writing, everyone!!

Adriana Mather is the 14th generation of Mathers in America, and as such her family has their fingers in many of its historical pies – the first Thanksgiving, the Salem Witch Trials, the Titanic, the Revolutionary War, and the wearing of curly white wigs. Also, Adriana co-owns a production company, Zombot Pictures, in LA that has made three feature films in three years. Her first acting scene in a film ever was with Danny Glover, and she was terrified she would mess it up. Her first young adult novel, HOW TO HANG A WITCH, is forthcoming from Knopf/Random House in Fall 2016. In addition, her favorite food is pizza and she has too many cats.


Anonymous said...

Great article. Reminds me of something choreographers say: chaging up the tempo and steps keeps the audience engaged. Always include a long moment or a pause in even the most up-tempo dance. Those become memorable accents to keep things interesting.

Steven E. Belanger said...

Love this.

Writing rhythm is so important. Writers like Nabokov and Updike succeeded at least partly because of the rhythm of their writing.

This is why one of the writing tropes is, "Read your own writing out loud." Because if something sounds clunky, it'll sound clunky in the reader's ear / mind, so you have to fix it.

One of my pet peeves when re-reading my own writing, or reading it out loud: I can't have two consecutive words beginning with "th." Like, "It's all about the things we carried." Consecutive "th" sounds just ring clunky to me.

And it's while you're re-reading / saying your writing for rhythm that you realize and fix a myriad of other problems.

Adriana Mather said...

Thank you both! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post :)