The Rhythm of Words

Breezes dimple across the water and start wild grasses dipping and dancing. There’s a special rhythm nature brings to the seasons.

What do you think of when someone talks about rhythm? The repetitive thudding bass from the convertible that pulls up beside you at a traffic light? Maybe the toe-tapping that accompanies a rousing piece of music by a favourite band?

What about the rhythm of words?

Rhythm in Writing

I came across a fascinating ‘toy’ recently — the Rhythmwriter. Try it out and then come back so we can carry on our conversation.

Go ahead,

click on the link.

I’ll wait.

Isn’t it fun?

No matter the notes you choose, the resulting pulse is like a dancing heartbeat… a vital signs monitor gone berserk. One bar of assorted notes repeats to create a pleasing rhythm. At least, it’s pleasing until the repetition works its way into your head like an earworm and begins to drive you mad.

We need a certain amount of variety, in the rhythm of both music and writing.

“Just as musical notes blend together to create an auditory tapestry, so should your words.  Mix it up, shuffle the deck, alter the rhythm of your words.  Punctuate a paragraph with some staccato sentences.  Layer your language with elaborate harmonies.  Refrain from playing the same refrain over and over.  Use this musical analogy to think about your audience while you write and don’t forget to vary the rhythm of your words.” [Sari Mathes]

In writing, rhythm is achieved by varying the length of sentences and the style of their structure. We want the end result to sound like us — to reflect our literary voice — but at the same time we want the listening experience to be pleasant.

“The aims here are:

  1. to avoid overusing any one sentence structure in a way that becomes a distraction to the reader,
  2. to move gracefully back and forth between the clarity of simple sentences and the richness of complex sentences, and
  3. to evoke the rhythms of your own vocal style, with the same rising and falling of pitch, the same ebb and flow of phrasing between breaths.” [Michael Fleming]

Fleming suggests the best way to establish a natural rhythm is by reading your work aloud. I wonder how many writers do this. Do you? Do you read your manuscripts aloud while in the sanctuary of a closed room, play the words back to yourself via text-to-speech software, or perhaps share them with others at public readings or critique gatherings?

Are you conscious of developing rhythm in your writing? Do you think it’s more important in poetry than in prose?

~  ~  ~


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

11 thoughts on “The Rhythm of Words

  1. That was fun!! Thanks, Carol. And yes, I do read my work aloud. I learned to to that when I was preaching – because – well, preaching is an aural medium. So I’ve just kept doing it and it truly helps. Thanks for this.

  2. I thought it was a fun device, especially with the beat unencumbered by a particular note.

    Thanks to each of you for adding to the conversation here, and sharing your thoughts. I think it can be a revelation to read while recording, and then listen to the playback of ourselves. A little daunting at times, but useful. 🙂

  3. Variety is the spice of writing. The rhythm one chooses evokes certain emotions. Short words in short staccato sentences invoke motion and tension. Polysyllabic compound-complex sentences make one feel more languid and leisurely. As a general rule, that is. There are exceptions to everything.

  4. Ooh, fun new procrastination-toy! 😉

    I completely agree with the music analogy and the value of listening to your work to see if the rhythm is pleasant. I’ve read my own work aloud (when I’m alone at home!) and have listened to it using text-to-speech feature — both were helpful. (But a big “heavens, no!” to public readings, lol! Not for me.)

  5. Loved it. That was fun. Too distracting though, LOL. I’m very conscious of rhythm in my writing. Must have been influenced by the music in our home when I was growing up, without really being aware of it for years. Music and words are my passion. Oh, and food!

  6. Varying the rhythm can be a dual purpose device. Besides making passages pleasant to read, the rhythm of sentences quickly establishes an atmosphere. As Judith suggests, there is emotion involved.

    Shari, I’ve dared to read some of my work at public gatherings… those are the times when my heart is hammering so hard I have no idea what I’m saying! Thank goodness for a printed page to follow. LOL!

    Food? Maybe chocolate? Isn’t that associated with everything good in life, Joylene?

  7. At the moment, I am listening to the rhythm of the rain falling from the eaves. The sounds soothes. A few days ago, the crows gathered just past the fence in the thicket, arguing it seemed, and ruining the glory of the songbirds. I was irritated. I think I read aloud even in my mind. I hear the words, especially characters in fictional stories. Those voices move me emotionally. Rhythm is certainly something to consider when writing words for ourselves and others. Thanks for sharing the link. Loved it.

  8. What fun! I almost didn’t come back. 🙂

    Yes, I read my writing aloud–most of the time. And poetry… Tania Runyan suggests reading aloud at least three times. I liked reading this sentence several times, “Breezes dimple across the water and start wild grasses dipping and dancing.”

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