From the Archives: The Rhythm of Words

This has already been a full week, and now we’re heading into Easter weekend. I hope you’ll forgive me for choosing another post from the archives.

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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?

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#wipMadness Day 26: Making Your Mark

One of my favourite sights and sounds at our remote cabin is of the loons. There is always one or two pair of Common Loons there, and soon after we arrive every summer and fall we are greeted by their unique call. My fascination with loons has grown since first encountering them when my parents took me there as a child over sixty years ago. As a result, I’ve also developed quite a collection of loon items — carvings, glassware, sculptures, and this delightful watercolour painting, commissioned by my hubby as a surprise gift for me. The artist is a member of our church, Elizabeth Hancock.

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I remember her saying how it had taken her some time to decide on how she wanted to depict the subject … that loons are so often shown swimming, with or without a baby, and she preferred to paint something more distinctive.

The result is unique and beautiful, and holds a place of honour on our living room wall.

Signature

Liz’s signature tells anyone who views this painting that she is its creator — she designed its story and chose how she would tell it within the context of its watercolour medium.

Writers do much the same as they pen their stories in text. Names on title pages and book covers announce to readers that the words tell a unique version of a particular story … one drawn from the author’s imagination and soul.

For both writer and artist, once released into the world, the creation and the creator’s mark become a part of history, forever inseparable. Wow! Maybe that’s why passion has to be such an integral part of the process.

As you create this week, I hope you’ll feel the passion, the inspiration and also the responsibility as you strive to make your special mark!

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This is the last Thursday of #wipMadness, so this is my final contribution to our month of writing-reading-blogging madness. There are just five days left in the countdown to its end and to the day when we’ll all have to take stock of our month’s achievements. Make each one count, fellow Wipsters! And don’t forget to check in tomorrow with Tonette.

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(If you’re in the Maple Ridge, BC area and would like to see more of Liz Hancock’s work, you might enjoy ‘The Art Studio Tour’ on Mother’s Day weekend. Check it out here!)

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Monday Distractions

Yes, it’s Monday again, and yes, I’m late with today’s blog post, but I was distracted by three things this morning, and it’s all Jan Drexler‘s fault. (Of course, my short attention span might have had something to do with it, too.)

First, was her Facebook post sharing an opportunity to query a particular publishing house. It caught my attention and I had to go investigate.

Then I came across her meatloaf recipe on Yankee-Belle Cafe’s website. Meatloaf is a favourite around here, but hers looked and sounded like something special so I had to take time to copy out the recipe. At the end she also posted a link to this beautiful song with graphics that took me right back into my morning devotions.

So here I am, an hour later, still without a blog post, and it’s time to get on to other things. Sorry! Maybe you’ll check out the links, get distracted yourself, and forget my shortcomings.

I’ll leave you with some shenanigans by two of my other Monday morning distractions. (Did someone say, “Squirrel”?)

This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

[Psalm 118:24]

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Is there a genre for fictional tulips and daffodils?

Tulips don’t grow in my garden. Deer eat them before the buds even develop. I’ve planted dozens upon dozens of daffodils and narcissus because I’m told deer don’t like them. They bloom beautifully the first year, but only a few make it through to the next, and by the third year there are none. I suspect the squirrels are to blame, but I have no proof.

I love the cheery colour of spring bulbs but have to make do with the store-bought variety. There’s no point trying to grow them where they aren’t going to thrive.

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I’m discovering a novel is a little like a garden. If the conditions aren’t right, it can’t develop its full potential. Unfortunately, I’m the one responsible for providing a nurturing environment, and that involves more than fencing out marauders.

I can do extensive research and come up with lots to nourish a budding idea. I can refuse to let the I.E. thwart my attempts, invest time and energy to revise and rewrite, get professional editing and helpful critiques. But transplant that ready-to-blossom story into a less than receptive location and it’s probably going to wither and die.  Or be buried indefinitely in an agent’s slush pile.

Compiling a list of agents and going from A to Z in a dedicated submission process is like throwing a handful of flower bulbs into the air and hoping they’ll land in a fertile growing medium and survive. There are websites like Chuck Sambuchino‘s that provide listings of what agents are currently looking for, others that demystify the many different genres, and still others that explain how to classify our novels and/or understand why it’s important to know where they fit so we send them only to those agents who read our genre.

One thing I’ve learned over the past fifteen years of writing novels and studying the publishing industry is that we can do everything right and still not meet with success. Perhaps it’s time to change tactics.

I’m thinking of planting crocuses for next spring. Oh, wait…there was a flash of fur in the garden. I wonder if squirrels like crocus bulbs.

Squirrel

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Tulips

By A. E. Stallings

The tulips make me want to paint,
Something about the way they drop
Their petals on the tabletop
And do not wilt so much as faint,
Something about their burnt-out hearts,
Something about their pallid stems
Wearing decay like diadems,
Parading finishes like starts,
Something about the way they twist
As if to catch the last applause,
And drink the moment through long straws,
And how, tomorrow, they’ll be missed.
The way they’re somehow getting clearer,
The tulips make me want to see
The tulips make the other me
(The backwards one who’s in the mirror,
The one who can’t tell left from right),
Glance now over the wrong shoulder
To watch them get a little older
And give themselves up to the light.

Source: Poetry (June 2009)

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#wipMadness Day 5: On the Shady Side

Every spring my hubby does battle with the invasion of moss and lichen in our lawns. He’s already making plans to do the annual de-thatching, raking and liming, and he’s muttering non-too-quietly about it.

Despite the myth that says moss grows on the north side of trees, moss grows wherever it can find moisture and shade — it requires them to survive and reproduce — and our property provides the ideal conditions. It’s not just on the trees; it happily multiplies through the lawns and gardens.

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We have a neighbour who wonders why our rites of spring always include de-mossing the lawns. She says moss is green, it doesn’t require mowing, and it’s soft under foot, so she’s content to let it have its way with her yard. She’s right on all three counts, but given its freedom, it would (and does) spread through our flowerbeds, too, and eventually would choke all the plants we’ve tried so hard to nurture.

Of course there’s a writing analogy here. The moss reminds me of lethargy, which can be very pervasive and, if allowed to take hold, can spread to every one of our endeavours and choke our ambition and creativity.

Lethargy starts with a tiny seed of procrastination. The things we choose to do in those times we would normally be writing, aren’t bad. In fact, they can be quite pleasant, useful, even necessary things. But given half a chance, procrastination can grow into a nasty patch of writer’s block, so that when we eventually try to return to writing, it’s a struggle.

I’m here to tell you that we make that miserable old Internal Editor’s day when we give in to the first temptation to skip writing in favour of scrubbing the garage floor with an old toothbrush. From there he knows he’s got it made because we’ll have to recuperate with tea, a magazine and chocolate. (I know full well every writer has a store of hidden chocolate somewhere for just such moments of dire need!) Once we’re on the couch, guilt will sneak in, hand in hand with lethargy, and all is lost.

Let’s make up our minds to hang on to our March commitments and spend time every day working on our goals. We won’t allow the tiniest bit of procrastination to take hold and give lethargy a chance to settle in. We certainly don’t want to give our I.E. any gloating opportunities, do we? It’s too hard on morale. ;)

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I hope you’re well on the way to reaching your first week’s goal(s). Let us know in the comments how you’re doing. Check-in tomorrow at Tonette’s blog: http://tonettedelaluna.com , and keep an eye on the list of prize winners. You never know when your name may come up in a random draw.

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What’s your weakness when it comes to making excuses for not writing? With all this sunshine coaxing me outside, mine could easily be gardening. The moss is calling my name.

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Moss

Come away…

Do you remember those first-day-of-school essays? The ones that asked, “What did you do last summer?” Today I’m sharing a photo essay about what I did last weekend.

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“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place
and rest a while.”

[Mark 6:31]

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On Friday I mentioned that I was gearing up for the annual March Madness writers’ challenge. All the details, and the place to sign up and record your goal for the month, is on Denise Jaden‘s blog. But if you’ve already signed up, plan to take a moment each day to check in with the ‘host of the day’ to receive a message of encouragement and to share your day’s accomplishments (or frustrations, as the case may be). Today’s Monday, so be sure to click on over to Kim Baccellia‘s blog here for #MarchMadness Day #2.

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Super, Black and Blue, Full and New

No, I’m not bruised. I’m referring to the moon. There hasn’t been one visible in recent night skies. I would have called it a New Moon, except I read that “the third new moon in an astronomical season with four, is called a ‘Black’ moon”, and Wednesday, February 18th was a ‘Black’ one.

I’ve taken photos of Super moons, Blue moons, and just plain full moons, but a Black one defies my abilities, thus my photo of a near-full one instead. (I know, that makes no sense at all. Cut me some slack! It’s all I could come up with.)

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Wednesday also marked the beginning of Lent, the period prior to Easter when “we journey through Jesus’ adult life as he reveals to us who God is and how much God loves us.”* Somehow it seems fitting that we should begin Lent in darkness. There will be full moons between now and Easter, of course, but consider this: on April 4th there will be a full moon accompanied by a total lunar eclipse — that’s on the eve of Easter Sunday, which falls on the 5th.

I expect it will bring home the reality of the Easter scriptures.

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When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

[Psalm 8:3-4, NIV]

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 * Pastor Gerard Booy,
Haney Presbyterian Church