“Writers are in the music business.”
“A story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence — especially if it
occurs toward the end — or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation.”
Our inner ear enjoys pleasing patterns. When words flow lyrically and have a satisfying beat, they hold our attention. “Language that lasts almost always resounds with deeply appealing rhythms,” notes Jack Hart, author of the great handbook, A Writer’s Coach, which devotes an entire chapter to rhythm. Consider that classic sentence from “The Crisis” by Tom Paine: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
“That’s a masterpiece of syncopation,” says Jack. “The t sounds cycle through the words in perfect counterpoint to the s sounds. The syllables collect in beautifully balanced groups. The sentence rolls off the tongue with the appeal of waves breaking on a beach.” Simple, elegant, effective: there’s no way to improve that sentence rhythmically — just try it!
Think of writers you love and chances are, there’s music in their prose. Memorable writing pleases not only the eye and brain, but the reader’s inner ear. As Jack puts it: “Truly rhythmic writing balances not only the beats of words, phrases, and sentences, but also the sounds they contain. To reach the pleasure centers of the brain, they, too, must appear in satisfying cycles.” Rhythmic writing triggers a pleasurable response in readers and propels them forward.
Here are a few tips from A Writer’s Coach for bringing more rhythm to your writing:
• Alliteration creates pleasing cycles by repeating initial sounds.
• Punctuation is a valuable tool in creating different beats — use it creatively.
• Mixing long and short sentences creates rhythmic variety.
• Ending paragraphs with a final short word which ends with a hard consonant
like g, p, d or k induces readers to “lean into” your next paragraph.
• In a series, groups of three are most pleasing to the inner ear.
For more advice on rhythmic writing, check out A Writer’s Coach. Write on!