Friday, 22 July 2011

The Rhythm of Writing

One of the most useful pieces of writing advice I've ever received came in the form of a post on The Writer's Circle site earlier this week. In 'Writing Advice: The Danger of Five Words', Gary Provost was quoted to illustrate the benefits of employing rhythm in writing.

Provost's words were so eloquent in both content and execution that I simply have to reproduce the passage here for you to read:

"This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals- sounds that say listen to this, it is important."

The beauty of Provost's advice is that it demonstrates exactly what it's trying to say. For me - a writer who often struggles with long-windedness - it was eye-opening to witness the creation of a strong rhythm by the varying of sentence length. It was a kick in the pants moment for me to register just how strongly rhythm can enhance the effects of a particular scene, let alone draw in a reader.

It was something of an ironic revelation. I've written poetry since - well - forever. So, rhythm and its effects were not something alien to me. For some reason though, my appreciation of rhythm didn't translate to my novels. I have no idea why. Maybe I put too much importance on the play by play duplication of scenes running in my head. Whatever the reason, my novels definitely suffered as a result.

Provost's passage had its effect though. The huge influence rhythm has over any kind of writing was something I simply couldn't ignore anymore. I've been editing my fantasy manuscript with new eyes as a result. Honestly, I can say the piece is much better now than it has ever been.

I don't know how rhythm works for every writer though, and would love to get more perspectives on this. Do other writers find that being conscious of creating rhythm has made a huge difference to the quality of their work? And do they think something like this comes naturally or can be developed with practice?

Also, I wonder if readers out there would like to see more rhythm in the stories they read? If so, would this apply only to particular genres or across the board? Does every kind of writing benefit from containing a strong rhythm within its wordplay?

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eeleenlee said...

There are definite rhythms in prose but unlike poetry, writers of prose rarely seek it out on a conscious level. If your writing sounds good rhythm is a given.

I also agree with you that the pros of the Internet outweigh the cons, especially as a resource for writers.

Isabella Amaris said...


Thank you for your comment. I think you're right. Writers of prose don't usually seek rhythm out consciously. I'm definitely guilty of this. But am more and more certain that - for writers of prose to whom rhythm doesn't come naturally - this is an important element that has to be incorporated into a piece of writing.

Hmmmm, what you said made me wonder... Could I have neglected this element because I started off by writing poetry that was pretty much stream-of-consciousness? For me, rhythm in poetry came pretty automatically. I probably thought this would be a given in my prose as well... only it wasn't. Interesting. It's back to the great writing board for me::)