Monday, December 15, 2008

Dance to The Beat

When working with clients, I encourage them to read their work aloud and get a feel for the rhythm, which is an important element of style. If a sentence reads awkwardly, the writer has lost the rhythm. EXAMPLE: From Night of The Blackbird by Heather Graham:

“Kelly’s Pub was already in full swing when Dan O’Hara emerged from the back room of the tavern, the guest quarters, where he’d been staying.”

Done right, the rhythm of a story will ebb and flow along with the build up of the most dramatic moments - mountains and valleys. When you are going up the mountain the pace will be quicker and more concise. In the valleys you can relax and take the time to admire the scenery.

In Mystic River, Dennis Lehane has a wonderful sense of that ebb and flow. In the scene I’m going to quote from, three boys have been messing around on the street, and the cops show up. When they leave, they take one boy with them:

“Jimmy and Sean stepped back, and the cop hopped in his car and drove off. They watched it reach the corner and then turn right, Dave’s head, darkened by distance and shadows, looking back at them. And then the street was empty again, seemed to have gone mute with the slam of the car door. Jimmy and Sean stood where the car had been, looked at their feet, up and down the street, anywhere but at each other.”

Authors who are also poets usually have a wonderful sense of the rhythm in their work. A perfect example is Jory Sherman who was first published as a poet. This example from his book, The Ballad of Pinewood Lake, illustrates that poetic influence:

“She is Angela and I brought her here to Pinewood Lake for a reason. She is to be my woman.

I am to be her man.

There is nothing that cannot be created out of this relationship. We will have a green garden. We will build a home and an Eden. We will look at pines and fall in love every day. We will raise Colin in this place on the mountain where he can feel the sun and smell the fragrances of these trees. He will fish in the lake and catch trout, bass, and catfish. Angela and I will show him how to cook his catch, taste him as he smiles and speaks his excited onomatopoeia.”

Not only has Jory painted a beautiful picture with his words, he added layer after layer of characterization and plot. We can feel the protagonist’s need to control things in his life, his yearning for something beyond the confines of his present life, his desperate hope that he will find it at Pinewood Lake.

Be conscious of the rhythm of your work and give readers a flawless read.


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.
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1 comment :

  1. Okay, I'm convinced. I must read more poetry! It will make me a better writer.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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