Originally published July 9, 2010.
Do you ever read aloud from a favorite book? Or does a particularly poignant or empowering passage or poem inspire you to verbally articulate its content?
All good writing possesses a rhythm—a beat—that sets the tone for the action, the scene, the discussion. A competent writer “hears” it and uses it to reach out and touch the reader. He or she creates the rhythm, puts it in place, and marches to the beat. The reader follows along behind.
Have you ever listened—I mean really listened—to a great drummer? Drums do a lot more than make ear-splitting noise. Drum solos can express a variety of emotions from the gentleness of a summer breeze (using the brushes) to waves lapping on the shore or a jog through the park (the sticks) to the power of a thunderstorm (the deep resonance of the bass). Morse code messages can be tapped out on the rim and worked into an overall piece. The rhythm can inspire an entire dance without benefit of any other instrument. The snare, high hat, cymbals, and bass all communicate with the listener, creating different emotions, different moods, different mental pictures, depending on the drummer’s intent and the listener’s experience.
How does this relate to writing? The same freedom the drummer employs to express himself through percussion, the writer uses to create a word picture, first for himself and then for his readers. Why him- or herself first? Writing is an extension of self. What we cannot imagine, we cannot write. Who we are comes through in our characters—our dark sides as well as our brighter ones. Whatever our passions, our loves, our fears, our hatreds, our experiences, we reveal them in some fashion through our stories and our characters. Then the rhythm of our words creates a work—gentle, powerful, fierce, compelling. Our emotions determine the beat. Is it jazz? rock? rap? ballad? symphony? a combination of these or other forms? Is it harmonious or dissonant? Whatever it may be, we want our readers to listen to the rhythm and march to the beat. That’s what makes them want to buy our next book.
How do you use rhythm in your writing? When proofing a draft, do you know when you’ve missed a beat? when the story ceases to flow? when the rhythm is off? when the reader no longer marches to the beat? Please tell us how you handle these writing bumps in the road in your works.
Linda Lane is an editor and writing coach. Her team of award-winning consultants covers the gamut from fiction to nonfiction to screenwriting to memoirs to poetry. Learning to write well is an investment in your future that will save you thousands of dollars in editing fees over the lifetime of your career and earn you the respect of fellow writers, reviewers, and critics alike. Visit Linda at http://www.denvereditor.com/.