Friday, December 9, 2011

Writing as an Art: Marching to the Beat

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.
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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/.

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10 comments :

  1. Sheesh ... being rhythmically challenged, I was told I couldn't dance ... now, I can't write either ... I'm doomed.

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  2. I read my manuscripts to myself when I'm writing. If a sentence seems awkward, it needs to be changed.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

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  3. You're spot on about musical qualities to pacing one's writing. I often find during proof reading that I need to chop up some portions because the beat of the words was not right. Sometimes too slow, others, too fast. I make sure that drum is tuned, but then again, I played drums in band. Go figure.

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  4. I read somewhere once that you should read your writing out loud, preferably to someone, so that you can hear the tone and flow of the story. This is a great post, especially for people who might be editing from NaNo.

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  5. I totally agree. Rhythm is key to all good writing.
    +followed

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  6. As a choreographer turned writer, I have always felt the importance of the pulse . . . the beat . . .the rhythm of writing. Life is, after all, about rhythm from the way we walk down the street, to the way our fingers dance on the computer keyboard, to the way we move around the kitchen to prepare a meal. When I write, I always check the rhythm of my words by reading out loud. They tell me when they’re off by tripping me up. Reading Linda’s piece reminds me of the importance of keep my rhythmic awareness alive.

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  7. Like Mr. Christopher Hudson above, I too am rhythmically challenged. I can't dance, I can't sing, and my poetry is terrible. Really, really terrible. I'm like a blind person trying to paint.

    When I'm writing prose, sometimes something just doesn't sound right. I don't know why, and I don't know how to fix it. So I write the same sentence over and over, making small changes each time, until it sounds better.

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  8. very good post! need to say you did a great job and i really appreciate it!

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  9. Too good man! Thanks for sharing these with the world. This is a must see and must watch piece of work which I would definitely recommend to my friends. Keep on posting such delightful work. You made my day buddy…

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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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