Friday, May 14, 2010

Writing as an Art: Words That Sing

Most people enjoy music. They like the rhythm, the cadence, the beat, and most of all, the sound. Music can calm the troubled mind, soothe the angry spirit, salve the battered heart.

Far fewer people, however, enjoy reading. They can’t find the rhythm, the cadence is missing, the beat is off, and the sound grates on their psyches. Troubled minds, angry spirits, and battered hearts might be touched if the words sang, but sadly, dissonant sounds incite negative attitudes when harmonies should be inspiring readers to turn pages to see what happens next. What’s the problem here?

The answers could be many, but likely the readers don’t hear the melody. The words don’t sing; they don’t resonate with the soul; they neither caress the spirit with their joy nor stab the heart with their pain.

So how do we make the words in our books sing? Let’s have a little fun here. Below you will find a grammatically correct paragraph that gives new meaning to “boring.” It’s taken from a lesson in my Pen and Sword Writing Workshop Manual in the “Giving Sentences Form, Shape, and Variety” chapter.

Writers and editors, please tell me how you would make it sing. Here’s the paragraph:

Maria stepped off the bus and looked around. The employment agency should have been right there. She didn’t see it. She looked in her purse for the piece of paper she had written the address on. It wasn’t there. She must have left it by the telephone. She looked at her watch. Her appointment was in five minutes. She wouldn’t be there because she couldn’t recall the name of the agency. She wiped away the tears in her eyes with the back of her hand. Then she turned around and sat down on the bench at the bus stop. It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore. She probably wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway. She never did. 

Linda Lane, a writer/editor/publisher, has completed her second novel, a psychological drama entitled Treacherous Tango. Reader feedback has been exceptional, and she is currently working on the sequel. You may contact her by email.


  1. it's good to see this information in your post, i was looking the same but there was not any proper resource, thanx now i have the link which i was looking for my research.

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  2. I like your term "words that sing". Sometimes when I read great prose, I feel that's exactly what it is. I always wonder how they are able to do this; to make the words sing. Some of the best examples I ahve seen are in the books by the French author Jean genet.

    Cold As Heaven

  3. Not sure this is "singing," but I'll give it a try. Thanks for the exercise.

    Maria twisted her ankle as she stepped off the bus. Shaking her throbbing foot, she tipped her head back to gaze at the top of the imposing skyscraper that erupted from the granite walk in front of her. The address highlighted in gold-leaf above the doorway confirmed she was at the right location--but as she searched her purse for the napkin she'd used to scribble the name of the agency, she discovered condensation from her water bottle had smeared the note. It was no longer legible.

    With a pang, she took a step toward the revolving door and halted. The massive office tower looked to be about forty stories. Fifty maybe. Somewhere inside that enormous structure, an employment representative waited to meet her.

    Choking down a sob, she turned blindly toward the peeling bench at the bus stop and sank down. Crumpling the damp piece of tissue, she used it to wipe her eyes. They probably wouldn’t have hired her anyway. They never did.

  4. Okay. I'll play.

    The smooth soles of Maria's new black business pumps skimmed over the last step of the bus, nearly propelling her to the sidewalk in her haste. As she grabbed the handrail to steady herself, she caught another glimpse of her watch. Five minutes. Panic gripped her. She couldn't be late for this appointment. She'd spent her last dollar on the damn shoes--after wearing out the old ones searching for work. A wave of diesel fumes engulfed her as the bus screeched away from the stop, leaving her alone on a street pockmarked with shuttered bars and check-cashing joints. The irony smacked her in the face. Almost a year since she'd had a check to cash. But this couldn't be right. Where was the employment agency? Her stomach clenched as she rifled through the loose mints and crumpled tissues in her purse, hunting in mounting desperation for the slip of paper on which she'd scribbled the name and address of the office. Where was it? Keys, an old lipstick, a half-eaten breakfast bar, a transit token. Her eyes stung and she blinked away the tears. The receipt for the shoes. She wouldn't need them now.

  5. Check out this one, a great example of words that sing, from Miracle of the Rose by Jean Genet:

    "Of all the state prisons in France, Fontrevrault is the most disquieting. It was Fontrevrault that gave me the strongest impression of anguish and affliction, and I know that convicts who have been in other prisons have, at the mere mention of its name, felt the emotion, a pang, comparable to mine."

    And so on, for another 250 pages ... brilliant writing by one of the greatest authors of the 20th century >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  6. As a reader, I recognize singing prose when I see it, but understanding why my own chapter or scene doesn't sing is not so easy. That's why we have editors, bless their sweet hearts.

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  8. Wish I had time to play, but alas, I must get offline soon. But I enjoyed the rewrites so far. Good job to both the authors who put their work out there. And I loved the excerpt from Genet.

  9. This is great and I will put it to practice!

  10. Stepping from the bus, Maria saw no sign of the employment agency. A turn of the clutter in her purse failed to produce the written address carelessly left by her phone. A turn on her toes offered no clue. Tears blurred a look at her watch, she wiped them with the back of her hand. "No matter," she thought, sitting on the bus stop bench with five minutes till her appointment. "Wouldn't have gotten the job anyway. I never do."

  11. Very cool exercise. More of these would be great.


    The bus rattled off, choking Maria with its exhaust. Coughing, blinded by whirling dust, she stepped away from the bus stop. Careful of her make up, the single mother wiped away tears, reading the sign of the strip mall.

    AppleTime Employment wasn't there.

    Maria's heart sank. Her bus had been late, giving her barely any time to make it to the temp agency. Fighting off panic, she began digging through her briefcase, looking for the address. It had to be in here. She needed this job so bad.

    Tears flowed when she couldn't find the one slip of paper that held her salvation. Her last two dollars spent on bus fare, and she wouldn't get the job. Maria sank to the curbstone, not caring that her clothes would be wrinkled, or that she might scuff her shoes. Nothing mattered compared to her failure.


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