Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Rhythm in Prose

I always advise people to read their work aloud. It does several things:

1. Makes you realise if there are any grammatical errors.
2. Shows where there are clumsy sentences (where you stumble reading, you can be sure the reader will also stumble).
3. Gives you a sense of the rhythm of your writing, particularly when it comes to the dialogue.

Rhythm is something we don't often talk about, but it's there in everything we write. I write with a different rhythm to you, and you write with a different rhythm to your friend and so on. Our rhythm is as individual as our fingerprints - it's one of the aspects that makes up our 'voice' as a writer.

People speak with different rhythms, and this is one of the hardest things to get across in dialogue. You have to hear how your characters speak, and then transfer their different speech patterns to the page. If you've got a good ear you'll do it naturally, but other people have to practice - a good starting point is learning to listen.

Try saying both these phrases aloud: "That's enough" and "Enough already"

I bet you said them with a different intonation. They mean the same, but the different words give a different rhythm, which show a different accent, which suggests a different background. Read a Roddy Doyle novel, for example, and the Irish accent rings out clearly through the rhythm of the sentences. Listening and reading out are key in developing this for yourself.


Karen said...

I look for this all the time now, when I'm reading. It drives me mad!

Jim Murdoch said...

I used to do that more but I still do on occasion if I’m in doubt. Another thing I tried was getting the computer to read the text to me. Readers have improved considerably over the years – even the free ones – and are an interesting way to distance yourself from your manuscript.

Sarah Duncan said...

Just wait until I post about rhythm in Emily Dickinson, Karen, to be driven mad (cackles furiously).

I've never tried getting the computer to read aloud - or even thought about it. The Kindle does it, but without any intonation or understanding which rather misses the point.