Rhythmic writing

By Tracey Arial


Most people recognize that poets, Dr. Seuss and Shakespeare use rhythm to make stories more powerful, but any writer can do the same.

Consider using similar effects in your own stories.

Readers react to the sound of the words they hear in their head as they read. By varying the lengths of sentences, paragraphs and chapters, you can change the mood of your story. Authors who use rhythm effectively carry readers along with them, forcing them to slow down or speed up as the story trajectory requires.

Short sentences emphasize facts. John McCrae’s In Flanders Field uses short sentences and emotional content together to evoke great passion for soldiers, especially the middle paragraph:

We are the dead. Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved, and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields.

You can read the whole poem or check out a great documentary about McCrae’s life interspersed with the poem:

Consider also Speak White by Michèle Lalonde:

Notice how Lalonde uses short French sentences interspersed with short English sentences to make a powerful argument against cultural and economic colonization.

Well-written long meandering sentences carry a reader into a complicated thought process through description. John McPhee’s thoughts about writers, for example, are not only funny, but they have a sense of movement that makes you feel his angst.

If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer.

This quote came from a New Yorker essay about writer’s block. Read the whole thing and experience a master writer at work.

Or even better, read John Branch’s Snow Fall. The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. The suburb long-form story is accompanied by graphics, photos and infographs, but the story is the best part.

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