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Monday, April 16, 2012


Great prose has cadence, a rhythm. 

These lyrics by Dierks Bentley is an example. Note the two-count beat at the end of each stanza:

“Becky was a beauty from south Alabama
Her daddy had a heart like a nine-pound hammer
Think he even did a little time in the slammer
What was I thinkin'?

She snuck out one night and met me by the front gate
Her daddy came out wavin' that twelve gauge
We tore out the drive he peppered my tailgate
What was I thinkin'?” - What Was I Thinkin, Dierks Bentley,

Of course, poetry is the shining example of tempo, of words arranged to a beat.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” – The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

But novels, especially narrative, can benefit from using this technique.

“The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.” – The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.” – The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

And what about the Limerick?

“There once was a man of noblesse
Who said spices weren’t too excess.
But the sauce was quite hot
And caused him to snot
Which ruined his chance to impress.” -- Off the Cuff, CD Coffelt

Read poetry and get a feel for the beat. Use this in your writing.


Nick Wilford said...

Very interesting post - I'm not naturally a poet, so that would be something I really would have to work on. I wouldn't have necessarily picked up the rhythm in those novel extracts! I'll look out for it now, but I have a feeling it's something that can't be forced too much.

Gina Gao said...

I totally agree with you that great prose has to have rhythm to it. You did a great post.


Donna said...

Catching and making those small rhythm changes will make big differences in your work.

mshatch said...

Excellent post. I can sometimes manage this in shorter pieces but I find it hard to sustain a lyrical style. Practice, I suppose.