Monday, June 21, 2010

Word Tools

Bear in mind, when you are choosing words and stringing them together, how they sound.This may seem absurd: readers read wit h their eyes. But actually they hear what they are reading - in their inner ear - far more than you realize. Therefore such matters as rhythm and alliteration are vital to every sentence.

Such considerations of sound and rhythm should be woven through every aspect of what you write. If all your sentences move at the same plodding gait, which even you recognize but don't know how to cure, read them aloud. You will begin to hear where the trouble lies.
~ William Zinsser



Cadence and rhythm play such a large role in how a reader responds to writing. As a composition teacher, I work hard to teach my students the weaponry of punctuation and simple sentences. Yes, weaponry.

The right punctuation or a well-placed fragment or simple sentence can pack quite a punch. It is also true of effective - and clearly deliberate - experimental punctuation. Check out the first chapter of Carolyn Coman's book, What Jamie Saw. Phenomenal. She uses sentence length and unusual punctuation to build amazing tension in her first pages. Each time I read the beginning, I swear I can almost FEEL my heart-rate elevate and my pulse quicken!

And don't forget the no-fail pleasure of alliteration, consonance, and power verbs!

Remember, then, that words are the only tools that you will be given. Learn to use them with originality and care. Value them for their strength and their infinite diversity. And remember: somebody out there is listening. (Zinsser)
What favorite word tricks are hiding in your writer's tool kit?

23 comments:

Jayne said...

Absolutely 100% agree. I recorded myself speaking aloud my first three chapters and then played them back. I thought I was done with those chapters but the process of recording made me realise that actually - I was not! I managed to shave 800 words off and my story breathed a sigh of relief.

I think Stephen King really understands the value of a word punch. The best example of that is in the book The Shining. Totally killer paragraphs.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I think the fragment, or really short sentence, like "Claim it," draws attention to the meaning. Like the silence of a prolonged rest in a piece of music. Watch how people lean in, listening for the next note.

Patti Lacy said...

BRILLIANT post and the different between okay writing and dynamite stuff.

May I add to the "tricks" repetition. HUGE literary ideas that take the reader into a cosmic audience.

Reading aloud helps me with this rhythm. And having a soulmate friends who know my voice note when I "go off."

Lots will learn from this post, girl!!

P

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I like the power fragment! Actually I love it. It only works occasionally but when I get the opportunity to smack a fragment in I take full advantage. Really great post as always. I don't always record myself because I hate the sound of my voice so much that I'm more focused on that than the story lol. EEK, so I have my husband read it back to me. We read together at night (when he's home *grumble*) to help me fall asleep so I've become accustomed to his voice, and tone when reading. I find the flaws much faster when he reads. Plus, I love his voice :)

sarahjayne smythe said...

Gteat post. I always tell people to read out loud what they write and I practice what I preach. Rhythm, cadance, tone, flow, it's all there in the hearing, not the seeing.

Jennie Englund said...

Shannon, your posts are always exciting--thought-provoking and cheery! I'd bet a carmel apple that you are a FABULOUS teacher!

Okay, my writing trick? No adjectives or adverbs. Tons of proper nouns and strong verbs instead.

Courtney Barr - The Southern Princess said...

Love alliteration in the right setting.

I always read my WIP out loud. It is interesting when you see the words you leave out while typing because your brain just fills them in, so when I read out loud it helps me catch them!

Great post!!

Visit My Kingdom Anytime

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

It was a big step for me to move beyond the "natural" cadence that I use to write, to a more "intentional" lyricism ... and then back to my natural-inner-ear. Sometimes I have to deconstruct a sentence into parts, to see where the imbalance lies, but once reassembled it's like a soothing lullaby on frazzled words. :)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Brilliant post. I usually read my ms out loud. That way I can see where the pauses should be. Especially if I've missed them. lol.

Patti said...

As much as I hate it. I think reading your work out loud is the only way to see if it flows.

Mary Campbell said...

I so need to work on my cadence and rhythm - great quotes and good advice.
Word weaponry - I like it!!!

laurapauling said...

I think creative paragraphing is a great tool to wield!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Ooo--alliteration. LOVE. And fragments. If only grammar check wouldn't feel the need to flag them all the time. I'm like, I KNOW they're fragments, darn it! I did that on purpose. :)

Angela said...

Yes, I love good rythm. Too bad good grammer and artsy writing are sometimes hard to do at the same time. e.e. cummings certainly had an interesting style.

Carolyn V. said...

I just learned a few at the conference I was at. The best one was word weaving. I'm still getting the hang of that one. =)

Heather Kelly said...

I love thinking about the cadence of words--great post!!

Sandy Shin said...

I agree completely. The cadence, the sound of words is the really important to the writing style. However, for me, that's also the most difficult thing to do.

Vicki Rocho said...

Good reminder and I agree which is why I beg y'all NOT to pick really strange names that I don't have a prayer of pronouncing in my head or out loud. Nothing frustrates me more!

Jemi Fraser said...

'weaponry of punctuation and simple sentences.' LOVE this! I'm going to borrow that to use in my classroom :)

Catherine Denton said...

I absolutely love rhythm when I'm reading. But it's so difficult to get right when writing.
Winged Writer

cleemckenzie said...

Just read an article titled, "Reading to Kids Old Enough to Grow Beards." Seems hearing that cadence and rhythm is encouraging reading. You're right on.

Heather said...

I love that, so true that words are the only tools we writers are given. As far as my favorite word tricks, that's tough, I just use the five senses and try to make sure the reader feels like they're there.

Palindrome said...

The Man knows I hate reading my own work aloud so guess what he does? Yup, he makes me read it aloud to him. That's the only way he'll "read" my stories. So when I do this, I find out what's working and what is not working. How dare he make me a better writer? Jerk. ;P

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