Writing Craft

Do You Have Rhythm?

Some people have rhythm. And some people don’t. And I’m sorry to say, I’m one of those people who don’t. I try to have rhythm. Really, I do. I hear a great song on the radio when I’m driving so I tap my hand on the steering wheel or bob my head back and forth. Sometimes I even dance along with my kids and nieces and nephews during our family dances parties.  I mean so what if the dance parties are for the kids? Who can resist dancing to old Hannah Montana songs or Cotton- Eyed Joe?

And so I dance and sing along to my favorite songs, even without rhythm. And that makes me very happy. 🙂

But there’s one place where I do have rhythm—in my writing. In fact, rhythm is important to any good piece of writing. It can help your words flow in an easy pattern.

Here are a few tips for writing with rhythm:

1.Vary your sentence length

In each paragraph, use both long sentences and short sentences. This makes the paragraph easier to read and gives it a smoother flow. In the following sample, notice both the long and short sentences.

My sixth grade class has gathered in the amphitheater, all five hundred of us squished together shoulder to shoulder. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My ponytail even feels hot. The sound we’ve been waiting for thunders through the speakers. The Piedmont Challenge theme song. I bite my pinky nail. The signal should be coming next.

In this sample, not only do the sentence lengths make the passage easier to read, they help to convey what’s happening in the story. The first sentence is quite long. The main character seems calm, like she’s simply telling the reader where she is.  As the story unfolds though, the author uses shorter sentences. You can almost feel the main character getting more and more nervous as the song plays and she gets ready for the signal to come.

2. Read Your Sentences Aloud

How do your sentences sound? Sometimes the key to creating a nice flow of sentences is simply hearing how they sound. Do they sound choppy? Maybe you’re using to many short sentences all in a row. Do you lose interest in what you’ve written? Maybe your sentences are too long. Separate them into smaller ones. If you try to put to much information into one sentence, an important point may get lost. 

3.Match Rhythm to the Mood

If you’re trying to describe a setting—a  countryside filled with beautiful flowers and cascading waterfalls–longer, more elaborate sentences will work well. But, if you’re writing an intense scene in a mystery novel, short sentences with bursts of quick, simple words will work better.  

Here’s an example: 

The main character, Connor has just missed his curfew time of 10:00pm. He walks through the front door, to find his Father waiting in the kitchen. He panics, knowing he’s about to get into trouble. Notice the long sentences he uses as he tries to explain why he was late.

                 ”Dad, I know I missed curfew again but I have a really good reason. See when the movie was over, I was about to walk to the car, you know to drive straight home so I wouldn’t be late again, but then some of the guys challenged me to a game of air hockey and you know I’m the King of Air Hockey so I knew you’d understand if I was a few minutes late because you really like air hockey too!”

                His dad holds up a hand to silence Connor. “Enough. I don’t want to hear your excuse!”

Notice the short response Connor’s angry dad gives.  And see how effective matching the rhythm of your sentences to their mood can be!

Rhythm often happens automatically. But it can happen even more effectively when you pay close attention to it. So give it a try. Add some rhythm to your writing. You’ll be amazed at how much better it will flow. And then go on and sing or dance to your favorite song. Even if you don’t have any rhythm at all! 🙂


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