It is what sets good writing apart from the rest, and it often goes unnoticed: Rhythm. Read Hemingway’s opening paragraphs to A Farewell to Arms aloud to yourself. Notice the percussion in the way your voice sounds. The stresses, the unstressed syllables, the lengthy words versus the shorter ones. You almost can’t help but hear it spoken in a deep, masculine voice of Ernest himself.
So how can we make sure that our writing follows suit? I’m not saying that these tricks will help you write like Hemingway, but they will help you recognize the importance of rhythm in your writing.
Read it out loud.
Sounds elementary, but reading your writing out loud will help you recognize the rhythmic strong points and shortcomings in your work. You don’t really hear what you write when you read it in your head. You only hear it when you hear it, so let yourself hear it and let the truth come to the surface.
Count your words.
Rhythm comes from the right blend of long words, short words, long sentences, and short sentences. If you write short all of the time, the rhythm will suffer--just watch.
I am writing. The topic is rhythm. These sentences are short.
If I kept going on like that I bet you’d stop reading. If you count your words, you’ll see how varied your sentence length is or isn’t.
Tap your foot.
Pretend you’re writing lyrics. Try to figure out how they flow over a beat. Try to see if they flow at all. If your writing doesn’t read quite like a rap, that isn’t the end of the world, but if you have a few lines that seem rhythmically hip-hop-esque, that’s a good thing.
Treat it like a speech.
This goes hand in hand with the first tip, read it out loud. Write it to be read aloud. Think about “how will this sound?” rather than just “how does this read?” It really makes a considerable difference. Think about the great speeches of history. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. “I have a dream.” Pause. Short sentence, then longer sentences, immortalized in history.
Don’t forget that storytelling is also an oral art. Make sure that you don’t neglect the rhythm of your writing.
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