Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rhythm - the abcedaria of a writer

Rhythm - listening for the right rhythm is the most important thing I do as a writer. I'll go further - it is the only thing I need to do as a writer. When I'm revising (which is much more of the time than I spend simply writing) my ear is tuned to hear the rhythm. Each novel, each poem, each post has its own rhythm and it is up to me to hear it and then make sure every word works with it.
We all have our own rhythm -perhaps some might call it our voice but I think there is a subtle difference. Our rhythm and the rhythms of our work are not neccessarily the same but all of our works will contain at least an echo of our essential rhythm.
Let me quote Virginia Woolf on rhythm:
As for the mot juste, you are quite wrong. Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it…
— Virginia Woolf, In a letter to Vita Sackville-West, 1926
Of course we understand rhythm in music and perhaps we all get it to some degree in poetry but what is it in prose? I think one way to consider it is to understand it as the 'gait' of the piece. Even if several people are dancing a polka they will approach it differently - some will be quite jerky-herky and some will be quick but fluid in their movements. If you ride (horses that is) you quickly come to know that one horse's canter is not the same as another's. Rhythm is our word choice, how we build sentences, the construction of our works in a larger scale as well as up close and mostly, it is the effect it has on the reader. Is the reader captured up and swept along with long galloping sentences carrying her to a certain pitch of emotion or is she lullabied, rocked and then flung onto the hard pavement of the story?
Rhythm is a promise and when you find the rhythm of the piece you are creating, then you have found the luminous heart of it and you must honour that above everything else in your art. Trusting yourself, trusting your ear to hear when you are in the rhythm and when you have slipped out of it, is the craft we need to hone
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13 comments:

Siv Maria said...

Something I have never really thought about. Thanks for sharing :)

sue said...

Jan, I really hope we're going to get a break in May because I need to go over all your posts and reflect on them. (and perhaps share some quince paste and cheese?) If I'm right, what you're saying is relevant for my kind of writing too? Hmm, I'd never thought of it like that ... so much to think about. Sue@JumpingAground (Alliteration & drabbles)
Sue@traverselife(Workplace bullying)

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Thanks for sharing this, a wonderful read for a R letter.

Yvonne,

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Rhythm is so important in writing. When I'm off my rhythm, it's probably the greatest thing to really bother me. I have to tell myself I'll rewrite the scene later, that at least I got it on paper. But it's always rewritten.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi,

Nicely orchestrated post, and yep it's rythm in prose that make a novel a delight to read!

I hate short, sharp jerky sentences suited to kiddwinks who are learning to read: often sounding similar to rap music. I positively love free-flowing run-on very adult reading in which sentences meander and trickle info in between the dialogue: more Mozart and Brahms. ;)

best
F

Rae said...

I've never really thought about the rhythm in anything but poetry, but I understand and see it in some of my work now. You have great information and bless you for sharing! Let's make music!

NiaRaie said...

Rhythm is definitely important. I think it's a huge component of the "Writer's Voice" and reading aloud helps you determine how well you have or have not developed it. Good topic :)

fredamans said...

Great post! And when I think about it, entirely true!

http://fredasvoice.blogspot.com/2011/04/r-is-for-rarities.html

Ann said...

This is a new concept to me Jan and yet it is not. Like an unknown knowing. Not sure if that makes any sense to any but me. Thank you bringing this unknown known to the fore front of my thinking. Great post.

Eve said...

I am totally on the same page as Ann (above) when it comes to this...it was like an unknown knowing. That makes perfect sense Ann! We can recognize different authors by their rhythm as much as by their words...Great post!

Ella said...

Thanks for sharing; reminds me of the cadence of pedaling your bike, when you get into the flow~

Marjorie said...

I always think about rhythm in my poetry. I didn't think one needed it in prose. I guess I'm very wrong.

K.C. Woolf said...

Rhythm is so important in writing, and in learning languages as well.

Many years ago, when I was a student, we had a guest professor who taught us a technique for improving our speech patterns in a foreign language: record a piece of native speaking (a few sentences would do, e.g. from a radio show), play it on repeat for a few minutes and try to speak along, even if you don't understand a word.

A few minutes each day, for a week, and then do the same with another piece of speech the next week, and the next.

It really helps to get into the breathing and speech pattern (i.e. the rhythm) of a foreign language.