Well-Known Member
Nov 16, 2013
NSW, Australia
To what extent do you consider rhythm/metre in your stories?

Looking at the first example in the Details thread, "They travelled in companionable silence for a while" has a less fluent rhythm than "They travelled in silence for a while" (da da-da da da-da da da da).

Does a fluent rhythm add to the impact of the story? Is it immaterial? Or is there a risk that attention to rhythm will lead to an overly mannered style?
I guess it would depend on how you would picture the first which you haven't.
"They travelled in companionable silence for a while"
would it be (da da-da da da-da-da da-da da da da)?

The sentence could be "They traveled in silence' (da da-da da da-da)

or even "They traveled for a while." (da da-da da da da)

Each sentence says something different and changes not only the rhythm but the very meaning so the question becomes does the rhythm have enough precedence and relevance to allow the writer to alter the meaning of the words.

If it were able to capture the same feeling and meaning while maintaining better rhythm than I'd not ask the question.
so the question becomes does the rhythm have enough precedence and relevance to allow the writer to alter the meaning of the words.

In my opinion: almost never. I do pay some attention to rhythm but only rarely is it worth sacrificing other aspects for. Also, as a reader, sometimes I find a jarring rhythm quite refreshing -- I like the feeling that some aspects of the text have been left to chance. If I felt that every tiny aspect of the writing was constrained to a nicety by the author's aesthetic judgement, I think I'd find it quite oppressive.

Thought-provoking question, though.
I'm no poet, but I find associating the rhythm of the words with the action in a particular scene intensifies the experience of reading considerably. Not that I'm able to carry it off myself, mind; the mnemonic effect of full verse is not required, and would usually make the piece sound artificial and contrived (Oh, I am capable of dropping into iambic pentameter during a conversation, but I would never offer one of my characters that ability, it not being believable enough).

A griot can bring life to a tale by rhythmic variation, though admittedly the vocal medium is more flexible than its written equivalent. Dance, bodily movement in time with verbal go back to the birth of language, and are still effective now, despite the words' divorce from their origins, their simplistic symbolism.

I wouldn't suggest concentrating on rhythm unless you are in no hurry to finish, but if you feel the dance steps in your prose don't reject them.
It all depends on what you want, it can make stories flow. I'd use it fairly sparingly, and only if you can. 'Cos if you use it all the time, it sounds quite odd, you know - don't add on little extra words, to make the rhythm scan...
I do pay attention to it, in the sense of not having similar sentences filling a paragraph. I mentioned that in one of Mouse's threads, I believe, where there were three or four sentences that were essentially the same sound -- "he did the thing and then he did the other thing". I like to break those clusters up by structuring a couple of them differently, which alters the rhythm.

And, of course, I'm a huge fan of rhythm and meter in poetry. It has to be just right, or it annoys me. I will scour the thesaurus in search of just the right word to fit where I need it, when I'm doing something in poetry.
Rhythm makes an enormous difference to the sub-conscience. The effects grow more apparent over time, the more you read. I take a lot of care with rhythm but only in the polishing stage. Don't waste your time in the first draft. Just write the story.
When I was reading for a friend, I pointed out how the meter of his opening para set a specific pace. There was enough info in the pace to keep it from being a "dull slow" and more of a "slow dance" slow. (I dont think I worded it quite that way though)
The point being that right at the beginning it does matter. It sets the pace for the piece. You want shorter rythem sets for quick action. boom dada boom or rattattattata for really fast paced. Long languid wording in what should be a fast paced scene will feel wrong.

I always throw out the first para or two I write because they come off balladish. My story telling skills come from an oral tradition, where rhyme and meter really matter. I've addapted them to normal writting forms, but my background really shows me where good writing has payed attention to the old forms, and used them to advantage.

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