Saturday, September 12, 2015

Grammarly Deets #5

Do you write poetry? Song lyrics? Play drums or other percussion instruments? Of course, if you do any of these you know how important beat and rhythm are. What I'd bet you weren't aware of is how significant it is in writing. Yep. Beat and rhythm. Some will call it pacing. That's a loose translation at best, but it will do to explain this post on writing. It doesn't concern grammar, no. (If you were wondering.) However, it is very essential you master this skill. 

You might read books on writing that will describe the peril of monotonous dialogue, line after line of he said, she said, where no descriptive tags are interspersed. You add a "he took a sip of his coffee" here, or "she hesitated, worried he may not admit the truth" there, and suddenly the reader feels he's been transported into the story, experiencing everything. Much more interesting, right? Of course you don't want to tag every line of dialogue. That's slowing things down too much, and quite frankly it gets annoying to the reader. 

Another piece of advice will address pacing. Nothing worse than a plot bogging down with slow, arduous and painful detail. There must be variety. And it starts with sentence length. That's where I'm taking this post. The beat, rhythm and pacing of your sentence structure. 

Take a look at this paragraph: 

Mary stepped to the door. She opened it to find Jack. She froze and couldn't speak. Her eyes spoke to him instead. She waved him inside. They sat in the living room. Neither one started the conversation.

The pacing is quick, but the monotony of repeated word length and structure doesn't lend itself to originality or prose that sparks a reader's interest. So, let's mix it up a bit. Again, think beat, think rhythm.

Mary stepped to the door. When she opened it to find Jack, she gasped. There weren't any words, nothing would fall from her lips. However, the anger inside screamed a tirade of questions. Where had he been? How could he desert her like this? She stared for another minute. Finally, stepping aside she waved him in. They sat in the living room. For several awkward minutes, neither of them spoke. 

Okay, maybe not the greatest example, but I'd bet you noticed the varied sentence structure and length. Also, I included some inner thought to deepen the character's voice. The first paragraph is rather boring. Think of a drum beat thumping out tap, tap, tap, tap, all in an even rhythm. The second paragraph mixes up the beat. Now your drum is sounding great. Tap, tap, tatata, tap, tatap. Or something like that. (I apologize. I'm not a drummer!) 

Taking it further, note that pacing dictates the action of the story, whether it should be fast or slow. When a scene needs to be fast-paced, for example in a fight between two characters or during an escape from the bad guys, repeated short sentences do the trick. When the action slows down, like in a romantic scene, you can lengthen the description, draw it out with those long, complex sentences. It works. Keeps your readers engaged and wide awake, not knowing what's around the corner ... that is, the next page! 

Beat, rhythm, pacing. They are essential ingredients to great writing!

Enjoy your weekend, and as always, happy writing!

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