Adding Rhythm to your Writing
In the second of three articles to help make you a better writer, let’s look at how you can get more rhythm in your writing.
You’re in the car, the radio is playing that song and your fingers start tapping on the steering wheel. You’re at a wedding and hear the guitar open the first few bars. Although your partner is politely chatting to your great aunt you grab his hand and head to the dance floor. You’re musing over cereals in the store when your favourite song comes on and transforms a ho hum shop into a fun time.
Rhythm. Gloria Estefan told us it was going to get us and she knew what she was talking about. Engaging with rhythm is actually really good for us and releases chemicals into our bloodstream that increase pleasure and reduce aggression and pain.
Rhythm is also extremely important when you write. Why? It entertains your audience. It adds a bit of oomph. It mixes things up and has your readers straightening up a little, paying just that bit more attention.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to have taken ballet, ballroom or be-pop. Here’s how to do it.
Short sentences say “Oi! Look at this!”
Chances are you like variety in your job, your social life and your dinner choices. Your audience is no different. So, give them variety when you write.
In terms of writing, your building blocks are words and your words can be rearranged in many different ways. You can choose short sentences. They’re great for emphasizing something important. They say “Oi! Look at this!” Short sentences pack a punch. They jump up and down a bit. They’re enthusiastic.
To get your rhythm going add sentences of varying length. Last week I spoke about the voice in our head that we use when we read something. Varying your sentence length creates rhythm and it gives that voice in your head a break. A breather. It means you can read a longer sentence with more details and description and more analysis and discussion. And after that have a little break. Thanks to a couple of short sentences.
Incredible, Inflating Information Dump
The challenge when doing all this is to avoid the gaping, black hole. When we write, there’s a great pit that’s just waiting for us to fall in. Most of us try and please people and show that we know what we’re talking about, and so we fall into the black hole that’s called the Incredible, Inflated Information Dump.
It’s tempting to get everything down that’s important, all the stuff, all the facts, all the by the ways and you should also know this, and I read this on Reddit the other day and you should also know this, include connected pieces of information and before you know it your words are a runaway train and you’ve created a sentence that’s taken on a life of its own, grown into a paragraph as gangly as an awkward teenager, launched a siege and taken the whole page hostage, smacking your reader in the face with a wall of words and making the job of keeping up and understanding much harder for your reader and all of this malarkey can lead them to…
Because they’ve just had enough of managing the onslaught of information that’s been thrown at them in a nine line sentence.
Our eagerness to help others and show that we know what we’re talking about leads us deep into the pit of Incredible, Inflated Information Dump.
In short, long sentences can be very confusing and exhausting.
And you don’t want to confuse or exhaust your reader.
So, mix it up. Use long sentences to give more information and depth about your topic and to explore and probe. Use short sentences for impact. Maybe add some sentences of medium length. And to check that you’ve mixed it up with plenty of white space in between different topics (paragraphs) you can read it aloud.
This is how you know that your writing is in the groove and that the rhythm is going to get your audience.