A lot of novels tend to veer away from the poetry of prose.

The “poetry of prose”, in the way that I’m using it, does not refer to the flowery language that demands the reader to observe just how flighty it is, therefore keeping the meaning hidden.

That’s not good novel-writing, generally speaking. Often times authors who use poetic prose end up cloaking the true meaning from the reader, in which case, the novel is better left unread.

The “poetry of prose” is essentially the rhythm of your words, how they swim and move and flow as you write. There doesn’t have to be anything flowery about it, but if your rhythm is off, then the reader will get the feeling that as she comes to the end of your sentence, she’s also approached a syntax cliff – something that seems incomplete, like there should be more words left to finish the thought or the statement.

WATCH – Here’s an example of a syntax cliff.
I walked home through the alley. Nothing caught my attention. Drunkards drowned their sorrows. It was a typical night.

This feels like you’re in the passenger’s seat of someone trying to drive a stick-shift with all the stopping and going within the sentences. There’s no pacing, no flow. The rhythm gets lost, and what could be a pensive journey home, ends up being a comical stop-and-go.

Let’s try it again and add some rhythm to the wording.

I walked home alone that night. Nothing really caught my attention in the ally. A few drunkards did their best to drown their sorrows, but beyond that, it was a typical night — the same wintry winds blowing off the lake, icing everything that had breath in its lungs.

Sure, the second example has a few more words, and yes we should try not to be wordy, but what is a novel made of?? Exactly! And if we want the reader to feel the mood, we need to make sure that our rhythm is even.

I was recently working on some character dialogue, and I realized that one of my character’s sentences was too abrupt. He’s Irish, by the way. So I had a sentence that might have said, “Ye might not wanna’ go there.”

That works, I suppose. But if I wanted my Irish character to have a wee bit more snap, then I figured it needed to sound more like this: “Ye’ve come a long way, missy, you and ya’ friend beside ya’. It might be a tad bit foolish if ye were to go down that road after all that ya’ve been through.”

Are there more words? Yes. But are they necessary? Absolutely. The more I let his accent show, the more authentic he sounds as an Irishman.

Remember, we all speak with a rhythm, and our characters should have a rhythm too. Not only that, but a good rhythm will help your readers catch onto your inflections. Look at the line above by the Irishman. The words are linked together to make you read them with a certain smoothness.

Try to incorporate rhythm in your own writing.

What are your thoughts?


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