Sunday 8 February 2009

The Sound of Writing

Do you listen to your writing? No, I don’t mean have you read your writing. Have you listened to it?

There’s a natural rhythm to words that we often forget. I’d go so far as to say that rhythm is more important than grammar and punctuation. You can fix these, but if your writing doesn’t sing to your readers, then it’ll sink.

The sound of your writing is a subtle cadence, an inner tune that ebbs and flows like a wave on the shore. Constantly moving, the melody in your story communicates a deeper layer to your reader. Deeper even then mere words on paper.

In the same way that a musician will link different notes together to make a tune, so a writer needs to link syllables and words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs, which at once transcend and support the meaning of the actual words.

Each writer will create his own unique melody: a leitmotif that is instantly recognisable in the same way that a symphony by Mozart is recognisable from the opening bars the orchestra plays. This refrain is what draws a reader into the story and it’s an intrinsic part of the writer’s voice.

You can’t learn a rhythm, but you can feel it. Where does your writing feel wrong to you? Where does it feel right? Logic and your inner editor may tell you that you have the words perfectly constructed. But if a word or a sentence or chapter doesn’t feel right, your natural rhythm may have come unstuck.

Read your work – aloud or in your head – but listen as you read. Try to find the parts of your writing that “flow” and see if you can identify why it sings to you. And, once you’ve discovered the sound of your writing, you can let your own voice soar…because why write a song when you can write a symphony?

Image from Please contact me if there are copyright requirements.


Marty said...

This is WONDERFUL advice... THANK YOU for this WRITING TIP!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Ann, this is fabulous! I have always thought of that as voice. I can tell immediately from the "sound" of a sentence whether I wrote it or not.

I've spent the last week revising a story-looking at words and structure. But I feared for loss of voice. Now I'll go back and read it out loud. If it sounds off, I'll know I can return it to the original. Because I, also, believe that voice is more important than grammer rules.


septembermom said...

I really appreciate all the great writing advice. I agree that it must be important to "listen" to the story for authenticity and integrity. Thank you for stopping by my blog and recommending those 2 books on writing. I'll definitely check them out.

Pamala Knight said...

Thank you for that excellent tip, Ann. I read my writing aloud to myself, mostly to see if it flows and to alleviate anything that sounds forced or unnatural. But the way you've described the process is wonderful and certainly appealing.

Ann Victor said...

MARTY - glad you enjoyed it. BTW, loved your blog post on your meeting with your friend's Sue's spirit once she'd crossed. Very moving!

NANCY - yes, I agree with you. I also see rhythm as part of that unique writer's voice we all seek to develop. But I see voice as broader than rhythm - to me, voice is rhythm + technical skill. Good luck with your revisions; hope they go well!

SEPTEMBERMOM - it's a pleasure! :) And you raised an excellent point about a story having integrity. Without an inherent and natural rhythm (versus a forced rhythm imposed by the author) a story lacks integrity.

PAMALA - great to see you again! Thanks for your comments. And how was Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open!?!! I just love watching him play!

Marilyn Brant said...

Ann, I just saw this and had to comment because I totally agree. I read every scene aloud as I'm writing it and the entire book aloud at the end during revising... I've learned so much from this: the parts I want to skip over (they're boring :), the parts I stumble on (I've used the wrong words), etc. So, excellent suggestions!

Ann Victor said...

Marilyn, thanks for your comment.

I read in my head - don't ask me why but I get embarrassed if I read my work aloud. Sometimes I'll read a section or a para aloud - but normally end up hating the sound of my own voice!! :O