I’ve never written much poetry, nor have I tackled a song lyric. But I think I’ve been a writer long enough to hear the rhythm in my prose. Rhythm lends itself to your style, as well as your voice, which are two different things.
Voice is a unique way of putting words together. It's a deep feeling, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook or belief that enriches an author’s work. How you develop your voice, to some extent, happens all by itself. Stories come from the subconscious. What drives you to write is often your own unresolved inner conflicts. Voice is a natural attribute. You no more control it than you control the color of your eyes.
But don’t confuse voice with style. Style is more about the writing itself, than the story or characters.
As I write this, I'm thinking maybe rhythm is equally involved in both voice and style. I’ve been known to work a full week on one paragraph. For me, it must have a rhythm, a flow, almost like music. To get that, I have to read the paragraph, or the dialogue, or whatever it is—out loud. If it is dialogue, I must read it in the voice of the character, therefore, most of my “out loud reading” is done with no one around to hear me. When a writer reads their work out loud, much of what is corrected is the rhythm, the sound it makes—the music of the story we create that plays in the background of the reader’s mind. Music the reader is not aware of, but it’s there. It’s truly there. And sometimes that means adding words.
But here’s a shocker—it may not always be grammatically correct. Now, don’t get your panties in a wad over this. Writing in the voice of the character telling the story, the narrator, should always lend itself to the vernacular and not to the rules of the English language. A good example of this is in Wiley Cash’s new novel, a land more kind than home. A writer with a Ph.D. in English.
All of this brings me to the age old question, is less really more? Writers, how many times has that been drilled into your head? It’s a staple of every writer’s conference. We’ve had it pounded into us for decades now. Less is more. Kill your babies. Slice your novel in half. Hogwash. I’m here to tell you that may not always be the case. Sometimes, more is more.
Careful, now. If you accept that, it may change you. Creating rhythm may mean adding words …
From my new novel, The Sanctum (coming soon) …
I wiped condensation from my eyeglasses and shook the snow from my coat, imagining bulbs of daffodils and hyacinths, sleeping in her brown flowerbeds, and then blooming come spring. Winter’s wind blew cruel and steady. An occasional vicious gust burned my face as it shoved fog off the mountain.
Facing the porch steps, I wiped condensation from my eyeglasses and shook the snow from my coat. I imagined bulbs of daffodils and hyacinths sleeping in her brown and dormant flowerbeds, and then blooming come spring. Greeted by a dozen rocking chairs strewn over the wide porch, I saw myself sitting in one, drinking lemonade while my grandmother snapped peas. But at that moment, winter’s wind blew cruel and steady. An occasional vicious gust burned my face as it shoved the fog across the mountain.
I didn’t feel the flow, the rhythm, the music, until I wrote the second paragraph with more words. Truly, some editors would prefer the shorter one, but to me there’s music in the second. Poetry. Balance. The trick is not to go overboard, but find the balance.
Again, the best way to hear it is to read your work out loud. You’ll not only catch mistakes, you’ll create the magic needed to hold your readers in the palm of your hand.
Only you know your characters inside and out. Who they are, where they came from, and what they think. You must find not only the rhythm of your character, but within the entire narration. This comes with writing every day and discovering the rhythm in other great novels. But once you master it, it will carry your work to a whole new level.