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lumino

How to Write Lyrically

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Now I know I'm not good at writing concisely and clearly, and my writing can be a bit wordy and pretentious at times, but I know something about prose rhythm, and that is what I am going to teach you today.

Let us examine this passage which I wrote. Whether you think it is wordy, pretentious, archaic, or peculiar, I think it has prose rhythm, and I'm going to explain how to achieve that in this post.

Behold, a day of light shall dawn, and a princess shall rule her kingdom, when she shall be seated on a lofty throne, and receive dominion over all the land. And she shall destroy the power of an enemy, and dissolve the strength of an adversary, even her that disdained great riches, and scorned the treasures of amity. For there shall arise a day of brightness, and the time of Sandra’s rule, and from her splendor shall run away she that oppressed the land, who ruled with contempt the heart of a man. For the rising of Sandra shall cease the oppression, and her dominion shall cause the tyranny to end.
Maybe you'll consider it purple prose, but I don't think you can deny the pseudo-biblical cadence of the words. You might not wish to use such a cadence and you might not wish to write purple prose, but knowing how to achieve prose rhythm is important for fiction.

So now we will examine to what the sound of the prose is owing. If we break up the paragraph into phrases, marking divisions where we would naturally pause ever so slightly, we will find that we can represent the prose rhythm in a similar way to musical measures. Here are the divisions:

Behold, | a day | of light | shall dawn, | and a princess | shall rule | her kingdom, | when | she | shall be seated | on a lofty throne, | and receive | dominion | over all the land. | And she | shall destroy | the power | of an enemy, | and dissolve | the strength | of an adversary, | even her | that disdained | great riches, | and scorned | the treasures | of amity. | For there | shall arise | a day | of brightness, | and the time | of Sandra’s rule, | and from her splendor | shall run | away | she | that oppressed | the land, | who | ruled | with contempt | the heart | of a man. | For the rising | of Sandra | shall cease | the oppression, | and her dominion | shall cause | the tyranny | to end.
This marking of divisions is different than the typical scansion of prose rhythm, which merely divides the prose into feet. These are not feet, but phrases, as defined by grammar. The best way to divide up prose to see its rhythm is to divide it into phrases based on grammar. As you can see, the phrases are like measures in music. By depending on your ear, and by focusing on one phrase at a time, you can write musically and lyrically.

Also, varying sentence length and structure is important for achieving rhythm, but repetition of structure can provide rhythm also, as well as repetition of individual words.

Okay, that was today's lesson. It's all I know, so I thought I'd share it. Have a nice day.

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Updated September 20th, 2019 at 08:19 PM by lumino

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  1. Phil Istine's Avatar
    "Behold, a day ..." is enjoyable to read, but I struggle to not view it as poetry. Only the line breaks indicate that it isn't. The piece flowed very well, in my view.
    Two new things I learned from this (1) disdain can be used as a verb rather than just a noun (2) I wasn't previously aware of the word "amity", even though I know enmity and some other am- words for love, friendliness etc.
    Thank you.
  2. bdcharles's Avatar
    Very interesting - thanks for this The way I do cadence looks something like:

    BeHOLD, 1
    a DAY of LIGHT 2
    shall DAWN 1
    And a PRINcess shall RULE her KINGdom 3

    When SHE shall be SEAted 2, (plus allit)
    On a LOFty THROne 2
    and reCEIVE doMINion all OVer the LANd 4

    And SHE shall destROY the POWer of an ENemy 4 (plus Aaba rhyme)
    And disSOLVE the STRENGth of an ADversary 3 (plus aAba rhyme)
    Even HER that disDAINed great RICHes 3
    And SCORNed the TREASures of AMity 3 (plus aabA rhyme)

    [pause]

    For there shall aRISe 1
    A day of BRIGHTness 1 (plus assonance)
    and the TIME of SANdra's RULE 3

    The numbers are the numbers of stresses in the line. You could, I suppose, reasonably expect a pause at the end of each line, for me. But what I try and do is describe a journey of sound and drama with the prose. It starts simply - one stress, like a single knock at the door, then quickly, while you have them looking up, two stresses - hey, hey - and confirm with the one - yeah - then up to 3. It is I. Then a pause that says, I have your attention. I can wait and not lose you. It's a confident statement, that pause. The "song", if you like, has begun, so we won't go back to the beginning, so we carry on with just 2 stresses, at the level we were before, the level to which listeners and readers will be attuned, but with a little alliteration to spice things up. So: two - and two - but then there's FOUR!

    Four? What is this? Yet the energy level rises. Now we keep on at the four, bashing and banging, a army setting out on a swift march. We are in hale drama now. We keep that beat. Four, three, three (just lessening off a touch to emphasise the wow factor of four, still fresh in memory) but we introduce a rhyme to colour the engagement and keep it unique. If we were a graph we would be good sales figures and strong projections, plauteauing through the off season but solid in the knowledge that we will proceed regardless.

    And you know what? We did step up to the podium with a bang and yes, we strode confidently forward. We can pause now. We can go slow again and wrap up the theme. We're in control now. Readers aren't going anywhere. And we can summarise a three-beat keynote - for it is the Time of Sandra's Rule, underline it - and build something fresh after that.


    That's my view anyway. My stories try and do something similar.
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