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Quantify/Qualifying the rhythm of lyrical prose (1 Viewer)

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lumino

Senior Member
I know that you will probably say that I should just depend on my ear, but I am looking for some set of principles that can produce prose rhythm, given certain parameters. Even though I have managed to produce good prose rhythm in the past, I still want a set of principles. For some reason I am hesitant to face the discomfort of working to internalize certain types of cadence. I just want some kind of formula that I can input certain parameters into and get any type of prose rhythm/cadence. Does anyone know of such a thing?

Even if it is something you might think will not work in practice I still want to try it. I am sure if the formula works I can use it.

Even if it is not practical it is still interesting. Does anyone know of such a thing? In all of the information I have read about prose rhythm I have not found it.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Try what you want, but it's not that difficult.

The essence of rhythm is in repetition. The essence of good rhythm is in variety. That's why songs usually alternate between verse and chorus.

In prose writing 'rhythm' is largely talked about in terms of sentence length and structure. Consider the 'lyrical' Cormac McCarthy and Blood Meridian:

The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of this world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

Compare the sentence lengths. Here, let's make them look like 'lyrics:

The judge tilted his great head.
The man who believes that the secrets of this world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear.
Superstition will drag him down.
The rain will erode the deeds of his life.
But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world
and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

There is no 'formula' (and I guarantee McCarthy didn't think of it that way) but if you want to think about it in those terms, you can easily see the rhythm is by going from a short and direct sentence (The judge tilted) to a longer one, back to a shorter one, then a very long one. This would, one might expect, then be followed by a short sentence not unlike "The judge tilted his great head' in terms of length. A cadence, if you like.

Another McCarthy example, same book:

In that sleep and in sleep to follow the judge did visit. Who would come other? A great shambling mutant, silent and serene. Whatever his antecedents, he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go. Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling of loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void without terminus or origin and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millennia will discover no trace of ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon his commencing.

This lacks rhythm by structure as in the previous example, however it still has an obvious poetic effect. Note the alliteration, the mirroring of "s' sounds in 'sleep and in sleep' and again in 'shambling, silent, serene and to a lesser extent through anteCedentS, sum, system'. Numerous examples - 'loins and ledgerbooks''. Note also the use of a question to set up the conceit and the vividness of the language that follows.

It is essentially poetry in prose:

In that sleep and in sleep to follow the judge did visit.
Who would come other?
A great shambling mutant, silent and serene.
Whatever his antecedents, he was something wholly other than their sum,
nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins
for he would not go.
Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling of loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened
and dumb
at the shore of a void without terminus or origin
and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millennia
will discover no trace of ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon
his commencing.

IMO the best thing you can do is read a lot of writers like McCarthy and look for these sorts of patterns. Prose is not poetry. There are no structural rules that work to achieve an effect of poetry. A lyrical feel is achieved through many different facets.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I'm not sure if this helps. I suspect the phrases in an action scene are more likely to start with an emphasized syllable, and phrases in a more pastoral scene are likely to start with unemphasized syllables. For evidence, I tried just subjectively counting -- I don't know what I could use except my ear.

I asked about iambic versus trochee and got some support, and problems measuring.

And you are talking about all of prose rhythm, I just focused on the start to keep my problems more manageable. So, good luck, and if you find some guidance on emphasis of syllables, I would like to know.
 
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