Adding Cadence to Your Writing When It’s a Snoozer

Cadence – How to Add Rhythm to Your Writing When it’s a Snoozer

By

Kristin Owens

 

www.kristin-owens.com

Kristin Owens is an award-winning educator and writer from Colorado. She writes on a variety of topics ranging from empty wine bottles to cruise ships to kvetching. She’s represented by literary agent Madelyn Burt at Stonesong NYC and Peel Talent & Entertainment in the UK.

 

Cadence is defined as the timing or rhythmic flow of sentences. Okay… what does that mean? Well, it’s the difference between readers actively turning pages or closing the book. By mixing up sentence length and word choices, readers are kept on their toes instead of skimming. Effectively using cadence can also help distinguish characters and heighten emotions. Let’s look at some examples of how changing up rhythm can make a greater impact in your writing.

Read the first two examples. Then read them out loud.

 Example A:

Kathy held the gun to Bob’s head and slowly pulled the trigger. She closed her eyes until she heard a click.

 Example B:

Kathy squeezed the trigger. Her eyes snapped closed. Click.

Which was more exciting? Example B may not be as descriptive, but you definitely get a punchier version because of the shorter sentences. I also used words with big sounds, like ‘squeezed, ‘click,’ and ‘snapped’ to provide more sensory description. Example B also has rhythm. You can clap your hands to it. Try it. Generally, with tense action scenes it’s best to keep words to a minimum to covey faster pacing and keep the momentum going. Verbosity will kill you quicker than any fictional bad guy. But… on the flip side, for anxiety-ridden scenes, run-on sentences can effectively show the character’s state of mind: befuddled and meandering. Basically, use the best rhythm to suit the story or scene.

Here’s another example where writers can use better word-choice.

Example C:

After eating her lunch, Gertrude said, “It’s your turn to pay.”

 Example D:

After demolishing her lunch, Gertrude rumbled, “Pay-up, cheapskate.”

In Example D you get a clearer picture of Gertrude. She’s hungry (demolishing). She has a deep voice (rumbled) and she knows this person well-enough to call them names (cheapskate). But it’s basically the same sentence. AND less word count. If you tend to overwrite, this is for you. As a writer, it’s your job to make every word matter and do more than one job. Plus, the rhythm is advanced with all the ‘m’ sounds (demolishing and rumbled). Even if you’re not reading it aloud, your brain still hears them.

Here are a few exercises to try:

  1. Find a paragraph in your current WIP. How many words are in each sentence? Can you mix it up a bit? Short, long, short? Long, short, long?
  2. In an action scene, can you pare down the language to just the essentials? Take an existing scene and eliminate half of it using more descriptive verbs or sounds. Does it work?
  3. Write dialogue for two characters using only single words. How do they convey emotion, attitude? Can you get a rhythm going?

 

Kristin Owens is an award-winning educator and writer from Colorado. She writes on a variety of topics ranging from empty wine bottles to cruise ships to kvetching. She’s represented by literary agent Madelyn Burt at Stonesong NYC and Peel Talent & Entertainment in the UK.