When you listen to music, what is it that wakes a certain mood or feeling in you? With what tools does it achieve its particular atmosphere? Music and writing is the same from a lot of aspects.
What in music is a period, in writing it’s a sentence. A cadency in written text is the scene’s or plot’s denouement. The time signature dictates the narrative, accidentals tincture the tone.
Today, we’ll look at something that is called the same in both arts: rhythm. We’ll see how you can use it effectively in your writings to achieve whatever you like with your texts.

1. The first aspect of rhythm:

Writing has rhythm the same as the soprano. Read this scene for example:

The mage chanted, giving life to the symbols. They left the paper burning in multiple colours and were flying around the room. Strong wind rose, almost blowing the mage away whose irides flew towards his forehead and he was singing ever-louder. The whole room trembled in its deepness, but at the same time it rang like a crystal. The zigzagging signs combined into bigger and smaller chains and surrounded Rakal, who stood naked with his limbs spread in front of a wall painted with letters of an ancient language. The chains stuck on his body and, literally, burned into him.

Filled with many verbs, called a verbal text, this paragraph depicts a very dynamic scene, almost like it’s in a rush. Things happen quickly but there’s still much room for expatiation.

Now contrast it with this scene:

Bald, snow-capped trees. Not so bald, after all. Animals, not a single one, humans, only far away. Red snow at the foot of the tree, grey clouds in the sky, darker than the white snow around the red. Blue, frozen hand in the red snow. She didn’t survive.

Except for the last sentence, the whole paragraph doesn’t have a single verb. Basically, nothing happens, we see a still image. This is called a nominal text. The nominality complements the scene very well, which takes place during a winter where everything is frozen, dead, empty. The last sentence literally breaks this stillness, even though it’s in past tense, meaning she is already dead.

Both of these techniques work on their own, they give distant feelings to our text. In practice we alternate them, some sentences nominal, others verbal or, in the case of paragraphs, we can use a certain degree of nominality for descriptions while verbality is used for detailing a chain of events. An interesting experiment can be reversing this.


2. The second aspect of rhythm:

The bartender sweeps, mops the floor, at six o’clock the bells ring as the first guest opens the door, a zombie stands on its step, his hands held in front of him, and chants growling: coffee, coffee, coffee, soon others join, from left, from right the dead arrive, both young and aged, leisurely trudging, they fall through the door, the bells ring again and again, the bartender brews diligently the caffé lungo, the latte, the black, hands out cream, sugar, coffee, coffee, coffee.

The whole paragraph is one long sentence. Your inner voice catches its breath only at the commas, other than that there’s no stop. This certainly complements what the story is about with the bartender quickly brewing coffee while cleverly contrasting, and taking the weight off the slowness and weariness of the zombies. Hold the feeling that has arisen and read this:

Small leopard in the glass door. Meowing. Human in the living room. Wakes up. Notices the noise. Proceeds to the front door.

Short, simple sentences, the text continously stops, contrary to the previous paragraph where, seemingly, there never is a pause. Tight, concise sentences are used to take points across or one of these can quickly resolve a long sentence that preceeds it. They also carry with them an aura of mystery. You don’t tell the reader everything, only short glimpses of the world your story takes place in.

Both techniques work on their own, but in practice short and long sentences are alternating. As a writer, this dynamics of this lengthening and shortening has to be felt. A text immediately becomes boring if every sentence has the same number of syllables and uninterpretable if we write too expatiating, decomplex sentences. Of course, it may be our goal.


3. Recap:

The first aspect of rhythm:

A text without verbs is called nominal, and it creates an atmospheric, still image.

A text with many verbs is called verbal, and it creates an exciting, dynamic image.

The second aspect of rhythm:

Long sentences give us a sense of continuum, their drawback is that they become too expatiating.

Short sentences give us a sense of trudge, their drawback is that they become boring.

The point being, these are all tools which we, as writers, have to combine in such ways we think our text needs to feel like. Do we want it slow and mysterious or quick and exciting? Do we want to make the reader feel somber?

If you want to improve your rhythm, try writing paragraphs or even whole short fictions with using only one technique of each aspect.

Then read it out aloud. How does it sound?

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