The Rhythm Method -- It Works in Fiction

  • Print

Vision 64

The Rhythm Method --

It Works in Fiction

By

Aimee Laine

Copyright © 2011, Aimee Laine, All Rights Reserved

 

If words and grammar were the only necessary elements in writing fiction, we’d all have been genius writers the moment we got that ‘A+’ on our English exams. Even a new writer, though, knows there is more to the craft than slapping words on a page and ensuring the right placement of commas.

 

Actually, wrong placements, inopportune conjunctions, emdashes, ‘-ing’ words and incomplete sentences do, in fact, have their place in writing.

 

So, then, every writer who starts a sentence off with ‘but’ or fails to use a verb in a sentence is right ... just because?

 

Nope.

 

Writers who start off sentences with ‘but,’ use incomplete sentences and unconventional techniques for the correct purpose, are right.

 

Grammar gives us structure and form, and gives readers a foundation for understanding what authors have written.

 

Rhythm takes grammar and embellishes it until words flow in a specific way—one the author creates for the purpose of eliciting a feeling in the reader (whatever that may be). Grammar lets us keep reading.

 

Don’t believe me? Let’s take one example and write it three different ways. We’ll talk about the feel after each example.

My arm launched for him through the cell door. I gripped the back of his neck. His head spun around as I hauled him toward me with the force of an overwrought gorilla. I snarled. His face smashed against the bars. Shock registered in his wide eyes seconds before his expression crumpled.

 

What happens in this scene? We know it’s a fight. We know someone wins. We know it happens in mere seconds of time. We should feel tension. Our hearts might be racing along with the main character ... right up until the moment when we read ... the end.

 

How has this been conveyed? With action verbs.

 

Verbs like ‘launched’, ‘gripped’, ‘spun’ and ‘hauled’ all bring us into the scene to paint a picture of movement. The use of ‘seconds’ give us a space of time. Short sentences make us read fast—one line to the next. Gripped within the clutches of the words, we even forget to breathe.

 

Eventually, the scene comes to an end, and our blood pressure drops. Phew!

 

What if, though, these two weren’t fighting? What if they were playing?

My arm reached for him through the cell door, gripping the back of his neck and tugging him closer to me with the force of an overwrought gorilla. His face only touched the bars, registering shock in his wide eyes before his expression changed.

 

Outside of a few words, what changed? The action verbs turned sing-songy with the use of ‘-ing’ verbs. This is an oft used method for keeping the flow of a piece softer and slower. Words changed from tough, oomphy words, to sweeter, mellower ones, though the activity in the section certainly remains the same. Our main character has pulled an opponent up against a cell door until his expression shifts. For all we know, our main character could be longing for companionship and the simple touch of another human being.

 

We no longer have as much clarity to the motivation, but we certainly do understand what happened. Grammatically incorrect? No. Poor storytelling? Not necessarily. Want a big fight scene? The second example isn’t going to work. Want a sweet moment of friendship garnered under a little stress? The first example isn’t cutting it. The ultimate answer depends on what the author is hoping to convey.

 

Let’s look at one more instance written a completely different way.

My arm launched.

Gripped the back of his neck.

Hauled him toward me.

I snarled.

His face smashed against the cell bars.

Expression crumpled.

 

In the ‘old school’ method of paragraph structures, there is no way these would fly. First of all, half of the above are incomplete sentences. Added to that, they should all be combined into one, like the first two examples.

 

Why then, would we write a passage like this?

 

Short, quick, bites of information let our inner mind’s eye create the scene and keeps us moving fast and furious through it without the dependency on the use of the word ‘seconds’ to portray time.

 

Did we lose clarity? Some will say yes. Others say they have a better opportunity to envision the scene on their own. In no way would the author be accused of using purple prose.

 

Poets rely on their use of rhythm to convey much of the meaning to their words. The lack of punctuation is praised there, but not in fiction. Merging, combining, and moving from one stanza to the next, in whatever method suits the mood of the piece, is almost a requirement of the art.

 

Shouldn’t we do the same in fiction?

 

The key is using rhythm for the right purpose and in the right place. Missing commas, and’s, but’s, or’s, nor’s, what have you (as standalone objects) may mess up a reader. Used in context, though, they bring the reader along on a magical rollercoaster ride of a story.

 

Rhythm. It works in fiction.

 

(Authors public service announcement: the same does not apply to sexual encounters. Please return to the seventh grade for that information.)