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Drama: January 25, 2012 Issue [#4842]


Drama


 This week: Rhythm Method
  Edited by: Nicki <3's Mara!!
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Like many of you, I've considered myself a writer my whole life. But in 2007, I shifted out of hobbyist mode, started writing for an audience, and embarked on the exciting journey towards publication. As I continue on that path and delve ever deeper into the craft, I feed an insatiable appetite for creative writing theory. I seek out how-to books and workshop experiences to augment and amplify whatever talent I possess. For those of you like me, here's a little theory to appease your hunger.




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~ Rhythm Method ~


What makes a story dramatic? Obvious answers come to mind, such as suspenseful plot lines, colorful but conflicted characters, and overwhelming obstacles those characters must overcome by the story's end. But many writers skillfully craft each of those elements and still, they have only so-so manuscripts on their hands. Something's missing.

The key to dramatic writing is rhythm.

Rhythm is an elusive literary element, as hard to teach as it is to learn. Simply put, weak or poor rhythm jeopardizes the emotional impact of the story. It dampens the drama.

Areas you can concentrate on to create rhythm in your writing are Sentence Lengths, Variations in Sentence Structures, and the use of Cappers.

*Suitdiamond* Sentence Lengths - Decipher a long sentence and you'll find it contains several modifying phrases and/or clauses, strung together with commas (or semi-colons). Sometimes a lengthy sentence is necessary. But it's important to realize that as readers move through all those modifiers, farther and farther away from the sentence's subject and predicate, they may forget the original point of the sentence by the time they reach the period. A story with too many long sentences will shift readers into glazed-eye gear. Monotony leads to boredom.

Those multiple commas also affect the rhythm of a long sentence. Think about it. Punctuation marks are the story's breath that guides the emotional impact of a passage. Periods are hard stops that demand emphasis, where commas pause, like a sigh. An em-dash holds its breath. Ellipses are airy, uncertain. Unfinished thoughts that drift away... For rhythm to be dynamic, it requires a variety of punctuation to stir the emotional cauldron. So a long sentence with, say, four commas? Well, that's a lot of sighing.

*Suitdiamond* Variations in Sentence Structures - You create rhythm in a paragraph by varying the lengths and structures of the sentences it comprises. And nothing stifles rhythm like stringing several sentences together in exactly the same way.

Example: After spotting Dan across the room, Emma approached him with a smile. Before he could speak, she raised her hand for silence. Although he'd been upset, he grinned when she leaned in and kissed his cheek.

*snore*

In this silly example, each of the three sentences begins with an introductory phrase set apart from the main clause by a comma, and ends with a modifying prepositional or adverbial phrase. The problem with using several identical sentence structures in a row is that the reader will likely slip into a sing-song internal voice, diminishing the moment's dramatic essence into something that sounds like a nursery rhyme.

Rhythm in writing also depends on variety in sentence lengths to establish musicality, or a pleasing "sound" to the mind's ear. Mix it up. A long sentence, followed by a medium length sentence, and then a short sentence before another long sentence will lend a more melodic sound than the constant drone of same-length sentences. Also, the short sentences will carry more emphasis, stand out with greater emotional impact next to their longer counterparts.

*Suitdiamond* Cappers - A short sentence that comes after several longer ones and serves to "cap off" the preceding information with a burst of dramatic flair is called a Capper. A capper is a literary gimmick, and if you overuse them in a story you risk desensitizing your readers. However, used sparingly, these little sentences carry a powerful dramatic punch.

Example: My lungs felt collapsed; I couldn't draw in enough air. I pleaded, "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod," over and over under my breath as thoughts collided in my brain. I realized I'd never been in danger before this moment in my life. I was at the mercy of these excited, armed men. Whatever they said I had to do, I would have no choice but to obey. And that terrified me.

"And that terrified me" caps off the five sentences that come before it, wrapping up the sentiments of the passage, before the story moves on.

The above excerpt is from one of my own stories, but here's another (better) example. It's by James Alan Gardner from his 2001 article A Seminar on Writing Prose: Rhythm  . It illustrates the capper perfectly:

I was just about to lock in the auto-pilot when the navigation screen flashed every color in the rainbow for three and a half seconds, turned fuzzy gray for a second after that, then went completely blank. Naturally, I hit the DIAGNOSTICS button. Nothing happened-for all I knew, the diagnostic suite might be happily running through the nav system circuits, but the screen didn't show me a thing. I spun my chair to face the command console, but its screen had gone blank too. So had the screens for the engines, communications, and life support. I stared stupidly at all those empty screens until it dawned on me that things had gone awfully quiet behind my back: the usual noise of machinery, air ventilators, and cooling fans had fallen silent.

Then the lights went out. Shit.



Rhythm is the heartbeat of life. Picture a room full of people dancing. They're twisting and twirling to the same song, but your eyes will go right to that man or woman whose organic movement and natural beat melds in perfect synchronization with the music. Create that rhythmic vibe in your writing, and you will captivate your reading audience with drama in every sentence.



Question for next time: Can you judge the rhythm of your own work, or do you look to reviewers and critique partners to evaluate the fluency of your writing? And, do you think you can dance...dance...dance?


Thanks for reading!





Dancing With Mrs. Brown  (18+)
*published at espressofiction.com August 2008*
#1329660 by Lauriemariepea


STATIC
Dancing Wheat  (E)
Kate loved to be in her own little world.
#1324870 by Lornda


 Dance with Me  (13+)
A short story based on a dream I had. Miss you, Luke!
#1749078 by Artemis


 Dancing in the Rain  (13+)
Here is another shortstory dedicated to Naruto and Sakura.
#1664517 by eldarranger


 Dancing With The Devil  (13+)
A modern re-telling of the Faust legend. It is incomplete and will stay that way.
#1497063 by Morbidly Zen


 Invalid Item 
This item number is not valid.
#1778390 by Not Available.


Demon's Dance  (13+)
Chris Toth finds a demon in Hungary.
#982312 by StephBee - Grateful Bee


 Slow Dance On The Inside  (18+)
It was only supposed to be physical, but she's fallen. How will he take it?
#1185416 by Memory sweet 16


 Tiny Dancer  (18+)
Elton John's classic song plays an important role in this story.
#661485 by Eric DeLee


 Roof Top Dance  (13+)
No way out.
#1114048 by P. A. Matthews/E. A. Irwin


 
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Question for next time: Can you judge the rhythm of your own work, or do you look to reviewers and critique partners to evaluate the fluency of your writing? And, do you think you can dance...dance...dance?

Last month's question was: What kind of note-taker are you? Do you always have pen and notebook with you? Or do you use your cell phone's notepad feature, or a netbook/laptop/tablet? Or do you scribble stuff down on napkins and scraps of paper? Here's what readers had to say:


spidey -- I write notes everywhere on all kinds of paper! I try to have notebooks for certain types of notes to attempt to stay organized but my notes usually end up all over the place. *Laugh* I also have an app on my phone for notes in case I don't have a pen and paper handy. Great NL! Wishing you a speedy recovery! Smile

We have the same methods! My attempts at organization falter when I try to keep all my "notes" together, but there's nothing like coming across an idea gem on a day I didn't expect to find it! And thanks for the well wishes. I'm back to 100% now! *Smile*


fyn -- Wow...what an experience! Sure hope you are doing better! From the writerly aspect...fantastic article!!! Riveting! I could see those blanket swathed bodies silently waiting to go beyond the next set of swinging doors...just sitting quietly and waiting...each wondering if one of their number will be the first to run for it...screaming madly down the hall if for nothing else to simply break the silence!

I can't get those silent, ghostly images out of my mind. Definitely want to write about those people and their stories one day! *shiver*


BIG BAD WOLF Is Thankful -- My notes are all on a chalkboard in my head. Hmm, I guess I best do some Spring Cleaning come Spring. (Submitted item: "Freezing Cold)

You still have a couple months...if you're a procrastinator... *Wink*


Joy -- So sorry Frown you had to go through such a scary outburst of an illness, (((Nicki))). Luckily, it had a happy ending. And yes, our life experiences help us grow, unpleasant though they may be. Looking forward to your next newsletter... Smile

It was a strange experience, especially because I was in deep denial that I was truly hurt. I mean, I wasn't in a car accident, or anything. I just fell on the floor. It took a couple days and the support of my family to realize my injuries were the same as those that could be sustained in a car accident. But I'm all better now -- I can even hear correctly through the ear drum that ruptured. *Smile*


Phoenix -- Wow, Nicki, what an experience. I'm glad you're on the mend, and I hope your new condition proves to be a little hiccup in your life. I'm impressed by your description of the hospital. As you described the hall, doors, and nurse, I could see everything you were experiencing. This take away from your F2 life storm serves as a reminder for me to take in everything as possible writing material. Thanks! *Smile*

Thank you! And thankfully, there are only the tiniest remnants of my injuries that linger. For all intent and purposes, I'm back to my old self!


Lauriemariepea -- Hi, Nicki--
What an experience for you, going to the ER and finding out about your heart irregularity! *Heart* I'm glad you're finding bright spots in what must have otherwise been a frightening night.
Thanks for sharing.
Also, thanks for highlighting my story in your newsletter. I don't write a lot of straight drama, so I'm especially gratified you found something you like.
Many thanks,
Laurie

You're welcome! And in regard to my heart, I have since undergone a stress test that revealed what I already knew to be true: my heart is as healthy as an athlete ten years younger than me. I'm back to marathon training and feeling great. Good health is such a blessing!


Mara ♣ McBain is NaNo-ing! -- A shout back to your last NL... your words encouraged me to pick up my 2009 NaNo Novel and get to work on editing, revising, and fleshing out the 50k for the 2nd Novel in the Trinity Falls Series. This weeks NL is so uplifting and positive. You are strong and beautiful inside and out. *Heart* You are an inspiration.

Oh Mara! What a fantastic compliment! You made my month *Laugh*. Best of luck with the second novel -- you know I can't wait to read it!!!!


Lillie -- Please consider adding this in a newsletter at some point!
I'm not a very experienced writer and need all the feedback I can get!
Thank you so much!
~Lillie (Submitted Item: "Take it all)

It would be my pleasure! Best of luck to you as you strengthen your craft. Write on!


Noelle -- Hey, Nicki Sis!*Heart*

Words cannot describe the relief I feel, knowing that you are okay. I know I said it before, but I am so sorry you fell and werre hurt so badly. You are truly a remarkable person, taking your own suffering and finding something positive about it. This NL is incredibly inspiring to writers. We all have difficulties we can draw upon and bring it to our writing tablets.*Thumbsup*

Whenever I am away from home and I have a moment of spontaneous inspiration, I type in a few lines into my iPhone's "Notes" app so I don't forget later. Sometimes, simply jotting in a single word or two (if I'm in a rush) will help me recall the inspirational moment later when I'm sitting at home with my laptop. *Smile*

Great NL, Nicki!

Oh yeah! I forgot to say THANK YOU for featuring my short story "Invalid Item in this week's NL! *Heart*

((hugs))
Noelle *Heart*

Thanks, sister! It was terrible but getting all those phone calls from you and the rest of our sisters really got me through the worst of it. I love you!! *Heart*



See you all back here on February 22, 2012. Until then, have a great month!


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