I am an avid Dr. Seuss fan. His books are genius. Ask me who some of my favorite authors are, and Dr. Seuss will always be on the list. So when my younger siblings ask me to read something to them, it’s going to be Fox in Socks, Green Eggs and Ham, or the like. They have a slew of young children’s books, and there’s one I will not – and I mean WILL NOT – read to them.
I have nothing against the writer or the subject matter. I like dogs, after all. It’s the rhythm, or rather, lack thereof, that drives me absolutely insane.
Try it. Read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax aloud and then read Go, Dog, Go aloud. You’ll hear the difference within the first couple of pages. Many of Dr. Seuss’ words are completely made up and sometimes difficult to pronounce, but they fit together nicely. It’s almost like a song. You could set it to a beat.
Go, Dog, Go is completely different, but not just because it doesn’t rhyme. As you read, it feels a little lopsided, like there are words missing, or as if you’re reading incomplete thoughts.
The rhythm is missing, and it makes it harder to read.
Now, take this idea of rhythm and apply it to your own writing. Choose a passage of something you’ve written and read it aloud. Does it sound natural? Are there pauses, emphasis, inflection, natural ending points? Are there awkward sentences that people wouldn’t really say? You don’t want to sound like Yoda (unless, y’know, you want to sound like Yoda).
We’ve probably all at some point heard/read/been told to read our work aloud whilst editing. If not, I’ll tell you now: You should read your work aloud when you begin editing. You catch things you wouldn’t otherwise. A particular sentence or paragraph might not look awkward to your eyes, but it will just sound wrong when you hear it.
We can’t all be Dr. Seuss, creating things like a Zans for Cans, the Once-Ler, and a Fox in Socks, making our entire book rhyme. That’s not the only way to create rhythm.
In Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds, a writing book that I absolutely love (if you haven’t read this book, you should. It’s awesome), the author George Singleton wrote:
Writing poetry helps the fiction writer understand sound and rhythm. Those are not bad things. More than likely, you don’t want your stories sounding like relentless jackhammers; likewise, you don’t want them sounding like long-winded synthesizer solos. Mix it up.
Think about rhythm. Read poetry. Write poetry. Read Go, Dog, Go. Read The Lorax just because it’s awesome. And don’t forget to read your work aloud!
I bet you think this post is over, dont’cha? BUT IT’S NOT! I have more info to share.
Ally (who actually wrote a post on the value of writing poetry HERE) at Novel Ideas of a Teen Writer is having the Novel Idea Awards for the month of December, complete with Best and Worst awards of everything writerly and readerly of 2011, plus a giveaway of SHATTER ME by Tahereh Mafi. To enter you can comment on one of her posts, or spread the word about her fantabulous blog via your own blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Go forth! Spread the word!