by: Laura Hernandez, Writers Forum President
Do you know what I’m talking about when I say the “rhythm” in your writing?
You can show mood and tone on the written page with the right words and the length of your sentences. That’s creating a rhythm like a song on your paper. The right words are not the accurate words, they don’t convey imagery. Describing a flower in a trash heap SHOWS tragedy and hope without your use of the accurate words “tragedy and hope.”
Juxtapose emotional descriptions to create tone and mood. Eyebrows down but a smile on that face is a different kind of mood than just describing eyebrows down.
Using short sentences in a dialogue without any exposition or tags (the he said or the she saids) creates a snappy kind of fast pace, changing the rhythm. You can also use choppy sentences to show anger with sudden stops. Longer sentences can show sadness, internalization. Count the beats of the words (like we used to do when figuring how many syllables a word has for making poetry—hold your hand under your chin as you speak them). Use the downbeat for sadness, an upbeat for happiness.
Your character can help you set the tone with her usual attitude about crap in general, and this really crappy situation in particular. Back up her feelings with the rest of the scene and your reader will be right with you. But if she is too dramatic and the scene isn’t, it will just look soap-opery and not in a good way. Of course that’s a good way to show she’s losing her marbles, but make sure that’s what you wanted to do.
Walk this way. What? You didn’t convey anything. “Creep” across the lot is different. “Skipped” is differenter still. And no one cares how your character “feels” if you say “she felt” at the beginning of your scene. Just get to it: Describe the knot in the throat, or stomach, or calf muscle to show that. And don’t end that nice description with, “that’s how she felt” either. Like Mariachi music that always ends with those last two beats of, “Dun dun.” Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Create the mood, show the rhythm, do the stuff needed to make your writing sing!
More blatant theft from Understanding show, Don’t Tell by Janice Hardy. You haven’t bought this book yet? Do I have to do everything?!