Prose creates sound. Accomplished writers not only tell a story or paint a picture with words, they pay attention to the sound of language, to its rhythms, breaks, alliterations, rhymes and echoes. Good writing translates into immaculate prose, beautiful to hear and beautiful to read.
Musical notes reverberate in tiny waves, always growing louder or softer. The same is true for prose. And sound can be one of the harder problems to diagnose and correct. You want it to flow. The last thing you want is a jarring sound that pulls the reader out of the dream.
The most common dilemma with sound results from poor sentence construction. The root problem is caused by awkward sentence division – misuse of commas, periods, colons, semicolons, dashes and parentheses.
In some cases sentences are simply too short or too long.
Another problem is echoes, using a character’s name or some other word too often. Many authors use “he” and “she” too often. Also, using an unusual word that stands out too often. I have a habit of using “he” or “she” to start several sentences in a row, as in “He said this. He did that. He heard something. He turned around.” It quickly gets monotonous.
Yet another issue is Alliteration, where the repetition of the first letter of a word and the first letter of a following word is the same – for instance, the “large lock” or “walking down the wide street.”
The best way to catch sound issues is by reading the text aloud. On my Mac, I can highlight the text and have the computer read it aloud. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve caught doing this.
Once you identify an issue, an effective way to deal with it is to cut and/or simplify. Many writers equate complexity of thought with complexity of sentence structure. I believe that is a huge mistake. To present ideas simply and clearly is next to Godliness.
Bottom line is to pay close attention to the sound of your prose.
Lambda Literary’s Good Calls.
1 month ago