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Sentence Strengthening Sunday--Making Sentences Sing

Making Sentences Sing

There's a reason writers talk so much about music. A song can spark an idea for a novel, set the tone or mood for a book with its melody, or a single stanza can encompass the entire meaning of what their book represents. But there's another reason music and writing go hand-in-hand. Sentences, just like music, have a certain sound and rhythm. Writing technically correct sentences to guide a reader through your story is imperative, but how you write them is just as important.

Sound at Surface Level
The good news? Writers, even those working on their very first novel, already understand sound at the basic level. Writers are readers. We *hear* when a sentence doesn't sound quite right. Even if we aren't able to put our finger on it, we sense something is off. It could be a run on sentence or the particular space of a comma. While the sentence isn't incorrect, it isn't exactly pleasing to the ear, either.

Digging a little deeper
Here is what can separate good prose from great prose. Sound on a deeper level is more than a decent sentence. It involves paying close attention to each word and how it fits and moves in a sentence.

There was no sun; there was no light. I was dying. I couldn't remember what the sky looked like.
But I didn't die. I was lost to a sea of cold, and then I was reborn into a world of warmth.
I remember this: his yellow eyes.
I thought I'd never see them again.
    
--SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater 

Let's break this beautiful writing down.
Punctuation
Punctuation serves as traffic signals in writing. It tells us where to stop, where to pause, and where to floor it. Look at the first sentence:
There was no sun; there was no light.
A semi-colon (in this instance) is used for connecting two independent clauses that, while related (no sun, no light), are distinct enough to need separation. A semi-colon reads much like a comma. There's a pause, a hesitation, before moving on to the next part. So why not use a period? A period marks the completion of a thought. Since the two clauses in the example are both building on the same thought, they don't need to be separate sentences.
  
Alliteration 
Alliteration is the repetition or matching of initial consonant sounds in neighboring words.
  
"then I was reborn into a world of warmth."
  
Alliteration is prominent in much of poetry. Many older writer's chose alliteration over rhyming. 
Mary sat musing on the lamp-flame at the table
Waiting for Warren. When she heard his step. . .

--from The Death of the Hired Man by Robert Frost

Alliteration can be taken a step further and produce echo.

Echo -- the repetition of words or phrase.
There was no sun; there was no light. I was dying. I couldn't remember what the sky looked like.
But I didn't die. I was lost to a sea of cold, and then I was reborn into a world of warmth.
Here we see the repetition of words forming an echo. Emphasis is placed on certain phrases the writer wants the reader to hear louder than the others.
*Be careful of unintentional echoes such as repeated character names, dialog tags, or thoughts. These emphasize unimportant things and will weigh your writing down.
Resonance
Resonance is, by literal definition, moving between two states or places. Ever heard someone strike a tuning fork? The note's volume isn't constant. It reverberates softer and louder. Good prose will do the same.

There was no sun; there was no light. I was dying. I couldn't remember what the sky looked like.
But I didn't die. I was lost to a sea of cold, and then I was reborn into a world of warmth.
  
There are two short sentences mixed between the three longer ones in this passage. The shorter sentences ring differently when read. The intention being to make important things stand out.

Resonance even extends to paragraph breaks.

There was no sun; there was no light. I was dying. I couldn't remember what the sky looked like.
But I didn't die. I was lost to a sea of cold, and then I was reborn into a world of warmth.

I remember this: his yellow eyes.

I thought I'd never see them again.

Separating a single sentence into a paragraph has the same resonating outcome as the different sentence lengths. It pulls a different kind of attention by its placement.
Crafting sentences in your story is just as important as plot and characters. All of these tools help writers to do more with words than simply make sentences. They help us make them sing. If you don't think you've developed an ear for these things just yet, the best thing to do is keep reading and, of course, writing.

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Amanda Hannah

Amanda grew up on a big farm in a small town with one stoplight, one school, and a handful of imaginary friends.She would’ve gone to college forever, but eight years and five majors tested her advisor’s patience. So she moved to Germany to explore creepy castles before landing in Spain where she’s perfecting her Flamenco.

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3 comments:

  1. Wow.

    When you've got 40, 50, 80 thousand words to think about, it's hard to concentrate on each individual one.

    But, when you think about it, HARRY POTTER and HUGNER GAMES and TWILIGHT have millions of readers. And you are just one. But you are important.

    There's no reason that every word shouldn't be just as important too.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post, and I think SHIVER was a perfect book to choose a passage from to exemplify your point.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love the way you grammatically dissected that passage from SHIVER to show off how the talented writing Maggie Stiefvater. Fabulous - thanks for a wonderful writing lesson for my students!

    ReplyDelete

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Item Reviewed: Sentence Strengthening Sunday--Making Sentences Sing Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amanda Hannah