82. About Writing: Rhythm

Before I share my thoughts about rhythm, here are a few words from Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher. (They’re mostly from Phineas. Ferb doesn’t talk much.)

All right, it’s important to have a sense of rhythm. But what does that mean for writers?

It’s a mistake to use the same kinds of sentences. A paragraph full of identical sentence structures is boring. Sentences should be varied. Sentences should not become monotonous. That kind of writing sounds boring and choppy. That kind of writing is worse if consecutive sentences begin or end with the same words because it sounds boring and choppy.

That last paragraph was, as one of my brothers would say, an abomination. It committed pretty much all the transgressions against which it warned. The structures of its sentences were similar, and it repeated certain phrases. It sounded—forgive the repetition—boring and choppy.

It’s easy to use the same sentence structures over and over. In fact, I do it all the time without realizing it. Writers need to vary the rhythm of their writing, and deliberately use different kinds of sentences.

I won’t go into the technical details of dependent and independent clauses, compound sentences, complex sentences or any of those other ghastly things.

Let us instead learn by doing. Here’s a lousy paragraph, one that ain’t got rhythm.

Uproariously, the typewriter monkeys chattered as Adam dictated a blog post to them. He told them to listen, but they wouldn’t. He shouted, but they only yanked the ribbons out of their typewriters. Clutching his head, Adam went into the kitchen to make tea. Unhappily, he returned and surveyed the devastation.

We have two basic sentence structures repeated in this paragraph: Adverb or adverbial phrase, blah blah blah and Blah blah blah, but blah blah blah.

(A real professional would use proper grammatical terms to describe these sentence structures, but I ain’t real professional.)

Let us rewrite the paragraph with a little more rhythm.

The typewriter monkeys chattered uproariously as Adam dictated a blog post to them. Although he told them to listen, they wouldn’t. He shouted, but they only yanked the ribbons out of their typewriters. Adam went into the kitchen to make some tea, clutching his head, and returned to survey the devastation unhappily.

Behold! With a few words changed and a few phrases shifted around, the paragraph has gone from being monotonous to readable.

Rhythm is important, and syntax—the order in which words are arranged—matters. (Syntax is not a tax extorted from sinners, to quote one of my high school teachers.) Writing that ain’t got rhythm isn’t nearly as powerful as writing that has it.

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