Three Tips for Crafting Lyrical Prose
About the Author: Angelica Hartgers
Angelica is the Content Creation Specialist at SelfPublishing.com.
With a background in writing and education, she is passionate about empowering other writers to improve their craft. When she’s not creating content that helps writers tell better stories and publish their books, she's reading, writing fiction, and traveling the world. Read more on the Self-Publishing blog.
Have you ever read a sentence that leaves your jaw resting atop your chest? Something so perfect, so planned, so melodic that you can’t help but marvel at the sheer mastery of the writer’s genius?
These examples of seemingly elusive “perfect sentences” are more than likely rhythmic ones. They are intentionally written with poetic cadence, smoothly disguised under the guise of mere storytelling. Although these sentences may feel like they have a sort of je ne sais quoi, there are specific strategies you can use to weave some rhythm into your own fiction storytelling.
Borrow these strategies from the poet’s toolbox to craft lyrical prose that can be sung like the soundtrack of your story.
Tip #1: Use Different Types of Repetition
Three of a poet’s most important tools are alliteration, consonance, and assonance. If you need a refresher on these literary elements, here’s a quick explanation of each:
Alliteration: Repetition of the first sound in a word. An example is this line from Emily Dickinson: “The soul selects her own society, then, shuts the door.”
Consonance: Repetition of consonant sounds. An example is, “Dawn goes down.”
Assonance: Repetition of vowel sounds. An example is this line from William Wordsworth: “Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…”
While quite common in tongue twisters and poems, these three tools can add an immediate sense of rhythm to any story. Using these different types of repetition in your writing allows you to create lyricism within your story’s flow and adds a seductive beauty when describing a specific scene.
Tip #2: Set Your Syllabic Style
Imagine conversing with a toddler who spoke dominantly in words of four or more syllables. Wouldn’t that be off-putting?
Note that it’s not that the words themselves would be uncomfortable but that they are unexpected within that context. This same idea applies to the syllabic cadence you use to tell your story.
To make your sentences sing, you must first establish your syllabic style. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to use the same syllable count throughout your entire short story; instead, you just have to keep some syllabic consistencies within certain sections of your prose.
Take Dr. Seuss’s writing as a prime example of this:
“I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.” Every word in this sentence is one syllable. It would be quite noticeable if its syllabic structure were to suddenly change, for instance, to: “I do not like them, Sam-I-Am, in juxtaposition with the sheriff of Nottingham.”
Notice how the introduction of three- and five-syllable words interrupts the flow?
When you’re aware of your own syllabic style, you can manipulate its rhythm not only to create beauty but to emphasize events and emotions in your piece, particularly when describing the setting of a story.
Tip #3: Consider Sentence Structure
The length of a sentence is equally as powerful as its content. A short, punchy sentence conveys abrupt truth, sureness, and practicality. A long, flowing sentence, however, can usher in a lyrical feel and a sense of elasticity.
It’s simple, really. The reality you wish to convey in your story can be heavily reflected by how you construct your sentence length, not only in description but in dialogue as well. For example, a character who is unsure and spiraling can be described using meandering, highly-punctuated sentences. On the other hand, a confident character can be described using a few short words.
When you combine creative use of sentence structure with well-chosen syllabic cadence and rhyme, your writing will begin to sound like an orchestra. This, utilized as a reflection of your character development and plot can cause physical and emotional reactions in your reader that will deepen the impact of your narrative.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with new strategies. With these tools at your disposal, you’ll learn how to soften and mold your writing to be more poetic and rhythmic during particular scenes, which will inspire awe and improve your reader’s experience when done right.
Not only will your paragraphs become spectacles of their own, but you will be able to manipulate your readers’ mood and interpretation using the subtleties of your cadence. Now’s the time. Open up your toolkit and write a draw-dropping sentence that urges your reader to stop and savor the lyricism of your prose.