(Thanks so much for sharing with us, Mona!)
I have been thinking a lot lately about rhythm. I mean the kind one can hear and feel. For example, what if I were to write the following paragraph.
“I woke feeling calm. Got out of bed. Headed to the kitchen. Poured a glass of milk. Picked up the newspaper. Circled my lounge chair. Fell into it and opened to the opinion page.”
“I woke feeling calm before getting out of bed and heading to the kitchen where I poured a glass of milk before picking up the newspaper. Circling my lounge chair, I fell into it and opened to the opinion page.”
Which paragraph is more convincingly calm? Try reading them both aloud. Does the first one leave you feeling a bit breathless? Can you feel the disrupted breathing – a physiological symptom of anxiety? Your readers might experience a less than conscious conflict between the expectation of ‘calm’ promised at the beginning of the paragraph and the bodily and auditory sense of something less peaceful. Maybe you want that build-up of tension because the phone is about to ring with unexpected bad news.
How about the second paragraph. Are you in better control of your breathing? Does it feel calmer? Do you want your reader to feel calm?
Or how about this.
“Jake and I sank into our lounge chairs, leaning back with eyes closed as we let the sun play a bright dance through our lids while seeping into the pores of our exposed skin. Jake reached for my hand. ‘Life is good,” he said.
The scream cut between us. ‘Mommy, It’s David.’
Jake dropped my hand.
I jumped to my feet.
‘Mommy, the knife. He dropped it. He fell on it. He’s bleeding. Mommy come. Daddy come. He’s bleeding.’”
Have your feelings changed with the arrival of the short sentences. I mean your actual bodily feelings. Will your reader experience the shock you hope for when the scream cuts in?
My examples may or may not make the point that the rhythm of the writing affects the emotional response you intend to invoke. I hope they’ve affected the way you are breathing right now.
Mona Gustafson Affinito is a Psychologist/author whose published books include: When to Forgive; Forgiving One Page at a Time; and Figs & Pomegranates & Special Cheeses (historical fiction based on the wife of Biblical Job). Currently she is working on “My Father’s House,” the deeply researched creative non-fiction story of a Swedish-American immigrant, 1910 – 1975. “Based on fact, it reads like a novel,” she says. Mona can be found at http://www.monagustafsonaffinito.com and http://forgivenessoptions.com.