Friday, January 13, 2012

Rhythm and Writing


              The Muppets have always been some of my favorite characters. Such a zest for life!
Do you think about rhythm as you write? If not, then you should begin to do so now. It doesn’t matter whether you write rhyming picture books or thrillers; you need to understand the importance of rhythm.
                I love Laura Numeroff’s Mouse Cookies series. If you aren’t familiar with them, the list includes If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, and If You Give a Moose a Muffin. They aren’t rhyming books, but as the titles suggest, they have a definite rhythm. Notice that there isn’t a title such as If You Give an Elephant an Egg. The concept is appealing and lucrative, as Dr. Seuss proved with Horton, but such a title falls flat, at least for me.
                Some people may think that rhythm only applies to music. But rhythm is something we are learning before birth. As soon as an unborn baby develops his ability to hear, he learns rhythm. His mother’s heartbeat and respirations are rhythmic – hopefully – and are a constant accompaniment to his life before birth. And how many of us can resist patting a baby, long after he has fallen asleep in our arms, to a steady, rhythmic beat? We live with rhythm from the very beginning.
                Soon the patting and rocking is accompanied by nursery rhymes. Whether sung or spoken, they have a natural rhythm that stimulates the brain differently than that of regular speech, or reading from a textbook. Why do you think we sing our ABC’s in preschool or kindergarten? The rhythm helps us to retain what we hear or read. Have you ever thought about all the words to all the songs you have learned throughout your life? There must be billions! Poems affect us that way, too, because of the rhythm. I can remember words to poems and songs I haven’t heard since I was three years old, but I can’t recite one line from the textbooks I thought I had memorized in college in order to pass finals.
                So how do we learn to write rhythmically? Lots and lots of practice. Lots and lots of reading. It helps, too, if you read aloud. If you stumble over a sentence, or have to go back and read it a second time, then you know that your rhythm is off. Stimulate your brain’s creative right side by reading poems and rhyming picture books. Maybe listen to music while you write. Try different approaches until you find the one that works for you. You want your words to be memorable, so it’s up to you to do everything you can to achieve that. Even if you can’t dance, you can learn to hear the music.
                Now tell me what you do that helps strengthen the rhythm in your own writing. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I need all the help I can get.



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