November 9th, 2015

Margie’s Rule #10: Rhythm and Cadence and Beats, Oh Yes

Margie Lawson


Thank you for inviting me to be a guest blogger. I’m always honored to be a WITS guest!


Reading a book with flat-lined cadence is like watching a movie on mute.


Most writers know about the power of rhythm and cadence and beats. But most don’t use that power in every sentence.


A compelling cadence is more than varying sentence lengths. More than using ­­­­­stand alone words.


A compelling cadence carries power on the page. It propels readers through paragraphs and passages and pages.


Dean Koontz is one of the kings of cadence. Here’s what he shared with Brad Crawford in an interview. 

I like prose to have hidden rhythms; I like prose to have a music beneath the

surface. It’s almost never recognized by the reader in a conscious way, but it is

recognized unconsciously. It’s why readers feel the prose flow, why it speaks to


A poet once reviewed one of my books and recognized that entire passages were

written in iambic pentameter. I didn’t think anyone would ever notice that.

Different poetic meters affects us emotionally in different ways. It’s not anything

anyone’s going to see, but it’s one of the great techniques to suck a reader right

into the heart of the story.


Read your work out loud, with feeling, and you’ll hear what beats work well, and what beats are missing.


Many rhetorical devices are cadence-driven. Knowing which rhetorical devices boost cadence, pick up pace, make the read imperative, and 747 more cool things, loads your writing toolbox with super-powered tools.

Check out these cadence-driven examples.


Hide, Lisa Gardner, A two paragraph excerpt from page 9.

It was raining. He held his coat over my head. And then, tucked inside his

cologne-scented jacket, he gave me my first kiss.


Arms wrapped around my waist. Dreamy smile upon my face.


The compelling cadence in Lisa Gardner’s second paragraph was powered by what I call an RD combo. Two rhetorical devices.  Parallelism and assonance.


I included the first paragraph so you could see—and hear—the cadence in the lead-in.


Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen, From the prologue: 

The concession stand in the center of the tent had been flattened, and in its

place was a roiling mass of spots and stripes—of haunches, heels, tails,

and claws, all of it roaring, screeching, bellowing, or whinnying. A polar bear

towered above it all, slashing blindly with skillet-sized paws. It made contact

with a llama and knocked it flat—BOOM!


Sara Gruen made that piece strong with alliteration and word play, as well as style and structure and strategy.


The Ones We Trust, Kimberly Belle, 4-time Immersion-Grad, 4 Examples

1. Gabe’s good looks are real and rugged and raw, and now that I’ve seen both brothers up close, I’d choose Gabe over Zach any day. 

RD Combo: Polysyndeton and Alliteration.

2. The silence that spins out lasts forever. It’s the kind of silence that wraps around you like a shroud, the kind that turns the air thick and solid, the kind that makes you want to hear the answer as much as you dread it.

Rhetorical Devices:  Amplification (silence) and anaphora

3. My heart races and my skin tingles and my blood pressure explodes like a grenade.

Rhetorical Devices:  Empowers visceral responses with polysyndeton and a simile.

4. “Gabe.” I wait until he falls quiet, and then I say, in my best calm-a-spooked-source voice, “She’ll call.”

Dialogue Cue freshened and empowered with a hyphenated-run-on for a cliché twist.


The Blessing of No, Megan Menard, 4-time Immersion-Grad, Three examples:

1. Luke had a machine-gun laugh that fired about every third word.

2. “That makes me feel so much better.” I hoped my sarcasm covered my lie.

3. I picked up a French fry. It was a slender blonde, tall and weepy. I named the fry Tanya and chomped off its head.

All three examples carry interest and power and are perfectly cadenced. The third example uses parallelism. And it reveals a truth in a humor hit that could make us want to laugh or cry.


Test of Faith, Christa Allan, multi-Margie-Grad

 1. “If. Faith. Can. Come. Live. With Me?” I heaved every word out of my brain and into my mouth. I felt like someone regaining consciousness in an unfamiliar room or house or life.

Christa Allan stylized that dialogue by using a Period. Infused. Sentence. That’s what I named it.  Her dialogue cue is amplified, amplified, amplified stellar.

She used an RD combo in the last sentence: polysyndeton and zeugma.

2. That Logan could embrace his inner dork made him all the more likeable. If I’d idled at likeable and not throttled up to loveable, I wouldn’t have risked crashing into the wall. This dinner was the Indy 500 version of returning to the track after a pit stop, except that the finish line was Logan, and there was only one first place.

Ah… Metaphors and power words and hope all themed, propelled by a compelling cadence.


The Edge of Lost, Kristina McMorris, multi-Margie-Grad

1. Murphy swayed, as if riding the internal waves of his liquor.

Wow. A fresh take on a drunken swagger.

2. Mealtime together was like wading through a swamp: one wrong step could pull you under.

Smart writing. An amplified simile. Perfectly cadenced.


Risk, Skye Jordan, 3-time Immersion-Grad 

1. “Julia.” The use of her name was forceful and final, and oddly intimate.

Love the way Joan Swan, writing as Sky Jordan, used alliteration and boosted the cadence with the unexpected juxtaposition—oddly intimate.

2. Julia cocked her hip, crossed her arms, and gave Noah a clear, one-wrong-word-and-you’ll-regret-it stare.

Two hits of body language, parallelism, followed by a look amplified with a hyphenated-run-on. Fun and powerful.


Twice in a Blue Moon, Laura Drake, Immersion-Grad

1. “This business will stand on its own.” Her voice was as hard as the untilled dirt in the vineyard.

Themed dialogue cue. Amplified simile.

2. The remnants of adrenaline in her system congealed to a sticky wad of anger.

Powerful visceral response. Fresh. Backloaded.

Next example, two paragraphs:

3. “What do you mean, nothing? You’re looking at me like I’m a mouse turd on toast.”

In her hesitation, time bloated, looming and ugly. Something was wrong. His heart tried to hammer its way out of his chest. Bad wrong.

Stimulus: Fresh, accusatory dialogue.

Response: Expanded time. Amplified with negative connotations and a visceral response. Backloaded. Punched up cadence.

You have thousands of ways to capture your story on the page. Crafting a compelling cadence will capture your reader too. And you’ll take your writing from good to stellar.

BLOG GUESTS:  It’s your turn.

 Post a comment and you have TWO CHANCES to WIN!


  1. Lecture Packet from Margie Lawson
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Check out the courses offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy in January:

  1. Getting Serious About Writing a Series
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The drawings will be Tuesday, 8:00 PM Mountain Time.

See you on the blog!

All smiles…………….Margie

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Margie

Margie photoMargie Lawson—editor, international presenter—teaches writers how to use her psychologically-based editing systems and deep editing techniques to create page turners. Margie has presented over ninety full day master classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

To learn about Lawson Writer’s Academy, Margie’s 4-day Immersion Master Classes (in Denver, Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Canyon Lake, Dallas, San Jose, Melbourne, Australia, and more), her full day Master Class presentations, on-line courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit


90 comments to Margie’s Rule #10: Rhythm and Cadence and Beats, Oh Yes

  • Incredible examples, Margie – and thank you SO much for including me! I was looking at the lessons of another writing teacher just the other day . . . they were meaty and full of great, detailed info. But what was missing (to me), were examples, that show me how to put the lesson into practice!

    That’s why, to date, you are the BEST writing teacher out there – bar none.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.

    • Laura —

      You know I LOVE your writing. It’s stellar!

      Thank you for your makes-me-smile praise.

      I’m thrilled that we get to spend seven days together on the Cruising Writers cruise in December!

      Thanks again for inviting me to blog on WITS!

  • I thoroughly agree with Dean Koontz about the music beneath the surface of the words I read. I refer to the music of words on my blog. Thanks so much for your examples and explanations of rhythm, cadence, and beats. I use them, but never knew what they were named. Enjoyed your blog a lot.

    • Hello Marilyn!

      Sounds like you’re a fan of rhetorical devices. Me too!

      If you want to learn 30 rhetorical devices for fiction writers, check out my Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More lecture packet. You’ll make your writing stronger!

      Thanks for posting!

  • Really interesting, I’ve never explored why a book might flow for me as a reader, and how writers achieve this.

    • Rosie —

      You must not know about the psychologically based deep editing tools I teach.

      Check out my lecture packets, and all the courses offered through Lawson Writer’s Academy. I bet you’ll like what you find! 🙂

  • I love the fabulous examples you share and because of you I’m learning to embrace my inner poet. 🙂

  • I can hear the beats:
    “…congealed to a sticky wad of anger.”
    “forceful and final”
    “Gabe’s looks are real and rugged and raw”
    “…of haunches, heals, tails and claws, all of it roaring, screeching, bellowing, or whinnying.”
    “Arms wrapped around my waist. Dreamy smile upon my face.”
    And Christa, the example about Logan is awesome.
    Margie, thanks for including examples from my story. I’ve learned so much from your classes. This English teacher ditching the stuffy English rules and learning to write with power. 🙂 Cadence is more than just repetition or run-ons. It’s using the right words and phrases with rhetorical devices to create impact in the sound and mood of the story.

  • carrienichols

    Thank you so much, Margie! Great post as always.Like Laura, I love the examples because they let me know if I’m understanding correctly and helps cement the lesson.

    • Carrie —

      Glad the examples helped lock in the learning. You’ll find hundreds more examples (Not hyperbole!) in my lecture packets and courses. Beware, they’re addictive. 😉

      Thanks for chiming in!

  • ManjuBeth

    Margie, I always learn so much from your posts. As a picture book writer (mostly), I focus on rhythm and cadence and beats.

    • Hello ManjuBeth —

      I’m curious. Have we met? Or are you a blog stalker?

      Picture book writers have to keep the cadence rolling rolling rolling on every single page.

      Here’s the first version of that sentence:

      Picture book writers have to keep the cadence rolling on every page.

      Not a catchy cadence.

      When I added epizeuxis: rolling rolling rolling — I had to add the word SINGLE to balance it out.

      I’m happy with this cadence:

      Picture book writers have to keep the cadence rolling rolling rolling on every single page.

      I bet you and I have similar brainwave patterns. 🙂

      Hope I get to work with you someday!

      • ManjuBeth

        I hope to meet you someday. Your posts on WITS always have great examples. And your response does follow the way my writing brain works. Thanks for sharing!

  • Excellent post! I am trying to find the balance between too flat and too writerly, and your fresh, lively examples are fantastic mentor texts. Thank you!
    — @kidlitSarah

  • I always love a Margie post because of all the great examples — IMO, the best way to learn and get inspired. And thank you, Margie, for including a few of mine. As always, I’m honored. xo

  • Like being back on the mountain. Miss you already! Thanks for the awesome post.. You totally rock.

  • New Immersion-Grad here. I appreciate hearing about the importance of cadence. I hear it, I love it, and I couldn’t agree more. Margie, gorgeous examples, as always. Kimberly Belle, Laura Drake, and Megan Menard – I love the lines Margie shared from you (as well as the others). I took notes in class of the books I wanted to get, and I look forward to reading more of your stories, ladies.

  • Wonderful examples to aspire and inspire every Writer’s yearning heart

  • Great post, Margie. Love your examples.

  • bonniegill

    Great examples Margie. Your posts are always awesome.

  • Awesome! Love the examples. Especially this one from Megan Menard: I picked up a French fry. It was slender, blonde, tall and weepy. I named the fry Tanya and chomped off its head.

    Looking forward to your immersion class in San Jose. 🙂

    • Rich, you will love Immersion. It changed what I thought I knew about writing. 🙂

    • Hello Rich —

      Great to e-meet you. Glad I’ll get to work with you and Barbara and Kristina and others in the San Jose Immersion in March!

      Megan Menard’s example is awesome our of context. And in context, it’s even more stellar! Perfect cadence, perfect content, perfect chomping off of its head.

  • Love the examples. Applause, Margie!

    • Thanks Jeanne! Always great to see you.

      Thanks to you, we have an IMMERSION BLENDER. We use it in every Immersion class. Come to Immersion and you’ll see! Nudge. Nudge. 😉

  • Linda Lee

    For writers, this gift must flow naturally or our sentences will sound contrived. I enjoy employing assonance and consonance in my writing, but I never force it. Although I’ve long admired Dean Koontz’s prose, I have no hope of emulating his style.

    Inspiring post worth sharing. Thanks!

    • Linda Lee —

      Your cadence-driven writing will be your style. And your writing can be just as strong as Dean Koontz’s.

      Hope I get to see you in one of my online courses. The first of my BIG THREE courses is Empowering Character’s Emotions, starting January 1st. Check out the course description.

      If you liked the blog, you’ll love my classes!

  • Marie Staight

    That. Was. An. Amazing. Post!
    The words and phrase pumping up and down,
    Like horse on an out-of-control carousel.
    The music ringing in my ears at too high a decibel!


    • Hello Marie!

      Ha! Your first line is what I named a Period. Infused. Sentence. 😉

      I always name writing constructions or dynamics, that have not been named. Things like — The Pesky As Construction, Telling Tags, Linear Load Issues, and lots more.

      Loved your comment!

  • I just graduated from Immersion with Kimberly Krey, too. Great examples and it’s made me much more conscious of my cadence. Funny how changing a word or two here and there can make the sentence that much stronger!

    • Justine —

      I’m so glad you came to Immersion class. Great to get to know you.

      And THANK YOU for the blog you posted today about WHAT’S YOUR CHARACTER’S TRUTH on your Eight Ladies Writing blog.

      Your BEFORE and AFTER really shows how much power writers can add when they consider they’re character’s truth.

      Thank you again for posting that little slice of your Immersion experience.

  • Brilliant examples and advice. Most people do not recognize that we mostly speak in iambic pentameter and so positively respond to it. There is a natural rhythm to the way we normally talk, and alliteration comes trippingly on the tongue. Listening to the lilting English of the natives of Jamaica and the Bahamas is magic to the ears.

    • Hello to the English Professor At Large —

      Ah… Sounds like you know rhythm and cadence and beats from academia as well as your cadence ear.

      I loved — comes trippingly on the tongue. Rollingly beautiful.

      It would be so fun to meet you. We could sit and chat about words and cadence and award-winning power.

      Thank you for posting!

  • Thank you for the examples, Margie. I’m deep in edits and am reading for cadence. Amazing the difference changing one word can make.

    • Anita —

      Yes! Sometimes you need one more beat, or two syllables, a tum, tump, tum tump, or maybe even a ba dum bump.

      Sounds like you have a well-trained Cadence Ear. As the Aussies say–Good on you!

  • Orly Konig Lopez

    Love hearing your voice in my head when I’m writing and editing, Margie! Great post, as always!!

    • Orly —

      So cool that when you hear voices, it’s just me, reminding you to do all the deep editing things I teach.

      Hope I remind you to stretch and exercise and get together with writing friends too.

      So excited I get to work with you at the WFWA retreat in Albuquerque next year!

  • Priya

    Most of writing lacks rhythm, cadence and beats. I’m not sure how to fix it and would love to work on that. Thanks for the good read.

    • Hello Priya –

      Come work in an online class with me. I’ll teach you how to make your writing cadence driven. Or do my lecture packets. Hundreds of pages of lectures, and they’re all loaded with examples and teaching points.

      Thanks for posting!

  • BeckyR

    Thanks Margie for some beautiful examples. Wow. Interesting quote about Dean Koontz too – I always loved his prose. Now I know why!!
    I’m deep in edits too, working on applying all the awesome learning from my time on the mountain – thank you :-))

    • Hugs Across the Ocean to Immersion-Grad Becky!

      So glad you could make the l-o-n-g trip to my house for Immersion class. I loved working with you. Can’t wait to read more of your strong writing in Fab 30!

  • Always excited to see a post from you, Margie. There’s so much to learn. Knowing the rhetorical devices exist is one thing – learning to use them consciously and within the rhythm of the prose, something else. Valuable stuff, Thanks!

    • Hello LizAnn —

      You love the power of rhetorical devices too!

      If you haven’t taken my Deep Editing class, consider the lecture packet.

      The full title of the class — Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More.

      You’d love all those power tools!

  • It’s funny that my critique partner and I (both immersion grads!) can now simply write “cadence” in each other’s margins and clue the other into missed opportunities. When we rewrite those phrases or passages with cadence in mind, the read is much stronger and engaging.

    As Koontz says, the reader usually won’t know what’s so lyrical and compelling about the writing; it just has a rhythm that keeps you going.

    Thanks, Margie! Always love reading the examples you share!

  • Margie, how did you know? I am knitting something for you and tomorrow is my birthday. This post is like an extra-special present. 🙂

  • marcykennedy

    I’m a huge fan of these techniques in fiction. I think too many of us only associate them with literary fiction–the kind we studied in school and might not have liked. But they work just as beautifully in genre fiction and give the writing a depth it wouldn’t otherwise have had.

    • Hello Marcy —

      Yes! The tools I teach add power to fiction. No overwriting, no speed bumps, just the right amount of power to make readers turn pages faster! And pre-order your next book.

      That’s a happy frag. 😉

  • Another great reason to read writing aloud.

  • Paul Warburton

    Just returned from meeting with Margie on the mountain. We had critical conversations that were both hard and empowering to me as a writer. I’d recommend Margie to any writer looking to make gains in their writing.

  • Always love your blogs, Margie! Thank you so much. Cheers, Ashley

  • Thank you, Margie, for enlightening me. I can usually tell when I’m missing something in a sentence, but didn’t know the terminology or understand what it was. I’d love to learn more and win a lecture packet or an online course from you! 🙂

  • christopherlentzauthor

    Like the cyclone in “The Wizard of Oz,” your blog sucked me into a creative whirl earlier today and my writing hasn’t been the same since. Thanks for making the heroine’s journey in my WIP a Technicolor wonder of words! *in best MGM-style chants, “Rhythm, cadence and beats, oh YES!”*

  • karenmcfarland

    Color me silly, but I had to look up iambic pentameter. (Am I the only one?) I guess our dear friend Shakespeare is well known for this. And I seem to use it. Not all the time. Okay, that’s just crazy. I had no idea what I was doing. You mean I’m doing something right? Yet, I also loved the post Laura Drake wrote on cadence. I totally made a connection. Excellent examples Margie. Thank you. There may be hope for me yet.

  • Carole

    Thank you for this. So often I hesitate to use different techniques, but this blog gives me the courage to do so.

  • Love these examples. Without winning anything, I’ve won by reading this blog! Thank you for sharing.

  • I’m honored and humbled to be in such stellar company. Thanks for including me and for all the exquisite examples of language.

  • Margie, as always your examples are NYTBS calibre. Love them all! Ever since immersion reading isn’t just reading anymore. I collect examples from you and books I’ve read. I’m locking in the learning as much as I can.

  • Love the examples, Margie! You find such good ones. A reminder that I haven’t done enough with rhetorical devices lately. I’ll haul out that binder for a refresher.

  • Every time I see your name, Margie, I know I’m in for a treat. Enjoyed your workshop in Melbourne a few months back and STILL working through my manuscripts applying what I learned.

    I used to write comic poetry where beat was very important, but hadn’t ever considered applying it to prose.

    It’s rumoured you’re teaching in Melbourne again next year. Is this true? Count me in!

  • Annie

    Hi Margie,

    Great post. I’m having a difficult time finding the January classes you mentioned. Any suggestions?


  • Penny Richards

    Great post, Margie. I always love when examples are given to reinforce a point. Then you “show” don’t “tell!”

  • Tabatha Musgrove

    Margie, great post, as always! So many great examples here! You make learning so much fun.

  • What a powerful column. I’m glad I discovered you and your blog. I’ve learned so much.

  • I love how you show by example Margie. I always gain so much from these posts, thank you!

  • I look at this long list of complementary comments and Margie’s generous replies and advice to each one are impressive. Margie, I’ve always heard about your skills as a teacher, but first of all you listen and care about other writers and their success.

  • Hello Everyone!

    Wow! Look at all those comments!

    Thank you all for dropping by WITS and reading my blog.

    Want to know who won the drawings? selected the two winners.

    Here you go!

    The WINNER of a lecture packet from me is……………………..CAROLE!

    The WINNER of an online class offered through Lawson Writer’s Academy is…………..
    ………………..MARIE STRAIGHT!

    Carole and Marie: Please email me through my website. Thank you.

    Another LOVEY THANK YOU to the WITS bloggers. Your blog is so strong, so respected, so cool. Thank you again for inviting me to guest blog for you.

    EVERYONE: I’ll be back on WITS on Nov. 20th. See you then!

  • […] this terrific piece on cadence and beats at the sentence level on Writers in the Storm. I especially like the […]

  • […] in the Storm features guest blogger Margie Lawson‘s excellent discussion of how to use rhythm and cadence to enhance the flow of your prose. I provide some additional resources and links to my earlier […]

  • I shared this terrific post with my readers at (Just Can’t Help Writing) and (Virginia S. Anderson). Thanks!

  • Joyce Valdois Smith

    Margie, I really enjoyed reading your post. I have just recently returned to writing after being away from it for several years. I have a finished manuscript and tried to get it published, but life and discouragement caused me to put it on the back burner. Just recently I was encouraged by my son to revisit it and try again to get it published. It is great to feel the flame being reignited! I will definitely checkout your packets and classes. I am so glad I have found the Writer’s In the Storm posts.