Writers in the Storm

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March 22, 2019

Creating Compelling Cadence: Small Changes, Big Impact

Margie Lawson

Cadence counts. Truly counts.

You probably know you should read your work out loud. But do you?

And do you read it out loud with feeling?

Most writers don’t take the time to read their WIP out loud until they’re on a final draft.


By then they’ve read most scenes at least a dozen times. Whatever they’ve written sounds normal to them, but the cadence may not be compelling.

Read my last sentence out loud:

Whatever they’ve written sounds normal to them, but the cadence may not be compelling.

Hear the compelling cadence?

The beats in the two halves of the sentence match. Sounds cool, right?

I named that structural parallelism. It makes the sentence cadence driven.

If you’ve heard me present, taken my online classes, done my lecture packets, or completed a 5-day Immersion class, you know I use examples to share my teaching points.

We’re diving in. Lots of compelling cadence ahead.

Please read the examples out loud, with feeling.

Dear Wife, Kimberly Belle, 5-time Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller, International Bestseller

Dear Wife will be released June 25.

1I try to focus on the Reverend’s smile, not the spiky ball of dread gathering in my gut.

Hear the compelling cadence in the last part of her sentence?

  • spiky ball of dread
  • gathering in my gut

The beats match. When back-to-back phrases or clauses or sentences have beats that match, I call it structural parallelism.

Those matching beats at the end of that sentence make the cadence compelling.

Kimberly could have written this line:

I try to focus on the Reverend’s smile and forget about the spiky ball of dread in my stomach.

Same idea. But that made-up sentence isn’t cadence driven.

2.  I pay cash and console myself with the only bright spot I can find in this shitty, shameful day: I’ve always wanted to be a redhead.

You can hear the silent BOOM! after shitty, shameful day. That’s powerful cadence.

Kimberly used a rhetorical device, alliteration, to emphasize it more.

The end of the sentence carries a strong cadence too. And a humor hit.

3.  I see the name, and a shot of adrenaline hits my veins like liquid fire.

Feel that BOOM! right after fire?

If not, read that sentence out loud again, with feeling. You’ll feel that BOOM!

4. There’s an explosion of movement and voices, of passing plates and scooping spoons, of people tearing into the heaping platters like they haven’t eaten since last week.

Look how Kimberly Belle constructed a strong sentence about people eating dinner. She made that sentence carry power. And part of that power is the compelling cadence. She used structural parallelism: of passing plates and scooping spoons.

Part of that power is due to her use of alliteration. She used alliteration twice. I call that double alliteration:  passing plates, scooping spoons.

Home at Chestnut Creek, Laura Drake, 2-time Immersion Grad, Cruise Grad, RITA Winner

Home at Chestnut Creek will be released July 30.

The night sounds come alive. Water burbles over the rocks, speaking a language I can almost understand. There's a lone frog somewhere close, croaking a ballad, hoping to get lucky on a Saturday night. A coyote yips somewhere in the hills. Another joins him. Crickets start up a chorus. Smells come alive too, the plants releasing the breath they held through the hot hours of daylight. The creek smells of dank, cold places.

Beautifully written. Beautifully cadenced.

Laura Drake played with balance and sentence length and themed words and phrases too.

Theme:  Almost understand. Lone. Come alive. Releasing a breath. Dank, cold places.

The Last True Cowboy, Laura Drake, 2-time Immersion Grad, Cruise Grad, RITA Winner

Remember:  Read every example out loud. With feeling.

1.  I tighten my muscles, my stance, and my resolve. I know I sound like an ungrateful witch, but I can’t afford risks anymore. I have more than my heart to lose.

Margie-Grads know Laura Drake used the rhetorical device anaphora (Triple Beginnings) in the first sentence. It’s one of many rhetorical devices that makes cadence carry power.

2.  The irritation I pushed down rises like Nana’s bread. This is not high school. I’m not that girl.

You can hear the power of the cadence. You can feel the power of her conviction.

Evil’s Ultimate Huntress, Jenn Windrow, 5-time Immersion Grad

1.  Something sparked in my mind, similar to the sire bond, but stronger. So. Much. Stronger. The urge to bend to Xavier’s will. To crawl to him. Beg him for forgiveness. To be everything he wanted me to be. Subdued and subservient and scared.

Hear how Jenn Windrow played with cadence?

She played with sentence length. And frags. And what I call a Period. Infused. Sentence.  

So. Much. Stronger.

She also used two rhetorical devices:

1.  Alliteration – A lot of alliteration. But it’s not too much. It’s just right.

2.  Polysyndeton – She used polysyndeton with alliteration. I call it poly-alliteration. 

Subdued and subservient and scared.

When polysyndeton is written well, it creates an interesting cadence.

The cadence in every sentence boosted you into the next one. And her poly-alliterative frag at the end was smart and powerful and cadence driven.

2.  An angel, a vicious bodyguard, and the Queen of All Vampires were squatting in my living room. Touching my things. Petting my cat. Having just come from the meeting-from-hell, I wasn’t feeling chatty, but I doubted telling them to remove their hineys from my home would allow me to live through the night.

Look how Jenn Windrow set up the order and length:

  • An angel
  • a vicious bodyguard
  • and the Queen of All Vampires

Creating stair steps from short to long makes the cadence sound right.

She also used structural parallelism:  Touching my things. Petting my cat.

Using structural parallelism in the middle of that paragraph gave it an interesting cadence boost.

The last part of the last sentence carries a compelling cadence too.

3.  Two Paragraphs:

On the scale of Kurt Barlow in Salem’s Lot to Damon in The Vampire Diaries, I’d put you somewhere around David from The Lost Boys.”

That had to be the most obscure reference ever, and what was even worse, I understood every word. I spoke proficient Nathan.

I love the brilliance and cadence and humor hits.

The last two sentences carry almost matching beats. And the last sentence completes the compelling cadence.

The blog is getting long. I’ll share a few examples from Darynda Jones and Elizabeth Essex, but I’ll cut back on my analysis.

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave, Darynda Jones, 2-time Immersion Grad, NYT Bestseller

1.  “What? I would never humor you. I’m not that humorous. You totally earn your keep. And pretty much mine as well. And probably a little of Reyes’s, too. He’s a bit of a slacker.”

2.  “This is so frustrating. We’re looking into her death with no idea why. No idea what we’re looking for. It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack the size of Kansas.”

3. After one hundred years cooped up inside the vacuum of space, I needed to get out. Stretch my legs. See the world. Or well, half a block of Elm Street.

Love the cadence and flow. Love Darynda’s humor hits too.

Mad About the Marquess, Elizabeth Essex, 2-time Immersion Grad

1. But Lady Quince Winthrop seemed impish and open, uncensored by society’s opinions. How damnably, dangerously refreshing.

2.  Three Paragraphs:

“Have you always lied so well, lass? Or have I just forgotten?”

It was the hint of actual admiration in his tone— at least it sounded to her a little like admiration— accompanying the affront that almost made her answer truthfully. Almost.

But she did not. Because she was not suicidal. And because lying was a skill she had cultivated as carefully as an exotic seedling in one of her father’s meticulously tended glass houses. A skill she had mastered out of necessity. A skill as necessary to survival within society as breathing. Or finding the right dressmaker. The trick lay in adding just enough of the truth.

Every sentence by Elizabeth Essex is beautifully cadence driven. She plays with cadence like a kitten plays with yarn. She teases it out, tugs it in, and makes it ripple then pull tight.

You did notice the compelling cadence in my paragraph above. Right?

Just checking.

I hope these examples motivated you to read your work out loud and helped you train your cadence ear.

One more teaching point.

Finesse the cadence in everything in your writing world. Synopses. Query letters. And verbal pitches too.

Small changes can have a big impact. Cadence can make the difference between a fail and a sale.

A big THANK YOU to Multi-Immersion Grads Kimberly Belle, Laura Drake, Jenn Windrow, Darynda Jones, and Elizabeth Essex. If these examples impressed you, check out their books.

Want to learn more about how to make your cadence compelling?

Check out Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More, an online course I created that’s taught in April by Becky Rawnsley.

BLOG GUESTS:  Thank you so much for dropping by the blog today.

Please post a comment or share a ‘Hi Margie!” and you’ll have two chances to be a winner.

You could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy valued up to $100.

Lawson Writer’s Academy – April Classes

  1. Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More – Instructor:  Becky Rawnsley Teaching Margie Lawson’s Course
  2. Revision Boot Camp – Instructor:  Suzanne Purvis
  3. Story Structure Safari – Instructor:  Lisa Miller
  4. Writing the Romance Novel – Instructor:  Shirley Jump
  5. Crazy-Easy, Awesome Author Websites – Instructor:  Lisa Norman
  6. Battling the Basics: The Essentials of Writing – Instructor: Sarah Hamer
  7. Diving Deep into Deep Point of View – Instructor:  Rhay Christou

Please drop by my website to read course descriptions and register:  www.margielawson.com

I’ll draw names for the TWO WINNERS on Sunday night, at 8PM, Mountain Time and post them in the comments section.

Like this blog? Share with your friends. Give it a social media boost. Thank you soooo much!

I always have such fun blogging for WITS.  Big squishy hugs and THANK YOUs to the brilliant WITS gals!

About Margie

Margie Lawson—editor and international presenter—loves to have fun. And teaching writers how to use her deep editing techniques to create page-turners is her kind of fun.

She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean.

To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2019, in Palm Springs, Denver, Dallas, Cleveland, Columbus, Kansas City, Atlanta, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Bellebrae, Australia), Cruising Writers cruises, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com

Interested in attending one of Margie’s 5-day Immersion classes? Click over to her website and check them out.

Interested in Margie presenting a full day workshop for your writing organization? Contact Margie through her website or Facebook message her.

Margie’s newsletter is going out next week. Sign up on her website, and you’ll be in a special drawing for a 5-page deep edit from her!

109 comments on “Creating Compelling Cadence: Small Changes, Big Impact”

  1. Honored to be in such great company, Margie, and thank you. Did you know Kimberly and I crit together? I wanted someone who would get the comment, ‘needs more green!’ And, I get the added benefit of getting to read her books first! And the torture...waiting for the next chapter!

        1. Hello Kristal --

          It's been waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long since I've seen you. Hope I get to see you this year, or next.

          I wonder when you took your first online class from me. 2009?

          I had the best time hanging out with you in Jacksonville! I believe that was in 2011...

      1. I love that you mentioned reading aloud well before the final draft. By the time I'm finished writing a book, I can't tell if it's the best or most boring thing I've ever done. Great tips, and loved the example passages. Thanks, Margie!

        1. Hello Monica --

          Hmm... I don't think we've met. If so, let me know.

          Thanks so much for chiming in. Glad you loved the blog and learned some tips. 🙂

      2. Great post, Margie! Had some life issues that kept me from writing for a while, but I'm back and missing the mountain and your magic couch!

        1. Hello Barb --

          Great to cyber-see you again!

          Creating a compelling cadence makes your writing stronger than just a nice cadence.

          You're right. Repetition makes it stick.

      3. Thank you. Sorry I will misd classes im April. January, February and March were great!

      4. Hi Margie! Another great post. I love cadence in book. Have you read Where The Crawdads Sing? It is so full of great cadence the words flow off the page!

        1. Hello Linda --

          You wrote:

          ---- Our brains, our hearts, and our souls are wired for story and for song.


          Some writers may need to check their wiring and make their cadence more compelling. 🙂

        1. Hello Ani --

          I'm so glad I got to work with you for a whole week at West Texas Writer's Academy. Sooo fun!

          Can't wait to see you again sometime, somewhere!

  2. Great post, as always, Margie! Reading aloud is doubly important nowadays with the rise of audio books. I've heard several authors voice regrets that they hadn't caught things that became obvious when they (too late) heard their audio book for the first time.

  3. I admire your ability to TEACH this skill because it seems so elusive if one just doesn't have the ear for language. The examples, as always, are excellent and so instructive. Thanks!

    1. Hello Introvi --

      Cadence is tricky to teach. But with tons of examples and teaching points in all my courses, Margie-Grads get it. And use it. And make their writing cadence-driven strong.

    1. Hello DL Willette --


      Query letters and synopses need to share a compelling cadence too. Just like they need to share your inimitable style.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  4. Thank you Margie for considering me good enough to hang with the big girls. I always learn so much from you, even after 5 immersions!

    1. Hello Darnell --

      Good for you for reading your work out loud.

      Taking a sentence or paragraph from okay cadence to compelling cadence is super smart!

      Thanks so much for posting!

    1. Hello Deb --

      Love the way you structured this sentence to give it a compelling cadence:

      -- You included wonderful examples from different genres, all with compelling cadence.

      Stunningly cadenced! Loved the content too. Good for you for noticing I used examples from several different genres -- psychological thriller, romance, urban fantasy, and historical.

      I'm enjoying working with you in Fab 30!

  5. Great post as always, Margie. I’m a fan of reading aloud and find it definitely helps with refing the rhythm of a passage.

  6. Hi Margie! Thanks for the great post. I'm learning so much! Always love the reminder to read it. Out loud. 🙂

    1. Hello Adele --

      Loved that you read my blog out loud. Smart!

      All my courses and lecture packets are loaded with examples. And deep editing analyses.

      Examples make learning fun and fabulous!

  7. I love reading Jenn's stuff! She's brilliant! Just finished a few chapters that nearly killed me. About to print them off and read them...OUT LOUD! Thanks, Margie, for the tips and reminders. 🙂

  8. Margie, Thank you for the reminders about cadence. I'm a big proponent of reading aloud. The examples you gave were wonderful to read and even more beautiful to say.

    1. Hello Brynn --

      Thank you!

      Love the way you cadenced your comments. I bet you and Pam help each other create compelling cadence. Hugs to both of you!

  9. Thanks for another fantastic lesson, Margie! Yes, I always read my ready-to-publish ms before I send it off. The things I catch that slithered through on paper!

  10. Great post! Definitely need to think about reading out loud earlier. After a while, I have every scene practically memorized and I can't tell what I'm doing!

    1. Hello Mary Chase --

      I loved working with you on the cruise in December, in Visceral Rules class in February, and in Fab 30 now. And I get to keep cyber-connecting in class through May! Wish you lived closer to Denver!

      You got what I shared about reading your work out loud, before you marry your words.

      I knew you were smart.

    1. Hello Robbin --

      You're sooooo fun!

      I don't need to hit you over the head with structural parallelism, but I'm glad my words did. 🙂

      I love working with you in class, and in person!

  11. Hi Margie. Talking books have been a huge part of my life for over a decade. So, it’s official. I’m an audiophile. And I like talking. It’s a given - in my deep edits I will read my work aloud. Cadence aligns beautifully with clarity.
    I’m sharing this post. ❤️ Jay.

    1. Hello Jay --

      Thanks for sharing my blog!

      So great getting to know you in Immersion last year. Hope I get to see you when I'm in Australia mid-October thru mid-November!

        1. Jay --

          Great! You're ready for your second Immersion!

          I'm getting my Aussie Immersions set up. If you know anyone who might be interested in hosting an Immersion Down Under, email me.

  12. Best. Post. Ever. See what I did there? 😉 But really, thanks so much for this...I've never read my work aloud for fear of deleting every word written. Now I see how helpful it can be. Thanks for the opportunity to learn more from you!

    1. Hello Sheri --

      Love your Period. Infused. Sentence!

      So glad you dropped by WITS -- and read this post. You learned about P.I.S. -- and you're motivated to read your work OUT LOUD. And I hope you read it out loud frequently.

      Every. Writing. Session.

  13. Oh, I loved these examples. They definitely helped me grasp the concepts. I'm going to have to come back and read them again.

    1. Hello Lisa Carlisle --

      Sounds like you may not have taken any of my online courses, or completed lecture packets for my courses.

      If that's true, there's soooo much deep editing you could learn...

      I'm a psychologist, and I developed a lot of what I teach.

      If you have questions about what I teach, please contact me through my website, or Facebook message me.

      Glad you loved the examples and want to learn more!

  14. Hi, Margie. As always, just reading your examples makes me a better writer, a better reader, a better listener. Many thanks.

  15. Hey, Margie! As always, great information to help us become better writers. Many thanks for all you do! (P.S. looking forward to seeing Laura Drake in Richmond in April)

    1. Hellooo Mary Ann Clark --

      It's been FOREVER since I've seen you! And YEARS since I've presented for VRW. I always love working with you all.

      So fabulous that you'll get to see Laura Drake in April. You know I love Laura! You'll learn so much and have fun too!

    1. Hello John --

      Yes! Writers need to be strategic about style and structure and cadence and power and everything else they put on the page.

      If you haven't taken my Big Three courses please consider taking them.

      1. Empowering Characters' Emotions
      2. Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More
      3. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist

      Or you could do the lecture packets for those courses.

      So many more deep editing goodies you could learn! That's what all the authors in all my blogs have done. And they learned how to make their writing powerful.

      Now you know...

  16. My reward for reading my over-tinkered-with draft out loud one more time in response to the Margieesque voice in my head? Reading a blog on cadence, Margie recommending reading your writing out loud! Thanks Margie, I know it's worth doing.

    1. Hello Allison --

      I can tell you read your work out loud. It shows!

      Miss you. Hope I get to see you when I'm Down Under mid-October thru mid-November.

    1. It's not wired in for me either, Steena. Story? Yes. Cadence? Meh. I have to really, really go over it to get the words to flow to a tune.

  17. Margie, thanks for a great post. I really need to train my cadence ear and read more out loud. My son already thinks I'm silly, so I don't think it would put him off!


    1. Hello Megan G. --

      Good for you for training your cadence ear. If your son hears you reading out loud, you'll train his Cadence Ear too.

      All good!

  18. Thanks for the reminder about compelling cadence in the query letter. I think I've been dropping the ball!


    Thanks so much for coming to the Creating Compelling Cadence party!

    If you haven't signed up for my NEWSLETTER, please click over to my website and sign up!

    You could WIN a 5-page deep edit from me.

    My newsletter is going out this week, so sign up soon!

    We have TWO WINNERS for today's blog.

    Random.org selected these two lucky names:

    ---------- Lecture Packet Winner...................... D.L. Willette!

    ---------- Online Course Winner (up to $100 vaule)...................Kristal Hollis!


    EVERYONE: Remember to sign up for my newsletter!

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    All smiles............Margie

  20. Thanks for all this great stuff, Margie! Love the examples. Cadence is so important, and I have rearranged many sentences to get that right punch.

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