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 will be released June 25.
1. I 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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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