Writers in the Storm

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May 12, 2021

The Power of Quirky-Smirky Assonance and Alluring Alliteration

By Margie Lawson

The rhyming vowel sounds of assonance aren’t always quirky-smirky. But I wanted to grab your attention. It must have worked. You’re here!


Rhyming vowel sounds are as cool as a school of dolphins.

As smart as a cart full of bestselling authors.

As right as your brightest writing.

I’m having fun with you all. Hope this style made you smile.

Assonance and alliteration can carry a subtle power or an in-your-face power. We’ll do a deep dive into both.

Alliteration and Assonance:

You all may know alliteration and assonance, but do you choose to use, or do those rhetorical devices fall on the page on their own?

Alliteration and assonance support the soundtrack for our words. They can be serious or silly, whimsical or witty.

Hmm… Notice the last six words and where they’re placed in that sentence.

…serious or silly

…whimsical or witty

Deep Edit Analysis: 

           Structural parallelism

          The number of beats matches – 3, 1, 2, and 3, 1, 2

Double Alliteration – s, s, w, w

          Assonance – silly, witty

The first sentence has double alliteration too -- a, a, s, s.

And the paragraph sounds cool. Right?

Wrong. Almost right.

Read it out loud:

Alliteration and assonance support the soundtrack for our words. They can be serious or silly, whimsical or witty.

I hear the beats in a missing third sentence.

How about:

Alliteration and assonance support the soundtrack for our words. They can be serious or silly, whimsical or witty. But only if you write them well.

Just a little teachy-preachy. 

Ha! I could become an assonance addict. But that sentence carried a truth.

Which segues into two important teaching points.

Alliteration and assonance are cool writing tools, but beware:

1. You could overuse, but I’m betting you wouldn’t. I’ve never seen them overused.

2. The words you choose must be the right fit. They need to fit the scene, fit the character, fit the style.

Did you notice I just used the rhetorical devices anaphora (Triple Beginnings) and asyndeton (The No And)?

Why use rhetorical devices like alliteration and assonance and others?

  • Add power.
  • Set the mood.
  • Enhance your voice.
  • Provide a stylistic boost.
  • Treat the reader, provide an uplift.
  • Help you stand out in a talented way.

Read the examples and you’ll find more reasons why.

The first two examples are two of my favorites.

I Do Not, Rhay Christou, Multi-Immersion Grad

          I bolted from the desk before her prying and my lying got out of control.

What if Rhay Christou had written:

I bolted from the desk before her questions and my lying got out of control.

     Or, what if Rhay had written:

I bolted from the desk before her prying and my fibbing got out of control.

    Not close to the power of her original sentence:

          I bolted from the desk before her prying and my lying got out of control.

It’s the assonance that makes it a strong sentence. That subliminal power.

Deep Edit Analysis:

  • Assonance – prying, lying
  • Power Words --  bolted, prying, lying, out of control
  • Compelling Cadence

Under a Mason-Dixon Moon, Susan Donovan, Immersion Grad, NYT Bestseller

Round and round through time, violence would give way to silence.

Wow. So powerful.

No need to analyze that one. You see what Susan Donovan did. And it’s brilliant.

The Girl Who Cried Banshee, Kim McDougall, Virtual Immersion Grad

1. My stomach churned with garlic and guilt, but I’d get over it. I always did.

Deep Edit Analysis:

  •  Alliteration – garlic and guilt
  •  Zeugma – garlic and guilt
  •  Visceral Response – Those two rhetorical devices made that visceral fresh.
  •  Compelling Cadence

2. But since returning to Montreal—with all the post-war magic flying around like explosive shrapnel—I’d learned to ward myself against such an awful alchemic assault. I took a moment to reinforce that ward now, one psychic block at a time.

Breathe. Block. Breathe. Block.

Breeeathe. Breeeathe.

Deep Edit Analysis:

  • Power Words – post-war, magic, explosive, shrapnel, ward, against, awful, alchemic, assault, reinforce, ward, psychic, block, breathe, block, breathe, block, breeeathe, breeeathe
  • Simile – like explosive shrapnel
  • Alliteration – awful, alchemic, assault, breathe, block, breathe, block, breeeathe, breeeathe
  • Visual Cue – Breeeathe, Breeathe
  • Strategic with Style and Structure – Used white space and stand-alone words.
  • Compelling Cadence

The Patient, Steena Holmes, 2-time Immersion Grad, 2-time Cruise Grad, NYT Bestseller

1. My voice sputters, splits, spirals into silence.

Deep Edit Analysis:

  • Dialogue Cue – carries powerful emotion
  • In-Your-Face Alliteration that works well!
  • Compelling Cadence

2. I sat there, stone cold, a blank statue without facial features she could read.

Deep Edit Analysis:

  • Double Alliteration: stone, statue, facial features
  • Compelling Cadence

Stranger in the Lake, Kimberly Belle, 5-time Immersion Grad, International Bestseller

1. My gaze tracks to the lake, churning silver peaks on water that’s a gloomy, bottomless black.

Deep Edit Analysis:

  • Power Words – churning, gloomy, bottomless, black
  • Themed -- Mood
  • Alliteration – bottomless black
  • Compelling Cadence

2. The creak of the body bag’s zipper is like a knife, cutting through the cold and crawling all over my skin.

Deep Edit Analysis:

  • Power Words – body bag, knife, cutting, cold, crawling, skin
  • Themed – Mood
  • Simile – Amplified
  • Alliteration – body bag, cutting, cold, crawling
  • Compelling Cadence

The Last Breath. Kimberly Belle, 5-time Immersion Grad, International Bestseller

And then I remember something else. Something that shoots a shiver up my spine and slams my heart to a standstill.

So many “S” words! Seems like it would be too many. But that sentence carries amazing power. Why does it work?

The different consonant blends make it work:  so, sh, sh, sp, sl, st, st.

Never a Viscount, Sheri Humphreys, Multi-Immersion Grad

The past few weeks she had refused to let herself think of the last endless minutes of Nancy’s life, and the night she dreamed of her friend’s death, Anne woke and banished every lingering image from her mind. Permitting only tiny sips of pain worked.

Deep Edit Analysis:

  • Power Words – refused, think, last, endless, minutes, life, dreamed, friend’s death, banished, image, mind, permitting, sips of pain
  • Alliteration – let, last, endless, life, lingering, dreamed, death, permitting, pain
  • Assonance – life, night, lingering, image, permitting, sips
  • Compelling Cadence
Hello Everyone –
This blog is dachshund-long. I won’t deep edit analyze the remaining examples.

Most Likely to Succeed, Monica Corwin, Multi-Immersion Grad, NYT Bestseller

The feelings build in my chest brick by brick, the mortar just a smidge too tight. But the moment I let myself get close to that wall, it would crack and crumble and collapse.

Drawn and Buried, Dana Summers, Immersion Grad

He had the kind of blunt-featured face I'd seen in graphic novels. Like someone had slammed on the brakes in his brain, and all the weird crap from the backseat had piled up behind his smoldering eyes.

Morianna, Corinne O'Flynn, Virtual Immersion Grad

1. Standing at the stern of the dinghy, my head swam with dizziness and dread, distracting me from my deadly thoughts about my navigator.

2. His words slithered through his lips like serpents.

Tango Fuego, Terri Wilson, Virtual Immersion Grad

1. She instantly knew, if Hell served whiskey, it would be a fabulous fiery pit of fun.

2. On a good day, Orion’s quirky-smirky banter would be fun. But accounting day was never a good day.

Note: I was talking to Terri in Virtual Immersion class when quirky-smirky came out of my mouth. I told her it was hers if she wanted it. I love how she used it!

Magic and Menopause, Lisa Manifold, Virtual Immersion Grad

1. He’s attractive, a good five years older than my 26, and decidedly desirable.

Note:  We added that part about their ages in virtual immersion class. An easy slip in.

2. Maxim tends to keep those who work for him under lock, key, and concrete, if you’re not careful. 

Note: Love that cliché play!

J. D. and the Broken Promise, Dee Armstrong, 2-time Virtual Immersion Grad

1. The skin on JD’s arms tingled and puckered like a plucked goose’s butt.

2. Working with the Geezers was like working with two toddlers. Annoyingly adorable.

It Hurts, Robbin Luckett, Multi-Immersion Grad

1. Every unanswered question adds to my throbbing headache, a pounding and pulsating pain, as if the center of my brain is going to explode.

2. My heart rate slows to a dull delirious thump thump thump.

Neighbors That Prey, Robin Olson, Multi-Immersion Grad

  1. Dedication to my craft forced me to sit in front of my computer, but for every paragraph I typed and didn’t delete, I granted myself permission to sneak a peek.
  2. I didn’t have time for a stranger playing danger games.

Into the Shattered Night, Sia Huff, Virtual Immersion Grad

1. Agnes smiled and slipped a tip to the steward.
2. Her heart raced. Her mind raced, battling the erratic beat for first place.

Once Upon a Farm by Jacqueline Visconti, Multi-Immersion Grad

1. The German commander rode in the back of the topless Vauxhall like a king in a chariot, his grey coat a cape, his peaked cap a crown, and a target for Guy.

2. They came that day. The Germans. With a stomp of boots and squeal of tyres and steel-hard commands.

Concrete Evidence, Laurie Dennis, Virtual Immersion Grad

1. His tone was slow, steady, strong, no doubt he was in charge.

2. What should have been an active site had the feel of an abandoned ghost town, hushed except for the whoosh of the occasional desert dust devils twisting across the dirt road.

Evil’s Deadly Divide, Book Four in the Alexis Black Novels, Jenn Windrow, 7-Time Immersion Grad

1. Crap on a crumbling cracker, I hated heights.

2. We had to keep our operation covert because Delano Melazi’s zealots saw any human stuck on their side as a walking talking snack pack.

Flash Point: Legacy Series Book 5, Luna Joya, Multi-Virtual Immersion Grad

To be released July 20, 2021 

1. Were her psychic powers on the freaking fritz as well? 

2. Delia’s yeah-right look was a speed dial straight to Mina’s self-doubt.  

3. The smell of spilled whiskey almost overpowered the stink of smoke and sweat. 

Wicked Crown, Redemption Series Book 1, Luna Joya, Multi-Virtual Immersion Grad, Future Release/Under Contract

1. Goblins and gold went together like supermodels and stilettos.  

2. He curled his far-too-sexy mouth into a sneer more bitter than goblin beer. “Why are you really here?”

The Six-Percent Baby, Jenny Hansen, Multi-Immersion Grad

1. We left the fertility clinic like car crash survivors, slow and staggering, our faces blank, our knees shaking.

2. I couldn’t think about anything but my dead womb, dead eggs, and the dreams she’d just demolished.

3. The hours were long, the coffee was strong, and still we couldn’t finish.

We’ll wrap up with this powerful piece from Cassandra Shaw, one of my many brilliant Aussie Multi-Immersion Grads.

Blood Ring: Book 1, The Vampire King’s Daughter, Cassandra L Shaw

Funny how a fragile, vulnerable, human could steal a monster’s heart. A cruel joke. I had forgotten the throbbing agony of loss that took a hundred years to heal. True, Tatum was not dead. But the wave of horror and hate, of disappointment and disgust, that warped her wonderful face when she’d realized what I was, was as true a death as any.

Powerful Alliterative Pairings:

  • horror, hate, disappointment, disgust, warped, wonderful

I‘m so proud of all these examples from my Immersion Master Class Grads. Stunning writing. Stunning people too.

Thanks so much for being here today. I hope the blog motivated to use alliteration and assonance in powerful ways.

Want to post an example of alliteration and/or assonance in the comments? I’d love to see them!

Please check out my next Dig Deep Webinar: Touché Cliché and Cliché Play! (May 20 and 21)

Don’t forget about Lawson Writer’s Academy courses. I’m so proud of all the smart classes we offer writers. Click that link to check out our powerful line-up for June!

  1. Dazzling Developmental Edits
  2. Write Backstory with Confidence
  3. Killing It with Conflict
  4. Flying Write
  5. Can We Talk? Dialogue the Write Way
  6. Crazy-Easy Awesome Author Websites
  7. Battling the Basics
  8. Six-Week Author Mentoring Intensive
  9. Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist
  10. Profitable Facebook Ads

Hang out with me at my monthly “Get Happy with Margie” Open House

Drop by and chat! May 18th, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

Thank you again. See you in the comments section!

* * * * * *

About Margie

Margie Lawson left a career in psychology to focus on another passion—helping writers make their stories, characters, and words strong. Using a psychologically based, deep-editing approach, Margie teaches writers how to bring emotion to the page. Emotion equals power. Power grabs readers and holds onto them until the end. Hundreds of Margie grads have gone on to win awards, find agents, sign with publishers, and hit bestseller lists.     

An international presenter, Margie has taught over 150 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as multi-day intensives on cruise ships in the Caribbean. Pre-COVID, she taught 5-day Immersion Master Classes across the U.S. and Canada and in seven cities in Australia too. 

COVID Update: Immersion Master Classes are now virtual, taught through Zoom. Virtual Immersion classes are limited to six writers. They're two days long—and as always, writers get one on one deep editing with Margie. 

She also founded Lawson Writer's Academy, where you’ll find over 30 instructors teaching online courses through her website. To learn more, and sign up for Margie’s newsletter, visit www.margielawson.com.

30 comments on “The Power of Quirky-Smirky Assonance and Alluring Alliteration”

  1. Excellent (as always). I would add that someone asked a panel of audiobook narrators what they liked least and they all said "alliteration" so that's a caveat. Reading aloud definitely helps make sure your tongue doesn't get tied up.

    1. Terry --

      It's smart to read everything out loud to find accidental tongue twisters and to check that every sentence is cadence driven.

      Thanks for posting!

  2. Your inspirational examples are awesomely amazing, Margie! (Sorry, that was the best my battered brain could come up with right now :-))

    Loved the post, loved the examples. Very timely as well - I'll paste a link for the Deep Editing students this month. Thank you for sharing your Deep Editing brain with us!!

    1. Hello Becky --

      I'll take awesomely amazing from your battered and brilliant brain.

      Have fun teaching Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More!

      1. Margie, I always have fun teaching your fabulous, beyond-brilliant, shoot-for-the-stars classes. I love your work, I'm inspired by your work, and I'm honoured to be able to share your work and your ideas with my students. Big miss-you hugs, Becky

  3. As long as language is in the service of story, and not the other way around, why shouldn't the language be pleasing to the eye and to the ear?

    My brain has the habit of offering up words it has used recently which still work in a different context. I don't even notice while writing. But in editing I am extremely conscious of duplication, and spend a lot of time getting the nuance just right, and removing just such reader stumbling blocks.

    Since I work only in finished scenes, I have a long list of potential conflicts, but have become adept at the polishing and go through lists quickly. I listen a lot.

    A random sample from a recent scene:

    "The conflict kept her from sagging straight into deepest sleep."

      1. I think that effort is why reviewers have called my writing literary - to me, that's an aspiration: I am a mainstream writer and story and characterization are primary.

        But stopping there is wrong when you can have music.

  4. Such an honor for my writing to make the Margie list and fabulous fun with words.

  5. This was like reading fireworks! I recently worked through your Empowering Characters lessons and enjoyed the deep learning. I recommend your resources to writers wanting to go next-level with their work. Thanks for this example packed post.

    1. Hello Kris --

      Love this: like reading fireworks!

      Fresh and fun and fabulous!

      Glad you enjoyed my Empowering Characters lecture packet. And thanks sooo much for recommending my courses to others. I appreciate you!

  6. I always learn so much from every experience you offer, and this one was no different. Thank you so much for sharing all you know..


  7. Amazing examples! And hey, Jenny Hansen--wowzer! Here's the first line I've rewritten like a million times from my WIP: Willow Gladstone scanned her tiny basement apartment: tidy desk, tailored gray loveseat, perfectly placed pillows—anything to avoid the bottle of swirling green slime she was expected to swill.
    Thanks to Laura Drake's First Five Pages class!

    1. Thanks, Barb!! I was so honored to be included. LOVE Margie's stuff. And GO Laura...her first five pages is a thing of beauty, And she spreads it out and helps everyone else's five pages be things of beauty as well. 🙂

  8. What a great post, Margie. All those amazing, awe-inspiring examples push me to further stretch, stretch, stretch my own writing capabilities. I am honored to be included among such awesome writers. Keep spreading and sharing your Margie magic!

  9. HI Marige,

    I love, love, love your posts. This is another fabulous one with fantastic examples about my favorite subject--rhetorical devices. I love teaching your rhetorical devices class.

    Here's a couple lines I revised today. Alliteration is so fun and I pushed the assonance closer together after loving your quirky-smirky.

    Ania Michaels knew dimples were her Kryptonite. And this smile, his smile, definitely belonged in a lead-lined box. If those damn dimples were in the proper protective container, then her face would lose her blotchy-splotchy blush.

  10. Hi Margie,

    I always learn from your blogs. Such wonderful writing examples. I'm grateful to be included.

    Thank you for sharing your expertise.


  11. Margie has taught me how to polish and power my sentences with Alliteration, Assonance and lots of other rhetorical devices. You can take a blah sentence structure, sprinkle Margie magic, and now your sentence is NYT. Everyone needs a little Margie dust!


  12. I, and every author under the sun, need a daily dose of Margie lessons and reminders! I've learned so much from you, Margie! This is a wonderful refresher.

  13. I love learning from the Master! Thank you Margie. And I'm humbled that you included my writing with authors that I respect and adore. Love ya! Dee

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