Thursday, May 27, 2010
Mama's Got Rhythm
At the conclusion of one set, two young men, probably in their early 20s, told me how much they enjoyed the show. "I love to listen to you tell," one said. "There is a rhythm, a cadence, to your speech. I love your pacing."
No one has ever said that before, but I really like it. The rhythm comes naturally to me, I suppose, but I do consciously pace the story. As a raconteur, I am very interactive with my audiences, working to draw each one into the tale. Pacing, working in tandem with the rhythm, is an important tool toward that end.
After the men left, I sat enjoying the balmy breeze coming off the river, and I thought about how storytelling compares with writing. Rhythm and pacing are essential to our writing, as well. If a sentence is grammatically and mechanically flawless but is choppy or awkward, it may give the reader pause. Of course, there may be times when we want to slow the reader down.
The storyteller knows when to speak slowly and deliberately for dramatic effect. The writer can accomplish the same thing by making each sentence a separate paragraph, for example. Or she may incorporate alliteration, a well-placed dash, or longer, more complex sentences.
At the high point of the action or scene, the storyteller's sentences may become very short, little more than a series of phrases or clauses. The writer does the same thing. Whether spoken or written, such techniques achieve the same results.
Many have told me that I use dramatic pause well. I can tolerate silence. And nothing grabs an audience's attention more quickly. Whether I speak softly or crescendo just before the pause, I have the full attention of each one when I fall silent and just look around at them, eyeball to eyeball.
Compare that effect to the writer's hook lines, particularly at chapters' ends. (Did those last two words slow you down a bit?) Christian writer Ramona K. Cecil presented a wonderful workshop in which she said we should not try to write a good hook at the end of a chapter, but, rather, we should end the chapter at a good hook. That statement helped me tremendously as a writer. Those hooks are the dramatic pauses of writing. Why dramatic? Because the listener/reader can hardly wait for the pause to end so that the story can move on. In the case of the reader, she wants to get that page turned as quickly as possible.
What a compliment that young man gave. Mama's got rhythm. Do you? Dear fellow writers, I hope you'll leave a comment telling about how you consciously incorporate rhythm and pacing in your writing. Examples are welcome.