Having been born to a father who was a world-respected drummer and teacher, I was introduced to rhythmic concepts from a very young age. And while I chose not to become a professional musician rhythm has influenced me, and my work on a very conscious level.
For example, I am always aware of how people speak. I listen intently because I am interested in the tics and the breath individuals introduce to their spoken words. I file away interesting tidbits from people’s conversations in my subconscious, only to draw upon them when I’m writing dialogue. It may be years until I use a specific tic I’ve come across, but none ever go to waste.
Dialogue for me is all about rhythm. Natural rhythm. The reader should never be aware that anything else is happening save that your characters are in some form of conversation. However, the writer should be keenly aware, sensitive of the language they are composing. It is the rhythm section that drives the music of each character’s oral composition. A writer, like a composer, must learn how to move their composition forward, to manage its surges and denouement, when to build to a crescendo and when to say more with less.
Understanding that rhythm informs the pace of a story is crucial for self-editing as one is writing. Far too many films, TV shows and books today suffer from erratic pacing — the individuals involved with such productions are too focused on distilling information and in the repetition of their plot points, rather than moving their story forward. Do not be frightened of giving a little less, rather than adding a little more. A few choice words, a subtle gesture of your character, can convey as much to your reader as a block of dense text. And even if it might initially appear a bit jarring to some of your readers, stick to your style, keep to your rhythm, and bring your readers along on the adventure you are writing.
Though often so subliminal as to be invisible, rhythm is the key ingredient of creativity. Rhythm creates chemistry between characters; it creates conflict, urgency and drama. Rhythm manifests birth and death. The last breath is just as important as the first.
Kaja Blackley is the author of Maggie MacCormack and the Witches’ Wheel now on sale at: maggiemaccormack.com