1. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Sensing and Creating Rhythm

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by waitingforzion, May 23, 2016.

    I just realized lately, when tapping my fingers to the beat of the Bible, while not thinking of the tones of the syllables, that prose rhythm is, well, rhythm. The question is, how does one train themselves to create rhythm which can be adapted to prose. I know that someone used a metronome, but I don't know what that is or how it is used. Someone else suggested that I learn music theory or have musical training.

    That would be fun, even for its own sake, but I don't know if the rhythms of music can be adapted to prose. Does a musician or composer have the training to write beautiful prose? If so, no musically trained person should have an excuse for his lack of rhythm in prose.

    I find that I need to develop two separate skills in order to write rhythmic prose. One, I need to learn how to phrase any thought I want to conform to specified rhythm without being incoherent, unclear, and without breaking the laws of grammar. And two, I need to learn how to create rhythms that resembled the rhythms of specific voices. Maybe the word I am looking for is register, or maybe that is not the right word.

    Anyway, does anyone have any suggestions? Should I learn how to create rhythm from scratch or should I acquire existing rhythms for use? Or should I do both or use the second to do the first?

    Please do not discourage me from this endeavor with talk of how I should learn to write clearly first. As you can see, I can write clearly. I have been able to write clearly for a long time, and am able to write clearly for as long as my mind is not on rhythm. Now it is time for me to learn how to write rhythmically, and that involves chiefly how to create rhythm.

    Perhaps, during the writing of prose, I should not think of particular rhythms and conform my words to them, for not all thoughts are as easily expressible in certain rhythms than in others. Perhaps, instead, I should revise my words so that they conform to the available rhythms which belong to the voice I desire to create. But this, no doubt, still requires me to have a sense of rhythm, and an ability to create rhythm.

    The chief question then is this: How do I develop this sense of rhythm, and this ability to create it? Do I practice by tapping my finger. Do I practice by tapping to regular beats and combining them into less regular ones? Do I use a metronome, whatever that is? By what means, or through what exercise, can I obtain this skill? Maybe training is music would be useful indeed. But as we have noted before, it may not be that the rhythms of music can be adapted to prose, for they may sound prosaic, although rhythmic prose by definition is not prosaic in the normal sense.

    What are your suggestions?
     
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  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you'll need to discover your own process. All the things you mentioned, like finger-tapping etc. Give them a try.

    However, do think carefully about what you're doing. Do you really want to create a rhythm that never changes? A metronome or other similar devices would encourage samey samey, to where your prose starts to sound like a trotting horse. Gal ump Gal ump Gal ump Gal ump Gal ump breath Gal ump Gal ump Gal ump Gal ump Gal ump breath. That can get very tiresome to read.

    I remember reading a poem by the respected Victorian poet Robert Browning that does this. And trust me, after several stanzas I was tapping my foot, nodding my head ...but totally lost the thread of the poem and had no idea what it was about. The rhythm was too obvious, and it overwhelmed the piece. It's called Love Among the Ruins, and the first stanza goes like this:

    Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
    Miles and miles
    On the solitary pastures where our sheep
    Half-asleep
    Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
    As they crop--
    Was the site once of a city great and gay,
    (So they say)
    Of our country's very capital, its prince
    Ages since
    Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
    Peace or war.


    And etc. I couldn't keep my mind on the meaning of the poem at all. I could have danced the Dashing White Sergeant to it, though.
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2016
  3. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Judging from what I've seen of your work from the past, you suffer from a bad case of simply trying too hard. I think you should just let loose and write - forget about sounding good, forget about rhythm, forget about the structures of English like in the King James Bible, forget about it all. Write, learn to get your point across in an easy-to-understand, clear way first, and then dress it up.

    I remember when I wrote essays at university, I was very concerned about "sounding" good and I was all flowery and poetic about it - I thought it was all "very good writing", very stylish and beautiful and elegant. I got consistently lower marks than I expected (nothing bad - it was still a very good grade, but not the perfection I was after). I kept wondering why. Tutors criticised my clarity and structure. I didn't get it. Now, years and years later, I am embarrassed to quote anything from my essays because blimming heck, was it badly written! What I thought was "elegant" was simply pretentious, convoluted, and quite frankly confusing. I was trying too hard.

    When you focus on clarity, the rest of it comes in time - all that poetry and elegance you're after - it will come. First focus on just getting the point across.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Apologies in advance, @waitingforzion, but this needs to be said:

    You have a sense of rhythm. Everybody does. It's part of being human. Sure, musicians develop more sophisticated senses of rhythm than most people, but that's neither here nor there. It doesn't matter. The rhythms you need to write beautiful prose are already built into your psyche. If you've ever heard a song, the rhythm has soaked into your bones. So stop thinking in terms of learning to create rhythm. You're confronting yourself with a problem you just don't have; a problem that doesn't exist.

    As far as I can see, the only thing standing between you and creating beautiful prose is that Bible you keep harping on. You've inflated it in your own mind into something monstrous and destructive. You can't get through it. You can't get around it. You can't get over it or under it. It's the immovable, invincible obstacle that keeps you from writing. It bashes you over the head and makes you feel small and weak and it prevents you from ever writing a line you can be proud of.

    The first thing you have to do is forget the damn Bible. It's gone. Poof, it went. Now, just draw upon your innate sense of rhythm - the rhythm you already have without even bothering to think about it - and write. Read your work aloud. If it doesn't sound right, fix it. If it has archaic language in it - a load of thees and thous - get rid of them. They hamper you.

    Free yourself. You'll never write if you don't.
     
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  5. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    I understand that, perhaps, I may have my own sense of rhythm, present in my psyche. But that will not help to emulate the style of existing works, or to derive from their styles my own style. In order to write in the voice of one of the books in the Bible, I must have a sense of rhythm similar to that of the translator of that book.

    Of course, I must write my thoughts out first, and of course, I must revise them afterwards. But how do I revise them to conform to a certain voice if I do not have a sense of the rhythm that produces the voice? The question I am asking is how to expand my sense of rhythm to include the rhythms of other writers, so that I can emulate their voices, and derive from them new ones, in order to write in however many voices I choose.

    The learner of music does not say, "I will use my own inborn sense of rhythm, and not learn the rhythms well established," but tries to learn as much theory as he can. Likewise, the writer of prose must not think it stupid to expand his rhythmic ability. I want to expand my rhythmic ability, so that it can produce rhythms that resemble that of the King James Bible, and that of other authors, not to emulate them only, but to use them as the basis for new voices created by new rhythms.

    Do you get my drift?
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    When insisting on doing things one way hasn't worked, and hasn't worked for you for a very long time now, isn't it about time to reconsider your approach? Have you ever considered maybe you cannot replicate the voice in the Bible, but perhaps you can do something different, but still good? Maybe just as good. Maybe even better than the style you admire so much in the King James Bible. Have you considered that?

    If you have no idea how to write simply and convey your thoughts clearly first, you will never be able to emulate the much more complex and pretty much dead style found within the King James Bible. What makes you think you can run before you can walk? It's not easy to emulate any style, but to emulate one that's not even in use anymore, one in which nobody writes or thinks in anymore - if you can't do regular prose well, what makes you think you could do it in the King James style with any success?

    Stop bashing your head against the same door. What you're doing does not work and has not worked for you for a long time. Listen to the advice being given. Stop restricting yourself within just this one style, forever trying to be something you are not and may never be.

    Yes, maybe you'll never write like the writing in the King James Bible. But maybe you'll be better than that. What if you let yourself go and explore what your own natural style is first, before you try copying someone else's? See what comes naturally to you, see what your strengths and weaknesses are. Then you can see clearly what to do and what to change in order to write like the King James Bible - then you can switch back and forth at your leisure.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Or to give an analogy - you can't expect to be able to cook a Michelin 5 star meal before you know how to cook pasta. If you want to play like Mozart, you do not insist on playing his concert pieces meant for professionals only - you play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and O McDonald Had Farm until you get good enough to play something more complex, like Fur Elise, and then still more complex, and etc, until you get to the level when you can play concert pieces. It's the same with writing. Writing like the King James isn't easy, and if your first step will always and only be to mimick that and nothing else, learn from nothing else, practice with nothing else - trust me when I say you will simply never write. Is that what you want?
     
  8. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    What I am talking about now I have never tried before.
     
  9. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    And I do know how to write simple and clear prose already. I have been doing it in this thread. What I need to learn now is to write rhythmically.
     
  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe you'd have more luck with working on rhythm (without losing sense) if you scaled back the vocabulary you use? Or if you worked on simpler rhythms until you got really good at it?

    Dr. Seuss has great rhythm, and is totally easy to follow. Maybe start with something like that (or limericks, or whatever other really basic schemes you can find) and then work up?
     
  11. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Thanks for the encouragement and advise, and realness from those who were discouraging.

    One of the reasons I am afraid to write plainly is because I am worried it will be linguistically impossible to rephrase it in my desired rhythm due to a lack of synonyms or grammatical flexibility.

    Can you offer any insight on that?
     
  12. Sniam
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    Sniam Member

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    I'm not sure I'm qualified to really help you, but let me offer you a random piece of advice.

    In France, there is this thing that an old author named Flaubert used, named a "gueuloir", which roughly translates as "shouting room". In his garden, the man would proceed to shout entire chapters of his book to be sure it sounded good, both in rhythm and in phrasing. He would shout for several hours, and, if anything was not to his liking, he would rewrite the whole chapter that sounded wrong. That might be an over-the-top method, but I think you could give it a try.

    Using a metronome is not something I recommend, because you have to know what being off-beat means, and not everybody can turn into a jazzman just like that. Listening to music would be just as effective and more relaxing. A metronome can be quite stressful, like a leaking tap with water continuously dropping (and that's a Chinese torture method, that can't be good for your productivity).

    If you are not comfortable with writing plainly because you're afraid of being unable to rephrase in the adequate rhythm, you can always rely on punctuation. That can be comas, points, or even semicolons (which are actually underused).
    You can also read your work to other people (not beta readers) that will give you a novice point of view; they will be able to point out if any passage feels uncomfortable, forced, or just plainly weird to read.
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There is a difference between clear prose in a forum and clear, publishable prose. When I encouraged you to write plainly, I mean to the level of being publishable. Now perhaps you are at that level with plain prose, I have no clue, because you have never shown a piece of fiction written in plain prose here.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But what if that did happen? What if you write one or several pieces of plain prose, and tried to achieve that rhythm, and failed? What would the consequence be?

    As far as I can tell, there would be no consequence. You would have tried something, you would not have succeeded, and then you could try something else.

    So why not try it?

    You have tried to combine archaic words, complex vocabulary, complex phrasing, and rhythm. What is the harm of trying something else?

    Why not, for example, look at song lyrics? They're designed to support (or be supported by) a rhythm, but they tend to be fairly simple, comprehensible words and phrases. I realize that you probably feel that they are below you, but why not try working with them for a while?
     
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  15. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    Fear; fear is the death of creativity. What if someone doesn't understand what you're trying to say, what if your words are mistaken for something they're not? There's no wiggle room, words must state explicitly what they stand for or else...

    Nope, forget that. Know what you need to do? Write about a tree.

    Follow me on this.

    Write about about trees and their leaves, you could even mention the breeze, but if you'd please- ignore the birds and the bees.
    "But what if these words do not come with ease?"
    Remember your first is always the worst.
    And get back to your trees in the breeze with no bees.

    Lower the stakes, mentally sneeze
    There are no mistakes, only happy little trees.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 25, 2016
  16. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    @Chained thou art such a tease!

    I think you can achieve your aim @waitingforzion

    In your professing an ability to write clearly you were actually employing a rhythm. Here, this example shows a bit of both:

    Please do not discourage me from this endeavor with talk of how I should learn to write clearly first. As you can see, I can write clearly. I have been able to write clearly for a long time, and am able to write clearly for as long as my mind is not on rhythm. Now it is time for me to learn how to write rhythmically, and that involves chiefly how to create rhythm.

    The repetition puts a pulse in your statement—albeit done (I surmise) subconsciously. I've used the above to demonstrate that if, say I wanted to write like you, I'd pick through your sentences, get all forensic, studying and making notes of structure, av. sentence length, density of nouns, verbs etc. Essentially use scientific method to deconstruct and with it create a summarised style sheet that I could employ to recreate your style. I'm not saying this would be easy and I figure I'd bail unless I was being paid to do so but the fact would remain that with time it'd be achievable.

    So maybe all you're just lacking is patience? Wanting the skill set instantly without putting the hours in? By hours; I actually mean years :meh:. I know to reach the standards I aspire to I'm going to be at this game a very long time.

    The advice higher up in this thread is worth a lot too; broadening your repertoire by learning/employing alternative styles I'm sure will only help. Lyrics especially not to be dismissed.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2016
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  17. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    Have you come across any of these instances, where you can't rephrase simple prose into elaborate? Or is it just a bogeyman keeping you from trying?
     

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