1. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Syllabic Feet and Style

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by waitingforzion, Apr 3, 2014.

    Do you think that all writing, whether poetry or prose, can be scanned into syllabic feet? I think that since all words follow a pattern of accentuation, which can also be combined when the words are, depending on the way they compete with each other for emphasis, they can certainly be scanned into a fixed set of feet.

    And if that is possible, do you think that a writer's voice can be characterized by consistent patterns in the way they subconsciously arrange their feet, even if you cannot derive a formula from it? Or is prosaic writing characterized more by word usage and application of structure?

    One more thing. I realized that I could write much more easily in a plain prosaic style when I ignore the concept of rhythm. When I refuse to acknowledge that my words have any rhythm inherent in them, and I simply choose words that don't disrupt the ordinary flow, and remove any words that are unnecessary, I find myself free from any issues related to sing-song or faulty rhythm. But I also realize, that if I want my writing to have an elevated tone, such as the kind of tone found in the Bible, or in any of the works that have similar tones, then I must arrange my words to fit a notable pattern of feet. However, this pattern must not too closely resemble the patterns found in metrical poetry. It must not have a drum beat, but it must not be devoid of beat either.

    I have always believed that all writing has rhythm, but now I am persuaded that plain prose, though having rhythm, is best written without consciousness of rhythm, but of manifold sentence structures and terse wording. Based on my experience, I advise you to make sure that when you teach someone how to write, you teach them the difference between prose and poetry, and encourage them to develop each skill in isolation, and afterwards, when they have achieved mastery of both, show them how they can combine them. Otherwise, as it happened with me, they will daydream about rhythm, sit down to write, and think this in their heads repeated, "no doubt", "in fact", "bla bla bla", da dum da da dum da dum dum da da, okay now I need some words but I don't know how to even express myself of think."
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    are you often given to flights of such flittery-fluttery futile fancy. wfz? ;)
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Most (maybe even all) stories and novels don't have any such pattern. For one, it would be a very time-consuming process for the writer with very little added benefit (IMO). Also, different writers hear different "rhythms," so what one writer considers poetic may be the exact opposite for another writer. The same goes for readers. I consider Nabokov's Lolita to be a great example of poetic prose, but others may disagree.
     
  4. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Interesting topic.
    Agree to a point. But, I mean a writer is always conscious of rhythm. Why does one sit there for hours trying out a sentence - with either scarlet or red. Not just word choice but something tells him it's not jelling right. That's why certain words and phrases usually get axed or replaced because they're usually out of step with the rest of the flow.
    Check out one of the tightest prose writer's Hemmingway -

    - So he ate an orange, slowly spitting out the seeds - that's an opening sentence from A Banal Story.

    I don't know if he consciously aimed for rhythm but he's got it and if you axe two adverbs - so and slowly - You get
    He ate and orange, spitting out seeds - notice how the rhythm is wrecked?
    What if that was the first thing he wrote and he added two adverbs.
     
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  5. waitingforzion
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    waitingforzion Active Member

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    Well, I didn't mean to say that a writer should have zero consciousness of rhythm, but as you can see from my endeavors to breathe rhythm into my words, I often elevate my words over a cliff. What you guys have been trying to teach me is that one should focus on breathing rhythm into their writing by revision and intuition. Maybe I really did say that prose inherently has no rhythm whatsoever. That was incorrect, but I came to that conclusion because I noticed that when I wrote things without focusing so much on rhythm I was able to sound more natural. I guess I just wanted to distinguish between aiming for a specific beat and working out one's writing so that is rhythmical.

    I have a question though. Do you believe it is possible, by looking at a piece of writing, to imitate the rhythmic qualities of that writing? I'm not referring to the specific rhythms themselves, but to the voice that rises out of the rhythms. In other words, can one identify the qualities of a voice, and incorporate them into his own work for the sake of practice?
     
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I think so.
    It doesn't even have to be just for practice. Look at Nabokov - a great admirer of Edgar Allen Poe and it shows. And even Martin Amis - who admires Nabokov and it shows. No writer is a complete stand alone, every writer owes something of their voice and/or rhythms and/or style to someone else.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think a writer should be conscious of rhythm, but prose rhythm is a much more diffuse and sprawling thing than poetic rhythm. I always read my prose aloud, and when I hear myself speak a clunky rhythm, it irritates my ears. It's like hearing a record skip (I'm dating myself, right?) or an old car backfire or miss on a cylinder. It must be fixed! This doesn't mean the prose has to have a steady pulse - a 4/4 beat, say - but it has to please me. @peachalulu nailed it when she said writers will try sentences with "scarlet" or "red", because the number of syllables can make or break the rhythm.

    In Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (a work I often disparage on this forum, but it gets some things right!), the authors use an effective example: Thomas Paine's famous quote "These are the times that try men's souls." There's a powerful rhythm to that. They rephrase it a few ways for comparison:

    "Times like these try men's souls."
    "How trying it is to live in these times!"
    "These are trying times for men's souls."
    "Soulwise, these are trying times."

    All of these versions are weak, sometimes ridiculously so. I bet Paine read his work aloud and twisted his sentence around until he got that "DA dada DA da DA DA DA" rhythm he wanted. It's not a steady pulse, but it makes the ear happy. Read your work aloud.

    I also want to point out that prose rhythm doesn't really spring from sentences alone; sentences do not exist in isolation. Rhythm comes from paragraphs (at least, to me it does). A sentence might be run-of-the-mill, even ugly, on its own, but if it's nestled between two other sentences that work with it, it can be lovely.

    Somewhere around here I have a classic guitar instruction book called Chord Chemistry, by Ted Greene. He gives an example of a really weird chord and says (I'm paraphrasing): "Play this chord. Sounds funny, doesn't it? It's even kind of ugly. Why would anyone want to use this chord? But play it in this progression - " and he shows it nestled in a progression of four or five other chords "- and it's beautiful." And it was. It worked in the right context. There's a lesson for writers in that. Sentences don't stand alone. Think in terms of paragraphs.

    Good luck!
     

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