Rhythm, Cadence, and Beats in Writing

Rhythm, cadence and beats are a powerful series of three (see previous day’s post) to keep in mind when you write your novel, short story, essay, and of course, poetry.

Remember “Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!”  Dorothy, the Scare Crow, and the Tin Man sing this line along the Yellow Brick Road. (Notice there are three friends.) The order of the three animals has rhythm, cadence, and beats. If the order is switched around, it doesn’t sound as good, i.e., Bears, lions, and tigers. Oh my!

Poets are aware of the importance of rhythm, cadence, and beats. Fiction and non-fiction writers can develop an awareness of matching the rhythm of sentences to the beat of the action. Develop a cadence ear by reading work aloud to see where a revision of a sentence can make a difference in the flow and the sound. It might be only the order of the words that need attention.

Meghan O’Rourke calls it the “musicality of prose”. She suggests listening for the “duh-duh-dum rhythm and uses a line from Marilynne Robinson’s book, HOUSEKEEPING as an example: “To crave and to have are as like as a thing and it’s shadow.”

Do you hear it?


Filed under Writing Tips

6 responses to “Rhythm, Cadence, and Beats in Writing

  1. I’m working on a short collection of “Beat” inspired poetry. Although, the so called “Beats” could be undeniably “Off Beat”, I’ll pay this advice some mind as I work.


  2. Sounds like an interesting collection, Elaine. Let us know when it’s available for purchase.


    • elainewebster100

      Well, I’m doing it for the Redwood Writers First Poetry Anthology “And the Beats Go On”. The submission deadline is September 1, which gives me some time. The anthology will be published in April 2014. So you can pick up a copy when you come for the 2014 Redwood Writers Conference. I took some Ferlinghetti from the library. Today I read something that hit home from Lawrence: “Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”
      Love it!


      • I’m happy to hear Redwood Writers will have another conference next year. You didn’t have one this year, did you?
        I will be sure to buy the anthology in 2014. LOL with Lawrence’s quote!


        • elainewebster100

          Redwood does a conference every other year. This one will once again be at our local Junior College. It’s held in the brand-spanking-new student union building which is beautifully designed. Everyone agrees it’s a superior location. We’re just beginning to work on it. I’ll keep you posted — pun intended 🙂


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