Listen for the Music in Your Writing

Friday, September 23, 2022
By Barbara Noe Kennedy

I’m a travel journalist, so it seems incongruous that poetry might have anything to do with my writing. On the contrary, poetry has everything to do with my writing—after culling the best ideas, of course. And this goes for any type of writing, whether you’re penning a novel, a food-related story, even a business article.

Think of the English language as a musical instrument. You are using that instrument to create great music. While the meaning of every word you use is imperative, you can be like a poet and complement that meaning by choosing words that provide accompanying sounds, whether to signal peace, discord, fear, love, disgust, or whatever. Poets, after all, are masters at being as concise and succinct as possible in their writing. So why shouldn’t you?

For example, if you are describing a peaceful rainy scene, think about using words with the “s” sound to convey the rain, using a rhythmic cadence: Small drops of water spilled from the sky.

Or, perhaps the scene is stormy, filled with thunder and lightning. In this case, you would want to choose words that are harsh sounding—hard consonants—and make the sentence more choppy: Rain fell, lights flashed, I glanced around the street for cover.

Here are some more poetic techniques to add to your writing tool chest

Perfect Rhyme: Two words rhyme in such a way that their final stressed vowel and all following sounds are identical; e.g.: power and tower, mouse and house, cat and hat. The use of perfect rhyme creates a harmonic, melodic effect, suggesting that everything is good.

End rhyme: The end of the sentences rhyme, such as: Star light, star bright. This rhyme is probably the most common in poetry. If you use it in your prose, you are drawing attention to the scene by creating a certain, expected rhythm, along with creating a sense of harmony.

Slant rhyme (also called near or imperfect rhyme): The last syllable rhymes, such as find and friend; and bottle and fiddle. Poets use slant rhyme to introduce a sense of the unexpected, to entice the reader to pay closer to attention to the words. Emily Dickenson was a pro.

Eye rhyme: This is where you have the same spelling but different sounds, such as wind and bind; love and move. Poets use eye rhymes to appeal to the sense of sight, not hearing, to make for a more melodic read.

Read your writing out loud, and listen to the sounds of your writing—the music. Are the sounds enhancing the mood you are creating? Do they help with pacing? By carefully picking the right words—and the right sounds—you can bring you writing to a whole new level.


Barbara Noe Kennedy is a former longtime editor with National Geographic Travel Publishing. She currently works as a fulltime freelance travel writer, with credits including Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, London Telegraph, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, National Geographic, BBC Travel, The Points Guy, and more. She also teaches travel writing and creative nonfiction and leads tours.

--Barbara is also a WOW! Women on Writing instructor, with several webinars starting soon: TRAVEL WRITING 101 WEBINAR (October 5th), THE POWER OF STORYTELLING 101 WEBINAR (October 12th), and THE PIZZAZZ OF WRITING 101 WEBINAR (October 26th). For information and enrollment, visit our classroom page.  


Renee Roberson said...

Barbara--Having been formally trained as a print journalist, my writing tends to be too "stodgy" at times. Thank you for this nudge in adding color to our writing and for providing such great, concrete examples.

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