Musical Words

A couple of weeks ago I attended a small local writer’s workshop.  One very excellent seminar was taught by Priscilla Long and I was impressed enough that I purchased her book, The Writer’s Portable Mentor.  That in itself says a lot because lately I have become rather jaded about books on writing.  This book, however, has not disappointed.

Rather than this being a book review, however, I have been musing on Priscilla’s comments on the music of words.  She talks about how some vowels are higher on the note scale; some lower.  The example she used was ‘eek!’ vs. ‘doom’.  Not being a musician I had never thought about this before.

One thing Priscilla said that has me wanting to dig into my writing, is how you can use structure and sound to compliment sentences, pace, tension, etc.  For instance, we know that during high pace scenes, most people write with short sentences.  She suggests things like removing commas in order to make the sentence flow along with flowing narrative.  But the comments on music have really piqued my interest.

In a tense scene, wouldn’t it be fun to play with vowel sounds?  Priscilla also points out all the other sounds you can play with, such as slant rhyming, where the words almost rhyme but don’t quite, words that begin with the same letter, and so on.  As she says, most writers do this without even being aware of what they are doing.  Her challenge is to bring that awareness out, to have an ear tuned to the musical sound of the words and how that sound can be used to enhance and emphasize.

It makes perfect sense.  I love reading out loud something that is lyrical and flows, but I never thought to analyze it and pull out what makes it flow.  Not just the structure of the sentence, not just the words, but the individual letters.  I never thought about what creates that music in the words.  I know that sometimes I absolutely love the flow of something I’ve written, and sometimes it stinks.  Now, when I’m editing, I’ll have another layer to delve into when trying to find out why something isn’t working.

Isn’t it great when something is put into words that you might know subconsciously, but now see concretely?  I love it when I find a new tool to put in my writer’s craft box.


One thought on “Musical Words

  1. Mmmm, I love this, Lisa! It makes perfect sense to me too. I have been playing with the sounds of words a little bit, lately, because I’ve been writing stuff to be read out loud. You could easily make yourself some fun writing exercises to explore the music of words. 🙂


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