Recently I spoke with a woman who has written several screenplays. She talked about what made them work, and what didn’t, and then segued into why some movies fail in spite of a good plot and good actors. As the title of this blog implies, she said it comes down to rhythm. It was great fun watching her because she would start quoting from a movie, then get into the role, and overly dramatize the rhythm to prove her point. It was like watching dialog become music. She even drummed the beats of dialog with her fingers on my desk.
I’m going to state the obvious here and say all our writing, no matter what kind, needs that rhythm.
What I find myself wondering though, is why? Are we working with words, or with notes? I’m certainly no musician (although I have a desire to play something dramatic: hammered dulcimer, harp, bagpipes…) and yet I can feel when a sentence doesn’t work. Usually in the editing process. I’ll stumble over a sentence, go back to figure out why, and realize the way the words meld is wrong.
So which came first, words or music? Do we have some inherited genetic memory of tapping two stones together and realizing we’re creating movement as well as fire? I’m also no archaeologist but I have to wonder if song came before speech.
This proves the importance of reading your writing out loud during the editing process. Our ears hear the music, or lack of, in the words, that our eyes might skim over.
I find more and more ties between music and writing. Songs that inspire writing, as I’ve posted about before. The music that must be there in our stories. Even the rhythm of our speech.
The challenge is figuring out how to get that rhythm into our writing. Punctuation to create pauses, leaps, rise and fall. All the tools we have to link words into rhythm.
And our natural ear, tuned to that inner song of the story.