The Rhythm Method

Rhythm matters a great deal in writing. You just have to have it. If you can't find the rhythm in your work, then you're probably in trouble.

Now different languages favor different rhythms in speech and writing -- I speak barely enough German to know that -- and there're pronounced differences in the natural styles of writers.

Does this mean some writers have styles that naturally fit certain languages? Maybe there are people out there who can't write in English to save their lives, but who would have been fine in Swahili, if only they knew the language?

Or are there writers who can be improved by translation? I'm thinking of Perez-Reverte on that one. I don't know a word of Spanish, so I can't speak for the original, but the translations of books like The Flanders Panel are brilliant. (If you haven't heard of him, rush out now and get The Flanders Panel, The Dumas Club, and The Dancing Master).


Dennis said...

Hi, Gary. Really I think that a writer learns rhythm mostly from reading. That's me, anyway.

I mean, often rhythm is dictated by genre and common sense -- action = shorter sentences, for example -- but I think you refer to rhythm in the context of overall style and we learn what does/does not work by reading.

Do you feel that rhythm is one of those things that cannot necessarily be taught? You either have it or you don't?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Dennis, not that I'm an expert, but my impression from talking to writers is most people acquire rhythm as part of their unique voice, and after that it may evolve but it's more or less set. It's hard to imagine Tom Clancy writing Victorian era chick-lit, for example. I have no idea if you could teach rhythm to someone who doesn't have it. I have noticed quite a few people among my local friends who can't hear the rhythm in a novel, but who do respond to it, or at least, if it's not there they know something's missing.