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Narrative ‘Tradecraft’ #7 – Rhythm & Sound: Going With (and Well-Intentioned Attempts to Control) the Flow

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June 23, 2016

By Reggie Marra
word-structureSentence length impacts our attention, breath and understanding as we read. Sentence complexity, which emerges amid the maze of sentence length, diction, punctuation, metaphor, imagery, content and reader capacity, provides the sentence with a unique rhythm and sound – each of which is affected by the reader’s voice (whether internal or spoken out loud), challenges the readers’ or listeners’ ability to comprehend what the writer is attempting to convey, and may, in fact, influence whether said readers and listeners choose to continue reading or listening at all. You, for now, are still reading after that sentence. Thank you.

Even beyond the unskillfully delivered poetry lesson with which many of us of a certain age were burdened in our formal schooling, every word we utter, write, read or hear has its own meter, the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, and rhythm, which is the result of meter, sound, meaning, syntax and interpretation—“the result of blending the fixed (meter) with the flexible (speech).”*

This very sentence requires our recognition of the interdependent influences on rhythm that provide us with both freedom and responsibility as we write and read.  That sixth word is rec og NI tion, not rec OGni tion; that 3rd syllable gets the stress, the 1st gets a little less, and the 2nd and 4th are just slightly uttered. We all know this. My name is REG gie, not Reg GIE. The interplay, again, among diction, sentence length, imagery, metaphor and content (among others), translated through a listener’s or reader’s voice, gives the sentence, and therefore the paragraph, and the entire piece, its rhythm.

Rhythm is ubiquitous and therefore often unrecognized, or at best underappreciated – and not just in our narratives, but in our healing as well. We face challenges and opportunities galore as we examine the rhythms that may impact our healing.  Both enveloped by and enveloping the rhythms of our world, we carry with us the rhythms of the autonomic nervous system – breath, heartbeat, digestion, excretion and menstruation.  While these are by definition involuntary functions, we learn that by operating on the body with the mind, we can influence them directly (choose to hold our breath or delay emptying our bladder or bowel) and indirectly (enhance digestion, excretion or heartbeat through diet, exercise, meditation, medication, and other practices).

At any time we may intentionally negotiate, or choose to ignore, the patterns of daily waking and sleeping that our personal and professional commitments require, and those that our bodies, minds, souls and spirits demand.  Arising from these commitments is the rhythm (or lack thereof) of our daily routine.  Not immediately observable to our unenhanced moment-to-moment awareness, but nonetheless present, are the alpha, beta, delta and theta brainwave patterns that accompany our respective relaxed, actively engaged, dreamless deep sleep, and dreaming states.

Both intimately connected with, and apparently external to these individual rhythms, we find the rhythms of the earth’s rotation and orbit, manifesting as sun-rise and -set, the changing of the seasons, the monthly phases of the moon’s rising and setting, and the ebb and flow of the tides.

Simply put, rhythm is all about and within us, and as with each and all of the narrative devices that we employ in our writing, to the extent that we are aware of and consciously engage, we will be better able to embrace and nurture those rhythms that support us, and ignore, change, or eliminate those that do not.  As our awareness grows, we begin to see the specific rhythms as they manifest within and among our perspectives on the chosen images, metaphors, diction, conflict and revisions of our healing narratives. What story do we choose to tell? When and how do we choose to go with or try to interrupt a given rhythm? How long, and how complex is each life sentence that we choose to live and write, and does its rhythm keep us moving or stand us still?

*Wallace, Robert, and Michelle Boisseau.  Writing Poems.  4th ed.  New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

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