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I have written poems in iambic meter before, and they didn't seem to be wordy. And for a long time I have wanted to use metrical effects in my prose, which is called prose rhythm. But I am wondering how it can be possible to restate something that is so clear and concise in another way that has the kind of rhythm I want.

I have been reading a book on how to write clearly. It makes no mention of accents on syllables or choosing and arranging words for prose rhythm. And I am honestly wondering how it is even possible to achieve specific rhythms without violating the principles in the book.

What concerns me is the lack of synonyms we have available for a given word. Maybe I am over thinking this, but how can we possibly achieve specific rhythmic effects if we don't have the right sounding word available? if I want to refer to a specific thing or concept, what do I do if I cannot find a synonym that has the right sound?

If there are definite means for phrasing thoughts in specific kinds of rhythm, what are those means? I have read and written poems that contained lines so direct and yet so rhythmical. I don't understand how this is not an accident.

One of the works that seems to baffle me in this respect is the King James Bible. I know it is the word of God but how did other authors imitate the style and rhythm of some of the books in it? They actually imitated the narrative style of the King James Bible. So they should be able to imitate the style of the prophetic books, the psalms, and the epistles as well. But how can this be done?

I am not really asking specifically how to imitate the style of the King James, but how to use rhythm at all without being unnatural or indirect. You read the whole question. You get the idea.

Please help me to figure this out so that I can use prose rhythm in my writing. Thank you.

  • have you tried a rhyming dictionary as well as a thesarus? – Lauren Ipsum Aug 10 '16 at 2:37
  • He is asking about rhythm, not rhyme. – Mark Baker Aug 10 '16 at 4:15
  • @mbakeranalecta yes, but if you want a "sound" — three syllables, ends in -tion — you could punch partition into a rhyming dictionary website and get a whole bunch of possible answers. Knowing the definition is up to the writer. – Lauren Ipsum Aug 10 '16 at 13:38
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I think there are good arguments to be made that rhythm and clarity are closely connected. We tend to have a very puritanical view of prose preached to us today. It is all spare and bleached and square corners. It is dessicated language. It does nothing to engage the ear or the eye or the senses. It may be statically clear, but I am not convinced that it is transitively clear, that it actually makes its way into the mind in a memorable way.

It is certainly clear that we do recall the elegant phrase. And a truly elegant phrase is made up of many things, it is the perfect image, but it is also the perfect rhythm of language. Clarity, of the highest kind, is not a dessicated whitewashed thing, but a thing of beauty and richness.

How do you do it? I think it is largely a matter of training the ear. You have to listen for the rhythm of language (which is a much more subtle thing than the rhythm of poetry). You have to weight the sentence and even the paragraph or the passage as a whole. You have to consider the imagery and the words that paint those images and how the choice and arrangement of those words reinforces those images and leads the reader to them with elegance.

In short, it is not about finding individual words with the right beat pattern to drop into a sentence. It is about working all the component of writing at a larger scale, and working and reworking them until all the parts come together. You have to train you brain to compose in this way. A large part of that has to be reading writes who do it exceptionally well. Evelyn Waugh, John Steinbeck, and Jane Austen are the names that come most readily to mind.

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The best of all in dialogue, is often set in rhythm. To please the ear, to please the mind, is valued just as clarity, but please do use it sparingly, in principle for prose.

Having a little fun with it...Really depends on what advice you've been given on what clarity means. In straight prose, I'm saying: Some of the best dialogue is rhythmic. Writing a pleasing turn of phrase for mind or soul is more than clarity, but it shouldn't distract from the message. Myself, I love the sounds, the particular beat, the words that turn to song so easily once they've touched your mind.

You can make anything fit a particular form, however, particular forms outside of their milieu, when not used subtly or well, can sometimes be quite distracting, even if they don't rhyme.

One of the works that seems to baffle me in this respect is the King James Bible. I know it is the word of God but how did other authors imitate the style and rhythm of some of the books in it? They actually imitated the narrative style of the King James Bible. So they should be able to imitate the style of the prophetic books, the psalms, and the epistles as well. But how can this be done?

You asked about the Bible--actually I find the tone quite different in different parts of it, but the upshot is that it got edited by a specific group of people in the 1600s. So a lot of that has to do with the conventions of prose and poetic writing in the day--Shakespeare was very nearly contemporaneous with and certainly shaped it. It's got a sameness because a bunch of dudes from the 1600s who already thought in these forms edited it.

As to the HOW...well, it's a lot like music. You can learn to think in iambic given enough time.

What concerns me is the lack of synonyms we have available for a given word. Maybe I am over thinking this, but how can we possibly achieve specific rhythmic effects if we don't have the right sounding word available? if I want to refer to a specific thing or concept, what do I do if I cannot find a synonym that has the right sound?

That question is a question every single poet and rapper has ever asked. The answer is to put the wrong word in, but torture it until it cooperates. Or use two words instead to break up the syllable issue. I've done that to get around it.

how to use rhythm at all without being unnatural or indirect.

Using these things more subtly than in poetic form, and choosing when to.

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