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I tend to use alliteration a lot. This is an example from a story I'm writing:

"Let me get this straight," Aru said, sliding on her dress. She always felt frosty after failed fornication. "You're giving me two thousand yen because you couldn't get it up?"

"It wasn't suddenly." Aru sipped her Americano. Its bitterness formed a frown on her forehead. "Have you seen the movie Pretty Woman?"

Aru dashed out of Yuuto's apartment and returned to hers in Ginza. There, sipping a can of beer on her couch, she chewed over her new career path.

Will this be distracting for the reader? Maybe readers don't care so much about alliteration? Maybe I should focus on finding the right verbs, similes, and metaphors?

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    Let me ask: why are you doing it? What appeal does alliteration have for you? Why do you like "felt frosty after failed fornication" more than "felt distant after sex went bad"? If you were to take out the alliteration, would you be unhappy with your prose? – Lauren Ipsum Jan 17 '17 at 17:20
  • @LaurenIpsum In the first example "frosty" has double meaning (it could mean cold or distant). Well 1. I enjoy writing alliteration (it's like a challenge) 2. It makes me feel that the sentence is somehow "superior". Of course, I could be wrong. That's why I'm asking this question. – Alexandro Chen Jan 17 '17 at 17:32
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One of your responses to a comment:

For me, alliteration has the same function as a simile or a metaphor; makes the prose "livelier".

Regardless whether the prose is "lively" or not, people will still think it jarring or too "purpley" or have no reason to be included. Alliteration, in particular, is a fairly blunt tool. It stands out. It can be used comedically; in Harry Potter there are characters who, by dint of the impishness of the magical world in general, can be called "Quirinus Quirrell" and we just titter sensibly at another funny alliteration in this strange new world.

If that sort of thing seems like it "fits" your world as and can be consistently introduced to induce a particular effect (like with HP the strangeness of the alliteration stands out, it's meant to)... then by all means.

But many, many people will notice it. I wouldn't recommend it, and focusing on it might lead you to sloppy descriptions where you're just wondering which words fit together comma after comma, when there may be more appropriate ways to display imagery.

She always felt frosty after failed fornication.

It stands out sharply. If I read this I would re-read it. Probably multiple times. It's tongue-trippy in a way that I will always notice. Four out of five words start with "f", the "after" has a distinctive "f" sound.

It's like that sentence which is just the word "buffalo" and because of some strange magic it makes sense if you twist every definition of the word.


Unrequested help, but something I noticed with your writing.

It seems the "Aru" character is the Main Character. I began writing almost always starting a paragraph with He, or She, or the character's name, or They, or It.

I found this everywhere I looked in my writing. Once I started looking specifically it appeared everywhere. And before I noticed, I was blind to it.

It's invisible when you're writing; of course, why shouldn't I start the paragraphs with something like that? I want the reader to follow the character exactly. However we're in the character's head already (usually), so adding He and She and Aru just takes over paragraphs that could be more concisely written.

Below is where I first came across this:

How to avoid repetitive sentence structure?

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I definitely noticed the alliterations. They stood out, and were frankly jarring. If you were writing poetry, or prose which is echoing poetry, I'd tell you to go for it, but if your point is to tell a story, then using poetic tools may get in the way.

Part of the joy of poetry is the sound of the words and how they play against each other visually and aurally. One of my favorite examples of this is from Pope's Essay on Criticism:

These Equal Syllables alone require,
Tho' oft the Ear the open Vowels tire,
While Expletives their feeble Aid do join,
And ten low Words oft creep in one dull Line.

Lines 1, 2, and 4 are actually demonstrating the effects he's describing. The last line is dull and plodding because all the syllables and stresses are the same.

If you do this in prose, it can impede the storytelling. The dual meaning of frosty is great; you can do plenty of that. But when you tack on more Fs, now I'm looking at all the Fs and not paying attention to the meaning of the words.

I won't say it would always be in the way — if you were writing something whimsical and funny, where the prose is deliberately silly, you could probably get away with it. But that's because the tone of the entire book would be playful, allowing the reader the freedom to consider the sounds of the words along with the meaning.

In a regular book, though? No, not superior. Showing off.

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The word choices you make have to work for your story. An alliteration is a tool, like a rhyme, and if you use it without a purpose, it will sound strange and unnatural, if not jarring.

Why do you use them? To show off your eloquence? To set the tone of your prose? To illustrate personal quirks of a character (not the case in the excerpt given, just in general)? How does it help your storytelling?

P. S. I am reasonably sure, though, that a certain number of your readers might not even notice it. :-) For me "sipping a beer can in her couch" hints at a slightly bigger problem.

  • "sipping a can of beer on her couch"? For me, alliteration has the same function as a simile or a metaphor; makes the prose "livelier". But maybe you're right. Maybe readers don't even notice it, and maybe it's distracting in some cases. – Alexandro Chen Jan 17 '17 at 17:52
  • @AlexandroChen Then, by all means, go for it. The choice is always yours. The fact that you asked the question, though, suggests that you are unsure of your choice. And, once again there is nothing wrong with being unsure. – Lew Jan 17 '17 at 18:12
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I am a great fan of alliteration in prose. But it absolutely must be well done and used sparingly. I use it to strengthen an idea and very rarely on more than two words in a row. Never through an entire sentence.

I do write mostly in Portuguese, though, which has slightly different reactions to certain figures of speech, but I also use this technique in English.

For instance "the morning sun rose mournfully" has two words that alliterate and are not too close together, but what idea or feeling is it really strengthening?

"The sea breeze brought the memories of long forgotten summers." The vocalic sounds of 'sea breeze' and the consonantic 'br' of 'breeze brought' show that if you repeat different sounds just twice you can create pleasant alliterations that don't jar. The 'ee' sound can intensify the feel of the 'sea', while the 'br' sounds can unite the breeze and its function of bringing memories.

Nevertheless, you cannot fall back onto alliterations relentlessly, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph.

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I would say that here, this almost abnegates the purpose and effectiveness of the technique. In prose, it just doesn't work because it sounds a bit silly. I also can't really think of a reason to use it in prose.

The two places where you would most likely use it are:

  • Any form of poetry

  • Persuasive writing (it's a great persuasive technique)

I also think, due to my response while reading it as a reader, that my attention was diverted away from the story and to the alliteration. This is a massive red flag and not what you should aim for.

In conclusion, you shouldn't use this technique in books much.

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