Tag Archives: novelists


PoetryCadence is the variation in a person’s tone, the rhythm created by the rise and fall of his voice. Poetry relies on cadence to create rhythm patters, but novelists can employ the device as well.

Poets, of course, are meticulous about their word choices so that each not only carries the meaning they desire, but also the proper order of accented and unaccented syllables.

Novelists, not concerned with a regular rhythmic pattern, create cadence in several different ways. First is through the length of sentences.

Long, luxurious sentences and paragraphs slow the tempo of a passage. Conversely, short sentences quicken the pace and frequently produce a tense, staccato effect.

The best passages employ both strategies to effect a paragraph with rhythm and balance. (“How To Tell,” Michael Orlofsky, Writer’s Digest, October 2002)

A second rhythmic device involves conjunctions—either their addition or their omission. The first, called polysyndeton, repeats a conjunction between each of the words or phrases in a series. The latter, asyndeton, omits the conjunction, even before the final element. Here are example of each:

Polysyndeton: An avalanche of rock and dirt cascaded beside him and over him and under him.

Asyndeton: His brother picked up another plate, piled it with a variety of stuffed pastries, a handful of baby carrots, a couple cauliflower clumps.

A third way to create cadence in prose is to purposefully use repetition. For instance, a proposition can be used over and over or a key word in one sentence can be repeated in the opening of the next sentence.

The first use creates a staccato rhythm which can be enhanced if short phrases are written as sentences.

    Repetition of a preposition in a sentence: Away from Laguna Beach, from Eddie, from the tatters of his career.
    Repetition of a preposition in consecutive sentences: Away from Laguna Beach. From Eddie. From the tatters of his career.

The Color Of Grief Isn't Blue cover

    Repetition of a key word from one sentence at the beginning of another: “But my sister, Ainsley, puts her key in the lock five mornings a week. She straightens the over-sized posters that shift every time a train goes by on the tracks across the road from the strip mall that houses the headquarters. Posters of a beautiful little girl with strawberries on her sundress and a makeshift wreath of flowers in her hair.” (From The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue by Sharon Souza).

Parallel construction is another method to create rhythm. The parallelism can be within a sentence or within a paragraph, but the idea is that multiplies—phrases, clauses, or sentences—have the same basic structure.

Here’s an example of phrases each consisting of a verb each followed by a prepositional phrase:

    He slid behind the wheel of his Porsche, backed from the driveway, and accelerated onto the road heading south.

Anaphora, or “the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses” (Oxford American Dictionary), is another way novelists create cadence in their prose. The following excerpt from Caught by Harlan Coben illustrates this technique:

And that was when Marcia started to feel a small rock form in her chest. There were no clothes in the hamper.

The rock in her chest grew when Marcia checked Haley’s toothbrush, then the sink and shower.

All bone-dry.

The rock grew when she called out to Ted, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. It grew when they drove to captain’s practice and found out that Haley had never showed. It grew when she called Haley’s friends while Ted sent out an e-mail blast—and no one knew where Haley was. It grew when they called the local police, who, despite Marcia’s and Ted’s protestations, believed that Haley was a runaway, a kid blowing off some steam. It grew when forty-eight hours later, the FBI was brought in. It grew when there was still no sign of Haley after a week. (As quoted by Margie Lawson, emphases mine)

Cadence is not a device that readers will necessarily notice unless they stop and think about the prose—not a plus if they are to remain immersed in the story world and wrapped up with the character’s problems. However, the absence of cadence can work against readers, causing them to stumble and retreat to regain the flow.

Writers want readers moving forward, fully engaged with the story. Proper cadence can help to accomplish this goal.



Filed under Prose, Tone, Writing Style

Know Your Characters

teen with attitude-1109209-mPerhaps nothing is more important for a novelist than to know his characters, and this fact is true regardless if the story is “plot driven” or “character driven.” In reality, the difference between those two types of stories is dependent upon the type of conflict that dominates the story–external or internal.

Clearly a story dealing primarily with a character’s internal flaw or need will depend upon knowing how that character is wired. But those stories aren’t the only ones that require an author to know his characters.

A story with external conflict front and center will have the kinds of events that deal with attempts to overcome this outside problem. Different characters will go about trying to solve the problems that confront them in different ways. Hence, an author needs to know what type of person he’s creating.

White_Collar_2009_logo.svgTake for example the main character in the TV show White Collar. He is a criminal working as a consultant to the FBI in order to stay out of prison. His methods of “consulting” vary a great deal from the detectives in a show like NCSI: Los Angeles.

He does what he does best–con, break and enter, forge, blackmail, things those on the legal side of the law can’t do. But is he nothing but a user? Something about him makes viewers care for him and cheer for him to turn from his criminal past.

Episode after episode, there is a criminal who needs to be caught, and our hero must work on behalf of the law by using his skills as a criminal. At the same time he has his own mysterious goals which sometimes put his actions on behalf of the FBI on a collision course with his actions meant to achieve his own ends.

The only way the plots for this show can work is if the writers know the character. What motivates him? What secret is he withholding from his handler?

When characters are involved, relationships develop. But relationships hinge on the inner qualities of each person. An author, therefore, must know how her character will relate to the various people in her story.

teen on cell-phone-959697-mWill a teen trust her new boyfriend or be suspicious of his intentions? Will a manager hire a yes-man for his assistant or will he find the best go-getter he can who might end up jumping ahead of him for promotion? Will a grandmother lie to protect her grandson from the policeman who accuses him of stealing from their neighbor or will she tell the truth, knowing he’ll be taken from her and put into the juvenile system?

In short, who are these people in your story? Not, what color eyes they have or how old they are, but what will they do when life turns against them, and why?

What makes them tick and how do they respond when they receive an expensive gift, learn they have cancer, watch their team win the Super Bowl, run into the boss who fired them?

As Art Holcomb said in a guest post at StoryFix, “We’re all predictably different . . . and so must our characters be.”

Unless an author intentionally crafts them to be different, however, they well might end up being stereotypical teens, or managers, or grandmothers. But if they are different, even quirky, they must have a believable reason for being different from the average person in their same shoes.

What separates them from others and why?

The better an author knows her characters, the deeper the story and the more impact it can have on readers.

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Filed under Characters, Concept And Development