When I write, I hear in my head the words I’m putting on the page. I try to mimic the natural sound of dialogue—dropping endings when necessary, speaking in fragments, interjecting at just the right moment. All of these decisions, to me, have to do with the melody of language—the cadence. So many times we hear someone speak a language foreign from our own, and we notice the music in it. One type of language may be a minuet while another might be a mazurka. And again, I have to think it’s the cadence of language that makes the difference—the stress on one syllable instead of another, the shape the vowel takes as someone’s mouth forms the word.
As writers, we know we have to choose just the right diction. We have to avoid unnecessary adverbs, limit our use of the passive voice, make sure to draw our reader into the story with the exact number of adjectives to describe our scene. Each of these choices is deliberate. And if we happen to err in the first draft, we find a way to correct the mistake through our revision.
But in all these days of writing 100 plus words, I’ve discovered something about my own writing. My cadence is just as deliberate as these other choices. I have a fixed “melody” in my head and somehow the words I choose have to match that beat. When they don’t, the phrasing seems awkward, the ideas stiff, the word music discordant. Sometimes I find I purposely break a grammar rule so the melody remains intact. I don’t know if I’ve always written this way, but I do know that the pieces that seem to flow from my fingers match the notes in my head. The musical quality of language speaks to me and creates for me something unique about my voice.
What about you? Do you think about the cadence of your sentences as you’re putting words to the page, or does the meaning of the text hold sway? When you’re choosing just the right word, does the beat of the sentence make a difference to you? When you’re reading a story or a book or a poem, do you notice the melody of the language?