Posted by: nancycurteman | March 9, 2012

Rhythm in Writing


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Good rhythm in writing is comparable to good rhythm in music. You won’t enjoy a piece without it. Rhythm is one of the basic strategies an author uses to evoke emotion or mood in a reader. The tool. for creating a pleasing rhythm in writing is pretty basic—the sentence. How the author uses this tool determines the rhythm of her writing. Here are some ideas to promote rhythm in writing.

Vary sentence length. Alternate short, medium and long sentences.

Don’t make sentences so long readers get lost in a maze of commas, lose track of the subject and drop off to sleep before they reach the period. A good rule of thumb is to keep sentences shorter than 30 words.

Sentence fragments are useful. They provide variety, emphasis and speed where needed to evoke certain emotions. They also provide a break from medium and long sentences. Sentence fragments are essential in dialog.

Awkward sentence construction will destroy rhythm. Remember this old example: “Throw Mother from the train a kiss.” Huh?

Sometimes you may need to break some rules in your effort to gain rhythm—start a sentence with a dependent clause (When I left, he…) or a prepositional phrase (At that moment…).

Before writing a scene, consider what kind of mood you want to evoke. Longer sentences can convey an easy narrative. Short, quick, sharp sentences can convey  excitement, fear, danger. Remember some sentences consist of only one word. A one word sentence of one syllable can have an impact on your reader (Bombs!).

Test the rhythm of your sentences by reading them aloud. If you find yourself stumbling and pausing then your writing has poor rhythm.

More writing tips:

How Do Conflict and Crisis Differ in a Mystery Novel?

Dialogue: Body Language Communicates More Than Words

9 Ways to Create Tension in a Mystery Novel



  1. Excellent advice. Thank you!


  2. Great advice, reading aloud is the best thing one can do to catch a bad rhythm, the words stumble and fall instead of flowing into each other and then you know what to change.


    • Alannah, I want all my readers to know you are a musician as well as an author and therefore know a lot about rhythm. Thank you for your comment.


      • That’s nice Nancy, thank you, and yes, being a bass player which is a rhythm instrument teaches you a lot about that 🙂


  3. We are drawn to the rhythm of words. Reading out loud helps me if something seems “off.” Thanks, NC!


    • Nancy, Always good to hear my views validated. Thanks


  4. Varying rhythm to to set the tone for a scene is good advice. I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps I’ve been doing it unconsciously. Now I’ll try to do it consciously.

    While I like “throw Mother from the train a kiss” as an example of awkward inversion,” let’s not overlook another favorite of mine, “up the street the soldiers were marching down.”


    • Art, I hadn’t heard the “up the street the soldiers were marching down,” example.
      I think you have a natural rhythm—probably from your experience as a journalist and short story writer.


  5. I did not realize how much I have forgotten about creative writing from my creative writing classes way back in the day.


    • Larry, I wondered where you learned your effective writing skills. Now I know.


  6. Nancy, I’ve seldom seen this so-important point disucssed so clearly and cogently. I never miss your stuff, so keep on keepin’ on.


  7. Nancy, I almost forgot to tell you that I’m building a second website, one that will let me talk about anything I want to other than mystery. I’m calling it and it’s presently under construction. If you have a moment, look there for my “Joanie” story. I’d love to know what you think.


    • Marcia,
      Thanks for reading my post. I went to your new site. Really interesting. I read the story about Joanie. Being a Catholic girl with a close Jewish friend, I got a big kick out of the piece. I left comments on your site.


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