(Updated in 2020)
I Got Rhythm I Got Music
We talk about being fluent in a foreign language, but it’s almost foreign to talk about being fluent in our own.
Wow! That’s a fluent sentence. It’s got rhythm and cadence. It’s well-built and interesting. It stands well on its own and it almost dares you to read it out loud.
If I were to guess why so many people tell me I’m a great writer, I would guess that sentence fluency has a something to do with what they are thinking about.
Sentence fluency is the romance of how words come together to pass on meaning. To me it’s the seduction of writing. It’s what writers mean when they use the word compose.
As a reader, I want the words to carry me and do what great music does — take me along with them — slow down when I need to listen hard and go fast, fast, fast, when the writer is telling something that’s exciting and fun.
As with all of the traits of effective writing, writers have ways to make writing dance to the tune that you want.
Flow Rhythm and Cadence
Sentence fluency is all about flow, rhythm and cadence. Start with the well-built sentences that you learned in school. (Okay we’ll go to some grammar next.) Those well-built sentences are the basic lines of the music of the language. Here are 6 +1 ways to help you compose.
- Write sentences that underscore your meaning. The example I used started and ended with the idea of fluency.
- Vary the length of your sentences. This is the one that is easiest and that folks miss most. A short sentence after two or three long ones is a relief to a reader. Two or three short ones in a row can be fun. Break things up.
- Fragments and dialogue can add power and rhythm.
You’re old enough to eat ice cream for breakfast now. You can decide when it’s okay to use what’s not a complete sentence. Making everything a sentence slows things down. The rule to follow is whether readers can follow you. End of story. Kick that self-editor out of your head.
- Start sentences in different ways to add variety and energy. Try to avoid There is and It is as much as you can. Start with the first noun after them and rewrite the sentence from there.
- Use transitions and segues that are appropriate and compelling. Show me how things connect and build on each other. Also use thoughts that make me curious about where you’re going.
- Write with a cadence that you can hear when you read your work aloud. Listen for the sound of your words and their pacing as well as their meaning. Do words roll and bounce where they should? Do they slow and tiptoe where the topic is serious? Do they speed up and tumble when the topic is not?
PLUS ONE: Despite what they say, sometimes the passive voice is the right way to say something. If you take out the passive voice totally most documents sound stilted, as if they were meant for children learning to read. You know your readers. Your eyes and your ears are the best judge of what works.
Effective writing is fluent and fun. It carries me effortlessly to the end of the piece so much so that I don’t even realize it. It’s like dancing with a partner who knows how to lead, I relax and enjoy the participation. I start reading, and before I know it I’m done.
Fluent writers are the ones that you want to read more of. They are addictive. You can hear their voice even when you’re not reading their words. I just showed you how you can get to be one of them. It’s not magic. It takes time and practice though.
Imagine what that fluent writing can do for your brand.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
9 + 1 Things Every Reader Wants from a Writer
9 + 1 The Sequel – When Big Words Go Bad
6+1: Writing Voice the Sound of Your Brand
See the Writing Power for Everyone Series on the Successful Series Page.
Hello there Liz,
This is just to let you know that I continue to read and learn and grow. I slip. I fall. I skin my knees and get up and run again.
I just went through two interesting learning experiences. The first was contrived and the second was tunexpected. I learned equally well from both but enjoyed the positive experience and agonized through the negative one.
The postive experience started with an experiment. Because I had an interest in climate change and global warming issues and because they are of local interest here I decided to write on this topic in my environmental/political blog. My timing was just prior to the release of “An Inconvenient Truth”. I was interested to see if (1) writing on topics that were big in the news (2) but from from angles that others hadn’t taken yet, (3) using attention grabbing titles, and (4) placing a hook in the first 250 characters of each article would increase the number of people reading my blog. VOILA! My statistics shot upward and I got links.
The negative experience began with a planned move from bloggersblurt to a more appropriately named new blog coyotes.wordpress.com (currently in stealth mode and you’ll soon understand why).
Having taken very seriously advice librarian’s catastrophe, I actually thought I had the back-up thing covered like a blanket. Such was not the case. At present I’m busy re-constructing blog entries that I didn’t have back-up for – I know, I know. Although I did have rss feed susbcriptions to my own blogs for exactly this purpose (back-up) I didn’t know breaking the text with “more” would produce a result of only being able to get back the text prior to the “more” from my feed. As I had deleted the original article from my blog it was of course logical that one could not access the rest. Well, prior to deleing the articles in question I copied them to my hard drive and then copied them to disc. When I thought they were on disc I deleted them from both my blog and the hard drive – yep, you guessed it – the disc was corrupted. And while trying to recover what I could from the corrupted disc I crashed my computer and had to have a techie into to restore it. For the last two weeks I’ve been on a roller coaster ride hanging on for dear life. Now I could have used the windows xp system restore function and had no problems at all if I had indeed wrote the articles in question in the ms Word word processing program or notebook but I had written them directly into my blog. Sigh – we live and we learn.
Hopefully, by next week my reconstruction work will be done and I’ll be able to bring coyotes out of stealth mode. Then I’ll have the time to give what you’ve written here the in depth attention it deserves. Until then, I send you best wishes.
ME Strauss says
You’ve had quite a life going on! It sounds like a movie all by itself! I hope in the end everything shakes itself out soon. 🙂
ah pek says
good tips! gotta memorise those.
ME Strauss says
Thank you, Ah Pek,
I’m glad they helped you. 🙂
How is the weather in Malaysia?
Chris Cree says
I’m catching up a little this afternoon and wanted to say thanks for this post. Your point #3 was something I needed.
I prefer to write the way I talk, but sometimes guilt won’t let me. In order to get rid of fragments I end up sounding more stuffy than I mean to. Now I won’t worry about it so much.
ME Strauss says
Yeah, it took me awhile to get over that 8th grade English teacher guilt too. Then I realized that good writing required that I do it. I’m glad that this post did something that freed up your writing. Writing is about effective communication, not rules. 🙂
“I got the music in me. I got the music in me. I got the music in – me.”
As previously expalined I have been writing some material for my new blog. Well, I made the time to carefully read your article. Then, I put your advice to test. I read what I had written out loud and sure enough, I had written all the “music” right out of it. So I edited out loud and I put the back rhythm in. Thanks for being a cyber light for us.
ME Strauss says
Thanks so much for that comment. I use the read aloud method all of the time to hear how my words flow. I’m really jazzed to hear that it works for you too. It’s really quite fun to hear the rhythm of the words, isn’t it?
You’re right you got the music in you. You go girl!
Jack Yan says
Good tips there, Liz¬ I enjoyed your post.
ME Strauss says
I appreciate your comment.
I hope you’ll keep talking. I’d like to get to know you better. 🙂
I’m a chinese, I have a dream that in someday I can speak English fluently and effectively. You article does make me happy,even though I have read many similar articals. Can you give me some advices about learn Englis?
ME Liz Strauss says
My experience with literacy is that we learn language best by “doing” it. The way we learn our primary language is in this order: listen, speak, read, write. My own son has recently taught himself Hindi. He first surrounded himself with people who knew the language and at the same time practiced writing the alphabet — spelling (encoding) the words he used most often), then reading (decoding) those same words — but always practicing the letters individually. I asked him about it. He said, “You have to make a relationship with each letter so that you recognize them inside the words. That was his way.
He also talked to his friends in their language as often as he could, keeping the mind of a beginner — unafraid to make a mistake, much like a child learning to speak.
I think it was his fascination that made it happen. 🙂