(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.