A ninja in the craft of writing. With it, your words can flow like water trickling over smooth rocks.
Without it? Your story will be flat. It will go slow. And I’m going to stop there, because it’s painful for me to try to write sentences without a beat.
What is a beat? It is the way a writer uses varying sentence length, sentence structure, words, and literary devices to create a flow in the story.
I first discovered beats when I was reading aloud to my children. I found that there were certain stories that my children and I enjoyed more than others. It didn’t take me long to discover why. Our favorite stories had a rhythm that made them slick to hear aloud, smooth to read in the mind, and just plain fun for the lips.
Best example: Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham.
Sure, you say. It’s a rhyming book so of course it flows. No, no, no. You can have a rhyme that doesn’t flow. My horrible example:
I have a cat.
Mice went down the street and enjoyed eating hats.
We own large old mats.
Five days ago, the old lady next door told me to go outside and then she sat.
It rhymes but it doesn’t flow. Read a verse from Doctor Seuss or if you’re brave enough, check this out:
There is a structure to the writing that creates the beat. The structure you chose will help create rhythm in your story. When writing be mindful of certain things:
- Within your paragraph, are you varying your sentence lengths? Do you have short sentences mixed in with longer ones?
- Are you using the same sentence structure over and over again? For instance, subject/verb or are you mixing it up by starting the sentence with dependent clauses, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases?
- Are you willing to kick grammar’s butt and do something daring? Are you willing to let one word or one sentence speak as its own paragraph?
- Are you learning about literary devices such as parallelism (where the sentence is parallel in structure), anadiplosis (repeating the last word at the beginning of the next sentence), anaphora (repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences)? There are lots more of these.
- Are you reading your work aloud so you can hear if you have a beat?
Here is an example from my novel, PUSHING THE LIMITS, which will be debuting from Harlequin Teen in summer of 2012:
Whatever. They weren’t the ones who lay in bed at night trying to figure out what happened. They weren’t the ones who woke up screaming. They weren’t the ones wondering if they were losing their minds.
They weren’t the ones who felt…hopeless.
I created a beat using anaphora.
“I’m fine.” If I kept saying it then maybe it would be true. And maybe, someday, I could sleep a full night without horrible dreams—strange dreams, scary dreams, full of constellations, darkness, broken glass, and sometimes, blood.
Check it out: I broke a grammar rule and started a sentence with “and.”
Need more convincing? Here is an example of my favorite paragraph from one of my favorite novels. Can you hear the beat?
So what about you guys? Do you guys have a favorite author that uses cadence/beats in a way that makes the story smooth? If so, who are they?
Or what is your favorite way to create a beat in your story? If you are brave enough, share an example from your work!
Keep checking out YA Fusion. In a couple of weeks I’ll be giving away a signed copy of Ruta Sepetys’ New York Times Bestselling novel, Between Shades of Gray.