Sunday, October 2, 2011

Do you have the beat?




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:

  1. Within your paragraph, are you varying your sentence lengths? Do you have short sentences mixed in with longer ones?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Another example:

“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.


Kurt Hampe said...

Bravo Katie, you got all the way through and your tongue isn't tied. Are you ready to take it to the next level and do Fox in Socks?

About halfway through the video you hit your stride and I can hear the same piece of music you're hearing. The groups of sentences really are musical, often functioning like alternating melody and chorus--then there are the longer sections that work like the bridge of a song.

Kristen Simmons said...

If you want got it (green eggs and ham) You want it, baby you got it (sam I am)

Best. Post. Ever.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great examples of how to do the beats right. They make you want to read more.

Sometimes I have to watch to vary my sentences. Great post.

Kristin Lenz said...

I Am In Awe. You rock, Katie! Except you zapped me and now I'm going to be singing Green Eggs and Ham all day. Ah well, the lesson will stick with me as I write.

Between Shades of Gray went to the top of my reading list the other weekend. Ruta's editor from Philomel spoke at the SCBWI-MI conference.

Unknown said...

Fabulous vlog! Love the head-bobbing, girlfriend :)

Colette Ballard said...

Katie, love it-very educational and fun!! The only thing missing was some of your sweet dance moves: )

Jus Accardo said...

That was SO seriously awesome, Katie!

Great post, kick butt visual :D

Lisa Tapp said...

Okay, I'm going to have to hook my speakers up. (Moved the computer and thought I could live without them. NOT!) But you're so right, Katie. Beat/rhythm makes the story. It's the difference between a book lets you glide through to the end vs. one that you battle each page just to read.