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Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009 at 6:33 am

Practice Pacing the Rhythm Of Your Copy

By The Grok
February 5th, 2009

Rhythm is an powerful element in your writing. And you can think of the rhythm of your writing in (at least) two ways. It can be the technique of matching the pace of your copy to the feelings and visuals you intend to create. But you can also think of rhythm as a way to impart a “musicality” and unpredictability.

Consciously using rhythm techniques helps you generate sight, feeling and, yes, even sound images for your reader.

Rhythm as Visual Mood

People internalize what they read as visual images – that’s one of the great beauties of sitting down with a good book: it gives you the opportunity to create mental worlds. And the pace of your writing reinforces the mood of its visuals, in an almost movie-like way.

To inspire an excited, fast-moving feeling in your reader, punctuate intentionally, and impart motion through the use of action verbs and short, rolling words. If you want to convey a relaxed feeling, a sense of rest or of moodiness, lengthen your sentences, use abundant punctuation and appropriate descriptives, and pay very close attention to detail.

Your pulse races, hands clenching your ticket as she comes flying into the homestretch. Whispering a prayer, you watch her cross the line. A photo finish. Too close to call. Eternal silence. Bated breath. The announcement crackles in your ear. She lost. By a nose.

How do you feel? Breathing just a bit shallower? This example is full of short, incomplete sentences. Lots of periods that bring readers abruptly to the close of a moment, yet leave them hanging, so they want to move on. Visually, it’s choppy, a montage of images that gives you more information than actually appears in the words themselves.

Now read this:

Your pulse races, your hand clenches your ticket, she comes flying into the homestretch. You whisper a prayer, she crosses the line, a photo finish, too close to call, eternal silence, bated breath. The announcement crackles in your ear. She lost by a nose.

Pretty much the same short sentences, but a different scheme of punctuation. Does that change the images the passage creates in your mind? Me, I visualize this event in a softer focus. The montage isn’t as stop-and-go; instead it almost flows with a strange quality of suspended motion that is at odds with the obvious speed of what is happening.

You gotta use a technique like this sparingly – heaven forbid you should create a whole Web page or email of it. It would quickly bore your readers by becoming predictable and would lose its inherent power.

Now let’s set a different mood:

Your fingers finally uncramp and ease their vise grip on damp paper, a palpable weight in your open palm, the embodiment of hope that has become failed dream. You shred precisely, with contempt, then surrender the useless burden, and the tatters flutter like betrayal to the stained concrete at your feet, no longer distinguishable in their promise from crumpled candy wrappers and empty plastic cups.

Now how do you feel? Can you see the palm opening in slow motion, ticket fragments falling like decayed petals? Can you sense the despair?

Rhythm as Verbal Music

One definition of rhythm is: an alternating recurrence of similar elements. Songs have rhythm; jokes have rhythm in their timing and delivery. Good copywriting has rhythm that is revealed in the variation of sentence length – and it is precisely this sort of rhythm that gives your reader a sense the copy “sounds” compelling.

When you consistently write sentences that are all the same length, your writing develops a plodding predictability. To avoid this, mix up your sentence lengths: a short sentence, a long sentence, a long sentence, a medium sentence, then another short sentence. This last sentence will carry some impact, because the reader wasn’t expecting it. Another short sentence might reinforce the impact. Then a long one. Give your reader the experience of rhythm in variety.

Interestingly, there is a “rhythm in three.” When you incorporate a series of things into a sentence, three seems to be the magic number. It has a nice rhythm – we hear it as complete and satisfying. “We leap into the boat, setup the sail and venture out onto the sea.”

So plan your words to create just the right pace, then give it a good beat.

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Comments (20)

  1. I think it’s great you guys talk about the finer points of writing technique. Anyone who aims to be a better writer should be conscious of rhythm at some level.

    My best writing usually comes when I’m speaking from the heart and “conversing” with my words. When I do that the rhythm takes care of itself.

  2. A great post. I really like the way you state that ’3 is a magic number’. Makes me think of the golden section.

  3. Agree with three, as with many parts of the creative world, odd numbers works much better than even ones.

    Also great to see a post about writing technique.

  4. I agree, but that said, some of my best fiction (non web copy) is done at frantic paces when my imagination is running wild.

  5. Great post. Would love to see some business examples with rhythm. Especially for B2B. Using storytelling in marketing is great for engagement. For visuals think about what your prospect wants to accomplish. What success looks like to them. Then paint that visual picture for them.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. Loved the comment about breathing quicker, while reading the short sentences. I was acting like a human with a guppies lung capacity.

    Nice article!

  7. As a persuasive copywriter with a background in classical music and jazz, I’m more conscious than most of the rhythm and flow of my copy.

    Not enough people talk about these kind of “artistic” subtleties. But it’s the little things like this that truly separate the pros from the wannabes.

    Nice post.

  8. Read it. Loved it. Want to write like that. Ahh, the sound of my own words echoing in the silence of a Comments field. Jokes aside, I will definitely keep your “Rhythm” post as a reference for my future writing!

  9. So much goes into writing a good copy. I get confused sometimes.

  10. I like the idea of using rhythm when writing sentences and do it often with direct marketing campaign. Does it work as well with web copy, however? It seems more like people scan most web site copy unless its something they are intensely researching. What are your thoughts on this?

  11. You just have to write naturally, and your pace will go right along with it.

  12. [...] Grokdotcom podemos ver un interesante artículo sobre este tema. En él se nos muestran dos formas de entender [...]

  13. [...] artículo publicado en Grokdotcom, y traducido por RedaccionSEO, en el que comentan la importancia del ritmo en la escritura, [...]

  14. @Conficker – I agree. Some great fiction comes from rapid thought movement to paper. Whereas research on non-fiction is best had slowly and methodically.

  15. I wonder if the great authors knows the theory or if they just do it “by nature”.

  16. Another great article about playing with words ;)
    My articles are gonna be so better now

  17. Very good article, know I find more about playing with words:)

  18. Writing is a lost art on the internet in most cases. Many webmasters would benefit from reading this.

  19. As a persuasive copywriter with a background in classical music and jazz, I’m more conscious than most of the rhythm and flow of my copy.

  20. Being a persuasive copywriter is maybe one of the most difficult things ever

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