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Cadence and Flow: How to Make Your Articles Sing
Turn mundane writing into music to reader’s eyes
We writers write a lot of long, smooth, complete sentences, into which we seek to pack a tremendous amount of information—perhaps even some entertainment—through a fine understanding of grammar, a clever application of punctuation, and a balance of precision and economy, all resulting in an overall display of excellent writing.
Fine. But not every thought needs to be delivered with all the elements. Subject. Verb. Predicate. Adjectives and adverbs, conjunctions and parentheticals. Gerunds (ugh!). It’s so easy to pack five or 10 sharp and meaningful words into a bloated and boring 50-word sentence.
We need to do just the opposite. Readers are busy people. They may be hungry for your story’s message, but they’re an overfed bunch. So much writing out there. So many words.
Too many words!
Short sentences—lively and active—are far more digestible than the arguably awful 50-word behemoth at the start of this article.
Even mere phrases—or a single word—injected artfully and with purpose make for a more interesting flow, with emphasis to grab a reader’s attention and slow them down, get their minds to churn a bit, or to accomplish quite the opposite, to speed up the conveyance of some key points by squeezing a smorgasbord of a sentence (full of punctuation and loaded with words and meandering on and on) into a pithy little single-serving snack that packs a powerful punch.
Call it cadence. Call it flow. Like interesting swirls of current or violently churning whitewater on an otherwise smooth river.
I liken it to music.
Both the lyrics and the melody and the instrumentation of a great song are crafted artfully, with rules followed and rules broken, all with an overarching goal of creating something beautiful, something that flows and surprises. I’m no musician, but I hear these things, and they please me. I see these elements in great writing, too. And they please me.
Improving cadence and flow gives a story energy.
Artful application of cadence and flow are vital to paragraph creation, too. Paragraphs are the forgotten stepchild of story structure. Even really good writers who craft words carefully may fail to apply the same thoughtfulness to paragraph structure, and how that relates to overall story structure and flow.
Find a story. Squint. Scroll. If you see a lot of similar-sized text blobs, the paragraphs were plopped down thoughtlessly.
It’s visually boring. It’s also a symptom of inadequate thought given to the words, phrases and passages that are important versus the stuff that’s just necessary.
The job of a paragraph is to combine and separate thoughts. That’s it. Don’t cram three totally different thoughts into one paragraph. Unless it’s effective to do so. And don’t separate two intimately related thoughts into two paragraphs. Unless it’s effective to do so. That’s all the explanation you need. From there, be thoughtful, get creative. Use paragraphs to set off important quotes or other passages that you don’t want the reader to miss. Bob Ross might explain it this way:
“Let’s put a clever little paragraph right there. All by itself. Isn’t that nice?”
Surely not every word or sentence in your story has equal importance. This paragraph, for example, isn’t the most eloquent or entertaining one in this piece, but it contains things that you need to know—context for the rest of the story.
Think of a great song, with a rhythm and flow amplified by juxtaposition of the expected to the unexpected, the long to the short, the smooth to the raucous, the chorus to refrain. The rise and fall and the crescendos and the infrequent but captivating silent pauses.
At the sentence level, here be boring:
Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum.
Nobody wants to read that! Here be visual music:
Ba dum ba dum ba dum ba dum. Ba dum ba dum. Ba dum bum. Boom!
Sometimes these key words, clever phrases and vital sentences are folded right into the larger structure: the words into a sentence, the sentence into a paragraph. But often they deserve some visual space, room to breathe.
Ba dum bum.
Your reader’s eyes need a rest now and then. And when those eyes start to glaze over, amid a long and mundane (but necessary) passage, short sentences and short paragraphs—packed with meaningful stuff—can be just the remedy, luring those eyes on down the page.
I can teach YOU how to make your writing sing with my individualized coaching and mentoring program. Learn more.
You don’t need to use boldface, btw. That was just to illustrate my point while using nonsensical words. And I’m not saying every paragraph should be one sentence or every sentence should have the equivalent of a big boom. Quite the contrary. That would make for choppy, childish writing (this story is a little too choppy for my taste, in fact). Nor am I suggesting you shouldn’t write the occasional 50-word sentence; done well, one of those now and then can be highly effective.
Variety is what we seek here*. And not random variety for the sake of it, but variety that improves cadence and flow, that groups thoughts as they should be and artfully emphasizes the key bits: the takeaways, the incredible asides, the discoveries, the amazing quotes, the surprises… the things that spurred you to write, the stuff readers want to read.
Thoughts? Questions? Suggestions? Chime in!
*I almost broke this off into its own paragraph. But it’s not a profound statement, just a necessary one, and it’s intricately linked to the sentence that follows it, so breaking it out would seem gratuitous. Choppy.