I was interviewed last month for this podcast —HOW WRITERS WRITE— and the episode is available today. I love the podcast because it isn’t about the mechanics of writing, it’s about people and their journeys. I think you’ll enjoy the conversation regardless of whether you are a writer.
Click HERE to listen.
Recently, author Tarryn Fisher (The Wives) said in a Q&A that being in the writing zone feels like a drumbeat, and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve often talked about rhythm as one of the most important elements in good writing and good storytelling. Poetry has a rhythm, music has a rhythm, and so does great storytelling.
So how do you find that rhythm? It’s not as easy as hearing the beat of a song, but it should feel that way to your reader. There should be a cadence to your language—one that reflects the setting and genre you are writing—and to your pace. You can feel it when a one syllable word doesn’t maintain your flow, and you need a two-syllable word that means the same thing. You can feel it when a sentence needs to be connected with another sentence so the cadence of the paragraph isn’t too choppy.
You will find as you start getting words and paragraphs onto the page, that sometimes you will have a rhythm in one chapter and a different rhythm in another, depending on what is happening in the story. If your character has just received terrible news, and they are in shock, you are going to feel that in your word choice and your sentence structure. The language will be bare, sparse, abbreviated. You convey mood and devastation in what you don’t say too; your reader’s heart will synchronize to the beat you create.
In the summer of 2016, after doing a little research on my family tree, I traveled to Dromahair, Ireland, to see the place where my great-grandfather, Martin Smith, was born and raised. He emigrated to the States as a young man; my nana said he got involved with the local IRB, and his parents sent him to America because they didn’t want him getting into trouble.
I don’t know if that’s true, as Nana has been gone since 2001, but he was born the same year as Michael Collins, in a period of reformation and revolution. Nana had written a few things on the back of a St. Patrick’s Day card one year about her father, my great-grandfather. I knew when he was born, I knew his mother’s name was Anne Gallagher, and his father was Michael Smith. But that’s all I knew. Just like the main character in What The Wind Knows, I went to Dromahair with the hopes of finding them. And I did.
My parents and my older sister took the trip with me, and the first time we saw Lough Gill, my chest burned, and my eyes teared. Every step of the way, it felt like we were being guided and led. Deirdre Fallon, a real-life librarian—libraries never let you down—in Dromahair directed us to the genealogical center in Ballinamore. We were then directed to Ballinagar, a cemetery behind a church in the middle of fields. When I asked how we would find it, I really was told to pray or pull over and ask someone, just like Anne was told to do in this book. I won’t ever forget how it felt to walk up that rise among the stones and find my family.