Playing musical words

stephs (4)One of the quickest ways to make your writing voice stand out from the crowd is to master the use of literary devices. Some devices are just fancy names for specific types of diction and syntax. For example, anastrophe is a type of hyperbaton in which the position of a single word is changed from the normal syntax for emphasis. It is also the formal name for the distinctive syntax that marked the speech of Yoda in Star Wars.

However, there are many more literary devices that have potential. These involve selecting words for their actual sounds, as the sloshing, crackling, twinkling onomatopoeia words. I fondly think of these as the ‘musical’ literary devices. Longer words, with many syllables ending in vowels, like onomatopoeia, sound elegant, while short consonant bound ones, such as slang, carry a cocky connotation. I’ve witnessed people discussing whether it is more important to be intelligent or smart. To me that is a moot point, as both words mean the same thing. However, people base shades of meaning on types of sound. (This is important to remember when naming characters.)

You can consciously change your writing voice by selecting words that alliterate, or begin with the same sound. Be aware of overusing alliteration in a mnemonic manner such as persuasive writers and speakers are fond of doing. Every point you make does not have to begin with the same letter. Instead look at Robert Frost’s poem Birches which uses words beginning with “b” in a playful manner for his celebration of the simple joys of youth.

Consonance, or repeating a consonant at places other than at the beginning of words, as in “barn,” “turn” and “consternation” has a similar poetic effect. Assonance refers to the intentional repetition of vowel sounds, like the long “o” in Edgar Allan Poe’s Eldorado. English does not have a huge number of vowel sounds so that readers may not be swayed much by the effect of assonance. However, combine assonance with ending consonance and you have the ever popular sound of rhyming words. Again, don’t go overboard with this device.

The pleasantness or harshness of word when read aloud has a subtle impact on mood even when they are read silently. The word cacophony contains one element that makes a word harsh–the repetition of the “k” sound. Repeating other voiced consonant, such as “d,” hard “g” and “z,” also create a guttural sound. Euphony–the beautiful sounding effect–is created by using words full of unvoiced consonants such as the soft “s,” “l,” “j,” and the “f” sound, which is found in the middle of euphony.

Does getting down to the sound of letters really affect the way people perceive your writing? Have you heard of the Bouba/kiki effect? The sound of letters affects the way people perceive shapes ( We probably all realize this is also occurring in writing, even if no one has managed to construct an experiment to prove it yet. So, keep on playing with musical words to embellish your tone of voice.

This entry was posted in Literary devices, The writer's voice, Writer's resource and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Playing musical words

  1. Pingback: How to play the words well | Write about what?

  2. knlistman says:

    Reblogged this on Write about what? and commented:

    Digging a little deeper into creating a unique voice…

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