Create Word Music with Onomatopoeia,
Alliteration, Repetition & More
What is word music? It's the music our inner ear "hears", even as our eyes read the words on a page.
The way an author writes - the interplay of word choice, voice and syntax - influences the word music the reader hears. Good writers choose and arrange words in rhythmical patterns to produce an intended effect, whether this is to reinforce a theme, reflect a mood or arouse emotions in the reader.
As you write, listen with your inner ear; or, better still, read your work aloud. Does your writing flow smoothly or does it sound as though you've pebbles in your mouth? Does the word music echo or enhance your theme, or detract from it?
Here are tips to help you create the music of words:
Create Word Music with Onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeic words imitate the sounds, movements or feelings they describe; for example: murmur, babble, clang, mumble, moan, drone, buzz, hiss, sigh, ooze, churn, crack, quiver, rustle, shiver, sizzle, flicker, whirl, twirl, tumble, swoon.
Onomatopoeia creates musical effects and brings images to life - as in this example which evokes the sound and movement of a brook:
I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles...
I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses.
(From The Brook by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Create Word Music with Alliteration
This is when the same sound gets repeated in several words running close together; it can be a loud plosive, as in batter, bash, bang, bump, battle, bomb; or a softer, muted note as in mummy, milk, mellow, melody, moon, murmur.
Alliteration helps to convey meaning and mood: contrast the explosive force of Don't do it!; Drop dead!; Down, Doggy, down! with the mellower tones in mummy's milk; merry melody; marry me; or the light, lingering effect created by the l consonants in this example:
The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle, answer, echoes dying, dying, dying.
(From The Princess by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Create Word Music with Vowel Sounds
Writers use vowel sounds to reveal moods and emotions. Quick, lilting i and e vowels create a light-hearted feeling, while long vowels and diphthongs like a, o, u and ea sound rich and warm, as in this example:
My love is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June:
My love is like the melody
That's sweetly played in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
(From My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns)
Rich, full vowels also evoke a sense of abundance:
There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chesnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the streets in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars... there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers' benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed.
(From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)
Create Word Music with Assonance
Assonance is the repetition of similar vowel sounds close together, as in the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.
This repetition reinforces mood and feeling, and gives unity to sentences. Examples: for a touch of warm humor, as in how now, brown cow?; for a lighthearted, hopeful tone, as in star light, star bright, first star I see tonight; or to evoke a sense of awe, as in O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds...
Writers also use assonance to create word music with a rhythmical beat to it, as in:
He ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the mackereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel.
(From Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling)
Create Word Music with Resonance
Resonance is a prolonged, vibrating sound that adds fullness and weight to words. It is useful for recreating the hum and bustle of a crowd, droning voices or background noises. Listen to the resonance of the m, n and ng sounds in these lines:
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmur of innumerable bees.
(From The Princess by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Create Word Music with Repetition
Repetition is especially effective in children's stories. Kids love jingles and repetitive rhymes; in fact they need this repetition to learn words. Studies have shown that constant reiteration improves a child's flow of language; think, for example, of nursery rhymes like Mary Had a Little Lamb and favorite tales like The Three Little Pigs ("Then I'll huff and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house down") and Jack and the Beanstalk ("Fie Fee Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman")
Repetition also serves to reinforce key ideas and build suspense, as in the following excerpts from A Tale of Two Cities. Here, the word leisurely repeats itself 5 times - each time adding to the agonising tension as the principal characters, fleeing from their enemies, are forced to stop for a change of horses:
Leisurely, our four horses are taken out; leisurely, the coach stands in the little street, bereft of horses, and with no likelihood upon it of ever moving again; leisurely, the new horses come into visible existence, one by one; leisurely, the new postilions follow, sucking and plaiting the lashes of their whips; leisurely, the old postilions count their money, make wrong additions, and arrive at dissatisfied results. All the time, our overfraught hearts are beating at a rate that would far outstrip the fastest gallop of the fastest horses ever foaled.
A little later, the fugitive group is on the road again; notice how repetition of the highlighted words reinforces the feeling of imminent danger and fear of pursuit:
O pity us, kind Heaven, and help us! Look out, look out, and see if we are pursued.
The wind is rushing after us, and the clouds are flying after us, and the moon is plunging after us, and the whole wild night is in pursuit of us; but, so far, we are pursued by nothing else.
(From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
We can also use repetition to reinforce dramatic moments in a story; for example:
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down; at her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell down dead
(From The Bible, Book of Judges 5:27)
Repetition builds emotion to a peak. Feel the throb and swell of the word music as it rises to a crescendo, in these last moving words at the close of A Tale of Two Cities:
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
For more tips on creating Word Music, go to
Sentence Structure Secrets: Lyrical Variations.
For more Creative Writing Tips, go to:
Success Secrets of Top Authors
Diction Tips on Connotations and Denotations of Words
Figurative Language: Examples of Imagery
Powerful Action Verbs
Concrete & Abstract Word Balance for Powerful Writing
How to Improve Writing Skills
For Story Writing Tips, go to:
Steps to Write a Book
How to Write Cliffhanger Stories
Return from Word Music to Creative Writing: Write to Win Hearts
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