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Rhythm in Pulpy Fiction, with Two Examples
Inspired by Alan Moore
Looking to improve your writing? This is the first of a series of posts on rhythm in fiction. I hope you enjoy, and remember to subscribe for future posts!
You may have heard of Alan Moore, the grey-bearded anarchist who’s also a magician? The guy who’s best known for writing comics? You may have heard of a few of his stories: Watchmen, From Hell (the comic, not the unrelated movie), The Killing Joke, Swamp Thing, and V for Vendetta, to name a few.
He released a writing course for BBC and has one lecture there on rhythm. He talks in it about things called iambs, and trochees, and a little about poetry - but that seems weird because he’s not known as a poet — he’s known for comic books and novels. In novels and speech bubbles, does he really have a use for rhythm?
And if you did write rhythmically, what would that even look like? What does he mean by rhythm?
He gives an example of rhythmic writing: a poem that focused entirely on rhythm, and only a little on content. It’s called ‘Old Gangsters Never Die,’ linked below, and it’s quite striking. It flows like nothing else I’ve read, but doesn’t rhyme. It emphasizes different syllables in sequences like the words are music. I didn’t know that you could do that.
For prose, he goes on to say that you can strengthen prose’s rhythm like how poets strengthen poems - by reading them aloud. This exposes gaps that break the spell that your words are weaving.
I decided to try the rhythmic style below, and like his example, focused entirely on rhythm and not much at all on content:
When I was but a youth and weak, it was my way to limp and cry in hopes to fool my foe. If men would think me prey, their pride would blind, their greed would bite. So thus I made of those with weak, eager, and foolish minds into mere fish, now caught in nets they can’t but miss.
When I grew up and donned my helm and shield and held my spear, my father told me lies bring shame. When face to face, his fearful ire did much to mend my broken ways. In fear, resolved was I to stand up tall and not to bring disgrace to old and shining names.
Nineteen, bold and new and prone to croak to men of naught but tales of meek, mundane unease; eager to prove but slow to act, mistakes and pain did come to me from near and far to lay their griefs upon my door.
I’ve never written something like that before. I’m hooked now. This month, September-ish, will be dedicated to experimenting with this style.
If you are trying to improve your writing, join me. Subscribe. Comment. Share. It’s quite the voyage and you shouldn’t have to go it alone.
The inspiration: Old Gangsters Never Die