I do not like green eggs and ham,
I do not like them, Sam-I-Am
A classic, yes? But take a simple stanza like that, give it to the likes of Mariah Carey, and they develop a whole ‘nother style — one which might be visually represented like this:
I do not like green eggs and ha-am,
I do not like them, Saaaammm-I-Aaa-a-a-ahhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm,with the M’s dragging on to infinity; so much so, that they begin to choke the airways of anyone within hearing distance; and the victims clutch at their throats in desperation while they fall to the ground, their faces turning an eggplanty purple while Mariah sings and sings, her eyes upcast as if to follow her soaring voice, which conveys a rapturous purity—
Ahem. You get the idea.
So what does this have to do with writing? Well, the more I become conscious about the use of words, the more I notice that it’s cadence behind my approval or disapproval of a writer’s performance. (Or what I do myself on the written page, for that matter.)
For instance, a few weeks ago I stood in a bookstore, thumbing through a NYT-bestselling book. There wasn’t anything wrong with the pages; they had clarity, high stakes, started in media res, and featured a sympathetic character. I even owe the author a debt of sorts for shepherding the career of a dear friend of mine. But could I bring myself to shell out fifteen bucks to buy it? Nuh-uh. No way. No how, which made zero sense to me, because five minutes later, I paid the equivalent amount of money for empty-caloried designer coffees.
That’s how I feel about cadence.
Sure enough, when I went back to take a second look at the prose, the author’s rhythm felt off to me. This may be obvious to you folks, but for me it felt like a revelation. It’s already had practical implications.
For instance, when I’m critiquing, and a character says something like, “So, are you ready?”, I’m less hasty about hitting the delete button. I might feel the character would have said, “Are you ready?” instead, or a simple, “Ready?”, but come on! Does it really matter? (Unless the tempo of the scene demands words be bitten off between body blows. Or kinky sexual acts.)
Also, I’m willing bet that some agent rejections — particularly those that contain words like “I just wasn’t in love with this” or “I don’t feel passionate about it” — reflect this visceral reaction. Nothing wrong with that; nor can you argue with personal preference.
What say you ah-a-a-allllll?So what’s your experience with cadence? Do you spend hours switching-up perfectly adequate words because the rhythm feels off? Are you conscious of rejecting a writer because they use sixteenth notes when half-notes would do? Do Cadence Issues cause problems within your critique group?