7 sound techniques for effective writing

Use alliteration, onomatopoeia and other rhetorical devices to enrich your writing.

The following rhetorical tools enrich writing by eliciting a primal emotional response in readers:

1. Alliteration

Alliteration, the pattern of two or more words within a phrase or sentence that begin with the same sound, is an effective form of emphasis that adds lyricism to even straightforward prose and influences the mood.

Alliteration can be delivered in consecutive words: “They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different, and difficult places.” Or it can recur with gaps of one or more nonalliterative words: “Squaring our performances with our promises, we will proceed to the fulfillment of the party’s mission.”

2. Assonance

Assonance, akin to alliteration, is the repetition of vowel sounds in a phrase or a longer passage: “The clamor of the band addled them.”

3. Consonance

As the name implies, consonance refers to repetition of consonants—specifically, those at the ends of words: “Their maid has spread the word of their deed.”

4. Onomatopoeia

This term refers to words that are sound effects, indicative of their meaning or otherwise imitative of sounds: “A splash disturbed the hush of the droning afternoon.”

5. Repetition

Repetition is the repeating of a word or phrase to produce a pattern or structure that strengthens the cumulative effect of a passage: “When I find you, I will catch you. When I catch you, I will cook you. When I cook you, I will eat you.”

6. Rhyme

Rhyme, the matching of identical or similar word endings in sentences of prose or lines of poetry, needn’t be limited to lyrical contexts: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

7. Rhythm

Rhythm, the deliberate manipulation of syllabic patterns in a passage, like rhyme, should not be consigned solely to poetry: “The eager coursing of the strident hounds and the sudden pursuit of the mounted men drove the bounding prey ever on.”

When employing one or more of these techniques in your writing, keep these points in mind:

  • Be sure they have intrinsic value to the content and do not simply showcase your cleverness. Employ them in moderation, and be true to your voice and the tone of your writing.
  • In serious expository prose, no more than one or two instances will help readers retain important information or strengthen a memorable conclusion. A more casual, lighthearted essay can afford a few more tricks, especially as mnemonic devices. A humorous piece allows you to be more indulgent, but an excess of use can quickly become wearisome and counterproductive.
  • Study the masters, take note of their restraint and originality, and use those lessons as points of inspiration for your own applications of these techniques.

A version of this article ran on DailyWritingTips.com.

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