In writing professionally for 46 years, there has been just one rule: Get rhythm. Words strung together without the right flow of sound are like ball bearings that fall from a holder -- there is no stated purpose. Put together there is function.
Writing is best understood, even appreciated, by “hearing” the words, the sentences, with certain syllables stressed, some not, some longer than others. For example, when someone reads a good novel or short story, there is not only the acquired acquaintanceship with the characters and the plot, but the road that takes you there -- the writing. Each punctuation mark is a stop sign, curve, change of direction, hill, valley, level grade on that route. The length of scenes, the amount of dialogue, repetition, emphasis -- all are controlled by the writing and its governing rhythm.
Today, our nation celebrates the Fourth of July and the written Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. The writing in the historic document of July 4, 1776, owes its rhythm in part to England, given the heritage of the signers, including the Magna Carta and common law. But not entirely. The Age of Reason, increased writing (in sometimes stirring rhythm) about abuses of state and church and a growing belief that, in common, the people should seek equality -- all this changed the tempo. A writer knows that what affects him or her personally -- because of society, upbringing, circumstance -- directs the music, often the score as well.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as writers of the Declaration, may have been trained in the ways of colonial America, that is close to the motherland in customs, etc., but the rhythm of their prose was distinctly from this side of the pond. The British never got the tune, for they never bothered to listen to the music.
On Independence Day 2011, the mother tongue of a nation now 235 years old reflects deepening and variation after centuries of immigration, but the rhythm of our American theme is as it was when Jefferson’s pen inscribed “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Happy Fourth of July.