Sonic Writing: Build Your Sound Appeal in English (part 1)

As writers, it’s important that we consider how our words sound to readers. This is true whether you are writing punchy ad copy, informative articles, or epic fantasy novels.

“When I’m writing, I’m more conscious of the sound, actually, than the meaning. I know what the rhythm of the sentence is going to be before I know what the words are going to be in it.” Philip Pullman

Quite simply, if the rhythm and flow of your text are right, readers keep going. But there’s more to it than that. Learning to employ sonic writing techniques at the optimal time can create magic — drawing attention, creating a motif, or building patterns of meaning.

Some writers listen to music while they work; others need absolute silence. But all of us must consider sound as we put one word after another. If we don’t, our writing appears flat and lifeless.

Syllable Count


Nobody wants to read that! Writers should learn to avoid machine gun sentences.

When editing, consider the number of syllables in your words. Avoiding long, academic-sounding words can be a benefit, but watch out for too many single-syllable words in a row. Professionals in the world of content and copywriting often fall into this trap as they seek to make writing simpler, shorter and more readable.

Have a look at this example:

❌ This text tries to show you how to make your words flow and sing as if they had gone to a gig and were live on stage.

✅ One does not simply provide rhythm and music with rapid-fire, staccato notes, but rather by constructing a glorious melody of short, medium and exceptionally long words.

Takeaway point: vary the length of the words in your sentences.


Rhythm and Metre

English is famously a stress-timed language. When we speak, we can arrange sounds and amend the speed of our reading to include regular stresses. However, in writing, we can think more carefully about the most pleasing order of sounds.

Poets often use ‘iambic metre’, pairs of syllables which are ‘unstressed-stressed’ (oO).

E.g. I wandered lonely as a cloud (oOoOoOoO)
That floats on high o’er vales and hills (oOoOoOoO)

This is one example of a rhythm that sounds especially musical and pleasing in English. Make use of it in your writing.

Imagine if Wordsworth wrote this:

I was quite lonely, like a cloud in the sky — OoOOoOoOooO
That floats high above the hills and the fields in between — oOOoOoOooOooO

Of course, using an even rhythm throughout a piece of writing will seem strange to the reader. It’s best to keep stress patterns varied and draw attention to particular points through the use of rhythm. One way to do this is to use next-door sentences with the same rhythmic pattern. Occasionally, you may need to add short words which are not essential to the meaning of the sentence, but sometimes, the beauty of rhythm trumps concision.

One useful technique is to create an even rhythm of stressed and unstressed syllables to allow longer sentences to flow and carry the reader forwards. This can contrast with shorter, more impactful statements or more intense sections with tightly-packed stress patterns.

Takeaway point: Read writing aloud to catch any awkward rhythms and consider choosing cadences to match the intention of your paragraph.

Part 2 of Sonic Writing will be published next month.

Technical Corner

This month, I thought I'd share some tips on 'show don't tell'. To truly engage readers and invite them into the creative process, writers should avoid telling them all the information straight up.

In creative writing, using the verb ‘to be’ often leads to ‘telling’ sentences.

❌ The king was upset.

❌ She is angry.

❌ The dog isn’t hungry.

Telling sentences give the reader nothing to interpret. They’re too ‘matter of fact’.
Instead, use other verbs. Use internal thought. Give objects actions and ‘show’ how feelings manifest.

✅ The king sighed and paced about the room. “Bother!”

✅ A sea of lava burned deep in her gut. How could he leave her?

✅ The dog flops down and rests its chin on its paws.

Showing sentences are longer. They take more work. But readers enjoy the game of building understanding. Don’t tell them everything. Show them!

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I’m Phil. ✍️ I help multilingual writers build authority and charge moređź’¸ with expert guidance on effective English.

Find me flying around the digital stratosphere - Instagram, Medium, YouTube, Facebook - all my links.

Thanks for reading. See you next month.