Stories of “imagination tend to upset those without one.”
—Terry Pratchett

Four Ways to Make Your Writing Sound Prettier

Some writers write prose that sounds good. The writing makes you want to read it slow, as if you could let the words melt on your tongue.

I once read some of Faulkner’s Sartoris out loud to Liz. Faulkner is known for his long, convoluted sentences and huge jumps in the narrative. Liz said, “Eugh. That’s an intense sentence. Do you even understand that?”

“Kind of,” I said. “Not really. But it’s beautiful.” The thing is, I didn’t need to understand it. The way the words sounded was enough.

Star Wars Music

Photo by JD Hancock

Here’s some vocabulary for you. The study of the sounds of words and sentences is called phonoaesthetics. Thus, someone who studies the sounds of words would then be called a phonoaesthete (isn’t that a fun word!). And when the words and sentences sound pleasant together, it’s called euphony—as opposed to cacophony.

So that’s our vocab for the day (or week):

  • Phonoaesthetics – the study of the sounds of words whether pleasant or unpleasant
  • Euphony – Pleasant sounding words and sentences
  • Cacophony – Unpleasant sounding words and sentences

How To Make Your Writing Sound Euphonic

The question, then, is how do we make our writing sound more interesting? Here are four suggestions:

1. Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the first letter of the word throughout a sentence. Alliteration gives a sentence flow. If each letter were a color, it would be like painting with a palette of corresponding colors. Alliteration smooths out hard edges and creates smooth lines. Here’s a quick example.

Tommy took the truck to the train station.

Lot’s of repeated T’s there. Below is an example from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. See if you can spot the alliteration.

Um-m. So he must. I do deem it now a most meaning thing, that that old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, they say, should have been a blacksmith, and animated them with fire.

Did you see it? Right, the M’s throughout the sentence and a few D’s in the beginning. Try reading it out loud. See how well the sentence flows. Melville used alliteration all over the place, and he is considered one of the great American masters.

2. Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds inside of a word. The repetition of consonants (which are the opposite of vowels), especially hard consonants like T’s and K’s, tend to create cacophony rather than euphony. Here’s another example from Moby Dick. It’s a bit harder.

Ere the Pequod’s weedy hull rolls side by side with the barnacled hulls of the leviathan…

Did you see it? I’ll show the example again with the repeated consonants highlighted.

Ere the Pequod’s weedy hull rolls side by side with the barnacled hulls of the leviathan…

Now do you hear all those L sounds? Read it again really slow and you’ll see how the consonance ties the sentence together beautifully. The L’s almost make you feel rolly, as if you are on the deck of a ship lilting in sea.

3. Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds inside of the word. Theoretically, assonance can create mood, give you like airy feelings if you’re repeating ae and ee sounds, and deep soulful feelings when repeating oe sounds. Finding assonance is a bit harder still, but here’s another example from Moby Dick.

And as though not a soul were nigh him…

Did you see it? I’ll show it again with highlights.

And as though not a soul were nigh him…

Here, Melville repeats the ough sound, as in dough and mow. Theoretically, the emphasis of the ough sound should make you feel more expansive and soulful. However, I’m not very good at using assonance so I can’t tell you for sure. You might experiment with it.

4. The Single BEST Way To Make Your Writing Sound Better

The best way to make your writing more euphonic is to read beautiful writing and read it slow.

Here’s why. Authors don’t approach the blank page thinking, “Oh, I think I’ll focus on assonance today. Hmm… maybe I should play with Alliteration.” No. They do it instinctively, and the best way to hone your instincts is through careful reading.

Take a page or even just a paragraph of a piece of literature and read it slowly over five to ten minutes. Sound the words out as you go. Read aloud so that you can hear the words as well as visualize them.

(And then practice writing beautifully yourself.)

Reading, more than anything else, will hone your instincts for phonoaesthetics.

PRACTICE

For our practice time today, why don’t you use the chance to start something for the “Show Off” Contest.

The prompt is Christmas.

First, follow the link and pick a random passage of Moby Dick, and read for five minutes. Choose just one or two paragraphs. Pay special attention to the sounds of Melville’s prose. Let the rhythms sink into you.

Then, just write. Write about your favorite Christmas memory. Write about your worst Christmas. Write about the best gift you ever received and what made it special.

As you write, listen to the sounds and let your mind drift away. Focus on sound not meaning.

Write for ten minutes. Post your practice in the comments when you’re done.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • joco

    Christmas had passed in a whirlwind as we prepared to marry on the twenty-seventh of December. The greenery was still hanging, though only by a thin thread, in the candlelit sanctuary that cold winter evening. Friends and family found their way through the frigid night to join us in the warmth of the church that had long been the spiritual and social center of that small community.

    The flicker of flame illuminated the colorful bouquets beautifully arranged in delicate fingers. Voices soulfully singing the love songs of the ages joined the prayers of the saints in a symphony of adoration rivaling the likes of Solomon himself.

    The pull of gravity lost all power as she entered the room. All heads turned towards her like sunflowers worshiping the sun. Galileo would be unable to theorize the unexplainable force we all felt that winter night thirty one years ago.

    Light reflected off her softly veiled eyes as she moved down the aisle in her father’s arm. All spectrum of color melted into shadow as the gown of white cascaded from her beauty. Blonde tresses framed her loveliness. A loveliness that I knew seeped deep into her beautiful soul.

    We met at the altar, in awe of the gift of love; the gift of God.

    • Wow, Tom. This is a bit different from you, and you do a great job of it. You did a great job weaving alliteration in there through out. It makes it more readable, doesn’t it?

      Like this: “the spiritual and social center of that small community.” This sentence is fairly boring in regards to its meaning, but the alliteration gives it flow.

      Here’s another quick exercise for you. You’re a musician. Read this aloud again: “Voices soulfully singing the love songs of the ages joined the prayers of the saints in a symphony of adoration rivaling the likes of Solomon himself. ”

      How does that sound to you? I’m wondering if that’s a few too many S’s. Of course, I’m the one who told you to do it, so if there are, it’s my fault.

      You know about the Inklings? The writing group Tolkien and CS Lewis were part of. They met at a pub in Oxford, and sometimes they would read this one female author I forget the name of who overused alliteration. They had contests to see who could read the longest without cracking up. When I heard this story I got all panicky and thought, am I overusing alliteration? Like all tools, you’ve got to find the right use for them. Use alliteration but be aware of when it can seem silly.

      I think you did a great job though. Alliteration can pass on a mood of awe, perfect for this story. It must have been a good “Christmas.” Thanks Tom.

      • joco

        Haha! Yes, that one sentence reminds me of the kid’s tongue twister, “She sells sea shells by the seashore.” What if I just deleted the first part of that sentence and started with “The love songs…”?

        • Ha, right. Yeah, I think that would work. Good idea.

  • Anonymous

    Christmas had passed in a whirlwind as we prepared to marry on the twenty-seventh of December. The greenery was still hanging, though only by a thin thread, in the candlelit sanctuary that cold winter evening. Friends and family found their way through the frigid night to join us in the warmth of the church that had long been the spiritual and social center of that small community.

    The flicker of flame illuminated the colorful bouquets beautifully arranged in delicate fingers. Voices soulfully singing the love songs of the ages joined the prayers of the saints in a symphony of adoration rivaling the likes of Solomon himself.

    The pull of gravity lost all power as she entered the room. All heads turned towards her like sunflowers worshiping the sun. Galileo would be unable to theorize the unexplainable force we all felt that winter night thirty one years ago.

    Light reflected off her softly veiled eyes as she moved down the aisle in her father’s arm. All spectrum of color melted into shadow as the gown of white cascaded from her beauty. Blonde tresses framed her loveliness. A loveliness that I knew seeped deep into her beautiful soul.

    We met at the altar, in awe of the gift of love; the gift of God.

    • Wow, Tom. This is a bit different from you, and you do a great job of it. You did a great job weaving alliteration in there through out. It makes it more readable, doesn’t it?

      Like this: “the spiritual and social center of that small community.” This sentence is fairly boring in regards to its meaning, but the alliteration gives it flow.

      Here’s another quick exercise for you. You’re a musician. Read this aloud again: “Voices soulfully singing the love songs of the ages joined the prayers of the saints in a symphony of adoration rivaling the likes of Solomon himself. ”

      How does that sound to you? I’m wondering if that’s a few too many S’s. Of course, I’m the one who told you to do it, so if there are, it’s my fault.

      You know about the Inklings? The writing group Tolkien and CS Lewis were part of. They met at a pub in Oxford, and sometimes they would read this one female author I forget the name of who overused alliteration. They had contests to see who could read the longest without cracking up. When I heard this story I got all panicky and thought, am I overusing alliteration? Like all tools, you’ve got to find the right use for them. Use alliteration but be aware of when it can seem silly.

      I think you did a great job though. Alliteration can pass on a mood of awe, perfect for this story. It must have been a good “Christmas.” Thanks Tom.

      • Anonymous

        Haha! Yes, that one sentence reminds me of the kid’s tongue twister, “She sells sea shells by the seashore.” What if I just deleted the first part of that sentence and started with “The love songs…”?

        • Ha, right. Yeah, I think that would work. Good idea.

  • JustCurious

    I am so glad I discovered this article of yours. Writing is simply a difficult task for me but please review my short paragraph. I am in the process of revision for my English standard grade exam.- I pondered, desperately pleading the hesitant burning ball of gas to reveal its strange yet comforting rays of light. The warm,orange glow that sinks into my skin during the summer time. Let the weariness of adventure of the winter time pass as it takes along with it the left overs of Christmas past.

  • JustCurious

    I am so glad I discovered this article of yours. Writing is simply a difficult task for me but please review my short paragraph. I am in the process of revision for my English standard grade exam.- I pondered, desperately pleading the hesitant burning ball of gas to reveal its strange yet comforting rays of light. The warm,orange glow that sinks into my skin during the summer time. Let the weariness of adventure of the winter time pass as it takes along with it the left overs of Christmas past.

  • Anonymous

    Christmas day, 1989. The television tunes to a macabre and unfortunately pleasing gift. The Caucescu’s bloody and broken bodies lay, folded backwards.
    A sense of release and relief is felt by those who poor and starving have over the past 20 years toiled endlessly to grow food they cannot eat, craft merchandise they cannot afford, and it’s amazing to see how much joy can be derived
    out of someone else’s demise. The show trial went for 90 minutes. The old man, exhausted, throws his hat on the table in resignation. Much to their protest their hands are now tied behind their backs. This is the nadir. The soldiers have no pity on them. As one exclaims, no one will help them now. Their only last request – to be killed together. Mercifully that last request is granted. Rounds of bullets send an impenetrable cloud of dirt and debris into the air, and only when the smoke clears can we see the end result. Elaine and Nikola lay,

    dead.
    – together.

  • Anonymous

    Christmas day, 1989. The television tunes to a macabre and unfortunately pleasing gift. The Caucescu’s bloody and broken bodies lay, folded backwards.
    A sense of release and relief is felt by those who poor and starving have over the past 20 years toiled endlessly to grow food they cannot eat, craft merchandise they cannot afford, and it’s amazing to see how much joy can be derived
    out of someone else’s demise. The show trial went for 90 minutes. The old man, exhausted, throws his hat on the table in resignation. Much to their protest their hands are now tied behind their backs. This is the nadir. The soldiers have no pity on them. As one exclaims, no one will help them now. Their only last request – to be killed together. Mercifully that last request is granted. Rounds of bullets send an impenetrable cloud of dirt and debris into the air, and only when the smoke clears can we see the end result. Elaine and Nikola lay,

    dead.
    – together.

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  • analtoys

    [Hook] x4
    Got the club going up on a Tuesday
    Got yo girl in the cut and she choosy

    [Verse]
    Working Monday night, on the corner flipping hard
    Made at least three thousand, on the Boulevard
    I’ve been working graveyard, shifts every other weekend
    Ain’t got no fucking time to party on the weekend
    I’ve been flipping in the house, making juugs on the highway
    I’ve been riding out of state, making money like my way
    I don’t think that I should dance, I’m just gon have another drink
    I’m doing my stance, you know my Molly pink
    I’ve got the loudest of the loud, you know my gas stink
    My P.O. think I’m in the house, don’t give a damn about what she think

    [Hook] x4

    [Bridge]
    It ain’t no way no how
    I made it on my own, I made my own style
    I don’t think that I should stay, you know I gotta go
    You moving too fast, don’t want to take it slow

  • PussyLipsAreMovin

    [Hook] x4
    Got the club going up on a Tuesday.
    Got yo girl in the cut and she choosy

    [Verse]
    Working Monday night, on the corner flipping hard
    Made at least three thousand, on the Boulevard
    I’ve been working graveyard, shifts every other weekend
    Ain’t got no fucking time to party on the weekend
    I’ve been flipping in the house, making juugs on the highway
    I’ve been riding out of state, making money like my way
    I don’t think that I should dance, I’m just gon have another drink
    I’m doing my stance, you know my Molly pink
    I’ve got the loudest of the loud, you know my gas stink
    My P.O. think I’m in the house, don’t give a damn about what she think

    [Hook] x4

    [Bridge]
    It ain’t no way no how
    I made it on my own, I made my own style
    I don’t think that I should stay, you know I gotta go
    You moving too fast, don’t want to take it slow

  • shawnsgay

    [Hook] x4
    Got the club going up on a Tuesday
    Got yo girl in the cut and she choosy

    [Verse]
    Working Monday night, on the corner flipping hard
    Made at least three thousand, on the Boulevard
    I’ve been working graveyard, shifts every other weekend
    Ain’t got no fucking time to party on the weekend
    I’ve been flipping in the house, making juugs on the highway
    I’ve been riding out of state, making money like my way
    I don’t think that I should dance, I’m just gon have another drink
    I’m doing my stance, you know my Molly pink.
    I’ve got the loudest of the loud, you know my gas stink
    My P.O. think I’m in the house, don’t give a damn about what she think

    [Hook] x4

    [Bridge]
    It ain’t no way no how
    I made it on my own, I made my own style
    I don’t think that I should stay, you know I gotta go
    You moving too fast, don’t want to take it slow

  • darkocean

    Jon Bon Jovi – Blaze Of Glory

    I wake up in the morning
    And I raise my weary head
    I got an old coat for a pillow
    And the earth was last night’s bed
    I don’t know where I’m going
    Only God knows where I’ve been
    I’m a devil on the run
    A six gun lover
    A candle in the wind
    When you’re brought into this world
    They say you’re born in sin
    Well at least they gave me something
    I didn’t have to steal or have to win
    Well they tell me that I’m wanted
    Yeah I’m a wanted man
    I’m colt in your stable
    I’m what Cain was to Abel
    Mister catch me if you can
    I’m going down in a blaze of glory
    Take me now but know the truth
    I’m going down in a blaze of glory
    Lord I never drew first
    But I drew first blood
    I’m no one’s son
    Call me young gun
    You ask about my consience
    And I offer you my soul
    You ask If I’ll grow to be a wise man
    Well I ask if I’ll grow old
    You ask me if I known love
    And what it’s like to sing songs in the rain
    Well,I’ve seen love come
    And I’ve seen it shot down
    I’ve seen it die in vain
    Shot down in a blaze of glory
    Take me now but know the truth
    ‘Cause I’m going down in a blaze of glory
    Lord I never drew first
    But I drew first blood
    I’m the devil’s son
    Call me young gun
    Each night I go to bed
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep
    No I ain’t looking for forgiveness
    But before I’m six foot deep
    Lord,I got to ask a favor
    And I’ll hope you’ll understand
    ‘Cause I’ve lived life to the fullest
    Let the boy die like a man
    Staring down the bullet
    Let me make my final stand
    Shot down in a blaze of glory
    Take me now but know the truth
    I’m going out in a blaze of glory
    Lord I never drew first
    But I drew first blood
    and I’m no one’s son
    Call me young gun
    I’m a young gun

    Some times while writing a chapter a song will play in my head this is one that’s playing today, as I near the books end.