7 Sound Techniques for Effective Writing

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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.

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7 thoughts on “7 Sound Techniques for Effective Writing”

  1. I recall having been taught that “Alliteration” was specifically repetition of initial CONSONANT sound, and if you repeated an initial VOWEL sound it was something else (perhaps assonance? I don’t recall).
    Anyone else ever learn it that way?

  2. check here:

    The relatively close juxtaposition of the same or similar vowel sounds, but with different end consonants in a line or passage, thus a vowel rhyme, as in the words, date and fade.

  3. I teach middle school and high school English. Students are great at catching the slightest discrepancy between their teachers in the definitions of such lit terms. So, in reseaching these terms I have found several different definitions in various texts – from minor to major differences. My understanding in analyzing all of these variations is that the following broad definitions are consistent:

    Alliteration – a ‘poetic’ device dealing with the repetition of SOUNDS – specifically of CONSONANTS -usually in the initial syllables of adjacent words, though not necessarily the exact same initial CONSONANTS (ex: cat/kite.)

    Alliteration is the traditional tongue-twister type. (How’s that for an example?)

    Assonance – the repetition of vowel sounds (though not necessarily the exact same VOWELS, ex: see / sleepy ) -usually in the medial or ending positions.

    Consonance- the repetition of consonant sounds – usually in the final position.

    Anyone care to weight in on this?

  4. @Joan–I’m just a word nerd, not a teacher, but I thought Alliteration was the first letter of the word is repeated, super sneaky snakes.
    Assonance I agree is vowel sounds, give in to it (i)
    Consonance I agree is consonant sounds, shy sheep show no shame (sh). I never heard of it being in the final position, i thought it could be anywhere in the word, and for all the words in the phrase, the sounds could appear in different places in each word.

  5. My favourite example of poetic and very effective use of consonance is by Shakespeare in Macbeth:

    “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…”

    What does that ticking t remind you of?

    And then:

    “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more”

    That “strutting and fretting” – amazing!

    In my courses, I only use the terms ‘assonance’ and ‘consonance’ because it best helps people understand where the music in speech comes from. I then illustrate both assonance and consonance with examples of alliteration, end-of-word rhyme and middle-of-word-rhyme.

  6. Really enjoyed these explanations and I think it’s interesting the way you have laid out definitions of these words. Often the people who are interested in these words and their functions are the very ones who know how to use them and are passionate about their concept. I enjoyed the different references some people have made in their comments. Who could deny that? Are we looking at avid readers and writers or excellent English teachers at high school?

  7. Like danielschut, this post reminded me of Shakespeare, my all-time favorite writer. For me, Shakespeare best exemplifies most of the writing techniques in this post. I agree with Kirsten that not all writers know how apply and appreciate the use of these techniques; and it takes more passion and creativity to be able to grasp these concepts appropriately.

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