Rhythm in writing: how to stamp out stagnant copy

Find out what makes polished writing just oh-so shiny

Image credit: Markus Spiske

by Max Meres

Ever had a song stuck in your head? Unless you’ve been living under a rock since birth, the answer to that will be yes, and you’ll know how annoying it can be. We’ve all spent at least a few hours wrestling with catchy lyrics, trying to rid ourselves from them in desperate attempts to stay sane. Behind every verse, however, lies the same underlying principles — melody or rhyme.

Above all that though, there’s the concept of rhythm, be it in poetry, prose or songwriting. Whether you’re hooked on limericks or memorable riffs, it all harks back to that one basic principle.

The same applies in copywriting.

Set a tone

Before you so much as put fingers to keyboard, define what you want to achieve in the copy. Stark, dramatic writing demands short sentences. Want to up the ante and get readers on the edge of their seats? Build a thrilling stanza that keeps their eyes on the screen and the back button at bay.

Use brevity for impact

Say you were writing about a car chase, for instance. Adjust the pace to a point where every line portrays a different point in the pursuit. Build paragraphs to a final crescendo, a grand finale, until you reach the very crux of the content. Jab with poignant words that resonate. And then — and only then — reveal the climactic and most important point to the reader. Remember: you control the words.

Example 1 — ‘Cufflinks That Look Just Like You’ by Hadley Tomicki

Take this paragraph from Urban Daddy’s article on tailormade cufflinks, and how it emphasises the reader’s convenience with bold assertions. Telling us we can have any song from any point in the history of musical compositions might be a little far-fetched, but the snappy copy drills the point home and makes you think otherwise. If we were in ever doubt of the piece’s overarching principle, repeating the pronoun three times to conclude really helps to hit that sweet spot.

To summarise — concise copy is brisk and engaging. Use it wisely.

Conjure up imagery

For a more emotive, descriptive narrative, apply metaphors across your Word-stationed canvas and lure your reader in with everything from cadences to conjunctions — but go easy on those adverbs, right? Content can evoke euphoria, elation and enthusiasm, or send a reader plummeting into despair as they empathise with a cause or character.

Example 2 — Sunglass brand Tens’ ‘About’ section

Luxury shades company Tens know what’s up. Before pointing out what makes them stand out from competitors (the clarity of both sight and colour customers get from their products), they drop in this cheeky metaphor. Not only do Tens sunglasses give anyone who dons them a crystal-clear shot of (hopefully) a summer’s day, the company themselves are painted as progressive, industrious, and most importantly, desirable.

Nonetheless, flowery language can be as appealing as a bucket of cold sick when used in excess, and can even push the reader further from the final goal, be it conversion or click-through. Use symbolism and analogies wisely, though, and you’ll set the scene for a rollercoaster ride of empathy, joy, fervour and whatever else tickles your fancy.

Imagery is the respite between punchy copy. Use it to trigger emotions.

Vary the pace

Most importantly, be sure to diversify sentence length. Think of all the songwriting greats, from Dylan to Bowie to McCartney, and their ability to weave words across compositions. Uncanny, huh? Notice how they rarely, if ever, stick to one structure. Each verse holds different variations and helps each word resound as strongly today as they did when the record was released. Learn from the best — don’t bog site visitors down with a monotonous series of listless sentences. You wouldn’t eat the same meal every day for a year, so why use the same writing structure?

Tease readers with rhythmic bursts. Lace them in with wordplay suited to both your brand and purpose, until your similes are like those clever hooks and verses they can’t get out of their heads. Good, meaningful content is nothing without flow to bind it all together. Make sure your writing isn’t the sprawling kind that sends readers nodding off — captivate with your copy.

Rhythm is momentum. Let it help the reader from one end of the page to the other.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat

Use repetition accidentally and you’ll risk sounding like a broken record. Far worse than that, you could plunge headfirst into a sub-par reading experience. But when you use repetition artfully — just like songwriters repeat a chorus — you implant your message deep within the reader’s mind.

Remember: you control the words.

What rhythmic writing techniques do you find most effective? Share some examples in the comments below.

At Caliber, we use rhythm in writing across our creative campaigns. Why not find out what else we do?