June 19, 2013

Special Spice: Alliteration

A guest post by Rayne Hall

Several words close together starting with the same sound can either empower your writing or spoil it, so use this technique with thought.

Here are some examples of skilfully applied alliterations from famous books:

…the foam-flakes flew over her bulwarks…. (Moby-Dick by Herman Melville)

… the baked red ruts of the road…. (The Beaver Road by Dave Duncan)

A sliver of soft sunlight pierced a crack in the silk drapes (Panic by Jeff Abbot)

… tokens of the mitred, martyred St Thomas (Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin)

….the all-over tan, the tailored teeth… (How to Kill Your Husband and other Handy Household Hints by Kathy Lette)

Fires were a common occurrence, leaving more and more buildings blackened and boarded, and discarded drug paraphernalia clogged garbage-filled gutters. (Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich)

Alliteration is an effective technique for creating impact. If you want to emphasise a sentence, perhaps for an emotional revelation or a shocking twist, or make the reader remember a certain phrase, try alliteration to make the section poignant and punchy.

The English language is perhaps the best language in the world for alliterations. The earliest literature in the English language used a lot of alliterations (e.g. Beowulf).

Alliterations are highly effective for audiobooks, performances and reading aloud. It also works superbly in humour, in poetry, for public speeches, for slogans, headlines and titles.

Next time you’re stuck for a title for a story, play with alliterations. Examples: Pride and Prejudice, Famous Five, Sense and Sensibility, The Pickwick Papers, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The War of the Worlds, Nicholas Nickleby, The Wind in the Willows, Of Mice and Men.

In poetry, you can use a different alliteration for every line. Alternatively, you can use a different alliteration for every couplet (two lines) or stanza (paragraph), or you can use the same alliteration for the whole poem. Another option is to sprinkle pairs of alliterate words throughout the poem. A famous poem using frequent but subtle alliterations is The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: http://www.heise.de/ix/raven/Literature/Lore/TheRaven.html

In prose, it’s best to use alliteration sparingly, no more than four words in a sentence, and not in every sentence. It often works well in setting descriptions, but not in dialogue.

Caution: strings of alliterations can be silly. This may be the effect you want if you write humour, but for most kinds of prose it’s better to use alliterations sparingly.

Some sounds have psychological effects on the reader/listener. ‘W’ is good for powerful nature and wild weather. ‘B’ is good for blunt bold aggression. ‘D’ is good for sadness and defeat. ‘J’/’Ch’ is good for jolly cheerful moods. ‘Sn’ can serve to hint at sneaky, untrustworthy people. ‘Tr’ suggests traps and troubles. ‘R’ creates urgency and speed and is perfect for fast-paced scenes. ‘S’ can create spooky effects, useful in ghost stories. ‘P’ hints at authority, force, masculinity or pompousness. ‘L’ suggests sensuality, laziness or leisure. Consider choosing alliterative sounds for their psychological effects.

How much alliteration you use is one of the aspects of your voice. You may like to use a lot, very little or none at all. Treat alliteration as a special spice: a pinch adds flavour, but too much spoils the meal.

About Rayne Hall

Rayne Hall has published more than forty books under different pen names with different publishers in different genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Recent books include Storm Dancer (dark epic fantasy novel), 13 British Horror Stories, Six Scary Tales Vol 1, 2, 3, 4 (creepy horror stories), Six Historical Tales (short stories), Six Quirky Tales (humorous fantasy stories), Writing Fight Scenes, The World-Loss Diet, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and Writing Scary Scenes (instructions for authors).

She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of multi-author short story anthologies: Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies and more.

Rayne has lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal and has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England.


Tara Maya

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