“Only three things are necessary to make life happy: the blessing of God,
books, and a friend.”
Henri Dominique Lacordaire
One of best features of having a literary family is the totally enjoyable chats you can have about books and such — anytime, anywhere. Just tonight, my son Alex and I were having dinner at a cozy pub. While imbibing a glass of Blue Moon beer nearly as tall as I am, I happened to bring up Kate Chopin’s amazing novel, The Awakening. Alex had read it a while ago, but I’d recently revisited it and was struck by Kate’s bold use of repetition. At one point in her story, she has her character describe herself as “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.” Now that’s writing dangerously! What a tremendous emotional wallop it packed.
This prompted Alex to remark that he’s always instinctively used “threes” in his writing and that he’d read an article about this on line. Before I could take another sip of Blue Moon, he’d sent me a link to the story: “Writing to the Beat” by Perry Garfinkel (The New York Times, 11/22/14).
As a drummer and writer, Perry has been awed by “fascinatin’ rhythms” from a young age. He loved poetry because it reminded him of drum riffs. He enjoyed Shakespeare, and quickly decided that “the Bard had a beat.” Over time, he came to “appreciate the relationship between rhythm and writing.”
“It’s no coincidence,” Perry points out, “that the language of rhythm infiltrates the writer’s vocabulary. We speak of pacing, meter and cadence. We sense when a beat is missing from a line. We notice the flow in a section or the staccato rat-tat-tat in a series of sentences.”
Perry was “riveted” by the rocking rhythm that Hemingway created in The Old Man and the Sea, when he wrote, “And bed he thought. Bed is my friend. Just bed, he thought. Bed will be a great thing. It is easy when you are beaten, he thought. I never knew how easy it was. And what beat you, he thought.”
As Perry analyzed his own writing, he realized that it had a distinctive rhythm: He gravitated toward what drummers called triplets and what some literary analysts call, “The Rule of Threes.” Consider these famous trios: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” “Truth, justice and the American way.”
In much the same way, the repetition of sounds creates rhythmic prose, either through alliteration or by an approach Perry uses: repeating “words that begin with, or contain, the same letter in nearby words to create what I think of as accents in a sentence,” in order to highlight its rhythm. “The Rule of Threes” — I learned this from my Latin teacher, Mr. Kizner, in high school and I’ve used it ever since. I love knowing that Alex does, too. How about you? Write on!