Thursday, August 14, 2014

Renée M. LaTulippe: Sound Bites–Making Writing Musical

Dear TLD:

I suffer from weak prose, writer's fatigue, restless adverb syndrome, and imagination constipation.  Is there a doctor in the house?!!

Depressed Writer

Well yes, DW, you're in luck!  It's my pleasure to introduce lyrical language doctor and TLD contributor:

Renée M. LaTulippe

Renée has co-authored nine early readers and a collection of poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new (Moonbeam Children’s Book Award) for All About Learning Press, where she is also the editor, and has poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology, Middle School and Science editions. She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and creates children’s poetry videos for her blog Renée holds theater and English education degrees from Marymount Manhattan College and New York University, and taught English and theater in NYC before moving to Italy, where she lives with her husband and twin boys.

I have heard nothing but high praise from writers who have taken Renée's Lyrical Language Lab online course, including this recent glowing review from Linda Kulp and this fabulous interview by Julie Hedlund. It's really no surprise given Renée's background and the fact that her own writing sings like an Italian operetta.  How grateful am I that Renée has chosen to share excerpts from her lessons right here? Molto grato! Thank you for being here today, Renée. The stage is all yours.

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Because children's poetry and picture books are meant to be read aloud, it's imperative that we make the reading experience as pleasurable and memorable as possible whether in rhyme or in prose. Luckily, we have plenty of tools to help us do just that, and one of the most important is sound.

I like to consider rhythm and meter as the musical staff (the base structure) upon which to compose the rest of the music (sound devices).

Like musical notes, words and sounds can be combined, clustered, and juxtaposed to elicit specific emotions. Most of us have studied sound devices at one point or another, so I’ll start with a quick review and short examples of what some of these devices are all about, and then take it a step further to look at some properties of sound.

Sound Devices


is the repetition of initial sounds in a series of words. It occurs in stressed syllables and often produces a light and humorous effect.

Timothy Tompkins had turnips and tea. (Karla Kuskin, from Moon, Have You Met My Mother?)

I am the pirate's parrot, / a bird both brave and bold (Anonymous)


is the repetition of internal or ending consonant sounds in a series of words, especially in stressed syllables. Consonance can create pleasing rhythmic effects or subtle instances of slant rhyme.

First a hush and down / it crashes / over curbs it swishes (Marci Ridlon)

Wistful, she recalls the past and all the hours lost


is the repetition of internal or ending vowel sounds in a series of words, especially in stressed syllables. Assonance is helpful in creating mood.

And miles to go before I sleep. (Robert Frost, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”)

I am sitting in the middle / of a rather muddy puddle (Dennis Lee, “The Muddy Puddle”)
  • Notice the difference in mood created by the length of the vowel sounds. In the Robert Frost example, all the vowels are long or drawn out, which slows the reader down and emphasizes the long journey the narrator must still undertake. In the Dennis Lee example, all the vowels are short, which gives the line a snappier, more staccato beat that carries it forward.


is a figure of speech in which the sound of a word mimics the sense of the word itself.

I'm the hummer of summer / so busy with buzz. (Douglas Florian, from UnBEElievables)

The coals pip-pop and the wind doesn't stop. (Karma Wilson, from Bear Snores On)


is the repeating of a word or phrase several times for emphasis. Repetition of longer sections, like a stanza in a narrative poem or picture book, is called a refrain. 

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. (E.A. Poe, “The Raven”)

A gruffalo? What's a gruffalo? / A gruffalo–why, didn't you know? (Julia Donaldson - repeated refrain in The Gruffalo)

But the bear snores on. (Karma Wilson - repeated refrain in Bear Snores On)

You can open any book of poetry and find examples of all these sound devices. Here’s a poem that wears all its jewelry at once, but to good effect. Read “Open Hydrant” out loud, taking note of how the sound devices affect your reading and the meaning of the poem.

Now let’s look more closely at some properties of sound.

Length and Weight

The English language has 26 letters that can be combined to create 44 sounds. I'm not going to get into phonetics, but it is helpful to be aware of two basic properties of these sounds.

The length of a sound is how long it takes to say the sound or how long the sound can be held. Length can play a big part in pacing. Read the following blue words out loud and consider how the sounds differ in effect and tone.
  • Long vowel sounds:   sway       creep       bright       moan       glue
    • Long vowels often slow the pacing and have a heavier tone.
  • Short vowel sounds:   brat      jet       wiggle        scoff          dug
    • Short vowels often quicken the pacing and have a more light-hearted tone.
  • Consonant sounds that can be held (known as fricative and sibilant sounds): dge, f, h, j, l, m, n, ph, r, s, sh, th, th (voiced) v, z, zh
    • ridge   fish    hurry   jelly    hill    hum    nine    phone   furry    hiss    shame    forever    crash   thief     then   buzz     vision
  •  Consonant sounds that cannot be held (known as plosive sounds): b, ck, d, g, p, qu, t, w, x, y
    • bag    click   dawn    gripe    pup    quick   taut    wicked   box   yes  

The weight of a word is the feeling of heaviness or lightness in the mouth when you speak it. Read the following blue word pairs out loud. Which word in each pair feels heavier for you? Why?
  • tap    /    tug
  • trudge    /    scuttle
  • whimper    /    moan
  • bench    /    sofa
  • axe    /    lathe

Of course no one consciously stops to think about all these nitty-gritty details in the midst of writing, but being aware that these properties exist will help you
  • train your ear for sound;
  • choose the best words for your purpose;
  • discern exactly where the problem is in a clunky verse or sentence.

I’ll leave you with one more poem that makes gleeful use of those short vowels and heavy D sounds. Everyone in the puddle!

In the next lyrical language post, I’ll look at how sound can help us heighten the musicality of prose so we can create an endless range of mood, effect, and emotion. Until then, happy writing!

© 2014 Renée M. LaTulippe. This article is partially excerpted from a lesson in the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry. All rights reserved.

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Pretty great, huh?  If you like what you just read, consider signing up for Renée's next available Lyrical Language class this coming October!

In the meantime, here it is the middle of August and Farmer McPeeper shows absolutely no signs of waking.  Lori Degman and I challenge you to put your newfound sound skills to the test right now!  Click HERE for more information about this month's ditty challenge, or for some examples, check out the featured contributions so far (an interesting assortment of farm animals, I dare say) by my daughter Miranda, Bridget Magee, and Buffy Silverman.  My own musical attempt to wake Farmer McPeeper will be coming this Tuesday.

Heidi Mordhorst is hosting summer's last fling and today's Poetry Friday roundup at my juicy little universe.


  1. Thanks to Renee for taking the time to spell out (literally) what we poets feel intuitively about the sounds of words. She's so right that being aware of language sound and feel devices helps us as we write, maybe even unconsciously!

    1. Much of it is definitely unconscious, especially for those accustomed to writing poetry. I love it when the strictly prose writers apply these concepts to a bit of text -- some of the transformations are marvelous!

  2. Wonderful to have this so clearly explained, Renee, & thanks Michelle for sharing, too. I am signed up with Renee for September-can't wait!

  3. Lots of good stuff in Renee's class (I'm taking it now.)

  4. I feel like I just had a free class! Thanks for this perfect post of powerful pointers for writing prose that packs a punch!

    1. Tee hee! Astounding alliteration!

    2. Now that I've completed your Lyrical Language Lab course, hopefully I'll be able to make those manuscripts sing! It was a great course!

  5. Wow...that is a wonderful recap of the essentials. Thank you!

  6. So much goodness! Thank you Michelle for putting the spotlight on Renee and her class! Thank you Renee for your expertise! If I knew any Italian I'd throw in a phrase here, but sadly I don't. I'll leave it at *thank you*. = )

  7. Great post from an excellent teacher! Thanks, Renee!

  8. Nice mini lesson, Renee. Thank you. And thank you for the great Lyrical Language Lab course. You are the first person to ever get methods to writing lyrical language to start sinking into my brain ;-)

  9. What an awesome lesson! Thanks for sharing your brilliance with us today, Renee!

  10. If anyone's sitting on the fence as to whether or not take Renee's Lyrical Language Lab course, I'm here to push you off...on 'the what are you waiting for-SIGN UP!' side of the fence! :0)

  11. I really loved Renee's class. I can't wait to get the ebook of the lessons so I can easily revisit many of them. Great stuff. Well worth the money.

  12. Fricative and sibilant--what lovely words and now, I know what they mean!

    1. And they sound like what they mean! Aren't they great? :)

  13. Brilliant, Renee! I'd so love to take your course - I'm sure it is fantastic. I'll just have to wait until the dead of winter when (theoretically) I will have less going on. :-)
    - Carrie F.

  14. Fun post! Renee knows her stuff. I had not read Marci's poem before, so thank you, Renee, for sharing it!

  15. Wow. This is a post I'll share with my 5th graders. Word choice explained and exemplified!

    1. Oh, that's great, Mary Lee! You'll probably be able to use the next post even more -- sentence transformations through sound and word choice. :)

  16. Great post -- as Mary Lee said, it's a mini-primer for young writers!

  17. Very helpful. I'd not heard of consonance before. I look forward to reading more and getting more lyrical in my writing

  18. In addition to a comprehensive lesson on sound devices, I learned a new word from Renee - fricative! Thanks, Michelle, for featuring Renee and her Lyrical Language Lesson. I especially liked the section on the weight of words -something I need to pay more attention to.,

  19. This was a great post! Renee explains poetry so beautifully. Her examples really are musical.

  20. This post really made me think. Wish I'd heard of you, Renee years ago.

  21. Thank you for such a concise and well taught review of the basics! I needed it today.

  22. Love the section on weight of words.