Thursday Writing Prompt No. 82

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Today’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about using alliteration in your work. Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of words or phrases. Examples of alliteration usually include Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem The Raven, but nursery rhymes, children’s poems, and tongue-twisters are also good examples of alliteration: She sells seashells down by the seashore. Just search for “alliteration” and you’ll find enough examples to keep you reading for some time.

Alliteration is a fine tool, but it’s also one that is easy to overuse and you can end up just making your work sound forced or even stupid. When it works well, alliteration sets up a rhythm in your reader’s mind and makes it easy to remember what you’ve written, so creating a character with a name that is alliterative can be useful. There are plenty of alliterative names in comic books and literature, too, but as TV Tropes warns writers, overusing the sound effects of alliteration only dilutes the effect.

So, how do you use alliteration well and keep it from sounding stupid? First, keep it to a minimum. This is one of those occasions when less is definitely more! That can mean one, or maybe two character names that use alliteration. Beyond that it just sounds like you’re playing games with the reader, and unless that is what you’re doing you would probably do best to stop at one alliterative name. This might work best if it is a nickname for the character, too, since nicknames are often given in jest or imply something funny.

Alliteration in plain text is a bit more difficult to manage, but it isn’t impossible. The easiest way to find out if you are using it is to read your writing aloud. Anything that sounds jarring you should consider rewording or substituting a synonym (see, I did it there!) for the offending word. Recording yourself is another way of catching words or phrases that don’t work, or asking someone else to read your writing aloud.

When you use in text, keeping it simple works best, so stay with two or three words or two short phrases and avoid the temptation to add more. Your writing task this week is to take something you’ve already written and recast a sentence or two to make use of alliteration. Get a sense for how the wording change works with your story, or how it makes it seem silly. If you do it well, your reader will notice the sounds but not dwell on them. If your reader (or you) start to look for the sounds, then you’ve gone overboard with faulty phrases (alliteration again – note that it’s sound and not spelling that determines it).

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