Musings on the writer's craft

Cadence, or how writing is like riding a bike

I had a bit of an epiphany while riding home from the other day. Well, maybe not an epiphany exactly, more a crystallizing of an idea: the importance of cadence, rather than pace, in stories.

What is cadence?

There are a few definitions of cadence. The meaning I’m referring to here comes to me from cycling (via running):

“the number of revolutions of the crank per minute; this is the rate at which a cyclist is … turning the pedals”  – Wikipedia

So, your turnover rate, your rpm, your beats. Pace, on the other hand, tends to refer to a consistent speed.

Bike gearsAnother thing about cadence is that, even for a recreational/sometimes commuter cyclist like myself, there’s a certain cadence comfort range, a rhythm at which a rider feels more comfortable at than others. The reason I shift up or down is not because I know anything about what gears are best in what situation; it’s because things don’t feel quite right.

How does cadence apply to writing or, more exactly, your readers’ experience

In cycling, your cadence changes depending on the terrain your covering – whether you’re going uphill versus over the flats.

Now consider the storyline of your book, its plot points and arcs. This ebb and flow is the terrain your reader is travelling through. You need to adjust your cadence as you go to keep things moving towards the end without the reader feeling that it’s not ‘quite right’.

You can use shifts in cadence to elicit a particular response from your reader. Consider the difference between:

  • a slow, aching lead-up to a love reluctantly let go versus a heady scene of a love consummated, or
  • the creeping approach to a traitor being revealed versus the drag-out, knock-down brawl between hero and villain.

You don’t want the same cadence, the same beats per minute, if you will, for the first side of each of those examples as you do for the second side. The terrain is different; it requires a different cadence.

As I said, maybe not an epiphany, and only time will tell how being more conscious of this idea will impact my writing, but I’m game for a blog post anytime I can combine writing and cycling.

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