Alliteration and Memory Magic

In C1: The Sheridanians we meet a character who might seem familiar. The monk who speaks at SCSC has “tanned, leathery skin and robes like a clear sky” and carries a “curious” cane taller than himself which is smooth along the shaft and has ten black spots around the top. Virgil Blue, from A1: Dan is Immolated in a Furnace, had the same cane, robes, and leathery skin. I used the same phrases to describe both of them.

In fact this monk is not Virgil Blue—yet. In C2 we will learn “Virgil Blue” is a title, not a name. In C1, Virgil Blue is the wheelchair-bound person with a silver mask. In A1 (which is in C1’s future because Jay was reincarnated back in time), Virgil Blue is the monk with the cane. The parallel description, using the same phrases again, is a heavy-handed wink to the reader. “Hey! This guy is supposed to be Virgil Blue! You remember him!” it shouts.

Repetition is a powerful force. In the Odyssey and the Iliad Homer repeats the same descriptions over and over. The “rosy fingered dawn” and “sparkling eyed Athena” make multiple appearances depending on the translation. These epithets make the poems easier to memorize, or easier to fumble through if you forget a line. Oral traditions are tricky to maintain because of the limits of memory; writers turned to repetition to protect their work from forgetful bards through the ages. Today we can use the tactic to make characters stick in the readers’ minds. Even if a reader has not consciously memorized Virgil Blue’s A1 description, the description in C1 should nab their attention.

On a subtler note, alliteration and other repeated sounds can help readers connect characters to their traits. Faith Featherway is care-free and loves foxes and her uncle wears tinfoil in his fedora. Beatrice Baxter likes birds and carries a bible. Dan Jones is dainty, but he dies and wakes up in a desert. I try not to be too obvious in the text itself, but alliteration creates a tight seal in the readers’ minds. That way none of the information leaks out.

In regular sentences a little alliteration can improve flow. In the second sentence of C1 I wrote “introduced an image of a Hurricane Planet” because “introduce” and “image” sit well next to each other. “Introduced a photo” and “introduced a drawing” have almost the same meaning, but neither melts in the mind’s mouth like “introduced an image.” I also could have written “introduced a picture of a Hurricane Planet” for the powerful Ps, but the three-syllable “Hurricane” divides them and weakens them. Check out the whole first paragraph, it’s full of nice sounds:

The LLSTA theme played over the end credits. A minor chord introduced an image of a Hurricane Planet. This enemy of humanity, a space-orb of biological and mechanical parts, swallowed stars and smacked battle-stations out of the sky. Scarlet spots speckled the black background of space—another trillion Hurricane Planets like it, or larger.

Another line from C1: “He tapped his temple and flashed Faith the tinfoil in his fedora.” Compare this to “He tapped his forehead and showed Faith the aluminum lining in his trilby.” That hardly flows at all! Adding too much alliteration is just as jarring: “He put a finger to his forehead and flashed Faith the foil in his fedora” spoils the effect. It’s so noticeable that it stops the reader in their tracks. Repetition is a powerful force and must be used carefully.

Of course, as writers, we must write new words instead of just repeating ourselves. But when we write something original, let’s make it sound good, too!

Until next time!

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