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Alliteration; Proven, Powerful Possibilities

Dumbledore_and_Elder_Wand Last week I had one of those little dilemmas that occurs from time to time, I had an assignment to write for my writing group and it had to be ready by Wednesday evening.

Trouble was, it was already Wednesday.

The task was an open one but had to be based on the line “The Boy stood on the burning deck” from a famous poem. Because of a complete lack of time, I decided to try something new and do it as flash fiction. So I put down some pithy lines and attempted to make them punchy. First draft left me unhappy. So I passed through it again, taking out all the fat and performing tweaks here and there. With no time left a printout was tucked into my journal, ready for that evening.

The result was something more akin to poetry than fiction, flash or otherwise. I had attempted to tell the tale of a boy standing (guarding) on a burning deck of cards, which had just been retrieved from the fire by the boy’s compulsive gambler of a father.

This is the piece;

Her eyes held his in unwavering glare, anger streaming from every noise and gesture.
Holding his own, only just, reached out faltering hand to her.
She screamed and stamped booted foot, flinging bony finger to bare larder.
He called for reason, restraint. Reaching both his hands to hers.
Anew she screamed, longer, louder, with immense hatred threw the deck to the fire.
She flew sideways as he elbowed her aside; with desperation he flicked it from the flames.
Suddenly before him, strong with iron in hand and heart, was his son.
The boy was standing on the burning deck.

What I hadn’t realised, and the writing group quickly pointed out, was how I had used alliteration to add the punchy (and somewhat poetic) feel to the piece. Well “alliteration” was new to me and it wasn’t long before I had looked it up.

“Alliteration: The repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of words.”

As oneweb site puts it, “Alliteration is fun to say and enjoyable to hear”. This technique is more commonly found in poetry than prose. However certain areas of literature use it more than others, notably sales branding and sales literature. For example;

“Coca Cola”, “BlackBerry” “Weight Watchers”

“Beanz, Meanz, Heinz.” (Which is actually consonance but I’ll come back to that.)

Attention catching newspaper headlines are also great users;

“Obama Offers Optimism to Oppressed”

“Road Rage at Runcorn Rally”

And children’s works;

“Roger Rabbit”

“Thomas the Tank Engine”

So when I ‘tidied’ up my Burning Deck piece, giving “Anew she screamed, longer, louder” and “strong with iron in hand and heart” more punch. I was inadvertently using this powerful technique. Now I hasten to point out, this does not make me a literary high performer. What it means is that I am a sponge to all the alliteration used extensively around me. I simply react the same as your reader, my mind is pre-programmed to enjoy all forms of alliteration and it will attract me to the text.

However, now I am aware of it and looking for the possibilities, alliteration can now be added to my ‘conscious’ tool kit and made use of. If I want to deliver a line with a stressed and memorable payload, then alliteration can do this for me. Do you recall these words?

“Trouble was, it was already Wednesday.”

Or

“and it will attract me to the text.”

Obviously it must not be over used or the author will become visible to your reader.

Sounds repeated, other than at the beginning of a word, are given different names. Consonance for consonant sounds, (e.g.. Beanz, Meanz, Heinz), and assonance for vowel sounds, (e.g. Do you like blue?). These, as Heinz have already proven, are equally powerful.

Now take a quick look around. Do you notice another frequent use of alliteration? I am now referring to when it is used in names and branding. Earlier I mentioned Coca Cola, there are also;

Dumbledore

Peter Parker

Micky Mouse

Marilyn Monroe

So, do you want to make your protagonist, or antagonist, instantly memorable? Then pay attention to possible alliteration options. Similarly if a bit character is intended to disappear into the background, then don’t call her Rebbeca Raven.

 

Photo: Dumbledore and Elder Wand, Wikipedia

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