One of my favorite writing tips goes as follows: if you want to write better prose, read poetry.
This seems counterintuitive to some people, especially to people who don’t love poetry. The reason this advice is so solid, though, is that poets are doing the absolute most when it comes to language. They’re pushing the envelope in creating new imagery, phenomenal description, and wordplay.
Basically, reading poetry is a crash course in making each word of your manuscript shine as much as possible. The tricks poets use can also help you make the most of your prose, and ultimately tell your story in the most artful way you can!
Today, we’re going to talk about one of poetry’s best tools: assonance.
We’ll talk about what it is, give you some examples, and finally get into how you can use assonance in your own work.
What is assonance?
Assonance is a type figurative language commonly used with other literary devices when the author is trying to use creative means to hook and keep reader’s attention while telling the story.
The simple definition of assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds close enough together to be identified as a pattern.
This repetition might take place within a single work, a single line, or even throughout a stanza or paragraph.
A given line or stanza may play with several different uses of assonance, and it’s usually combined with consonance or alliteration for maximum effect. We’ll get into the uses a writer might have for assonance in a minute.
Assonance vs. Consonance vs. Alliteration
Before we go any further, let’s talk about the difference between assonance, consonance, and alliteration.
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. These sounds can happen anywhere in a word—it doesn’t have to be the first syllable, although it may be.
Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds. These sounds can also happen anywhere in a word—this also doesn’t need to be the first syllable, but it can be the first syllable.
Alliteration is specifically the repetition of sounds at the beginning of the word.
For more tips on Literary Devices, like Assonance, check out this video:
Examples of Assonance
Let’s take a look at a few examples of assonance. It shows up everywhere, and once you get an eye for it, it’ll be everywhere you look!
Examples of assonance in songs:
“The Last Great American Dynasty” by Taylor Swift:
- “They say she was seen on occasion facing the rocks staring out at the midnight sea”
- Taylor Swift’s got a few things going on here. We have the repeating ‘ay’ sound in ‘they,’ ‘say,’ ‘facing,’ ‘and ‘staring,’ as well as the repeating ‘o’ sounds in ‘on,’ ‘occasion,’ and ‘rocks.’ There’s also the repeating long ‘e’ in ‘seen’, ‘she,’ and ‘sea.’
“Hey Stephen” by Taylor Swift :
- “Hey, Stephen, I could give you fifty reasons why I should be the one you choose”
- Again, this is loaded down with assonance. We have the long ‘e’ in ‘Stephen,’ ‘reasons,’ and ‘be.’ We also have the repeating ‘eye’ sound in ‘why’ and ‘I,’ the short ‘i’ sound in ‘give’ and ‘fifty,’ the ‘uh’ sound in ‘could’ and ‘should,’ the long ‘o’ in ‘you’ and ‘choose.’
“She” by Dodie Clark :
- “She smells like lemongrass and sleep”
- For a much simpler example, here, Dodie repeats the long ‘e’ sound in ‘she’ and ‘sleep.’
“Washington On Your Side” from Hamilton:
- “Every action has an equal opposite reaction
- Thanks to Hamilton, our cabinet’s fractured into factions
- Try not to crack under the stress, we’re breaking down like fractions
- We smack each other in the press, and we don’t print retractions.”
- This ‘ay’ sound repeats throughout the stanza. Here, you’ll notice a trick a lot of songwriters use: all of the lines end with the ‘tion’ sound, which isn’t super interesting.
- To keep things fresh, the songwriter turns to internal rhyming. This ‘a’ sound continues throughout this verse, and it sort of acts as the thread holding everything together.
Examples of assonance in poetry:
William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”:
- “A host, of golden daffodils;
- Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
- Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…”
- Here, we have a repeating ‘oh’ sound in ‘host,’ ‘golden,’ and ‘daffodils.’ We also have a repeating long ‘e’ in ‘beneath,’ ‘trees,’ and ‘breeze.’
“Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe:
- “Hear the mellow wedding bells,
- Golden bells!
- What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!”
- Poe repeats the short ‘e’ sound in ‘mellow,’ ‘wedding,’ ‘bells,’ and ‘foretells.’ He also repeats the round ‘oh’ sound in ‘golden,’ ‘harmony,’ and ‘world.’
“May-Flower” by Emily Dickinson:
- Dear to the moss,
- Known by the knoll,
- Next to the robin
- In every human soul.
- Here, we see the long ‘oh’ sound repeated in ‘known,’ ‘knoll,’ and ‘soul.’
Examples of assonance in tongue-twisters:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers:
- We have a repeating short ‘i’ sound in ‘picked’ and ‘pickled,’ as well as the repeating short ‘e’ sound in ‘peck’ and ‘peppers.’
I have got a date at a quarter to eight; I’ll see you at the gate, so don’t be late.
- The ‘ay’ sound repeats in ‘date,’ ‘eight,’ ‘gate,’ and ‘late.’
You know New York, you need New York, you know you need unique New York.
- This one is a lot, so bear with me: the ‘oo’ sound repeats in ‘you’ and ‘unique,’ the ‘oh’ sound repeats in ‘know’ and ‘York,’ and the long ‘e’ repeats in ‘need’ and ‘unique.’
Using Assonance in Poetry and in Writing
Now that we understand what assonance looks like, let’s discuss how to use it in your work. Remember, this stuff isn’t just for poets! Taking advantage of tools like assonance will help your prose stand out. These tools apply to both poets and fiction writers alike.
Assonance is perfect for creating internal rhyme. My personal favorite example of this is any given Taylor Swift song, but it’s super common in music across genres and especially in lyric-heavy genres like country, rap, or showtunes.
Internal rhyme means that words rhyme with other words in a line. Sometimes, writers will use internal rhyme instead of an end rhyme, but usually they use both. Internal rhyme makes a line feel cohesive and contained. It also just sounds nice, and it’s satisfying to the ear.
Assonance can also be used to create slant rhyme, which is when words almost rhyme or come very close to rhyming. Having these words share a vowel sound makes them sound like they go together—again, it’s a trick to make the cadence more pleasant to listen to.
Enhance the Mood of a Line or Paragraph
Vowel sounds go a long way in determining how a word feels.
Longer vowel sounds tend to feel slower or larger– these are our ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ sounds. Sounds like the short ‘i,’ which makes an ‘ih’ sound (like in ‘give’ or ‘fit’), feel shorter.
Writers can use this to their advantage when they write to speed up or slow down certain passages. Combined with consonance, this can dramatically change the feel and mood of a given line or phrase.
For example: “She yawned and dawdled across the hallway” feels different than “She was sleepy when she went down the hall.”
While some of the difference has to do with active voice and showing instead of telling, you can also see how those wide ‘ah’ sounds sort of lend themselves to that slow, sleepy feeling.
When you write, go for the strongest verbs you can, and see how these descriptions map out. Do you have recurring sounds?
If so, what do those sounds feel like when you say them out loud? Maybe you have a section that you want to feel fast, and you’ve included a lot of long vowels and clunky words.
Make a Line or Stanza Memorable
Because assonance makes a line feel more cohesive and gives it a little pop, it’s also going to make your lines more memorable.
Take a look at the example I just gave—you’re more likely to remember the dawdling down the hallway than you are to remember the latter.
And when you combine literary devices, like assonance and extended metaphors, the line is more likely to stick with your reader.
You’ll often find that when you reach for stronger verbs and active phrasing, you’ll find yourself using tools like assonance and consonance naturally, since these things are woven into our language.
Also, a quick tip for songwriters: if you want people to remember your lyrics, pack them with internal rhyme. It’s pleasing to the ear, which means it’ll be satisfying to listen to the different rhyme schemes pay off, but it’s also going to make the words easier to remember.
Take a look at the more dramatic moments in your manuscript.
Make sure you’re avoiding passive voice and picking the strongest verbs you can.
Then, read it out loud.
Listen to the way the words sound, and see whether the words get across the feeling you want them to.
Using assonance in your own writing
Assonance occurs when the vowel sound in every other word or syllable matches. For example, “I woke up with a terrible taste in my mouth this morning” has an A-A pattern.
Consonant sounds are not included for counting purposes unless there are four vowels in a row without any consonant sounds between them.
Alliteration and rhyme also create similar patterns of sound repetition but they use different elements than just vowels to achieve their desired effect on readers.
They can be used for various reasons such as enhancing the mood of a line or paragraph, making one line memorable among many others, etcetera.
Learning how to incorporate these poetic devices into your writing will enhance your writing and keep reader attention.
If you want help exploring these techniques and even learning the basics of poetry, sign up for our online class on Creative Writing!