Have you ever read a line of a poem or heard a line in a song and thought that it just sounded particularly interesting? I’m talking about the kinds of lines that make you go “oh, okay, wow, cool.” They’re the lines that usually stick around later and the ones you can’t get out of your head.
There’s plenty of things that make these kinds of lines happen, but more often than not, the author’s used consonance to make the song, or hook, pop.
We’re here today to talk about consonance. We’ll talk about what it is, how it works, work through some examples, and discuss the ways you can use it in your own writing.
And before you fiction writers click away—we’ll also talk about how consonance works in prose, so this info will help you out, too!
What is consonance?
Plainly put, consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in a line, stanza, or sentence. You may have a group of sentences with several different consonant sounds repeated, or you might just have the one repeated in a given sentence or group of sentences.
Consonance doesn’t mean that this is the only consonant sound we get. It’s pretty difficult to make a sentence using only one or two consonant sounds, after all. But you’ll be able to pick consonance out when you see it—the sounds will sort of click together.
Consonance vs Alliteration vs Assonance
Consonance, alliteration, and assonance are all devices authors use to add some rhythm, internal rhyme, and flair to their work (more on that later). These writing tools are all part of a writer’s figurative language toolkit – a toolkit that helps your writing to stand out and be memorable. But, what makes consonance stand apart?
Alliteration is the repetition of a sound at the beginning of a word, while assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound. Consonance, by distinction, is the repetition of a consonant sound. This doesn’t necessarily have to happen at the beginning of words, although it sometimes does.
Consonance in poetry
Most people have some sort of loose association with consonance in poetry. Teachers often use poetry to show how consonance works, and for good reason! So let’s talk a little bit about how consonance works in poetry, and what it looks like when it comes up.
Why do poets use consonance?
Consonance makes lines memorable. Repeating a consonant sound will give a line a distinct rhythm and feel—this can be used throughout the poem, or it can be focused to one line or one stanza for emphasis. Basically, it gives the poem a sort of internal structure and flow. Plus, it adds some great texture and dimension to the work.
Examples of consonance in poetry
Here are just a few ways poets use consonance in their work:
“Twas Late When the Summer Went” by Emily Dickinson
“’Twas later when the summer went
Than when the Cricket came—”
We have two examples of consonance here. One is the repeating ‘w’ sound in ‘when,’ ‘went,’ and ‘when.’ Another is the repeating ‘c’ sound in ‘cricket’ and ‘came.’
“Shall I Wasting in Despair” by George Withers
“Great, or good, or kind, or fair, I will ne’er the more despair;
If she love me, this believe,
I will die ere she shall grieve;
If she slight me when I woo,
I can scorn and let her go;
For if she be not for me,
What care I for whom she be?”
Again, we have a couple examples to look at. We have the repeated ‘g’ in ‘great, or good,’ as well as the ‘l’ sound in ‘love’ and ‘believe.’ There’s also a repeating ‘w’ sound in ‘when’ and ‘woo.’
“The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe
“Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—”
The Raven is absolutely full of consonance, so I picked this line as one single example. We have the repeating ‘d’ sound in the first line, then the repeating ‘h’ sound in the second line. Throughout this section of the poem, Poe repeats the phrase ‘tell me truly, I implore,’ which also uses the repeating ‘t’ sound.
Examples of Consonance
Consonance doesn’t only appear in poetry, though. You’ll also see consonance in songs, names, and common tongue-twisters—here are a few places you might have seen consonance before without even knowing it!
Examples 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”
In this line, we have the ‘s’ sound repeating. We’ll talk more about this later, but this gives the line a sense of rhyming without actually rhyming. It’s pretty common for Taylor Swift to use an internal rhyme, alliteration, or a slant rhyme instead of a regular rhyming pattern, and this is what makes a lot of her lines stand out so much.
Dear Maria, Count Me In by All Time Low
“I got your picture, I’m coming with you
Dear Maria, count me in
There’s a story at the bottom of this bottle”
I don’t know about you, but this has always been one of my very favorite hooks. The big attention-grabber is in the first two lines, but the repeated ‘b’ sounds in ‘bottom’ and ‘bottle’ do a lot of work, too.
“Washington on Your Side” from Hamilton
“I’m in the cabinet, I am complicit
And watching and grabbing the power and kiss it
If Washington isn’t gon’ listen to disciplined dissidents
This is the difference, this kid is out!”
Lin-Manuel Miranda packed this verse with consonance, internal rhyming, and alliteration, and this song in particular is a great study in how this can work when done well. This part of the song is basically the song’s climax.
The rest of the song builds to this verse. Because the lyrics get faster, having consonance helps keep the words distinct, so the performer can rap them legibly, and it gives them a natural rhythm.
Examples in names
Why would you want to use consonance in a name? Well, again, it makes it memorable and catchy, plus it rolls off the tongue. Here are a few quick examples of names that use consonance.
Examples in tongue twisters
And, finally, loading a sentence down with as much consonance as possible is how you get a tongue twister. While a little consonance gives a phrase rhythm, too much will make it difficult to talk through. In a really diabolical tongue twister, you’ll have a few different consonant sounds repeating, so you can never get comfortable.
Sally sells seashells by the sea shore.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Learn more about consonance and other literary devices in our YouTube video.
What does using consonance do for your writing?
Now that we’ve talked about what consonance is and how to spot it in the wild, let’s talk about how it can work for you. Remember, even if you write fiction, consonance can still be a really useful tool to make your prose pop! (Get it? The ‘p’ sounds? Nevermind.)
1. Makes lines memorable
As I mentioned in a few of those examples, the consonant sounds make lines memorable. Repeating sounds catch the ear and stick around longer than words that don’t sound like one another.
These lines are also more memorable because of their texture. Adding a repeating sound gives a sentence a little extra dimension—it’s adding a sensory experience. Reading consonance aloud or hearing it read aloud will add a little something, and that makes you remember it.
2. Emphasizes important themes
Why would you need to make a line memorable? Well, if it’s important.
If you’re writing a climactic scene and something is happening which is extremely important for the book’s plot and themes, you might throw in some juicy bits of consonance to hook the reader. Give them something that catches their eye, slows them down, and makes them remember that phrase. Bundle this with an inciting incident in your story, and you’ve go a really powerful one-two punch for story memorability.
Remember from our tongue twisters, though, that this can go overboard pretty quick. Consonance doesn’t require much to work, and having too much can make a line look overwritten. This is especially true in dialogue.
It’s true that some common phrases that people say, including your characters, contain consonance. It’s also true that we sometimes repeat consonant sounds without meaning to—-you might write a line that just so happens to contain a lot of the ‘m’ sound. But dialogue, generally, should read as naturally as possible.
Here’s a tip: if you’ve written a chunk of dialogue with a ton of consonance, read it out loud. If it’s easy and natural to say, then you’re good. If you find it’s difficult to get your mouth around the words, you’ve probably got a little too much going on.
3. Creates a sense of rhythm
Finally, consonance creates a natural sense of rhythm. This is why songwriters love to use it—it makes each line, verse, and chorus contain its own cadence.
You can also do this in your prose, especially if you’ve got a particularly dense chapter or dialogue-heavy section. Breaking these parts up with something like consonance will keep the words distinct, the phrases fresh, and the reader following along effortlessly.
Using Consonance In Your Writing
One of the most common techniques used in poetry and prose is consonance.
Consonance can give your writing a sense of rhythm, emphasize important themes or make your book’s character dialogue lines memorable.
The use of consonance may also be able to create a mood that represents what you are trying to say through words without saying them outright. It can help readers feel as if they have been transported into the world you created for them by giving it an atmosphere with word choice and sentence structure rather than just telling about it like any old storyteller would do.
As such, all writers should consider how using consonant sounds throughout their work might affect its effect on readers–and take advantage when appropriate!
If you want to learn more about creative writing techniques, like consonance, register for our free creative writing class below!