These two rhetoric figures are the classic examples of writing techniques that are as easy to employ as they are to be overdone and make what you're writing feel awful, like you're trying too hard.
What they mean is sort of obvious from the name, and that's your first help: unlike other rhetoric devices, they're as simple as the name sounds.
Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant sound in a sentence, verse or stanza. Assonance, similarly, is the repetition of a vowel sound in a short sequence.
You probably read or heard both of them a lot! Either in ads or Literature or songs, assonance and consonance are a very helpful trick. The similarity of sound that they create makes what you're reading or listening (mind you – that's the effect they have when used correctly) be fluid, it gives it a rhythm of its own and even its own "mood".
When it's overdone, on the other hand, it will make everything feel forced and put there just to have matching sounds or words. I'm sure you all listened to some very bad rap songs and that's exactly what assonance and consonance turn things into when you get keyboard-happy.
So how do I use it?
Measure, as always, is the key. Assonance and consonance should be employed in sections of your writing that need particular strength, emphasis or intensity of any kind.
I'm not saying you can't use them consistently throughout your writing (I'm thinking of Poe's "Eldorado"
poem here, for example, and it's one of my favourites!), but if you just started learning about writing techniques, then you should take it easy.i.Remember - each letter has its own sound, and each sound gives different sensations to the reader.
An example I always felt was very strong for this was a single line passage of the Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri:"esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte"
("this forest so savage and strong and bitter")
It is right at the beginning of the Commedia: imagine Dante, lost in these dark woods without knowing which path was the right one to take. Forget all the possible metaphors the story of Dante contains and just pretend it's a horror story, or a nightmare. He's there, and he's alone, it's dark and he doesn't know where he is, how he got there, where to go, how to get out... and how he describes the woods he's lost in, the repeating S sound in that verse makes the sensation of dread and strength and fear hidden in that forest resonate very intensely.ii. Don't force assonance and consonance INTO the poem/prose you're writing.
If they're something too bold they become similar to what ads try to convey, which is often borderline grotesque in its absurdity and stupidity that sacrifices everything for the sake of trying too hard to be funny or smart. You're not smart cookies, though, and I'm sure you all know what "overdoing it" means.
The secret is that assonance and consonance aren't a head-on attack. They like stealth. You have to use them in a way that people won't notice they are there unless they reread the passage.
And how do you do that?iii. Choose where to place them wisely.
As much as many writers and deviants here hate it, revision and editing is an essential part of writing. Prose and poetry CAN be written in a sudden dash of inspiration and yes, they can be left like that and never be touched again. However, by doing that we often end up excluding the remaining potential our writing has.
I personally find I'm better at adding assonances and consonances in after
I wrote down the entire first draft: that way, I already know what my work "wants to be" and I can start sharpening the edges. Especially if you're not a native English speaker, editing them in later makes your work much easier and less frustrating; but even if you are, until you're more comfortable with assonance and consonance you should just take the easy way.
Try to pick a stanza in one of your poems. Remember that to effectively put an assonance or consonance in it you cannot keep the structure intact. You will have to rephrase, move around words, but never change the meaning - more importantly, you cannot work on it without considering the rest of the poem!iv. Don't be afraid of trying, of modifying your original poem and above all, trial and error is the key.
We aren't born teachers, we all begin as schoolkids. And even if you're a decent quality writer, when you have to start learning this it might not come easy at first. Learning a different technique from the usual can be difficult and frustrating, especially because writing is a creative process and as such, there is no specific method you can follow that will work flawlessly every time, like for a Maths problem.
Let's get out an example for you to get you started!
I don't want to sound obvious here, but of course what you want to do eventually is go to google, type in "good examples of assonance/consonance" and go through the first page of results. A few will be repeats, but a number of websites feature different sources, such as songs too, which to me is something pretty awesome because it feels "nearer" to me than poems might, considering many are from writers I don't much care about. Also, you could try putting the words assonance and consonance in the deviantART search bar - worth a try, maybe you'll find another useful article on them, or Lit submissions actually employing it!
You might want to practice by just giving yourself an idea or a situation and then writing about it, trying to make an assonance or consonance fit in a bit at a time. If any of you read His Dark Materials, it's like trying to find a gap in the air in front of you with the subtle knife: you'll just break the knife's precious blade by forcing it, you need to find the right hole, press gently, investigate. Take words out when you find they hinder you more than they help you, don't use what you don't feel comfortable with: your writing needs to keep being yours
, you want to keep its personality intact.
Let's see, for example:We echo within like sea shells, we
are that sand after the tide rose and left
silent and empty.
It's a random stanza of a random poem I wrote some time ago. The phrase "we echo within like sea shells", I find, is an excellent prompt that pretty much anyone can write about. But I digress.
Now I'm thinking of how to put either an assonance or a consonance in there. I really don't want to get rid of the word echo, so that has to stay; and also "like", because I like it there so it stays there. I'm flexible about the rest.
Echo is a word I find difficult to pair, so I think I'll go with "like", the i sound in it. I'm going to try repeating that, because on the other verses I have "tide" and "silent" too, and they're already similar. It's an easy sound to stick in there.
So, first step: "we echo within like sea shells". "sea shells" is another thing I can't get rid of, for obvious reasons, and right now I can't think of a good synonym for it that I can put in its place to keep the assonance going, so I'll just go the lazy way and place those two words somewhere else.
This is my final draft:We echo like
an almost silent, tired tide
inside dying sea shells.
Look back at the original stanza up there. What I did first, working on this, was substituting "within" with "inside" in the first verse, so initiating the assonance with inside. But I felt like I needed, right or wrong as it may be, to use a word like "inside" in the last verse where I put the sea shells words; so the only thing I could do was get rid of within up there entirely (because I couldn't use two words both describing the idea of being inside something so close to each other, it's not a poem about Inception).
So the first verse was left with "we echo like". Then I just remembered that "rose" could become "rising" and since I wanted to give the idea of a faint, dying echo anyway I thought of tired too that could pair with the tide. "Dying" was probably stretching it a bit? It doesn't feel like the exact same sound, but I like it there.
Either way, that was my process for doing it. I played around with the stanza, keeping the original always side-by-side with the new draft I worked on and making sure I kept the meaning intact; that is a quite important part of the whole process.
And I would like to have you notice how, randomly, "sea shells" form a consonance of their own so if I had wanted, I could have just created a consonance following with the S sound instead of the i one. Possibilities are endless!
Truth be told, I don't use assonance and consonance often, unless some combination randomly happens in my writing and I notice it during my revision an I decide to follow on with it. (: but it's a really smart technique and I like reading those well-written poems in which it's used. I had fun working on this one because it reminded me how clever it can be.
Another great example, and our last one, is Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
. Already the first two words are a consonance, "whose woods", and the S sound keeps repeating itself throughout the first stanza, together with the W and H letters, and in the rest of the poem too. I finally found an example on the internet that provides all the letters highlighted in different colours, read it HERE
And a few questions for you good readers who made it to the end of this:
are assonance/consonance better when they're subtle or more noticeable? how well do they work in conveying emotion and setting a mood, in your opinion? are they just a fancy thing for poetry or do you think they work as well in prose? do you use them and if so, are they a natural addition or do you need to edit them in and revise your work? If not, why don't you employ them?