Alliteration, Consonance and Assonance? Oh boy! Any of you familiar with my work should know that I absolutely love all three of these things, maybe a little too much. Nevertheless…
- Alliteration – Reoccurrence of an identical consonant phoneme at the beginnings of closely arranged words, but only for stressed syllables.
- Consonance – Repetition of consonant phonemes within closely arranged words, stressed or unstressed, and can occur anywhere in the word.
- Assonance – Like consonance, but with vowels.
Example: “Fire fighter”
- The “f” phoneme is alliteration
- The “r” phoneme is consonance
- The “i” phoneme is assonance
This is also an instance of approximate rhyme, and fun to say if you’re as easily amused as I am.
Well, there are a number of ways in which to exploit these features. I will name a few, but understand this is by no means a comprehensive list. As always, I encourage experimentation and community analysis over rote learning.
- They can be used to pinpoint or advertise stresses within a given line. For example, “We knew that love was not enough.” This should read, “We KNEW that LOVE was NOT eNOUGH” even if you never saw the line before, unless you’re William Shatner, in which case you would say, “WE KNEW that LOVE [pause] WASNOTENOUGH.”
- So long as they are not overused, they add a gratifying aesthetic quality, regardless of the tone of the line. “They rustle in the ditches, they tug and hang on the hedge.”
- But you can overuse them on purpose for humorous effect: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
- You can use multiple phonetic intensives within the same or adjacent lines to add emphasis. [No, we did not cover phonetic intensives yet. In short, certain words with similar connotations share a particular phoneme. For example, flare, flicker and flame all suggest light and rapid movement.]
“But Your Highness,” I like to pretend you say, “for how long does the ear retain a given phoneme?”
So far as I know, flatterer, there’s no hard science to determine this. As a rough guideline, based on my personal experience, I would say about twenty syllables, but this depends upon the idiosyncrasies of the piece. If you’re unsure, consider having someone read it for you to get some fresh ears on it.
The number one pitfall here is overuse. It is easy to do, and it isn’t always apparent to oneself when this has occurred. In my experience, you can get away with three, maybe four instances of alliteration with the same phoneme per twenty syllables or so (it just depends). Consonance and assonance are more forgiving: my advice is, again, to have someone else read it. If they laugh, you overdid it.
Of course, if you’re dispersing your alliteration, consonance and/or assonance over the space of several lines, so long as instances are occurring close enough together, the ear will retain the phoneme for as long as you continue the chain. This can be either a hindrance or a help.
Unstressed grammatical linkage (the, of, a, etc.) doesn’t have nearly the impact on the ear as stressed syllables do, so don’t obsess about the small fry. More often than not, you won’t have to worry about it.
Although alliteration can be used to draw attention to a stressed syllable, it cannot “force” a stress where none exists.
Beware the letter S.
Remember, the phoneme is what matters, not the letter. “Gopher” and “giant” don’t alliterate because the G in “giant” is pronounced like a J.
Select three writing utensils of three different colors, and a poem of your choice. Associate each color with either alliteration, consonance or assonance, then circle and link all instances. I will include an excerpt from Swinburne’s “Atalanta In Calydon” in the following post for a striking (if goofy) example.
You are under no obligation to utilize these features, but simply be conscious of them as you compose.