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If you go to conferences and/or read stuff that editors say, you may have the idea that alliteration is bad. As in "Allie the Alligator" and "Kim the Kangaroo" and "Buddy the Bunny", etc. The real bugaboo here is not the use of alliteration (quick review: words starting with the same sounds), but the use of horrific, singsongy names. For animals, no less. Sheesh.

Just as editors say they "don't want rhyming picture books," but mean they "don't want any bad rhyme," some folks will insist that alliteration is bad, when they mean "bad alliteration sucks." And it's true. Just try to read a story about how Amy Ant and her amiga, Katie Kangaroo, kicked some gnarly gnu in the gnads, and you'll get the idea in a hurry that alliteration is bad. But no -- BAD alliteration is bad.

Good alliteration makes a story sing. Even more so if we're talking picture book or poetry, where every word makes a mountain of difference. (See? "story sing" and "makes a mountain" didn't cause you to shudder, right?) In my handy dandy "poetry dictionary" by John Drury, seven different types of alliteration are listed. The first is actual alliteration (same initial consonants). This can get sing-songy or sickeningly cutesy if done wrong (see above). But discussing "the rays of the setting sun as they glint on the red roofs of the town" uses some alliteration and doesn't necessarily draw attention to itself. Still, the repetition, when said aloud is pleasing, and at a subliminal level it makes an impression on the spongy matter inside your skull.

In addition to the usual meaning of alliteration, there are also:

1. consonance (same consonants at the end of the words (e.g., end and word)),

2. parallel (or cross) alliteration, in which multiple word patterns are repeated (e.g., Last night, lost necklace),

3. hidden (or internal) alliteration, where consonants in the middle of words are repeated (e.g., faster, poster),

4. bracket alliteration (where two words start with same consonants and end with same consonants -- e.g., tan, talisman),

5. submerged (or thesis) alliteration, where the alliteration falls on the unstressed syllables of words (basically a repetition of some consonant sound without any real emphasis -- the example in the book is carob, mailbox), and finally,

6. suspended alliteration, where the same sounds are in two words, but are reversed. E.g., reversal, laser (where you have r,s,l in the first word and l,s,r in the second).

Some of these forms of alliteration are so subtle and/or obscure that one could easily use them unknowingly. They are the result of deliberate word choices to evoke mood, something I discussed recently on a Poetry Friday. Mood is good, deliberate and evocative word choice is good, and alliteration can therefore be good.

The same goes for carefully placed assonance, where the vowel sounds are deliberately repeated. But that's another topic for a different day.

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( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 25th, 2006 12:27 am (UTC)
You are brilliant!
May. 25th, 2006 01:00 am (UTC)
Re: You are brilliant!
Um, gee, thanks. For an example of alliteration used to sell books, check out the link for Laura Ruby's new book, The Wall and the Wing: "a manipulative matron with a penchant for plastic surgery, and a belligerent boy named Bug." For that matter, poke around the description for her upcoming YA novel, "Good Girls" which references "good girls and bad boys" along with a few other rhyming and/or alliterative descriptions. It's a SALES TOOL to use stuff that catches the ear (actually or the one in your brain), and that is why alliteration has a place in good writing. Like yours.
May. 25th, 2006 01:04 am (UTC)
I am relieved!
as I started my life as.... Laura Ludwig from Lynbrook Long Island!
but that's good alliteration right??
May. 25th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
Know what you mean, Laura! I started my life as (don't laugh!).... Lois Louise Lejkowski! Not only do I have the obvious 3 L's, but Lois is a form of Louise! My parents were not too creative....
May. 25th, 2006 02:27 am (UTC)
: )
May. 25th, 2006 12:52 pm (UTC)
I didn't realize that Lois was a derivative of Louise. There are probably some Mary Maries out there, too, though. Or something similar. :)
May. 25th, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC)
Umm, well, it's your biography, and wasn't really intended for alliterative purposes, I'm thinking.
May. 25th, 2006 01:27 am (UTC)
Great, thorough post.

I feel like I just went to a poetry conference right here in my own office/M's fort.
May. 25th, 2006 12:53 pm (UTC)
Ooh -- your office is inside a fort? Too cool!
May. 25th, 2006 01:31 am (UTC)
Kudos, Kelly.
I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I've been learning from your LJ since tuning in -- especially on the poetry front.
Keep it up, please.
May. 25th, 2006 12:41 pm (UTC)
Hmm, is this why my "Four Flower Friends," and "Bobby the Bass" series" never sold? ;)

(Yes, I really did write them!)
May. 25th, 2006 12:55 pm (UTC)
Wow - "Four Flower Friends" is hard to say quickly -- I think it's because you not only have the "F" sound that requires you to put your top teeth on your lower lip, but also each word has an "R" as well, which requires you to nearly clench your teeth. Bobby the Bass is much easier to say aloud!
May. 25th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
Just want to let you know how much I enjoy your posts, Kelly. It's like muse-ic to my ears. Groan. I know. :)
May. 25th, 2006 05:14 pm (UTC)
Very punny, Lorraine. Groanin' back atcha.
May. 28th, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC)
I'm going to steal/borrow this and share it with my class. Thanks!
May. 29th, 2006 01:42 am (UTC)
Feb. 18th, 2013 07:01 pm (UTC)
Alliteration into dark alleys....
"I clung to the shore but mighty Morpheus held me fast in his undertow."
Anyone feel put off by it?
Feb. 19th, 2013 12:27 am (UTC)
Re: Alliteration into dark alleys....
"mighty Morpheus" doesn't bother me.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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