Do you have any advice for using rhythm to craft pleasant prose?
There’s just one, really.
You can, and should, read lyrical and poetic prose as well, but this approach by itself is like looking at the rain and thinking that’s all there is to water. In reality, there are oceans, rivers, lakes, and clouds. Water takes many different shapes, flows in many different ways.
Understanding words requires the study of words.
Poetry, good poetry, is all about studying words. Words individually. Words separately. The function and impact of a single sentence. The impact of a word. The impact of punctuation. Where the emphasis is in the sentence, and you craft it so you draw more attention to your intended point.
Read poetry. Read all the poetry.
The more you read, the more you absorb, the better you’ll get as you learn to replicate the form and structure for yourself. You can apply all the theory learned and perfected in poetry to your prose. All those lessons about the impact of a poem’s visual shape and the usage of white space are still applicable.
A poem can teach you why you must be careful to never make several paragraphs in a row the same visual size and shape unless you intend to lull your audience into a sense of security/boredom/complacency.
As a writer, you should be studying all different kinds of writing even if it’s not what you want to do. From journalism, to creative non-fiction, non-fiction, various fictional genres down to poetry, there’s plenty to be learned from all different disciplines. The more you read, the more you absorb, then the better the writer you’ll be.
Second, you need to practice. Rhythm is one of the more advanced aspects of writing and, if you don’t have a natural knack for it, one of the most difficult to track. Practice is necessary. Even if you have a natural “ear” for rhythm in your prose, it will suck in the beginning. That’s okay. Let it. Rhythm is crafted as much, if not more so, in the editing phase as it is written on the first draft. Well-crafted rhythm is crafted. It may (and probably will) take multiple drafts and careful attention across the entirety of the piece in order to get the flow right. Be patient. Be kind to yourself.
When looking at writers whose styles you want to imitate, avoid the surface level. Look at the structure of the sentences. The word choice. More, challenge yourself to figure out the why. What purpose does the rhythm and structure serve. Assume the impact you received from the piece was intentional.
Writing is often like looking at a puzzle. You have many pieces that fit together to create an often beautiful whole. The neophyte writer, with no skill in analysis, simply seeks to steal pieces and slap them into a different setting. They assume all writing is modular, that if it had one impact over here then it will have the same elsewhere. They see the end, but not the beginning. The big picture, but not the details. They take and use a trope, a twist, a rhythm, or a technique without trying to understand the connective tissue which informs why it worked within the story and had the impact it did. Some of it is intentional, some of it is accidental, but stepping beyond the what to learn why and how is key to moving past imitation.
We cannot force our audience to experience anything, but we can invite them down the garden path.
When looking for rhythm, begin at the beginning. Start small. Look at poems before moving on to prose. When you grasp the concept behind four lines, you step forward into studying two hundred pages.