It’s the final post, the final notes, the final bits of advice. So what did I decide to attend?
POETICS IN PROSE
Okay, so what image does that title evoke in your mind? Why would I choose such a class? Because, dear readers, I have a couple of elderly ladies who come to our writers group sometimes. Both of them are poets, though their poems aren’t the traditional this-rhymes-with-that sort. What I notice every time they read their work is I feel drenched in powerful imagery. I feel strong emotion. I feel like I could leap into a beautiful colorful world. And so I thought, I should read more poetry and see if that doesn’t influence my writing. Because a poet, at least the ones I read, must choose their words carefully. They are great at showing you what they want you to see vs. the telling we novelists sometimes fall prey to.
So, having all this in mind, I went to the Poetics forum, taught by a man named Jack Remick. He really fits the caricature, in my mind, of what a poetic prose writer would look like. And he really knew his stuff.
Why the long intro? Because I know some of you may be put off by this idea, by poetics in prose. You just want to write commercial fiction, and this seems something that belongs to those literary types. But I believe letting something like this influence your writing can help set you above the other commercial fiction writers. And who’s to say you won’t write something literary in the future anyway? Keep the door open on all writing friends. Besides, I think this session helped me better understand the mechanics of sentences and why they do what they do and shouldn’t we all want to know how to do that if we’re serious about writing?
In great writing there are three important things: story, structure, and style. Listen to your characters. Write the story they want to tell you, not the story you want to write. Why do some stories grab you and won’t let you go? The hook isn’t just in the story, but in the attitude and style.
What the character “can’t have” is a central point of conflict in the story. Want, need, and can’t lead to action.
We’re going to do something called Structured Timed Writing to help develop the techniques of style—Beat, Breath, Rhythm, as well as Attitude and Voice.
Rhythm: short sentences, fragments, long sentences.
Rhetorical devices: three kinds of repetition.
Attitude and Voice: strong verbs and concrete nouns give you voice and attitude and style.
REMEMBER. Adverbs not only kill prose, they hide images. Adverbs tell the reader what to feel.
The longer you write the more you need structure. Inherent in structure is rhythm. That gets us to style.
Most style issues are actually structure issues. Most writers want to start on the language too soon. A good writer will identify their character by how they speak. Story is what your characters do. Structure invites your readers to ride the mythic wave. Style is the music of prose working each sentence for emotional effect.
Practicing with a half sheet of paper. (At this point in the class we did writing practice session for the remainder. He likes to do it old school, and wrote on a half sheet of paper for a fixed amount of time. It’s interesting how having a time limit really pushes you to bring things out. Another rule: no editing while being timed. No matter what. I’ll try and give you a taste of the things we practiced, but it was hard to take notes anymore after this.)
- Anaphora – repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence, clause.
- Anadiplosis – repetition of a word between sentences or clauses.
- Epistrophe – repetition of a word at the end of sentences.
- Conduplication – repetition of a word not in close proximity.
- Polysyndenton – repetition of a conjunction in sentences, clauses or fragments.
- Asyndeton – no conjunctions connecting sentences, clauses or fragments.
First we’ll talk about short sentences, chaining, and long sentence release.
Short sentence means simple, declarative writing.Chaining (anadiplosis) means you use words like links of a chain. To chain on paper, you repeat the last word of the previous sentence or syntactic unit when you start the next one.
Long Sentence Release (LSR) trains you how to write with the long breath and so when you come to place where your internal editor says put a period there if you please but instead of putting a period you keep your hand moving and to keep your hand moving you use connectives like AND and SO and WHEN and THEN and AND SO and AND THEN and BUT and AND WHEN and sometimes even BUT WHEN and lots of repetition….
Why do this? The short answer is RHYTHM.
Short sentences: He drove to the mall. He bought four CDs. All of them bad. Junk. Tossed them into the trash. Wanted to buy books. Ugly. Ugly. Blasphemous. Torn.
Chaining: He drove to the mall. Mall smelled like a horse barn. Barn doors gaped open. Opening to the feed bin rat tracked. Tracked spoor to the house in back. Back door jammed with newspapers.
Long sentence: He drove to the mall in his hybrid dual mode anti-pollution Honda Hybrid and when he parked he smelled a stench that reminded him of his trip to Fresno but he didn’t crave grapes too sweet and so he slid into the driver’s seat and cranked up the engine like a kid cranking a wind-up toy and then….
Anaphora: We have their teeth; we have their bones; we have their pictures.
He drove to the Mall.
He drove to the Mall in his pink hybrid.
And he watched shop keepers gouging customers.
And he checked his watch because he was late.
Later than usual.
Later than last night.
Later than last week.
Epistrophe: Their teeth, we have; their bones, we have, their pictures we have. We don’t have their soft tissue. To make sense of it, we must have their soft tissue. We have nothing unless we have their soft tissue.
This will introduce rhythm in your prose and rhythm is as important as story. Rhythm in rhythm—short sentence, long sentence, fragment, short sentence. Read your work aloud—if you can’t say it, your readers won’t say it because reading feeds images to the visual cortex.
READY FOR PRACTICE?
- Use: The first time she saw him he was wearing… as your beginning sentence. Then for 3 min write in anaphoric (repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence, clause) style.
- Use: On their real first date, she wanted to… as your beginning. Then for 3 min write in epistrophe (repetition of a word at the end of sentences.)
- Use: The first time she kissed him, she… as your beginning. Then for 3 min write in chaining (anaphoric and epistrophe, see above for example).
- Use: Their first fight happened because he… as your beginning. Then for 5 min write in long sentence and use polysyndenton, asyndeton, conduplication (see above).
- Use: The room where they first made love smelled like… as your beginning. Then for 3 min use short sentence, fragments. Throw in anaphora, epistrophe occasionally.
- Use: The last time she ever saw him… as your beginning. Then for 3 min write in long sentence.
Now, is this how you’ll write a story? Goodness no. You train with techniques, when performing you pull it altogether. This is exercising the poetics part of your brain. It’s teaching you rhythm. Then when you go to write your story you’ll have extra tools in your arsenal.
What do you think? Nuggets of gold or nuggets of no-thanks? Are you going to give it a try? If you do I’d love to hear about it in a blog post! This isn’t an all-inclusive of everything we learned, but hopefully it gives you a flavor. And if you have a conference coming up, perhaps you can recommend him as a workshop presenter. Let me know what you thought below.