Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Learn To Write By Studying (and writing) Poetry



1.Literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm;...

2.A quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems: "poetry and fire are nicely balanced in the music".

When I was doing my undergraduate work in English Literature, I always found it interesting how the students in the English department separated themselves from each other. There were "the literature" people and there were "the writing" people, and, NEVER would the two associate with each other. It was as if they believed should they ever come in contact with the other, they would be corrupted forever.   I see the same thing with authors. Fiction writers don't hang out with poets (and yes we see the same thing within genres).   I think this is a huge mistake.   There is a lot fiction writers can learn from the poets. As the definition above highlights, poetry is a work "in which a special intensity" is placed upon the words. Within poetry, this is a chance to see "showing vs. telling" at its finest. Why? Because they have to.   When we write poetry, we don't have the luxury of 100,000 words to tell a story. The poet confines himself or herself to a strict word count and structure. Rhyme, measure, line spacing and so forth, force the poet to find "the right word" and "the right phrase."   As I read submissions, I often find myself wishing the author would just get to the point! I see the character is hurting from a break up. Let's just move on. Instead, the author drags out the pity fest for the character through multiple chapters, bringing up the issue with every turn of the page. They have coffee with a friend and the issue comes up. They meet the new love interest, but noooo, they can't get involved because of the break up. Heck, even over coffee, they find they can't enjoy their breakfast because that coffee cup and bear claw reminds them of the prior relationship.   For me, this was one of the issues I had with the book TWILIGHT. Now don't get me wrong. I understand the value of this book for the time. It just wasn't for me personally and the reason was simple. I simply felt, Bella spent the majority of the books whining and moping around. "I want to be with Edward." "I don't want to be with Edward." "Now I do." "Now I don't."   Stop already! I get it. You are a teenager in angst.   So, like a poet, let's get to the point.
  • Can you tighten up your story with a single scene that can accomplish what the entire chapter is doing?
  • Can you eliminate unnecessary plot lines?
  • Instead of bringing in a disposable character just to disclose some needed plot information, can one of your current characters do the same thing?
  • Do you really need multiple paragraphs to describe the Italian restaurant the character are at?
In simple terms, if it isn't necessary to the story, get rid of it. Focus on what the poets do. Bring forth "A quality of beauty and intensity of emotion" in your writing.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your comments and have found that I lean towards a minimalist style of writing naturally. The end result, though, is that I have difficulty getting to 50,000 words without feeling that I'm padding.

    I have read many remarks in reviews or on writers' boards about setting price in relation to word count. Readers complain a short book wasn't worth x amount. Some people feel that padding pays!