Friday, April 8, 2016

Poetic Phrasing…Too Much of a Good Thing? – by Christine

I often find that exact needed word or phrase within the dusty leaves of old leather-bound tomes.

Gosh, I like that sentence. I can almost smell the dust and leather. I also like the rhythm.

I have also come to appreciate modern poetry, thanks to my son Rob.

Poets are different from novelists in that they must convey their story in as excruciatingly few words as possible. At times though, the novelist needs to borrow from the poet’s toolbox. 

  • Poetry: The art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.
One of my pet peeves is that I’ll pick up a modern-day book with a great synopsis only to set it down after the first chapter. There is no dance to the words.

The following is a sampling of some of those poetic tools. But BEWARE: Poetic phrasing and devices are like salt in the porridge, too little or too much can make your breakfast inedible. 

  • Purple Writing: Wikipedia definition: 

In literary criticism, purple prose is prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. Purple prose is characterized by the extensive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors
When it is limited to certain passages, they may be termed purple patches or purple passages, standing out from the rest of the work. 

Purple prose is criticized for desaturating the meaning in an author's text by overusing melodramatic and fanciful descriptions. As there is no precise rule or absolute definition of what constitutes purple prose, deciding if a text, passage, or complete work has fallen victim is a subjective decision.

Here is a sample of my purple prose in an early draft of my non-fiction book Finding Sarah, Finding Me, that Rachel thank goodness deleted the highlighted parts. I can occasionally use too-heavy-a-hand with imagery and metaphor.

That tidal wave of maternal yearning pulled me out deeper and deeper, but in Sarah’s presence I strove to chain down my emotions. As much as I wanted to cry right then and there, I stuffed it down. Or thought I did. The continuing and increasing black swirl of thoughts clutched at me, dragging me out of my safe harbor.

To balance things, here in my opinion is a good example of slightly poetic imagery and metaphor in my new release Sofi’s Bridge.

But Trina’s moods changed like quicksilver when a storm roused the water. Or a foghorn blew out on the Sound. Downstairs in the foyer, the drapes were closed to the water as Sofi had instructed. Until last night, each of the Puget’s faces disturbed Trina, whether it hid behind sheets of rain or sparkled like diamonds as it did today. But today a breeze transported the smell of the sea into the house with its invasive reminder of what it had stolen from them. And almost stolen again last night.

  • Poetry is supposed to rhyme at times, right? 
Yes, but not in a novel. Again, rhyming is one of those devices you may specifically want in a scene, but it’s one of those elements that we need only a dash of once in a blue moon.

Here’s a sample from Sofi’s Bridge that I purposely ruined to show unwanted rhyming.

Her father’s limousine sat exactly as she’d left it. The knots were snug, but something bugged  her. This section of rope had given her trouble, and she’d left it somewhat slack. Now it was so taut it snapped when she tapped it. Must have settled with the weight. After stacking the last of the tack in the passenger compartment, she led Odin by his red collar into the house.
  • Alliteration…She sells seashells by the seashore: One of my personal favorite devices. Not a tool to use too often, but sparingly used can make a passage zing especially in internal dialogue.

  • Repetition, Say it again, Say it again: As you’re writing your brain will play tricks on you. A word you typed two minutes ago will have the annoying ability to show up again and again in the same chapter. Read your chapters aloud to yourself to catch those unwanted repeats. 

  • Specific Repetition: You will occasionally want to underline an emotion or plot point, and repetition comes in many different formats, to name only a few: Repeating the last word in a sentence, or a phrase to stress a point, or repeating the same word at the end or beginning of two sentences. TWEET THIS

In the following scene from Sofi’s Bridge the alliteration is highlighted in yellow and the planned repetition in green to alert the reader to an element of mystery in the story.

The fraying cuffs of Jimmy’s trousers from the shipyard—it wasn’t Neil’s imagination—the heat from the fire brought out the odor of sulfur and steel dust ensnared in the wool. He raised his chin. If he stood clean and in the suit he’d bought with his hard-earned money, would Miss Sofi Andersson look at him differently? See him as more than a paid laborer? Value his advice as a professional man? Ach, it made no matter.

He moved past Sofi, careful to keep his distance. His physician suits and waistcoats hung useless in the wardrobe in his mother’s house in Belfast. Maybe Jimmy was making use of them, as he was making use of Jimmy’s laborer clothes. Maybe Jimmy had even married Alison in one of his suits.

I mentioned at the start that my son Rob has given me an appreciation for modern poetry. Here is a poem he wrote for me on Mothers Day several years ago. This poem will be published in my non-fiction book Finding Sarah, Finding Me: A Birthmother’s Story to be released August 15, 2016.

To Mum

Even before I knew what to call it,
you spoke Art into my life.
Your love was patience, struggle, passion, and vigor,
all at once…
showing me a daily shine.
You raised me in kingdom language.
You spoke the sort of grace 
that brings daises to lift up their necks,
even in the face of an unkind wind.

Robert Campbell Schmidtke


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