April is National Poetry Month! Share your favorite poem(s) or poet.
I’ve never been much into poetry. Give me a good story anytime; but for some reason poetry just doesn’t resonate with me. The only possible exception is, perhaps, when put to music, i.e., songs. So, I’m going to fudge a little on this one and talk about song lyrics.
A well-written song can teach writers a lot about the value of good word selection. A good lyric will complement the tone of the music. For example, take Come Together by The Beatles (written by John Lennon). The musical arrangement is fairly sparse, lots of space, with jabbing chords. The words complement this effect. Rhythmically, there are lots of single syllable words, and lots of “g” “j” ‘k” sounds that make the words sharp to the ear.
By way of contrast, take My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music (music by Richard Rodgers, lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II). If you know the musical, Maria sings this song to the Von Trapp children who can’t sleep because they’re frightened by a thunderstorm. The words are easy, they flow and bounce with a sense of excitement and anticipation. As well as some clever rhymes and imagery (“Silver white winters that melt into springs/These are a few of my favorite things”) there are some good contrasts. Take the line “Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.” You can hear the cold hard metal of the bright copper kettles in the words; yet there’s a completely different feel to warm woolen mittens. The words sound soft and cozy. What’s really clever though, is the music underlying the words still has a sense of the children’s fear–the minor key, the rapid tempo, and the slightly odd feel of the melody when the harmonic structure changes in the second line of the verse.
When it comes to prose, and especially to writing novels, these are things we should think about. How can we get our readers to feel the words, not just read them? If you’re describing harsh winter weather conditions, select words whose sounds reflect that. Instead of “the cold air numbed his face,” how about, “the biting chill cut his cheeks”? Or something like that. And also consider the rhythmic pattern of the words. If you want to pick up the pace, one technique is to select words that are short and flow well together. “He retrieved his Walther PPK, discharged three rounds into the guard, and hurried to the waiting Aston Martin,” is longer to read than, “he picked up his gun, shot the guard, and ran to the car.” There’s a place for the fuller sentence, but for fast action, you want brevity, flow, and punch.
What’s your favorite poem? How has poetry helped you in your prose? Comment below or join the Road Trip (details on the YA Highway blog).