Hello, friends! Welcome back. Today continues our discussion of poetry as a writing device.
Last week we discussed how poetry is useful for the writer. There are several reasons, not the least of which is that poetry is simply beautiful. But the main reason is that poetry is memorable.
I’ve learned a lot about poetry from my mentor and teacher, Brad Pauquette. I’m going to share some of his lessons on how to use poetry in writing today.
Poetry is defined (by Google) as “a literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” This can include sonnets by Shakespeare, but today it is most used in music and in writing.
No, I’m not talking about actual poems. I’m talking about turning your writing, specifically your descriptions, into poetic works of art.
How, you ask? That’s a very good question.
Often in writing, we come upon a moment in the story that a character or setting needs a physical description. A generic description is easy—”The room was big. The man was tall.”
But we’re writers. We want our readers to remember this scene and that character. So, naturally, we begin to use poetry to beautify the description.
There are several ways we can do this. A writer’s first choice is usually vocabulary—the thesaurus is our best friend. We use words like spacious and towering in place of big and tall. Flowery words make better descriptions, of course.
But then we remember that every aspiring writer uses flowery wording to capture attention. That can’t be enough. So let’s take this a step further.
Other Useful Elements
Poetry utilizes sound and rhythm to make its words memorable. In order to capture the attention of the reader, various sound devices can be incredibly useful to both the poet and the writer.
- Alliteration: Same letter/sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.
- Assonance: Repetition of vowel sounds in closely connected words. (ex: time is on my side)
- Consonance: Repetition of consonant sounds in closely connected words. (ex: Toss the glass, boss)
These are the most common sound devices, often used to create both cacophony and euphony in writing.
- Cacophony: A harsh, discordant mixture of sounds. (Usually a mixture of harsh consonant sounds.)
- Euphony: A harmonious combination of words that is pleasing to the ear. (Often utilizes vowel sounds.)
Depending on your purpose, you may find either one more useful in a given moment. Most people will not recognize your usage of these elements consciously, but subconsciously, the human mind is always gathering clues and placing information into categories. Sound devices are helpful in giving hints.
Do you want your towering male character to have an intimidating, bad vibe? Try using a bit of cacophony. The harsh, contrasting sounds give off an uncomfortable vibe, giving your reader a subconscious clue that this character is not fully trustworthy.
Maybe your spacious room is a place of safety for your exhausted heroine. Use some euphony to give the description of the room a pleasant feel. The near-musical sound of the words in harmony will give the reader subconscious clues that this is a trustworthy space.
This is a lot at once, so let’s look at an example of poetry at work.
Take, for instance, this description of a chapel:
“A soft, yellow light fell through the windows on straight back pews. A dark-colored painting of the Christ hung on the wall, and a clock ticked in the silence.”
It’s lovely and brings an image to mind. But it doesn’t exactly stick in the mind. We need more.
Let’s utilize alliteration, assonance, and consonance to make this description more poetic. Notice the bolded letters and words, where I’ve highlighted the poetic devices I used.
“Soft rays strayed over rows of pews—straight, strong, standing in a row. Dark hues of color depicted our kneeling Savior, framed in wood on the wall. I heard the soft ticks of a clock—a pin could drop, and you’d clearly hear the sound.”
It sounds better, doesn’t it? The first description gives a pretty picture, but there’s something pleasing about the rhythm of the second one. It simply feels better, and provides a clearer image in the mind.
And as a result, that image will stick in your mind longer.
This is going to take some practice! Not every description needs to be flowery, but leaving out the elements of poetry would be a mistake. We have to find our readers’ happy middle ground, which can be different with each genre. Genres like fantasy, crime/mystery, and romance are generally expected to have more poetic writing than genres like action/adventure, thriller, or comedy.
I encourage you to experiment and do some research. Find your happy place. What do other authors in your genre lean towards? Are there certain elements of poetry that work better for you? Do you prefer to use large amounts of poetic description, or are punchy descriptions more your style?
Remember, you can’t please everyone. You write for you! As you do research and experiment, don’t try to push yourself to be exactly like someone else. Find your own groove and perfect it. Learn from others, but never let them define you!
If you’re a writer looking to perfect your craft, you need to check out this school. It’s a fantastic opportunity. They have an online 9-month program called Arche Year, and a two-year intensive program. Both are designed specifically for writers who want guidance in their work from a professional, experienced writer. If you’re interested, go apply! Fall applications are open now!