Add Music and Poetry to Prose

Guest blogging for me today is author Bettie Boswell, advising why and how to add music and poetry to prose. She’s published in many genres, including children’s nonfiction, romance, and her latest effort, releasing in July, is a time-slip novel. Thank you, Bettie, for coming back to visit us!

March was Music in Our Schools Month and now April is National Poetry Month. What’s a writer to do? Write something musical or poetic, of course. When I taught music, students were encouraged to create their own music or rhythmic speech by using the natural rhythms provided by rhythmic word flashcards. The cards helped them to come up with phrases, which flowed into a musical or poetic piece: Peaches, pear, popcorn, plum. Did you catch both the rhythm (short short, long, short, short, long) and the alliteration (same beginning sound) devices in that little phrase? A catchy title for your next suspense novel might use that pattern: Some Saints Sing, Some Souls Scream (or maybe not, but you get the idea.)

I think that title is fantastic. Or you can split it into two fantastic titles for two books in a series. I’m terrible at titles. I should consult you.

Did I hear you say you have no musical or poetic talents?

Whether you realize it or not, as a writer you can make use of music and poetic devices to improve your prose writing. You might even want to be really brave and add the words of a song or poem into your latest work-in-progress. My novel coming out in July will have several poems included as part of the story. You might even feel the call to try writing a Novel-in-Verse, which has become a very popular genre in the last few years. So, what can you do with your two left feet or should I say two broken pencils and warped word processors as you start adding a musical or poetic touch to your words? 

Let’s start with something simple–take a rest. In music a rest is when you don’t sing or play your instrument, you take a break to ready yourself for what will come next. In poetry the rest is white space between stanzas or line breaks between phases to give the reader time to savor the words. In prose, think about making use of white space. Use it between conversations. Break into long monologues with questions or action or reactions so the reader has time to contemplate what will come next and look forward with anticipation, instead of being lulled to sleep.

I never thought about the white space on the page like this. Great advice!

When the action gets tough for your characters, use a little staccato or accents. I. Told. You. To. Stop. Tap. Tap. Tap. The preceding onomatopoeic (sounds like what it is) tapping words also use another poetic device called repetition, which works well in the music and poetry worlds for refrains. I’m sure you can sing the chorus of many songs, even if you don’t know all the verses. If you’re writing for young children, they love that repeated phrase they can say along with the adult who is reading to them. As you write your prose, there may be something that needs heard more than once, or if you’re marketing your book you will need to repeat yourself many times before someone says, “I didn’t realize you wrote a book!”

Poetry, music and prose have many forms.

From a Beethoven symphony to a pop song, music enjoyment comes in multiple forms. New forms of poetry are invented all the time (see the link below.) You don’t have to have perfect rhythm or rhyme abilities to write a haiku, acrostic, or a list poem. Prose writing has forms like picturebooks, nonfiction, romance, suspense, mystery, allegory, and sci-fi, to name a few.  What if one of your characters speaks in poetry or riddles or writes about their pets in haiku? Explore the possibility of spicing up your story with a poem or song lyrics (you don’t even have to write the music notes for your song.) Maybe your hero or heroine has a catch phrase or manner of speaking that involves some poetic elements. You could even preface the character’s words as being bad poetry and get away with murder, that is, if you’re writing a mystery.

The use of poetic and musical tones can help establish a character’s voice. In my novel, Free to Love (July 2022-is the repetition working for you yet) one character records the past and establishes an important part of her personality through writing poetry about pre-Civil-War events that lead her to free someone in slavery and help them escape to the north. Tone or voice is also important in prose and music when it comes to establishing whether your piece will be happy, sad, yearning, or hopeless. 

So, don’t feel hopeless when it comes to your writing. Make it sing. Make it reach into your soul like a poem. Pour your emotions and heart into all that you do. Happy writing!

For more on poetic forms, click here.

So many good tips, Bettie! You’ve made me realize more than ever that prose isn’t so different from music and poetry. To read Bettie’s previous guest blogs, click here.

*****

When a college sweetheart used Ginny Cline’s dreams for his own glory, he stole her joy of composing music and her trust in men. Years later, encouraged by prayer and a chance to help the local museum, she dares to share her talents again. Unfortunately a financial backer forces her to place her music and trust into the hands of another man.

Theater professor Scott Hallmark’s summer camp benefactor coerces him into becoming the director of Ginny’s musical. The last thing he needs is another woman who uses him to get what they want, especially an amateur who has no idea what they are doing.

As Ginny’s interest in Scott grows, her confusion arises over Honey, a member of Scott’s praise band. Mix in a couple of dogs and quirky cast members for fun and frustration as the couple work together to discover that forgiveness and trust produce perfect harmony.

Note-I hope you can read On Cue soon since the prequel Free to Love will be available July 1, 2022.

*****

Bettie Boswell has always loved to read and create stories. That interest helped her create musicals for both church and school and eventually she decided to write and illustrate stories to share with the world. Her first experience with Christian romance started when she spent a summer with her grandmother during her early teen years and read a Grace Livingston Hill novel. Now she reads a Christian novel every week and sometimes more than one. Her writing interests extend from children’s to adult fiction and non-fiction. Her first romance novel, On Cue, debuted November 2020. The prequel to that novel, called Free to Love will be available from Mt. Zion Ridge Press in July 2022.  Here other books and stories are “Fred’s Gift” in From the Lake to the River, Sidetracked, and Skateboarding. Before that she contributed to educational works, magazine articles, and devotional and short story anthologies. She has two grown sons, three grandchildren, and a busy minister husband. Follow her on her website, Bettie Boswell, Author/Illustrator.

Using Poetic Devices in Prose

Have you ever thought of using poetic devices in prose? I got to thinking about this concept after reading  this post on Almost an Author by Darlo Gemeinhardt. Prose writers can use these techniques as long as we don’t overuse them. Alliteration, consonance, and assonance bring a rhythm to prose that, hopefully, make it memorable.

Alliteration — “the repetition of initial consonant sounds”. From Alliteration: The Sound of Poetry I

I love alliteration, but I’m always afraid of using it too much, making my writing look amateurish. So I’ll ask your opinion. Which do you think is better?

“I glued my gaze to the gun.”

“I fastened my gaze to the gun.”

I went with the second, buy maybe the first was better.

Another thing I’ve noticed with alliteration is that superheroes seemed to have alliterative names: Bruce Banner, Clark Kent, and Peter Parker. If you are thinking of creating a superhero, an alliterative name is something to consider.

I had alliteration in mind when I created the name of the main character of my YA mystery series. I wanted something memorable, something catchy. Using an alliterative names seemed the easiest way to accomplish that. I chose “Rae” because I liked the idea of a male-sounding name for a female but not a really unusual one. So I came up with “Rae Riley”.

Consonance — the repetition of the same consonant sound within words that are contained in the same line or sentence. From Consonance: The Sound of Poetry II.

Consonance reminded me of a writing exercise in my college creative writing class. The professor asked us to think of words that sounded a certain way, such as words that sound cold. I came up with “incisive.” The long “I” and “s” signaled cold to me. When the professor asked for words that sounded fat, I suggested “triumphant.”

So when trying to set the mood of a scene, I keep in mind how the words sound. For a scene where a character is sneaking through the night, I might use words that have a lot of “s” sounds. “N” also sounds soft. I would use “night” more often than “dark”, which has a harder sound.

But a fight scene could use harsher sounds, like “k”, “d’, and “t”.

Assonance — the repetition of vowel sounds anywhere within a group of words. From The Music of Poetry by Darlo Gemeinhardt

Assonance can give rhythm to names. When I wrote the short story, “Debt to Pay”, I needed to create a name for a character who is a millionaire. Since he isn’t one of those arrogant, trampling-the-masses kind of millionaire. I decided the name couldn’t be too strong. Names ending in “ton” sound wealthy and powerful, like “Kensington”. or  “Covington”. I decided on “Everett”. Not too imposing, but it sounded like the family could be from old money. I chose “Adam” as the first name because it’s fairly traditional, suitable for a member of an old-money family, but not as boring Richard or Robert.

When I put “Adam Everett” together, I really liked the rhythm and now I know why. The assonance of the short “a” in “Adam” and the short “e” in Everett give the name a dash of poetry.

For more posts on poetry, click here.

Have you considered using poetic devices in prose? What stories have you read that are poetic and written in prose?

Writing about the Sense of Sight

Brown. My novel had turned to brown. At least, that’s what my freelance editor Sharyn Kopf told me when she read my novel. I had used “brown” far too may times. Most writers write by sight. And most readers think by sight, so writing about the sense of sight is the easiest way to connect with readers. It’s also the hardest to write about from a fresh perspective. While tackling all the browns that had invaded the story, I developed three ways to work color into my story.

Write About Color as Your Main Character Sees It

It was a no brainer for me to focus on color when writing about the sense of sight in my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow. My main character, Rae Riley, is an amateur photographer. She should notice color, more than most people. But she wouldn’t describe everything that was brown with just that word. So I had to dig into my descriptions and decide …

Could I Use a Different Color?

In Chapter 8, I had used the word “brown” so many times that the scene was practically wallowing in a mud pit. So I examined all the brown things and decided if they really had to be brown. For example, Rae has come to her uncle’s farm for a riding lesson. The horse she’s going to ride is Pokey. Pokey started as a brown horse because it was based on the first horse I’d ever rode during a lesson. I changed Pokey to a palomino to get rid of a brown that wasn’t necessary. And I love a palominos. In another chapter, I changed a walk-on character’s eyes to hazel because there was no good reason to keep them brown.

Or I deleted any color name, such as when I described a third-grade girl who is having a riding lesson before Rae. The little girl’s father is watching her. I describe him “with his warm, brown eyes and brown hair”. Later, when I describe the girl, I wrote “Alli took off her helmet, only a few wisps of hair, the same shade as her father’s, escaping her French braid.” Readers know she has brown hair without me using the word.

If I couldn’t change the color, I looked …

For Synonyms

In a couple places, I wrote that characters had dark hair instead of brown. The horse Alli was riding was sorrel instead of brown. Rae could know this because her late mother worked at a stable when Rae was in middle school. So I eliminated a “brown” and made the new color work with my main character’s eye for photography and her backstory. Rae describes the hair of one of her cousins as “sepia-colored.”

Click here for my review of a short story that puts color to brilliant use. Here are more of my tips on writing about the senses.

How do you use the sense of sight in your writing? What tips do you have for writing about the sense of sight?

Writing about the Sense of Sound

Sound is most likely the second the most used sense in writing, and there’s so many ways to tackle writing about the sense of sound. For example, I’ve always been interested in how characters sound when they talk. And I love how sound adds another layer of complexity to a setting.

How Do You Say That?

My interest in how a character sounds may come from years of being a movie fan. Describing a character’s usual voice gives a story a cinematic touch and is a way to help readers differentiate between characters without relying as heavily on visual cues. Below are the ways I described characters’ voices in my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow.

  • My main character Rae has a slight Southern accent, which is noticeable now that she lives in Ohio.
  • Her friend Houston, who’s originally from Texas, speaks with that accent in a drawl.
  • Her boss Barb speaks in a “crisp clip” when talking to someone she doesn’t like.
  • Rae’s dad’s voice is a “penetrating” or “booming baritone”.
  • Rae’s great-grandfather has “a voice as deep and rocky as an abandoned mine shaft.”

Set the Scene with Sound

My goal in describing settings is to let the reader feel like he or she is living a scene with the main character. Sounds aids me enormously in creating that illusion.

Rae sets a trap for whoever has been leaving her threatening notes, waiting in her apartment one night when she has made it look like she’s not at home. Since it’s February, the apartment gets dark quickly, giving me an opportunity to appeal to the sense of sound.

  • “As the courthouse chimed 7:00”
  • Rae’s apartment is a finished room over a garage. Her landlady’s “car chugged into the garage beneath me.”
  • “A meow drifted up to me.”

The winter setting allowed me to add descriptions like:

  • “I crunched down the drive”
  • During a thaw, “the ground squished beneath my boot with every step”
  • “Cars and trucks ground by on the salt-covered streets.”

How do you use the sense of sound in your writing? What tips do you have for writing about the sense of sound?

Writing about the Sense of Touch

Touch is another sense that writers tend to overlook. In the story “The Price of Light”, author Ellis Peters brings medieval England to life through the senses and especially through texture. Once I sat down to analyze touch, I realized it encompasses many different kinds of sensation and writing about the sense of touch adds evocative variety to a story.

TEXTURE

Not only clothes, but everything we touch has some kind of texture, if we think about it. The table I’m eating on, the chair I’m sitting on, the jacket of the woman I brush up against in a crowded mall, the goop my kid just invented in the basement. If the point of view (POV) character is touching something, I can switch from sight to touch to give my description variety.

I’m sensitive to food textures. Regardless of how a food tastes, if the texture triggers my gag reflex, I’m done with it. In fact, I will soldier through food that doesn’t taste good, but I can’t choke it down if the texture is bad. Marshmallows and meringue are two foods with textures I literally can’t swallow.

AIR

The temperature and moisture of the air around us is sensed through our skin. So instead of limiting myself to how a snowy scene looks, I will add how the cold makes my POV character feel. Humidity can be described the same way. Instead of writing how the sweat glistens on someone’s face, I will write about how humidity wraps around my skin like a wet quilt. When describing wind, I can switch to how it feels, rather than the effects the character sees or hears.

PRESSURE

Pressure on the skin signals all kinds of emotions. If you want large man to intimidate your small main character, he can press against her, crowding her, trapping her. A squeeze of the hand can mean reassurance, a slap on the back affection or anger, a handshake, depending upon the strength, friendship or fury.

For more tips on writing about the senses, click here.

I know I haven’t exhausted the possibilities. What tips do you have about writing about the sense of touch?

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