Poetic Devices. Why Should I Care?

Let’s cover poetic devices! I can just hear the groaning in the back row. Alright, alright. Hear me out. In no way are these just for poets. Each one addresses unique ways writers of all kinds play with words to create more polished prose. Whether you are a news reporter or a novelist, mastering them can bring a subtle sophistication to your writing. We experience the effects of these devices all the time without realizing it. It’s what makes good literature feel musical and inviting. Think of some of your favorite passages of your favorite novel. Inspiring words, or a well-written article will certainly embrace them. You’ll find it in moving storytelling and clear expositions all over the place that just… sound better. So let me introduce you to your ten new best friends.

  • Alliteration.

Alliteration is rhyme’s mirrored twin. It’s when words begin with the same letter, rather than end. Aunt Annie’s Alligator from Dr. Seuss’s ABC book comes to mind. But we see it used to create emphasis, or a certain mood, all the time in literature. The Great Gatsby is the classic example, as F. Scott Fitzgerald seemed particularly fond of it.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly against the past.”

Keep an eye out for alliteration as you go about life, and notice what effect it has in its context. Does it slow things down? Does it add a punch of humor? Does it draw your attention in a certain way? Next time you’re warming up for writing, give it a try! The more you experiment and play with the sounds of words, the more you will be able to use it intentionally.

  • Assonance.

Assonance is when interior vowels echo each other every so often within a phrase. (See what I did there?) As with most of these devices, it creates emphasis and a certain mood, depending on the sound emphasized and the context.  A favorite example from literature is found in Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Tombs of Atuan:

“Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.”

It’s also a great example of the next tool for your literary cabinet, and some others I am sure you will discover on your own.

  • Consonance.

As you may guess from the sound of it, this is a close cousin to assonance. It’s referring to consonant sounds that pop up with in a sentence or phrase. Depending on the consonant repeated, you can really amplify a mood with consonance. Hard /k/ sounds command your attention and might make a phrase more lively or harsh. Sibilant sounds tend to create a hushed mood. Great speech writers use this tool all the time to produce a lyrical  quality that makes you want to listen. Here’s an example from Martin Luther King’s famous I Have a Dream speech:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Alliteration, consonance, and assonance are all about playing with the interior sounds of words, and are well suited to all kinds of writing. Because they are surprisingly easy to incorporate and are almost imperceptible to the untrained eye, their value goes far beyond poetry. They don’t make a stab at your attention the way overtly poetic phrases do, but give that certain je ne se quois to our favorite quotable quotes. Play around with them the next time you are dreading that blank screen.

  • Imagery.

Okay, so this one is pretty self-explanatory. Images are what make good writing come to life. But it’s about more than just the visual components. It’s engaging all the senses to tell your story. If readers feel as if they are experiencing the action, they will be drawn to your work. We read because we want to feel transported to another place, time, or reality, and good imagery is key in making that magic. E.B. White does this excellently in Once More to the Lake:

He pulled his dripping trunks from the line where they had hung all through the shower and wrung them out. Languidly, and with no thought of going in, I watched him, his hard little body, skinny and bare, saw him wince slightly as he pulled up around his vitals the small, soggy, icy garment. As he buckled the swollen belt, suddenly my groin felt the chill of death.

Ouch. The boy feels it. The narrator feels it. We feel it. Experiment with this in areas of your work that just feel disconnected or bland. What experience can you craft for your reader that will show not tell?

  • Metaphor.

Every time I encounter this word, I think of the hilarious and poignant old Italian film, Il Postino. Metaphor is when we say one thing, but mean another. In a good way. It’s a key means of using imagery to convey more than what can be seen with the eye, or felt with our skin. I love Carl Sandburg’s poem, Landscape. It can mean so many things to different people at different times.

See the trees lean to the wind’s way of learning.
See the dirt of the hills shape to the water’s way of learning.
See the lift of it go the way the biggest
wind and the strongest water want it.

We use metaphor all the time in common idiomatic phrases and figures of speech. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. A stitch in time saves nine. Music to my ears. The ball is in your court now. Consider this popular quote from Hellen Keller; made all the more significant because of her native blindness:

Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.

We use metaphor all the time to convey a stronger, more intimate meaning than can be conveyed with simple factual description. Notice it in the literature you read every day, and consider when you might use it more effectively.

  • Meter.

This is, loosely speaking, used to describe the rhythmic combination of stressed and unstressed syllables in language. In poetry it can be a very specific set of patterns to follow; we typically think of very structured poetry examples such as Shakespeare’s famed use of iambic pentameter. But we aren’t going to be writing sonnets, generally speaking, so let’s look at this in other great works. Examine this excerpt from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inaugural address. Notice where the stresses fall in these lines:

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-

Can you see the rhythm created in his word choice, emphasized in his delivery? Paying attention to where the stressed syllables fall in your most crucial concepts can lend that extra oomph to make your work stand out.

  • Onomatopoeia.

Clickety-clack. Pitter Patter. Squelch. Words that mimic the specific sounds they describe are abundant in English and can be playful or powerful. They help the reader really hear what is happening, making descriptions more vivid. Exploring onomatopoeia can be a fun writing warm up before your real writing assignment begins because it’s really all about appreciating the sounds of the words and the feelings evoked by them. The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes is full of great sounds that pull the reader into the action.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred…

I would argue that in this case, even the sounds of words like locked and barred lend to the delightful commotion and energy of this piece, even if they aren’t typically words we think of as onomatopoeia. I recommend giving it a read in its entirety! Then see if you can write some noise.

  • Personification.

Personification is when the author or speaker ascribes emotion to the inanimate. It’s in the whispering winds or angry clouds that bring alive the storm. It’s in the lonely road and forlorn shack that set the mood of a place. Edith Wharton demonstrates this beautifully here in an excerpt from The Mother’s Recompense:

“Hadn’t she known that something good was going to happen to her that morning – hadn’t she felt it in every touch of the sunshine, as its golden finger-tips pressed her lids open and wound their way through her hair?”

  • Repetition.

Repetition is really the soul of many other devices on this list. Rhyme, assonance, consonance, and alliteration are all about the repetition of various sounds. Meter is about the repetition of emphasis creating a repeated rhythm to the words. Here repetition refers to the reappearance of words or phrases throughout a sentence, paragraph, or even the entire text. Have you ever noticed that the funniest parts of any stand-up comedian’s act are when they cycle back to ideas you thought they’d abandoned? Watch a few Drybarcomedy shows and you will absolutely see it. It’s the same concept. It just adds a little candy for the brain. Some of the above quotes give great examples of this; as in FDR’s famous speech, three times just in that excerpt; throughout that short Sandburg poem; and in two other places, if you can find them. Comment below if you think you see it!

  • Rhyme.

Nope. This one isn’t just for poems either. Listen to this well-loved quote from the Buddha:

Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

Does it sound overly rhymey and trite? Not really. Rhyme doesn’t have to be at the end of a line of poetry to be rhyme or to have impact. Ok smarty pants in the front row. So that last phrase spills over into consonance rather than rhyme, you’re right! That’s what makes it such a good example for use outside of strict poetry. Hear the pleasant echo of the “th” sound in each phrase … health, wealth, faithfulness? See how it bounces from the beginning of the line, to the end of the next, back to the beginning? It makes it memorable and underscores the importance of those words in his message. It goes back to the principle of repetition in fine art, whether visual, auditory, or written. Our brains like it. Whether it’s because it makes things easier to remember or because we like the familiar, it just feels good.

  • Simile.

This is basically a more explicit kind of metaphor that really calls out the comparison by name. The classic example is Robert Burns,’ “O my love’s like a red, red, rose…” It differs from metaphor in that it employs clue words to tip you off that a comparison is being made: like, as, shall I compare thee… you get the idea. Charles Dickens was fond of using simile, and did so with great success, adding vivid imagery and personality to his stories. Check out this quote from Great Expectations:

It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders’ webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade.

He personifies the wet quality of the morning by comparing it to a sobbing, miserable goblin or a network of spiderwebs strewn about. No plainly visual description could achieve the same kind of creepy, foreboding mood at the same time as painting clearly the damp, wet landscape.

Alright. Now you try it. Keep noticing these poetic devices being used by good artists everywhere. Jot them down in your writer’s journal. You can hear it in the music on the radio, and that friend who’s a great storyteller. These tools are found in important, famous speeches and your favorite childhood books. If you want to dive right into it rather than waiting for opportunities to pop up along your path, I highly recommend reading Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven in its entirety. He uses each and every poetic device to wonderful effect. Here’s just one stanza. See how many you can identify. Leave your answer in the comments section!

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me — filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door —
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; —
This it is, and nothing more.

August Events

July has ended, which means that it’s time for a new events article! If you’re bored or just looking for some inspiration to get started writing again, these 10 FREE events in Michigan are perfect for you! The events picked each month cover a variety of different topics, all centered around writing! From book clubs to writing workshops, author meet-and-greets,  book signings, and much more, you’ll always find something interesting to do!

August 4th – Goodrich – Local Authors Tent

A variety of local authors will be available for discussions, book signings, and questions. This is also a family friendly event! Definitely a great day trip to take with the family!   Visit their Facebook page for more information!

https://m.facebook.com/events/460588177722160/?utm_source=booksigningevent.com&utm_medium=content

August 7th – Nagaunee – Sunburns to Snowstorms: Upper Michigan Weather in Pictures and Stories

The Michigan Iron Industry Museum presents meteorologist Karl Bohnak and photographer and photo collector Jack Deo. They will be discussing their new book, and will be available to sign copies after their presentation. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn about an interesting topic! Visit the website below for more info!

https://www.michigan.org/event/sunburns-snowstorms-upper-michigan-weather-pictures-and-stories

August 9th – Escanaba – Local Author Fair

Local authors from Escanaba gather to take part in this Author Fair! The festivities include complimentary concessions, meet-and-greets with the authors, and book signings! Click on the link below for more information!

Local Author Fair

August 10th – Ann Arbor –  Rhys Bowen & Susan Elia MacNeal

The Ann Arbor District Library is holding an interview with Rhys Bowen and Susan Ella MacNeal about their latest published books! Thsi is sure to be an interesting activity for all book lovers! Visit The Ann Arbor District Library’s website to learn more!

https://aadl.org/node/373384

August 16th – Romeo – Romeo Writer’s Group

A great writing group situated in Romeo, Michigan that encourages and supports writers. Share your writing and listen to others at this month’s meeting! More information is provided through the link!

http://www.myrecordnewspaper.com/?tribe_events=romeo-writers-group-2-2018-08-16&eventDate=2018-08-16

August 18th –  Lansing – “Dyed in the Wool” Book Signing 

Dr. Linda Lee Tarver’s book, “Dyed in the Wool” is a bestseller on Amazon, and she will be holding a book signing at The Barnes and Nobles book store at The Lansing Mall! Don’t miss this chance to meet her! Click the link for more info!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dyed-in-the-wool-book-signing-tickets-48506534350

August 21st – Rochester Hills – Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group

While most writing groups focus on writing skills and critiquing  their fellow writers work, this group is all about the business side of being a writer. Perfect for writers interested in getting published, thinking about self-publishing, and being a professional writer in general! Don’t miss out on learning some very valuable information! Check out the link for more details!

Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group

Tuesday, Aug 21, 2018, 7:30 PM

Barnes & Noble
2800 S Rochester Rd Rochester Hills, MI

2 Rochester Writers Attending

This Rochester based group is open to all new, working, and published writers, photographers, and illustrators. All genres welcome and free to attend. We are NOT a critique group – we discuss the business of writing. We meet the third Tuesday of the month* – come once, once in a while, or every time – hope you can join us.Our meeting could be anyw…

Check out this Meetup →

 

August 22nd – Muskegon – Left to Write – Creative Writing Group

Open to writers of all ages, this writing group focuses on making connections to other writers and using writing exercises to help facilitate growth! A perfect group for any writer to join! Don’t miss it! More information provided through the link!

https://www.hackleylibrary.org/events/locally-hosted-events/hpl/32280-left-to-write-2

August 23rd – Kalamazoo – RAWK READS: Summer Writing Students Read Selected Work

A great event that supports young writers! Come and listen to the participating students read their works and celebrate the wonders of writing! Definitely an event you don’t want to miss! Check out the link for more info!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/rawk-reads-summer-writing-students-read-selected-work-tickets-48237928944

August 28th – Ferndale – Book Club: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

A book club that focuses on personal growth through reading. Their book this month is ‘All the Ugly and Wonderful Things’ by Bryn Greenwood! Don’t forget to read it before attending the meeting! Check out the link below!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-club-all-the-ugly-and-wonderful-things-tickets-48316099755

There are some amazing events this month! Don’t forget to tag us when you tell everyone what an awesome time you had! Have a great August everybody!

 

 

 

July Events

Looking for something to do this July? Well you’re in luck—here’s a list of 10 events in Michigan that every writer should try to attend this month! These events vary from book fests, to author meet and greets, book signings, and even some writer’s clubs that you might not have known about near you! If you’re worrying about the price tag that most writing events have, don’t fret, all ten of these events are free to attend!

July 11th – Kinsley – You are Never too Old to Dream
This is an author visit featuring Evelyn Harper, who shares her experience of becoming a published author in her later years, a truly inspiring story. Click the link for more information!
https://www.tadl.org/event/you-are-never-too-old-to-dream/

July 12th – Kalamazoo – Author visit with Lisa Jenn Bigelow
A meet and greet with author Lisa Jenn Bigelow, who is releasing her new book, “Drum Roll, Please.” Don’t miss this opportunity to meet her!
https://www.bookbugkalamazoo.com/event/lisa-jenn-bigelow-presents-drum-roll-please

July 14th – Southfield – Book Signing; “This is Kindness”
Meet Richard Patterson, check out his new book, “This is Kindness,” and get your copy signed! See the link for more information!
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-signing-this-is-the-kindness-tickets-46159890475?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

July 15th – Detroit – Bookfest
Detroit’s 2nd annual festival of books! With tons of book vendors, food, and free Wi-Fi, how can you say no? An amazing event to connect with others who love reading and writing just as much as you!
http://detroitbookfest.com/event-details-facts/

July 16th – Ann Arbor – Lillian Li on Publishing Your First Novel
Lillian Li presents her experience with all the ups and downs of writing, editing, and publishing her book, “Number One Chinese Restaurant.” Find out more through the link!
https://www.meetup.com/Write-On-Ann-Arbor/events/251263341/

July 17th – Bay City – Creative Writing Workshop
Strengthen your writing using prompts and conversing with others! See The Bay Community Writing Center’s website for more information and events!
http://baycommunitywc.weebly.com/

July 18th – Dearborn – Author Talk by Suzanne Dalton
Dearborn local author Suzanne Dalton speaks about her book, “A Year Lost, a Life Gained: Fighting Breast Cancer with Wit, Humor, Friends, and a Perky Poodle.” More details through the link!
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/author-talk-by-suzanne-dalton-tickets-47125653097?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

July 25th – Battle Creek – Battle Creek’s Writer’s Block
Have your writing critiqued and discuss a variety of topics at this writing group! Click the link for more info!
https://www.meetup.com/Battle-Creek-Writers-Block-Meetup/events/252163545/

July 26th – Royal Oak – Book and Bottle Club
Looking for something different? Then maybe you should look into this book club! Besides, what goes better than books and wine? Find out more through the link!
http://detroit.carpediem.cd/events/6867846-book-bottle-club-royal-oak-at-michigan-by-the-bottle-tasting-room-royal-oak/

July 28th – Detroit – Writing Workshop Series
A great opportunity for all ages to improve their writing skills! For more information, check out their allevents.in post below!
https://allevents.in/michigan/writers-workshop/20002505899828

Don’t forget to tag us when you tell everyone what an awesome time you had! Didn’t see an event you know about near you? Comment and let us know about it! Have a great July everyone!

To the Poets! by Catherine Foster

 

It’s April! What does that mean to the writing community the world over? Unfortunately, not necessarily a warming trend in the weather (I speak for the Midwest region of the United States in particular, which is encased in ice at present), but something far more important: an annual celebration of poets and poetry! That’s right: April is known as APAD (April Poem A Day), APAD (A Poem A Day) or even the impressive NaGloPoWriMo (National/Global Poetry Writing Month), but whatever you choose to call it, the idea behind the titles are all the same. We’re coming together to support the sometimes overlooked cornerstones of our writing community and give them the attention they so richly deserve.

You might be thinking that I chose a strange metaphor. How can a cornerstone be overlooked? How are poets cornerstones at all? They are usually characterized as whimsical, artistic and freethinking. This may the case, but true poets have an understanding of diction and syntax that allows them to play with language in a way that other writers can’t. Prose writers are restricted by rules of grammar, while poets are able to create sounds and even language to suit their purpose. Edgar Allan Poe and Dr. Seuss made new words that eventually became an enduring part of our lexicon even today.  However, gifted poets are not without their own limitations. They must understand the rules, particularly if they are constructing a delicate verse such as a haiku or a highly refined ghazal. To walk within the strictest boundaries of language to create an excess of emotion in the reader is a talent that takes a lifetime to cultivate. To be a successful poet takes diligence, patience, education, talent and creativity. These are the qualities of accomplished writers, as well, but because a poem is emotion pared to its finest element and every word must earn its way, the poet is the cornerstone of excellent literature. They inspire and they show us how language can be devastating or beautiful, by turns.  The pursuit of such a gift in these talented populations is what we celebrate each April. To all poets and their accomplishments out there, we at The LetterWorks salute you!

There are some places that have an organized an effort to lead an APAD participation group. Here are a links to a few of the more notable ones with rules and subcategories:

Writer’s Digest, April Poem-A-Day Challenge:

http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-genre/poetry/poem-a-day

 

The Writer’s Dig:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/april-is-poetry-month-ready-for-our-poem-a-day-challenge

 

Poetic Asides:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/poetic-asides/2012-april-pad-challenge-guidelines

 

A poem a day in April:

http://april-is.tumblr.com/tagged/signup

 

The Poetry Foundation:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/76608/april

 

Whether you participate formally by joining a group in the style of NaNoWriMo or if you just increase your awareness and appreciation for the form by reading a poem in April, it’s a matter of celebrating this art form. There are so many styles of poems out there to suit every reader. Some of us have been conditioned by our years in school to consider poetry a stuffy and boring relic of the past. That can be true—for some. In my personal experience, I had a comprehensive education of the Fireside poets (Longfellow, Cullen Bryant, Emerson, etc.), which ignited my interest but may have dulled someone else’s. For every Emily Dickinson, there’s a Maya Angelou. For every Robert Frost, there’s an Ntozake Shange. For every Shakespeare, there’s a Shel Silverstein. This is a time of renewed vigor for so many new poets; it’s a revolution. You don’t have to be educated in this form to appreciate it, so don’t be intimidated! The great beauty of poetry is that it just has to make you feel; a successful poet will touch your soul with a few well-written verses. This April, come join us in celebrating by writing or reading a new or favorite poem today!

Shame on Who? Taking the Shame Out of Self-Promotion

“Shameless self-promotion.” The phrase alone inspires dread in some, and often for good reason. Around every corner of the web, from social media to your favorite podcast, someone’s got something to shill, but does it always have to be such a cringe-worthy endeavor?

Let’s start by exploring where shame enters the picture. Does this shamelessness imply that you are incessantly slapping everyone in the face with your work regardless of interest or context? If so, it’s time for a new approach. No one wants to invest in a friendship or working relationship with a perpetual solicitor.

There’s also this lingering perception that creators should be ashamed of themselves for promoting their work. If you find yourself feeling this way, take a step back and ask yourself why you embarked on the project in the first place. Ask yourself why you followed it through to completion. Are you proud of the work you’ve done, or do you think it was all a big waste of time and energy? Was it a labor of love, or a financial necessity? Most writers take on less-than-glamorous gigs to pay the bills, and no one here will judge you for that, but it may be a better use of energy to save the sharing for projects that better represent you. If you can hold your work up proudly, then your promotion should be shame-free as long as you don’t overdo it.

While it can certainly be beneficial to plug your work online, your posts can quickly become tiresome, and the people you’re hoping to engage with will scroll right on by as soon as they see your name. Many creators view social media sites as nothing more than free advertising platforms, but without the genuine connectivity that keeps social networks going, your profile will not draw readers. Don’t assume people aren’t buying your thing explicitly because they are unaware of it. Writers tend to see a bump in sales when they mention their books about once a week online, but these are also people who already have a following, post frequently on multiple topics and engage in various conversations. There is no set scale for how much to self-promote, but less is more here. If you are able to curate interesting discussions, people will explore your other posts, find your books, and either buy them outright or at least ask you about them! Whether you’re worried about posting too much or not enough, a pinned post can serve as a passive billboard that can take some of that pressure off.

One approach that I see frequently is using a separate “author” page in addition to your main social media profile. I understand the attractiveness of keeping everything neatly compartmentalized, but I have my doubts as to whether or not this method is very effective. Writing is intensely personal, so even if you’re not writing memoirs, you are putting yourself on the page. Readers are often as interested in the writer as they are the story, which means you’re often selling yourself as much as the book, so this dissociation seems counterproductive. I feel similarly about adding the word “Author” to your name on social media accounts. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with it, but it comes off as performative, and like Amanda said, “Stop Aspiring to Be an Author and Just Be One!” Though the blogosphere is not as prominent these days, an alternative is to keep a blog or a Tumblr (a hybrid blog/social media site) to contain all your writing news and info that you can occasionally link to on your main social media profiles.

What about face-to-face promotion in the real world? Can you talk to people about your books without coming off like a pretentious ass? It’s possible as long as it’s not forced. No matter how incredible and life-changing your book may be, you can’t generate interest by shoehorning it into every conversation. What you can do is be conscious. It’s your book, you know it inside and out, so if a legitimate opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to discuss it. Always put the conversation first and never try to steer it towards a sale, people can sense that, and nothing puts them off faster. Once again, having confidence in your work without being arrogant will take you a long way!

Testing Your Novel’s Heart: Boulter’s ECG by T.N. Rosema

Back in December, we posted about Harmon’s Embryo, which checks the strength of your plot. This blog talks about Boulter’s ECG, which checks the emotional pace or “heart” of your novel.

The Echocardiogram (ECG for short) is a technique from Writing Fiction by Amanda Boulter, senior lecturer for creative writing at the University of Winchester. The ECG is best applied to longer works such as novels.

If we accept that a story is about change, then:

  • What changes are triggered by the events within it?
  • How do our characters deal with these changes?
  • How does the reader experience these changes?

 

The answers to these questions form the emotional pace of your story. To visually chart this, we can create an ECG in three steps.

1) Assign each scene in your novel a score out of 20.

Boulter suggests this framework:

1-5 points: scenes of “deliberation / recovery”

6-10 points: scenes of “intrigue / emotion”

11-15 points: scenes of emotional conflict or physical action

16-20 points: the vital scenes of “crisis and climax”.

 

2) Plot all your scenes on graph paper.

3) Join the dots.

Here’s an ECG for a novel with 40 scenes:

 

 

So how can the ECG help us to strengthen our novel’s emotional pacing?

  1. Avoid extended flatlines. Extended flatlines at any point will kill your novel. Too many contemplative navel-gazing scenes in a row, and the reader yawns. Too many blistering action scenes in a row, and the reader has nowhere to catch their breath. (“Oh…another murder?”)
  2. Aim for peaks and troughs. The goal is to change it up, so that readers progress through a series of tension-contemplation cycles. If your novel follows a conventional structure, these cycles will rise to a climax. For example, ECGs for novels based on the popular three-act structure will show a left peak, rising peaks (or crises) in the middle, and the largest peak to the right.

 

Boulter’s ECG is a fun technique that shows the reader’s emotional journey through your novel at a glance. Use it to manage your story’s pulse and guard the reader against heart attacks!

 

=============================

 

REFERENCES

 

Boulter, Amanda (2007) Writing Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches. Palgrave Macmillan.

You might be a writer if…

You know you’re a writer if:
You regularly include your tweets as part of your word count.
You spend more time staring at your blinking cursor than actually moving it.
You are afraid the FBI will investigate you based on your search history.
Friends and family have come to understand that anything they say or do can end up immortalized in print.
You have a clearly designated idea notebook into which you tape the napkins and bill envelopes you actually write your story ideas and notes on.
You consider staring into space to be a form of writing.
If you have ever finished a draft and then just deleted it.
If you have changed a major character’s name more than halfway through a story.
If you write poetry and hate always having to explain why some poems don’t rhyme.
 
If you have ever been looking through an old hard drive, CD, or notebook and found a story you once wrote that is actually pretty good!
If you have ever been looking through an old hard drive, CD, or notebook and found something you once wrote that is absolutely terrible and unsalvageable.
If someone asks what your story is about and you mumble something incoherent about three other stories that have tiny pieces of similarities to yours.
You have ever been *this* close to finishing a story only to have your brain insist that this other idea is too important not to write *right now*.
If you have ever delighted in fictionally destroying a person who was cruel to you in real life.
If you have ever used the same cup for coffee and wine in the same day.
If sending your novel out to it’s first beta reader is like sending your kid off on his first sleepover.
If the string of letters, “NaNoWriMo”, makes your heart start to race.
If you have ever cried for your own main character’s pain.
If you try to write off lattes at a coffee shop as a work expense.
Have one to add? Send us a comment!

The Secret to my College Success: How to get an A on any Essay

While it’s not strictly true that I got an A on every paper in college, it’s safe to say that I would have graduated with a 4.0 if all my grades rested only on my ability to write an essay. So gather your college hopefuls and struggling students. I now share with you the secrets to my success and how to implement them for your own purposes. It’s important to note that these tips are specifically related to playing the academic game, and not all can or shouldbe used to generally apply to writing an essay for purely literary purposes.

 

#1 Know your audience.

This is essential for any graded assignment. In attending lectures you will become aware of certain peculiarities and opinions held dearly by your professor. They don’t mean to, they do try to be objective, but opinions or stances that mirror our own just sound better. I remember laughing out loud at a comment scribbled in the margin of one of my essays; “very well stated!” Turns out, it was nearly a direct quote from her own observations in class. Does that mean you should be a sycophant and suck up at every opportunity? Absolutely not. In fact, if you disagree with a professor, absolutely take it on; but be sure that every opinion you know they have is addressed in some way or your argument is flawed. In fact, I once took a Semantics class that had two different textbooks with two different theories of semantics to consider. Our final paper asked that we choose one or the other and defend it. I couldn’t in good conscience do either, so I showed why both were wrong and suggested my own theory with the research to prove it. A+.

 

#2 Know your assignment.

Read your assignment carefully. Usually the professor plants in there all the clues for your success. This isn’t like writing for a publishing house or magazine you hope will be a good fit. They are literally telling you exactly what they want. Be sure you give it to them. Thinking outside the box is great and showing your creativity is even better, but not if it’s at the expense of your grade because you failed to meet the minimum requirements. If they want you to demonstrate your understanding of a scientific principle using three examples, make sure you have all three! If they want 1500 words, keep fleshing that out until it’s at least 1500 words. And if it’s a page requirement, don’t mess with the margins to make it work. Professors aren’t stupid, and they look at this stuff every day of their lives. They know a two-inch margin when they see it, and they will flay you. You can’t afford to miss an expectation that easy to meet, especially if writing is a challenge for you.

 

#3 A good outline saves lives.

Okay, friends. Here is the meat of it: I will be forever grateful for my high school English and History teachers who taught me the value of a good outline and how to write it into the first paragraph as a stellar introduction. This tip is especially effective for essay responses required on a timed test but can be adapted for nearly any informative essay. Your format is as follows:

Sentence(s) 1: Attention grabber. Start with an inspiring quote, restating the prompt in a creative way, and make it personal; whatever you can grab that is relevant and interesting. For example: “‘When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization,’ said Daniel Webster.”

Sentence(s) 2: A sentence or two that lists out the points you intend to prove, and there should be at least three points of discussion. For example: “The American Civil War impacted the lives of farmers in multiple ways. Not only did the war itself disrupt production and destroy valuable farming land, but the shift from great plantations to smaller farms led to changes in economy and family structure.” Do you see that? I now have my entire essay set up. I have stated my thesis, and I know where I need to go. I need one paragraph about the war and its impact on the land itself, I need one about the transition from slave-owning plantations to smaller farms, which transitions nicely into how the subjects of those two preceding paragraphs changed the economy, then how things changed for farming families or civilization… which ties into my quote that started it all.

Sentence 3: A bridge or transition from this to the next paragraph. Example: “The war changed the landscape literally and figuratively.”

Rinse and repeat. This format enables writers to quickly outline their thoughts in a few sentences. All you have to do is come up with at least three things to talk about related to the subject at hand. That’s not so hard as coming up with an entire essay and complete thoughts all at once. After this initial paragraph is set up, the essay practically writes itself. You know what comes next, you just need to flesh it out with thoughtful examples from history, evidence from the literary text, proof from an experiment; whatever the subject, these same principles apply.

 

#4 Transition well.

The body of the essay will start and end each paragraph with these transition sentences, which are often the hardest part, so I will sometimes skip them to be added back in once I have the body completed. The format of the middle paragraphs will echo the format of your introduction, with each point of discussion substituting for the overall thesis statement in the introduction. The structure should be as follows:

Sentence 1: Transition into this point

Sentence 2: Point 1 stated

Sentence 3-5: Examples of point 1, at least 3 of them

Sentence 6: Transition into the next point

As you can see, the transitions are a big part of smoothly moving from one subject to the next. Try to see how each idea is connected to the next, and highlight that.

 

#5 Stay on Target.

The meat of what you’ve studied and are now expected to communicate is the important element to get right. Make sure each paragraph stays on topic, shows relevant evidence of your point, and has at least three such evidences. If it’s a literary critique, this can be proof from the author’s life, a quote from the text, or a note about the meaning of a word at that time … whatever is needed to prove your point. History, science, and (I imagine) law are actually very easy to write essays about because there are actual facts and quotes about that event, or scientific experiments to draw from, legal precedents to relate. Again, you just focus on the three things needed to prove your point here. You can do this!

 

#6 Draw your conclusions.

This last paragraph is going to be more similar to the introduction, but not a parrot of it. This is where you pull together all the things you’ve described and proved throughout the essay. You need to mention the points you’ve made throughout, but it doesn’t have to be as explicit at this point because it’s been well fleshed out. If there is a way to reference back to the quote or beginning concept, great, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. The thesis should really shine here and be illuminated as truth now that you’ve proved all your points.

 

For example: “The lives of farmers were forever changed by the civil war in so many ways. With the demands of war on limited resources, farming changed in scope and technique, which in turn affected prices and market value, which changed the opportunities available for families. One could even say the war changed the foundation of civilization, as it transformed the life of the farmer.”

See how each main idea is covered, but in a new way, reflective of the information that would have been shared in detail throughout? The tip of the hat to the beginning quote in that last sentence may be a bit over the top, but it depends on your audience. Is that a concept they’ve really highlighted or resonated with during lecture? Then it will only help.

 

So there you have it, friends; the secret to my college success. My niece has used this advice to good effect in her college essays, and I hope it will do you proud, too. I am happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Reader Request: What Do Editors Write? By Catherine Foster

Reader Request: What Do Editors Write? By Catherine Foster

A reader of ours reached out and requested a blog article devoted to shining the spotlight on what is on our editors’ private writing dockets. This seemed like an idea for an interesting topic, but also an excellent time to demystify some myths associated with editors. While it is true we wield the dreaded red pen, we are just as often the subject of one ourselves. Many—I daresay most—editors begin as authors themselves, and a great number of them continue to write and submit their works as they support their clients, as well. So it may surprise you to learn that we are all in this thing together! Editors often pass work along to each other for a simple “brushing up” or for someone to “glance over”—as professionals, we understand the necessity of having a fellow editor check our work, but I’ll admit that it takes a lot of years before it gets easier to accept constructive criticism and learn to make necessary changes to our beloved writing! With time, we come to anticipate and expect the work that comes after the joy of writing, but even seasoned authors’ hearts sink a little when we open a document and see nothing but slashes through paragraphs, big sections omitted and huge notations in the margin for our perusal. I share this with you so that you know that we have the expertise as editors but also the humanity; we have walked in your shoes but are most likely walking with you even now as we share the process from the same side. Editing requires precision but also gentleness, and anyone who has been writing and submitting for some time has been shaped by experience enough to have both. Here is a list of what is inspiring and humbling us into the best editors we are at the moment:

Josh Smith: Josh has recognized that he is a much stronger editor than he is a writer, and as such has been spending most of his creative energies on projects of that nature, the most exciting of which is the first book release by Bedlam Publishing, where he is Editor-in-Chief. The seeds for “All of Yesterday’s Tomorrows: collected poems” by Ramez Qureshi were planted by Ali Eteraz four years ago, and fluctuated between various states of production until last year when all the pieces really started coming together. It will be out in hardcover and eBook editions this spring, and is Qureshi’s posthumous debut. Once the book hits the print shop, Josh will begin work on the next edition of Bedlam’s annual art & lit magazine, Loud Zoo. He is also editing pieces for a prospective collection by The LetterWorks’ very first client, Brett Petersen!

His only current project that doesn’t involve editorial work is something of a musical experiment. A passable percussionist and frequent found-object musician, he inherited a bass and has been attempting to incorporate it into his sonic palette. With a stack of lyrics already written and more coming all the time, he’s trying to figure out how to play the music that’s rattling around them in his head, and then he’s sure to bother anyone within earshot with … whatever it is he thinks he’s doing.

Amanda Wayne: Amanda is currently researching the effect of brevity on connotation and denotation and the way in which readers react to word choice. (Read: spends too much time on Twitter.) She is also doing a study on how repetitive iterations of children’s literature forces parents to reassess the importance of literacy. (If she has to read SkippyJon Jones one more time, Mama Junebug is going to be mourning the loss of her kittyboy.) Occasionally, she manages to jot down an idea for a story. These notes, when later fished out of the toy box and read, appear to be written in crayon and are actually sketches for inventions to get toddler pee out of battery powered toy trucks or prosthetic arms so that a mom can hold a baby and also make herself a sandwich.

Melissa Heiselt: Melissa doesn’t have any focused work in progress, but she’s always tucking away ideas and developments for a couple of larger fantasy pieces that will likely be marinating for years yet. She feels as if she has some foundational gaps that she needs to work through before she spend too much time writing a monstrosity (or two) that would need a massive overhaul. [ed. note: this is a completely unfounded sentiment] She’d rather have the bones laid straight from the start. She occasionally writes poetry. Since discovering Deep Magic, her new goal is to flesh out some short stories to submit to that E-zine. She preaches all the time about making regular time to write because she knows all too well what happens when you don’t! It’s a struggle to regain those writing muscles that have atrophied, and it’s a vicious cycle that makes you not want to write because your work just isn’t up to your own standards anymore, but the only solution is to keep writing more things!

TN Rosema: TN is an accomplished poet, author and editor who helms a longstanding writer’s group. Their interests are pre-writing and manuscript revision.

Catherine Foster: Catherine began publishing poetry at age ten and has been writing and submitting ever since. She moved on to short stories and recently counted her number of published titles in the seventies. She’s written and had moderate success with everything ranging from poetry to short stories to memoirs and even dabbled in writing scripts. Writing has always been a part of her life, but over the past few years she’s slowly evolved into editing more and more. At the moment, she spends her time writing to penpals in prison, which takes up quite a bit of the time that she used to devote to creative writing, but she feels it is a more worthy endeavor at this stage in her life. It is fair to say that she is retired from writing and submitting at this time and focusing solely on the business of editing and writing for volunteer purposes.

So that is our team! We all come from different backgrounds and are at varying stages in our careers. We have a wealth of knowledge and continue to evolve. The important thing to know is that we are editors and writers because we cherish the craft and respect the language, and we entered this field because we have a passion for helping others succeed. If you have any questions or if we can help you, please let us know in the comment section or email me directly at catherine@theletterworks.com. Until next time, happy writing!

 

 

When Less is Really More by Catherine Foster

Did the Edmund Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo, have an accent? What color was the dress Emma Bovary wore when she swallowed the vial of arsenic? When Van Helsing hunted Dracula, did he wear his brown boots or his black ones? Did Odysseus wax poetic upon the length of Circe’s hair before she turned his crew into swine? Was Lancelot born with blue eyes or brown?

You probably never thought to ask these questions because they aren’t that germane to the story or even that interesting to ponder. Some details of stories are important to note. For instance, it is a key plot point that Harry Potter bore a lightning-bolt-shaped-scar on his forehead. It is less important for us to know that Hermione has buckteeth and frizzy hair. It might be crucial to the fairytale Cinderella to mention that there is a slipper, but it is not pivotal to reveal that the shoe is made of glass. How can we know which things are necessary to include in our writing and which ones we should leave out?

This is a question, of course, of personal preference. There is no central rule that applies, and this article can only serve to illustrate one viewpoint, which is to champion the cause of minimalism. In the course of my career as an editor, I have seen many mistakes the authors make, and one that touches my heart most is when the frank earnestness of well-intentioned authors causes a mess of florid prose to pile up on the page. We often enter this craft because we have a love of words. Many of us have had a calling to write or have been writing stories since we were children. Some of us have vivid worlds and characters inside our heads that are fairly bursting out onto the page. It may seems counter-intuitive or even close to impossible to pull back on description. And why should we?

The answer is simple: when you include extraneous detail, you rob the reader of the experience of their own imagination. What color is the little mermaid’s hair? For those of you who have seen the popular cartoon, it is a memory that is now branded foremost in your mind. But in the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen, it merely says, by turns, “flowing” “long” “thick” “waving” and “beautiful.” Never, at any time, does he describe a color. This leaves you free to imagine a mermaid and her beautiful hair any way you see fit—until, of course, you watch a Disney version.

Why is this important? Because Mr. Andersen undoubtedly had an idea in his own mind about what constituted beauty. We might surmise that, as a person of Danish ancestry, he might find the standard of beauty to include traditional blondes with fine features. This is conjecture, of course, but whatever Mr. Andersen considered beautiful, he did not impose his own ideas into the story. As an author, he must have had an active imagination, and he must have had a firm idea in his head of what his little mermaid looked like, but by not imposing those ideas on us, the audience, we are each free to imagine her as a blonde, a brunette, a redhead, even Chinese or African. He gifted us a blank slate and said “beautiful”—this allows each of us to imagine her in our own mind. As standards of beauty change throughout the decades, the little mermaid stays fresh and relevant. Her hair color isn’t important. The author’s idea of beauty isn’t important. Each person’s unique vision remains a gift through each retelling.

Many authors want to fight for the right to hold onto their vision of their story. That is understandable, but is it more important than the right of each reader to discover the magic of their own imagination? If it is a crucial detail, then by all means, include that detail. But if you include a detail that is for your own purpose, just to communicate your own vision, you are robbing people of a reading experience for no purpose than your own ego. It is similar to watching the movie before reading the book—which do you prefer? Which makes a more lasting impact? Explaining details instead of allowing for imagination, even on a small scale, makes for one less bit of interest they will have in your story and your vision. The more you explain to someone, the less they are invested and the less they care. If they imagine for themselves, they will come to love your tale more. You will gain more in the end with restraint.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This is something I urge every author to take to heart. It should be the guiding principle not of writing, but of editing. Trust yourself, but also trust your readers. They will thank you for it in the end, and you will see your fans multiply!