Monday, August 31, 2015

Using Poetry to Improve Prose, Part 1 (guest blogger)

I'm Aline Soules, writer, singer, and librarian.  As a writer, I choose subjects that move me and I choose my genre according to my subject matter.  My latest chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow's Journey, emerged from my many years of widowhood and I sought, through poetry, to honor my late husband and speak about the inner journey of widowhood.  Poetry is not my only genre, however.  Currently, I'm working on a novel and I also write academic articles and reports as part of my work as a librarian.  Regardless of my writing genre, I benefit the principles of poetry to improve my end result and you can, too.  In part 1 of this blog post, I offer general ideas to polish your work and discuss grammar, usage, and word play.  Check back later for part 2.
General Ideas
·         Show, don't tell.  Whenever you can explain your point through a concrete, specific example, the more likely your reader will get the point.
·         Choose point of view with purpose.   If you want a conversational, informal approach, "I" or "we" may be your best choice.  If you are writing a formal piece, an objective point of view may serve you better. 
·         Choose the right title.  Some titles come easily; some are more difficult.  Make sure your title feels "right" to you.
Grammar, Usage, Word Play
·         Verbs.  Do you want the immediacy of the present tense or a description of something that happens in past tense?  Once that decision is made, make sure you choose the correct tense for time relationship:  sit, sat, has sat, had sat.  Check for consistency.  Do you want direct action or a more passive sentence structure?  Avoid participial forms, if possible:  "sit" is better than "is sitting." Are there "punchier" verbs you can choose?  Verbs are the action and strong words of your sentence.  Make the most of them.
·         Concentrate on verbs and nouns.  Adjectives and adverbs have their place, but be sparing.  For description, make sure the adjectives contribute to the meaning and aren't just "there."  Adverbs should be avoided whenever possible.  The best way to check is to remove them all as part of your final check list.  Put back only those you need.
·         Choose the right "little" words—prepositions, conjunctions, definite and indefinite articles.  Again, as part of your final check list, take them all out and put back only those you need.  This will help to make your work more dense and give it more impact.
·         Check your "references".  It's amazing how misplaced modifiers can creep into your writing.  Clauses should refer to the immediately preceding word or phrase.
·         Switch things around:  words, phrases, clauses, whole blocks of text.  Rearrange and reverse to test the order. 
·         Experiment with paragraph lengths and chapter lengths.  Shorter is lighter; longer is more dense.  What feeling do you wish to convey?
·         Highlight your best sentences and see if you can bring the rest of your work up to the level of what you highlighted.
·         Use repetition with care.
Aline Soules, Author
Goodreads:  Aline Soules

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