Poetic Novels: Oxymoronic?
By cherylsnell on March 18, 2011
When a writer I know proudly called her prose "poetic," she meant to highlight its lush language. She was crestfallen when readers found it weedy, overgrown, and humid. Decked-out, souped-up language that calls attention to itself isn't poetic in the best sense.There are subtler elements to consider when writing a long piece. Sonics, for instance, count heavily in an art form meant to be heard. Rhythm, cadence, and phrasing, are all musical elements that drive a story and make a reader want to turn the pages.
The opening sentence from my novel Shiva's Arms -- When the Sambashivans ordered the unsuitable bride and family black sheep back to India, the couple had to obey, tumbling from their brass bed on the appointed morning to dress in love beads, batik, and peace- sign jewelry -- uses the "s" sounds in the family name (its sibilance is more effective than a hard-edged, abrupt or guttural-sounding name would have been) to sing to the "s" in "unsuitable". Giving way to a string of "b" sounds (bride, brass bed, beads, batik), the sentence underscores sensory details that call to the reader and invite her in.
When I render a "rapid blooming of a state of existential dread"(a wonderful phrase from M.Biberman's review of the novel) with a series of flattened "a" sounds stress the important words (last,dragged, backward) in a climactic passage like this one:"...it would be the last sound she ever heard on earth. She felt herself being dragged backward," I want the reader to experience the action through sound. Piling up short sentences, clauses, or even fragments with punctuation that evokes panic can leave a reader gasping for breath.
On the other hand, alternating long sentences with short ones can create a wave-like relaxation in the reader's mind. This passage takes place at the seaside, and the rhythm of long-short-long-short connects to both meaning and mood: "A trick of the wind hurried her supplications on to the shore as the water slapped sand. The air clacked with finger cymbals. Nela waded out waist-deep into the river, the murti in her elbow’s crook while a flotilla of figurines streamed by, streaked features half- erased, trunks of clay dissolving. She released her icon like a bad debt; like a broken promise,"
The takeaway: if the sound of your prose connects to its meaning, you will have a richer piece of work.
Cheryl Snell http://www.shivasarms.blogspot.com/
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