Tagged with "ex-pat writers"
Are you a poet and you didn't know it? Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers poetry

Some members of Writers Abroad write poetry. Some of us don’t. If I’m honest, I am always slightly uncomfortable critiquing a poem, since I don’t feel qualified in the technical aspects. I often read the winning poems in Writing Magazine competitions, but I skip over the accompanying critique.

The leader of our writing group suggested recently that we look at using poetry to sharpen our prose.

“Let’s all try writing a Haiku for homework,” she said.

I wondered if I could plead a prior engagement for our next meeting. I’ve heard of Haikus (Japanese poem of 17 syllables divided into 3 lines of 5, 7 and 5 non-rhyming syllables), but this will be my first attempt at writing poetry since I was a child. And that was pretty turgid stuff.

When I read the material she circulated about using poetic techniques in writing prose, my interest was pricked. Poets use words to present an image or an idea, often in a very economical way. I learned that the first line of a poem is crucial in challenging or surprising the reader and setting up the idea. The last line is equally important in rounding off the theme. The two provide a unity that the lines in between develop. Try applying this to one of your favourite poems.

I tried this with John Donne, one of my poets of choice.

1st line: No man is an island entire of itself

Last line: And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

In between: development of the theme of our common humanity.

Sounds familiar? You can apply this to the first and last lines of a short story or a novel. Is the theme clear from the start? Have you taken the reader on a journey from a problem or a challenge to a destination? Does what happens in between develop that journey?

The use of individual words or phrases is also significant. To keep the reader’s interest, poets have to find new ways of presenting emotions or describing images without falling back into cliché. The novelist Helen Dunmore was a poet. The language in her novels shines. She sometimes used words that made you sit up, but when you thought about it, you knew they were exactly right.

Have a look at one of your works in progress, identify any clichéd language or emotion and try to come up with more original turns of phrase. Focus particularly on the first paragraph or two.

Now I am off to tackle the biggest writing challenge of the year so far: composing a Haiku.

Wear your heart on your sleeve Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers writing emotion

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by [Ackerman, Angela, Puglisi,Becca]

Portraying emotion is one of the most difficult things in writing. I certainly have to work hard at it, although I have improved since I first joined Writers Abroad many moons ago. My local writing group has spent a number of sessions trying to pin down what constitutes a good portrayal of emotion.

We have each brought examples of writing from published authors. I chose the opening passages of Hannah Kent’s The Good People, which illustrate grief. We have done a number of writing exercises (you might like to try these). One involved writing about a farmer who is grieving for his dead son, but we couldn’t mention the son or his death or any words that signal emotion. Instead, we had to describe the farmer’s barn and convey in the details his sense of loss. In another exercise, we had to write about someone standing on a beach looking at the sea, but we could choose the emotion. I found both exercises difficult.

After doing a lot of work on this, we have drawn several conclusions.

  • Make readers feel with the characters and evoke a reaction. They have to feel the joy or the fear or the anger. They have to care about what happens to your characters, even if they are not sympathetic personalities.
  • This means showing what characters are feeling and not reporting it to your readers. So “thought” words like thinks, knows, understands, realises, believes, wants, remembers, imagines, desires, etc. are out. Loves and hates are also no-nos. This is bad news for me.
  • Show characters’ emotions through their interactions with other people and their environment, and their actions and gestures. This means avoiding long soliloquies, which hold up the action and drag you back into using those “thought” words. Again, bad news for me.
  • Vary the intensity of the emotions. Even in a thriller, the main character can’t be scared or apprehensive all the time. It’s as exhausting for the reader as it is for the character.

There’s a lot more to it, of course. Whole books have been written about showing and not telling. Also, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know all this, so I’m not telling you anything new. However, if you’re like me, you find it maddeningly difficult to do it well.

Help is at hand, though. Someone recommended to me The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. This book lists 75 emotions and suggests ways of expressing them, including body language. Want to convey anger, envy or joy? Turn to the relevant page and you have a range of helpful suggestions.

The book is a helpful starting point, but it’s always a good idea to think up your own metaphors and turns of phrase to describe emotions. If you rely too much on a primer, your creative muscle goes flabby.

Now I’m off to expunge all those “thought” words from my WiP…

 

    

This Week on Writers Abroad 29th January
Category: Site News
Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers

January is almost over, thank goodness. Here in SW France it's been one of the gloomiest I can remember in 20 years. At least the evenings are starting to draw out and I've had plenty of time for writing.

Yesterday’s Formal Chat was somewhat sparsely attended, and I am one of the culprits with a last-minute commitment. Lesley will be posting up the minutes soon, so take a moment to read them and to look through the Skype chat if you have time.

Bruce’s blog post bemoans the need to shovel snow, since he lives in Sweden where it’s abundant, but it has provided him with some inspiration for snow poems.

Nicola has posted this week’s Monday Muses, a great selection to choose from with something for everyone, including – quelle surprise! – a horse picture. The usual drill: 500 words-ish or a poem in 20 minutes or so. Just let it flow.

The Bragging Stool is, as ever, groaning beneath the combined weight (no offence intended!) of Bruce and Debbie, who both appear in the latest issue of ArtAscent (Portraits), Chris and Sue whose flash pieces were accepted by Ad Hoc last week (how many weeks is that, Sue?) and Angela, who has had a flash fiction piece accepted by Cake Magazine.

STOP PRESS: Ad Hoccer par excellence Sue's interview with Ad Hoc is now up on the Bath Flash Fiction Award website. You can read it here

The February Challenges and Opportunities will be posted up this week and there is still Jill’s piece for the Swanwick Comp in the January forum. I’m sure she would appreciate additional comments.

In addition, there are various pieces posted in the Works in Progress forum, including Bruce’s ongoing ‘Medium Rare’ novella, so critiquing comments would, I’m sure, be welcome.

That’s all this week. If I’ve missed anything or got anything wrong please let me know.

Have a creative week. I’m off to get on with novel no. 3.

 

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The House at Zaronza
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The Duke's Shadow
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Foreign & Far Away
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Break Out
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Deadly Pursuit
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Big Book of New Short Horror
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Tiger of Talmare
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