The Poetics of Prose: 10 Crossover Truths for Fierce Writing

Sage CohenCraft tips, The life poetic0 Comments

Language is the current that story travels on. It is the scaffolding of story. It is the engine. It needs to support the house. It needs to flow into the big waters. It needs to provide the most efficient transportation for where you want your reader to go. I taught a workshop last weekend called “Fierce on the Page” as part of Jessica Morrell’s fabulous Making it in Changing Times conference. Together, some very astute writers and I contemplated how the craft of poetry can inform fierce prose that reaches and transforms the reader. The distillation of our hour and a half together is this top-10 list:

  1. SHOW AND TELL: Make imagery and explanation work powerfully together to evoke vivid scenes and instruct the reader about their meaning.
  2. LET VOICE BE AUTHENTIC: Use words that express the narrator’s / characters’ temperament and predicament.
  3. MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT: Seek maximum potency in the language you choose. Consider whether there’s a more impactful way to convey the same thought, feeling or idea. Can passive verbs become active? Can modifiers be cut? Should “dropped” be changed to “plummeted”?
  4. BRING IN THE BODY: Engage the reader’s senses by crafting a tangible world for them to taste, feel, see and hear.
  5. GROUND IT WITH SOUND: Create tones that echo the story’s emotions and action. Repeating sounds can create unity and music.
  6. OWN THE PACING: Construct the rhythm of language and pacing of sentences and paragraphs to control the reader’s movement through the story.
  7. LET THE WORLD IN: Illuminate the emotional world of your characters with the physical world and its lighting, weather and street noise.
  8. TELL THE TRUTH: Discover what is emotionally true (not necessarily literally true) in your writing and strive to let it rise like steam from your well-prepared feast.
  9. SHAKE THINGS UP: Never stop experimenting with ways to make language serve your story.
  10. FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY: The fierce writer persists.

What makes your prose fierce? How have you employed strategies on this list? If you write both poetry and prose, how has one influenced the other? Is there anything you disagree with here?

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