A great deal of the art of lovely prose is its rhythm and the connection of the rhythm to meaning. Varying sentence structure and making the structures appropriate to your mood, intent, etc., is critical, as if fitting the rhythms together in a musical way. However, there is one dirty little trick that anyone can use . . .
(The above quote is from a now defunct website, ergo, I removed the link in this post.) A lot of us hear our narrative in beats and write in the same. We also have a lot of trouble *not* rewriting mentally when reading passages that don’t do the same. We want to hear the music in the text.
Here’s an example from LUV U MADLY; I’ve bolded the beats as I hear them in each of the sentences:
He shifted beneath her, adjusted his erection, slipped his hand between their bodies to cover her breast.
Her whimper filled his mouth, and he kissed her harder, rolled her nipple with his finger and thumb.
I’ll add to what Lydia said based on what I heard LaVyrle Spencer once say during a workshop she gave – and that’s to end a passage, a scene, or even a chapter on the most important word rather than burying it in the middle of a sentence.
I often have to rework a sentence several times to get the rhythm right and to get the last word where it needs to be! Here’s a sentence from the same LUM scene:
And when he finished, the shiver that ran through him shook loose the wrapping with which she’d carefully packaged her heart.
I could have said:
And when he finished, the shiver that ran through him shook loose the wrapping around her heart that she’d packaged so carefully.
See, er, hear the difference? Heart is the important word in the sentence, scene, chapter and so I made sure to word the sentence to put it at the end while still structuring the sentence in beats. (Rushing through here, so that’s not the best example in the world, but you get the idea!)
Today at Paperback Writer, Lynn Viehl is talking about poetry and Sage Cohen’s book WRITING THE LIFE POETIC. I know next to nothing about poetry, not about iambic pentameter or modernist and post-modernist, though I do love me a good Haiku and for awhile was Twittering in Haiku form. That said, PBW’s post reminded me of my discovery of Kim Addonizio. Her work is gritty and raw and real, and it’s the same tone that I find in many of my favorite fiction authors, where prettiness isn’t used to cover up the truth, but potent words are used to convey it.
Since I’m such a blogging failure these days, I thought I’d share a couple of her poems that are available online at Poets.org and PoemHunter.com, and urge you to check her out. (Disclaimer: The poems aren’t necessarily included in the covers of the volumes shown. I just grabbed those for illustration purposes.)
You Don’t Know What Love Is
but you know how to raise it in me
like a dead girl winched up from a river. How to
wash off the sludge, the stench of our past.
How to start clean. This love even sits up
and blinks; amazed, she takes a few shaky steps.
Any day now she’ll try to eat solid food. She’ll want
to get into a fast car, one low to the ground, and drive
to some cinderblock shithole in the desert
where she can drink and get sick and then
dance in nothing but her underwear. You know
where she’s headed, you know she’ll wake up
with an ache she can’t locate and no money
and a terrible thirst. So to hell
with your warm hands sliding inside my shirt
and your tongue down my throat
like an oxygen tube. Cover me
in black plastic. Let the mourners through.
I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what’s underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I’m the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment
from its hanger like I’m choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin,
it’ll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.