Thursday, April 16, 2009

Make Your Prose Sing & Zing

Words are not just symbolic constructions put on paper. They breathe with sound and resonance from their syntax and phonetical tone. When strung together, they can create music. Sometimes it can be a chaotic mess, sometimes a concerto. Here are some things you can do to help your give your prose more zing.

Find your true voice. That is probably one of the most difficult things for writers to get right, but it is a necessary process if you want to be successful.

Voice is a combination of your unique way of expression, your vocabulary, your inflections and your poured out perspective. It is the way you relay things most naturally and vividly. No matter what the tone of your work, once you publish, readers will eventually come to know your work by your voice. It is part of your brand. You can broaden and sharpen your diction of pen by building your vocabulary and learning proper grammar, but you can't really hone it. Voice must flow out from the depths of your soul. Sometimes it takes a bit of practice and sometimes you have to block out other sources, but keep working and you will find it. You will be writing one day, and it will just click in place. It will emerge.

Vary your sentence length. Many short sentences can make for a choppy read. And many long-winded ones can become exhausting to read. Mix it up. This will give your prose a great rhythm and meter to follow.

Drive in some undertones. Secret currents flowing within your work can come from symbolic imagery, metaphors, parallel nuances that drive home the themes. My novel has a chess theme but it doesn't really have anything to do with chess. It's more a live representation of chess. There's a struggle to outwit and defeat opposition, to overcome conflict and ones weaknesses, to win. Hints of chess are everywhere from my character's name being Majesty to some sort of mind game going on, and then its move-for-move action and references to kings, queens and pawns and a project called Checkmate. Satanism and Wicca have very small roles and my deliberate word choices in both narrative and dialogue reflect this: as if by magic, enchantment, bedazzled, wicked game, swallowed up by darkness. I tie many links to chess and evil that are closer to subliminal cues than overtly drawn points.

Sorry to let the secret out, but writing is all about manipulation and undercurrents help steer your readers into making assumptions. That's why twists are so much fun.

Ignore that compulsion to let it all out at the onset. It's better if you spill details a little at a time. In the first chapter of Kings & Queens, I mention a girl disappearing years ago, then in the second chapter, I use word choices to convey that an alienated character once received condolences. Later on, I reveal in dialogue that it was his sister who disappeared. And three-quarters of the way through, I finally reveal what really happened to her and why. This is a very minor point in my book, a detail I used to bring some history to the town. I could have just given this all in a paragraph of exposition in chapter one, but it's much more fun for readers to uncover this info bit by bit. I have many instances where I hint at something and then give more pieces later. Using a varying degree of reveal for even the small things creates an overall good tempo and helps readers to stay engaged and interested.

Let your inner poet dance on your pages once in a while. Poetic devices like alliteration—the repetition of initial consonant sounds, assonancethe repetition of vowel sounds, personificationendowing animals, ideas, or inanimate objects with human traits or abilities, and hyperboleintentional exaggeration, can all give your prose a more interesting ring.

Experiment with phraseology. Changing up words can give your work an entirely different feel. I had to work at some scenes and write them several different ways before I struck the perfect chords. Different words can alter the tone and texture dramatically. I love words, so this is my favorite exercise. Twist things up and use words in creative ways.

There are many things you can go do make your prose come alive and sound zingy and fresh. Don't just write a book. When you're going through to edit, make sure your work gets molded into an artistic treasure, a literary song, bursting with enticing sounds and intonations. Make it not just a reading pleasure but a listening pleasure as well. It will make your work stand out from the slush and readers may not even understand why.
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

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