Monday, April 22, 2013

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, April 22, 2013 12 comments
I've asserted in previous posts that studying poetry will make you a better writer, no matter what genre you aspire to master. Poetry uses a number of techniques that I believe are quite transferable to other kinds of writing.

Today, I'll begin a short series called "Stolen from poets" that explores some of those techniques and how to use them in your own writing. I'll try to keep these brief and focused, tackling one technique at a time.

Sound devices, part 1: Assonance


The thinking behind sound devices is often onomatopoetic; the sound and meaning are linked.Today I'd like to focus specifically on assonance--repeated vowel sounds--and how they can carry emotions.

morguefile.com

Consider these examples. Say them aloud. How do they make you feel?

1. John groped for his coat in hopes the Tylenol bottle hadn’t dropped through the hole in his pocket.

2. Lisa worried they'd think her rude if she cooed at their cute baby, so she chewed her lip while brooding on his tiny blue shoes.

3. Wading deeper into the creek, Ross felt the coldness seep through his sneakers. Shining eyes seemed to peek through the reeds. A cheeping frog sent a shriek of fear streaking up his spine, but he ground his teeth. Must stay silent. Must not be weak.


In my first example, Can you feel John's inner ache? The repeated oh, oh, aah, ahh,make the passage seem to moan and groan on the page. The repeated O sounds (both short and long) make you verbalize John's pain response.

In my second example, Lisa's entire inner monologue does coo at the cute baby, even if she refuses to do it aloud. The repeated long U sound carries it. This is an excellent, subtle way to add layers of meaning to your character's thoughts. Characters might consciously deny something while the sounds in their words convey a deeper, hidden, unconscious desire for the denied thing.

In my third example, the creepy feeling is reinforced by a series of little shrieks, like one might hear upon having a bug scurry over bare skin: Eeek! Ross is screaming inside, even if he's being tough and silent on the outside.

Your turn:
Chose an emotion you want to convey and think of the most primal sound you associate with it, such as Os for groaning with pain, Es for screaming with fright. Write a sentence, paragraph or scene in which you repeat the sounds.

Hint: a rhyming dictionary will help you identify words with the vowel sounds you need.

How might you use this technique today to improve your writing?

12 comments:

  1. I've never been good at poetry, but I can definitely see how it can benefit you in developing a feeling.

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    1. Some readers had asked me to talk about how I use "poetic techniques" when writing ficton, so a series idea was born.

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  2. What a great idea for a creative writing prompt. I am definitely going to use this idea. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Glad it inspired you Rechelle. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. What a wonderful way to make your prose more prominent in your writing. (Hugs) Indigo

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    1. Great to see you again, Indigo. Sound patterns can be a effective tool in prose for sure.

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  4. I've use this before, but never to convey emotion. Great ideal, Laurel!

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    1. Sorry it's taken me a while to respond to your request to get this series started. I'm going to have a blast with it though. Thanks for the inspiration. And have fun playing with assonance in your stories. I find it easiest to layer in this stuff in revision.

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  5. I've done this before, but I'm always worried about overdoing it. That the reader might "notice" it/be distracted by it. Do you think that's a legitimate concern? Or am I just worrying about one thing too many?

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    1. My examples are probably a bit too rhymey, which is distracting--this is where a rhyming dictionary can actually help, because it categorizes by vowel sound first. If it's just the vowels repeated without repeating the end sound, it actually is fairly hidden. The brain tends to latch onto consonant sounds more.

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  6. As a lover of poetry, I couldn't agree with you more about its influence on all types of writing. You do such a great job of showing all of us how to incorporate it!

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    1. Because poetry is so craft-driven, it has much to teach that's applicable to other kinds of writing for sure.

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