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Monday, December 10, 2012

Putting Some Poetry in Prose

My brother is a smart cookie. Sure, he needs directions to get to the mailbox, but when it comes to the book smarts, he's a genius. He's my fellow classic lit buff in the family. He said something the other day that really struck a chord:

"Poetry," he said, "is all about mystery."

And I think he's right; we're just as fascinated by what isn't included as what is. For every magically descriptive phrase, there are five hundred that are missing, and filling in the blanks is half the fun.

My favorite poem has always been and will always be "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. Maybe not the most original choice, but with just a few lines, I'm there, alongside that road, smelling the sweat that's steaming up off the horse, listening. I think maybe that's because I've spent so many cold, crisp evenings watching the stars, smelling horses and dreaming.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep
We know it's snowing, we know it's just before Christmas because it's "the darkest evening of the year", but I'm always left curious.
Where are they going? Where have they come from? What's the horse's name? Are they just outside the city? Or deep in the silent rural part of the world? What promises has he made? Who is this man?
And on and on.
This mystery makes poetry fascinating. And it's an element of poetry I like to see in prose fiction.

It's always disappointing to read a romance novel in which there is no mystery. If the characters are hot and the crazy sex they have in a club bathroom the first time they meet is hot, and they're super cool and badass and hot and horny and they make erotic growling sounds (seriously, I don't want to read "erotic growling sounds" in one more book, people) and they're just so hot and badass and perfect for each other...then at no point as a reader did I make an emotional or mental connection with either character. Nor did the characters achieve that sort of connection with each other. When it's all sex all the time and it's all hanging out, there's no mystery. There's no poetry. And it's difficult for a reader to empathize with the the bond the characters share.

Poetry in prose is creating a fascination in both the characters and the readers. Characters don't have to be Hollywood hot, they just need to be beautiful and captivating in the eyes of their love interests. Just like a poem captivates with a snapshot - a sudden, startling image that leaves us with more questions than answers - a character can captivate the same way.

From Dream of You:

"In the dappled play of moonlight and shadow, she looked timeless. She could have been a medieval princess, a pinup, or a ghost."

"His eyes looked almost turquoise in the last ambient glow of sunlight, full of gold flecks and deep as ocean water. His gaze wasn't predatory, he didn't leer at her, but watched her with an attention that made eye contact difficult to maintain."

Details are important. They build up the mystery and fascination in the minds of characters and deepen the bonds between them. Put a little poetry in your prose, and the novel goes from story to vicarious experience. I know which I prefer.



  1. Thank you for reminding us all that a story should be beautiful, and interesting. So many of those in the bookstore now all have the same plot, or lack there of, and so little detail that all one would have to do would be to change the characters names and the title of the book to make another sale. It is highly disappointing! So nice to read something fresh and creative!!

    1. I'm sure my sales suffer for it, but I'm a bit of a book snob. I'd like to think there are those out there who can appreciate that.