Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Write Club: Week #6 -- Poetic Basis

Hey y'all.  I've been noticing that in my group that while we do a lot of fun exercises, what we don't do is work on our own stuff.  So this week's meeting was pretty casual.  I did do a few beginning exercises, just because it's fun and you get to see how people think.

The exercises this week had to do with poetic basis.  Basically, symbolism.  If you notice, all good poetry is more or less symbolic, and by this I mean saying something without actually saying it.  So we practiced a little with a few subjects.

The first subject was a monkey.  So, we had to say mention a monkey without actually saying the word monkey.  It's really cheap to say something like, "a long armed primate with fur" or something bland like that.  The point of the exercise is to learn to say something unique, so that when you get to a spot in your narrative where you find yourself bored in writing, you go around the boredom by describing it another way.  For example, in the Sherlock Holmes series, Holmes tells someone that he could be hanged.  But does he say "you'll be hanged"?  No, he says that the British people will create a new tavern called "the Dangling Prussian".  Now isn't that unique?

So back to monkies.  How do you describe one this way?  Here's a couple examples.

- The primitive beast looked out at me with almost intelligent eyes, but its covering of furr clearly distinguished it from my brother.

- Darwin's symbol, representing the most eloquent symbol of science, flung its poo at the zoo director.

So yeah.  What I did here was attach the monkey to two different things: the character's brother and Darwin.  This is how you add it to your writing.  You connect seemingly unrelated things, just as Sherlock connected hanging to a bar.

In the second exercise, I had us describe a monastery without saying it, because that's the setting for one of my writer's stories.  Here's what I wrote:

- Oh delightful castle of untouched bachelors! ...All too preoccupied with reading and praying to pay much attention to the lonely single girl.  Caught up in the raptures of ancient, philosophic literature, what could the presence of a woman do but bring them down from those lofty heights?  I kicked at the stone pathway, bitter at each cloaked monk.  Was I really less appealing than Gregorian chants and puttering around in a vegetable garden?  That's what these not particularly eligible singles did all day, in their centuries old house of stone.

You'll notice that I was not just describing a monastery, but how the character felt about it.  Namely, bitter and jealous.  This is a useful technique in spicing up your long narratives: instead of just explaining what the character sees (which is fine from time to time, especially at important settings), you use them to show attitudes or foreshadow the future.

For my third example, I chose an abstract concept, loneliness.  This is of course very difficult, because it exists in several different situations and can look any number of ways.

- Drifting off in space, the battleship spun gently.  Friction was gone in the quiet, worldless expansion.  Bits of shrapnel flew around, the only remnant of the battle squadrons.  Derek stayed near the window, keeping his grasp on one of the bars installed on the wall in just this circumstance: the loss of gravity.  He did not try the communications system.  He didn't look out the window in the hopes of seeing a friendly ship.  And he didn't look behind him to see if any of his crewmates remained; he wanted to retain memories of them as living people, not as bodies floating about.  All Derek did was stare outside, watching the stars his mighty war vessel, now a crippled bucket of metal, drifted into forever.  He said nothing and thought of nothing, especially not the faint, half-powered alarm bell that meant oxygen levels were dropping rapidly.

This is quite a troublesome example, yes?  One member's example was no better.  She described loneliness as being trapped in a field where no one would hear you if you rotted to bones.  Apparently we both associate loneliness with death.  Lovely.  But in any case, if you find yourself getting stuck on a story, you can pick a related emotion and build the setting around that emotion.  For example, drifting shrapnel in space has a lonely feeling, as does bones in a prairie.

So where are you stuck?  Pick an emotion, a metaphor, or your character's attitudes, and spice up your scene.  You can do it!

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