How to Write More Poetically
Writing in simple language is probably the most overlooked and underrated principle in the entire writing realm. The majority of your writing should be short, snappy and to the point.
There’s nothing worse than coming across an article you’re interested in, only to be greeted with long-winded, convoluted sentences riddled with out-of-place $5 words from a self-indulgent scribe.
As Stephen King said, trying to dress up your words to impress your audience is like dressing up your household pet in evening wear. It’s going to be embarrassing for both of you.
Does simple mean boring? Nothing could be further from the truth. But don’t forget to add the seasoning. Just as salt enhances the flavour of food to make it taste more like itself, sprinkling a few stylistic techniques into your piece can really bring out your writing umami and help produce more poetic prose.
As you probably remember from grade school, a simile is used to compare two things often using the words ‘like or ‘as’.
There are few things more delightful than a well-used simile. When a simile hits its mark it paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind’s eye eliciting an image of two unrelated objects or ideas colliding to produce a richer understanding of the writer’s intention.
“The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean.” — The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The unhappy Hook was as impotent as he was damp, and he fell forward like a cut flower.” — Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
Alliteration is a method of using the same letter (or sound) of multiple connected words.
Nothing jazzes up your writing like a little alliteration. When applied with the proper dose, alliteration provides a catchy rhythm that makes your sentences dance off the page with a head-bobbing beat that pleases the reader's eyes and ears.
“But four hours later the fish was still swimming steadily out to sea, towing the skiff, and the old man was still braced solidly with the line across his back.”-The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”- Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
Hyperbole is when you wildly exaggerate statements to make them stand out. They are not meant to be taken literally.
We all have that hyperbolic friend. Too much of them can be exhausting and grow old, but just the right amount of them and they are hilarious and amusing. Hyperbole is often used for dramatic effect in a way that really hammers the point home.
I’ve told you a million times.
He was as big as a house.
I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that attaches a word or phrase to an object or action to provide a more lucid description for the reader.
Much like the beloved simile, the metaphor is used to paint pictures in the reader’s mind. However, the metaphor compares elements without the use of ‘like’ or ‘as’.
A good metaphor can make a complex idea much easier to understand for your reader through its imagery. Metaphors are wonderful tools to add color and texture to enhance your description.
“The sun in the west was a drop of burning gold that slid near and nearer the sill of the world.” — Lord of the Flies, William Golding
“Love is a Battlefield” — Pat Benatar
Parallelism is the grammatical congruence of a sentence. It’s defined as two or more phrases or clauses in a sentence that have the same structure. Its usage creates a rhythm by repetition of grammatical elements and produces a tempo that is attractive to the ear.
Parallelism is all about balance. Much like we strive for balance in our personal lives, we should also aim to balance our writing. Balanced writing is much easier to read and provides a harmony that can make your words powerful and memorable.
When sentence structures are not parallel, your writing can sound clumsy or choppy.
NOT parallel: John likes running, fishing, and to play tennis.
Parallel: John likes running, fishing and playing tennis.
“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” -John F. Kennedy
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” -Neil Armstrong
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that uses contradictory terms to create rich narrative.
Oxymorons can add a variety of flavour to your writing to give it meaning and description. They can enhance a reader’s understanding of a complex idea, create a dramatic effect, and elicit humour.
They are great tools for writers because they are contradictory in nature, making them useful in describing conflicting emotions.
Onomatopoeia is defined as the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it.
Not only is it an immensely fun word to say, it’s also extremely useful to help make your writing sing. Most notably used in comic books (Pow!, Kablam! Zap!) onomatopoeia can be useful in bringing your words alive in all sorts of writing.
From a whispering ‘hisssss’ to a thundering ‘BANG’, it’s an engaging technique to keep your readers entertained.
Snap, crackle, pop!
The bacon sizzled and hissed on the stove.
Imagery is the use of layered description or figurative language to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind.
While a metaphor is a figure of speech, and a simile is a comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’, imagery is a technique that incorporates the five senses to create vibrant descriptions to make your writing come to life.
When using imagery, take a journey into your own mind’s eye. Put yourself in the situation that you are trying to describe. What does it smell like? What do you see? What are the sounds? If you can convey those thoughts into your writing you’re more likely to transport the reader into your shoes.
“The vast swells of the omnipotent sea; the surging, hollow roar they made, as they rolled along the eight gunwales, like gigantic bowls in a boundless bowling-green. — Moby Dick, Herman Melville
“I heard the rain still beating continuously on the staircase window, and the wind howling in the grove behind the hall; I grew by degrees cold as a stone, and then my courage sank. — Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Much like great chefs spend countless hours in the kitchen trying to find the right balance of ingredients to produce a Michelin-star calibre meal, the same goes for the writer searching for the perfect blend of stylistic elements to make their work pleasing to the palate.
When thin on style, your writing can appear dull and uninspiring. But overdoing it can fatigue your reader and bury them in details and images.
Finding that all-important happy medium is the writer’s secret sauce to creating stories that keep your audience coming back.