Sound and Sense – Shelley vs. Dickens

It should come as no surprise that there is more poetry in Dickens than there is in Shelley. Does that make Charles more the poet than Percy Bysshe? Perhaps so. Poets are raw souls looking into their spleens for passion, while novelists use poetry as catgut to string their violins to play their own special concerti. In fact, a novel without poetic sound and sense, in my humble opinion, is an advertisement on the back of a box of Captain Crunch.

When revising your novel, you will find sections that “do the job,” but somehow lay on the page like over-steamed broccoli. It might taste okay, but on the whole, it’s mushy and stinks. There are many poetic devices that can be employed to restore the dish to interest – too many to discuss here, and many of which should be a part of your palette, such as metaphor and simile. I will only reference seven techniques that may help a sagging section. These are:

1. gravity

2. anapestic

3. rush and full stop

4. cadence

5. bridge

6. coda

7. echo

Gravity is the stuff that keeps us from floating into outer space. It’s also the stuff that makes us age, but that’s another matter. In the case of writing, gravity is the universal well of water that we draw upon that’s specific to an individual work. It means that when we describe stuff or narrate, we should be drilling on relational vocabulary – words that reflect our subject, or situations that repeat by degrees. This creates a solid weave to the work, one that defines overall sound and sense.

Draw on words that you have used before and are pertinent to the characters or the settings. If a character has a scar on their cheek and weeps, don’t describe the tears rolling down the cheek, but “do” describe them runneling over the scar’s arroyo. Factually, you are describing weeping, but poetically you are drawing on a metaphor for running water, and since it comes across a terrain that’s marred, gravity dictates that it should be likened to a wadi or an arroyo. Gravity also means repeating situations in layers for credibility. How many times does Tolkien give us an image of “farewell” as a person wreathed in golden shimmers fading into the distance – Goldberry, Galadriel and Arwen on three different occasions. Another example of gravity is to create doppelganger characters to ground each other, like Dickens’ Cheryble brothers or King’s multiple Jakes in multiple worlds.

Anapestic is a rhythmic device. It’s the gallop we all know from the William Tell Overture, where the stress comes on the third syllable. Ta-ta-dum, ta-ta-dum, ta-ta-dum-dum-dum. It spices things up when things get dreary and too grammatical. It’s effective in getting the reader’s attention at the beginning of sections. BEWARE: It can also highlight an amateur writer for acquisition editors. Therefore, use it with definite effect. Here’s an example:

Flat
In the apple tree’s shade, she ate a peach tart.

Spicy:
She sat in the shade of the old apple tree eating her peacherine tart.

With the second version, we could start an epic poem. Most anapestic can be formed by transforming a possessive into the more rhythmic “of the.” Let’s face it, would you be more inclined to read “Lammermoors’ Bride” or “The Bride of the Lammermoors” (great Scott). In order to get the anapest, I had to add the adjective “old” and transform “peach” into “peacherine,” which is not any word in my or your dictionary. As a writer, you must be prepared to invent new words that have meaning outside the dictionary. A peacherine tart is a wonderful thing to behold and eat, I’ll tell you. Then, get on with your story. Don’t turn the rest of the paragraph into a limerick, or you’ll be the only one reading it.

Rush and full stop

This is a rhythmic device born by breaking a grammar rule – that series need to be separated by a comma, the last of which needs the conjunctive “and” and then a full stop. For the most part, you should follow this rule, BUT if you want to pick up the pace and create a frenetic or enthralled sense, forget the commas and use the “and” incessantly.

Boring:
She saw the feast spread before her, roast beef, potatoes, gravy and cream. Each place was set with silver plates, cutlery and cups. Every imaginable flower wreathed the candelabras. Her stomach rumbled.

Exciting:
She sucked in the aromas of the feast – roast beef and gravy and new potatoes in parsley sauce and almonds winking in cream and set on silver plates that shimmered in the candlelight; and around those candles were roses and ivy and sprays of lilac, all conspiring to draw her away from the wonders of the bounty and the rumbles of her tummy. Heaven.

First, the enthralled sense is created by the implosion of the “rule.” Your computer’s spell and grammar check will be barking at your “long sentence – consider revising,” to which you might consider telling your word procesor to go #$%@ . . . oh well. Too poetic. The first “boring” example lacks exciting description and lacks aroma. It’s “food” after all. It also begins with a passive sentence, which fights any sense of enthrallment. The flowers are relegated to “every imaginable flower.” Good luck there.

Now we kick it up. Because the reader expects the sentence to end, we don’t end it, which creates mental breathlessness. We don’t even stop when the clause calls for it, something my fifth grade teacher would call “a run on sentence.” Call the fire brigade, Miss Gibbs. Then, here’s the trick – full stop. A one-word sentence, which could be any word. I choose “heaven,” but we could have said “Yum,” or “Amazing.” The word doesn’t matter. It’s punctuation, that’s all.

An important use for rush and full stop is in sequeling, when the protagonist is reviewing crisis and issues in rapid succession, summarily raising the reader’s blood pressure.

Cadence, Bridge, Coda and Echo

These four devices are important to ending chapters, sections, sub-chapters or even the book. Because they come at the end, they are memorable.

Cadence is a sentence that dovetails all the emotions of the preceding section and delivers it into the reader’s heart. These take real practice to write. There’s no formula, just remember that it needs to conclude things on a soft note that tears the reader up. It could be a simple, “She breathed no more beneath the willows she loved.” Or “He gazed across the sea, the sail disappearing over the horizon. He wept.” The test of true cadence is when the phrase kicks the author in the belly. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a true cadence. Remedy – revise and get cracking.

Bridges are easier endings. They are single sentences that “bridge” to the next section. They could be as elaborate as the one’s found in Ming Chinese novels, when the narrator stops and says, “stay tuned reader, because in the next chapter Shao Lin-fa will meet his long lost daughter, but not before sleeping with her three times and” (to paraphrase Outlaws of the Marsh), “thereby several thousand people died in the blades of a thousand swords.” More likely, the bridge is a simple continuity sentence. “He turned toward the Conservatory, his watering can in hand.” It gives a sense of anticipation, and should “never” reach cadence. It could be a cliffhanger, but modern readers find these to be cliché and acquisition editors find them as an excuse to return your manuscript to the slush pile.

Codas are “add-ons,” but ones that go beyond cadence. They leap forward in the story and reveal an important piece of information that keeps the reader alert. Favorites are “The bells sounded, just like the one he heard on his death day.” OR “He left her standing in the garden. He would never see her again.”

Echoes are just that – a word or catch phrase that plays throughout the entire novel, and each time it appears, either retains its meaning or gathers additional shades. When it arrives as a closing element, its meaning is weighty – usually enough to jerk tears or at least provoke an aha! These can be words casually bantered by lovers in their prime, that become heart-wrenching torpedoes when delivered poetically as deathbed echoes. One echo I used in my novel The Dragon’s Pool is “Wham! Bam! Boom!” which, when introduced, expresses the protagonist’s jealousy that he cannot write an academic paper while his best friend is able to do it in a comic book with dialog bubbles (Wham! Bam! Boom!). The phrase gyrates throughout the entire book, each time taking on subtle shades of meaning. Then, after a frenetic action sequence, which devastates most of the principle characters, I use it as an echo to great effect and “gravity.”

In short, even you, a novelist can be a poet. In fact, if your work lacks poetry, you’re writing cereal boxes. When it comes to poetry, I am moved by:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!”

HOWEVER, I am devastated by:

“‘Tis a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. ‘Tis a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Now that’s one Carton that Dickens did proud. Happy revising and “God bless us, every one.”

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Gary Ballard – Under the Amoral Bridge

Title: Under the Amoral Bridge

Author: Gary Ballard

ISBN: 1449509673

Page count: 170

Genre: Science-Fiction/Cyberpunk

Price: $12 (paperback) / $.99 cents (eBook)

Tell us about your book:

Under the Amoral Bridge is the first in a series of sci-fi/cyberpunk novels starring Artemis Bridge, known around the 2028 Los Angeles underworld as “the Amoral Bridge.” You want something illegal, immoral and hard to find, he knows a guy who can get it. He asks no questions, makes no judgments and promises anonymity. Bridge detaches himself from the corrupted souls around him and the rotten world he lives, an oppressive future where corporations have bought the rights to govern cities, counties and states. When a hacker dies in his arms, he is saddled with a scandalous video of the current mayor on the eve of the first election since the corporations took over. Pursued by assassins, he must find a way to profit from the video without being whacked for his troubles.

How long did it take to write the book?

I began writing in November of 2007, and started publishing one chapter every two weeks on my blog in January of 2008. The epilogue was finished and published on the site in August of 2008. The paperback and eBook editions were published in September of 2009.

What inspired you to write the book?

Over 15 years ago, I created a role-playing game, with the idea that the setting for the game would be used in a series of novels. In 2002, I finally got serious and started writing that novel – I’d realized years before that not only did I not possess the right math skills for game design, I wasn’t ever going to sell enough RPG’s to make the effort worthwhile. I wrote the novel, completing the first draft in 2005. I spent the next few years trying to get that first novel published unsuccessfully, even going so far as to split the novel into two books, and rewriting the first half. I had been writing for various video game sites and my own blog since 2003, so I hit upon the idea of serializing a novel on a blog in order to garner some attention for my fiction writing. I didn’t want to serialize that first novel, so I had to come up with another book. The blog novel would be set in the same world, but with a new character. It would be a prequel of sorts to that first novel, setting up the universe, establishing some history and really being a “bridge” novel of sorts. The name Bridge for the character was perfect – he was the Bridge between his clients and the Bridge between this novel and the one I was trying to get published. Along the way, I found writing him was fascinating. He’s such an interesting rogue, a real bastard that you can’t help but like despite the fact you should really hate such a scumbag. Once I was finished, I couldn’t help but write a sequel. I’m now writing the third novel in the Bridge Chronicles series. I decided to collect the first novel as a trade paperback and sell it, then add an eBook version. I intend to do the same with the second novel, The Know Circuit, early in 2010 – it’s already available on the blog. The third novel will be released on the blog shortly after The Know Circuit is published before becoming a paperback and eBook.

Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?

My routine has varied since I started Bridge. At first, I tried the 30-minutes a day thing, but that doesn’t really work well for me. I end up having to go back and do a lot of rewrites. As I was writing The Know Circuit, I changed the frequency with which I added chapters to the blog. I went from once every two weeks to weekly, but I changed the format – each chapter would be cut into two discrete chunks, each chunk small enough to be digested quickly in one sitting. Since the readers of the blog would be experiencing it like they do a normal blog, giving them 3000, 4000 words at a time isn’t convenient. But 1200, 1500 at a time, published twice a week seems a much more reasonable format. It clicked for me. Now, I’ll usually write on Saturday and Sunday mornings, about 1000-1500 words each day, just that one little chunk that makes up part of a chapter, with editing and rewrites done a few times before it goes on the blog. Occasionally when I have time during the week to write, I’ll do so, but this tends to work well. Certain chapters that need extra length are cut up into 3 chunks or more, and if it’s more than 3 chunks, I’ll spread the whole thing across 2 weeks. I’m not totally restricted by the format, but I find the work flows better and it fits my schedule so much better than the attempt to make 30 minutes a day.

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

I hope they are thoroughly entertained at the end, that at some point they get in it and do not want to stop turning pages. When they are done, I hope that the characters, the situations and the world stays with them, that it sneaks up on them when they watch the news or see a commercial and it makes them think. What kind of world do we live in now and how much worse or better could it be if some of the things in my book came true? Do we want corporations to have more power? Should we consider curtailing that power? Is capitalism hindering or hurting our progression as a society?

Where can we go to buy your book?

Trade Paperback on Amazon.com

Trade Paperback on createspace

Trade Paperback on {indie}pendent books

Ebook on Smashwords – Only $.99 cents

EBook On Barnes and Noble – Only $.99 cents

EBook on the Kindle – Only $.99 cents

Any other links or info you’d like to share?

The Bridge Chronicles blog can be found at http://amoralbridge.blogspot.com

All my novels have been available there since the beginning, and there’s a ton of supplemental information about the setting in the GlobalPedia articles on the site.

Excerpt:

Bridge ordered a cheaper single-malt scotch to sip on, asking the waitress to tell the band he was in the building. His first client was Bobby Ardent, the male half of the Ardents duo. They were a brother and sister team, he the guitarist and songwriter, Candace playing the rest of the instruments. Their recordings were veritable walls of sound, ten and twenty instruments laid on top of each other. Candace would play the piano parts live while using her interface jack to control recordings of the other instruments. Bridge didn’t like much popular music, relying on his GlobalNet agents to find him obscure bands from Japan and Chechnya. But the Ardents were interesting, and not just because they were clients.

Bobby appeared in minutes, his demeanor the nervous anticipation of Bridge’s typical client. Bobby’s request was a simple one. He wanted to spy on his sister. Bobby wanted a full tap on his sister’s life, from cameras to GlobalNet to chat transcripts, especially her avatar’s actions in the GlobalNet. Of course, he would never admit why he wanted such a thing, and Bridge wouldn’t force him. Bridge didn’t care that Bobby was in love with his sister. That wasn’t germane to the business at hand. Bobby wanted something and Bridge knew a guy. Bobby’s excuse was that he wanted to make sure she didn’t get involved with the wrong guy. Maybe he even believed that. “Bobby! My favorite rock star!” Bridge greeted the musician with an ear-to-ear grin.

“Hey Bridge, you got it?” Bobby’s wrinkled face was coated in a thin film of sweat, his black goatee glistening. Bridge was somewhat distracted by the band’s video playing on the shoulder of Bobby’s jacket. “Is everything set up?”

“My guy is ready. He just needs the word from you to turn on the tap.” Bridge handed over a muted email bizchip. Bobby only had to fingerprint himself on the card and an email would be sent to the contact, a hacker who specialized in surveillance for private dicks, lawyers and tonight, pervy brothers.

“And these are undetectable? She won’t know it’s there?”

“@Rg0n0t is good. He’s the one who caught Shelley Tilton’s hubby fucking around on her. Motherfucker never knew what hit him.”

Bobby reached an unsteady hand towards the card. “There’s just the little matter of my fee,” Bridge interrupted.

Bobby pulled out a PDA, a clunky old tech relic. Bobby was a half-Naturalist, rebelling against technology by refusing to get an interface jack, but he wasn’t committed enough to the cause to join the Naturalist communes that were springing up in the remote areas of Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas. The most commitment to anything he’d mustered were a few PSA’s decrying the despoiling of the environment by multinational corporations like the one that owned his record label. “You’re taken care of. Ten grand in five-year.”

Bridge smiled and passed over the bizchip. Bobby grabbed it greedily in both hands, planting his thumbprint forcefully on the scanner. “Message sent,” replied the card. Bobby dropped it to the table like it had suddenly burst into flames.

“It’s done then,” he said as much to himself as to Bridge. Bridge just nodded. “You swear you won’t breathe a word of this to anybody?”

“Your priest will spill the beans before I will.”

“My priest was a son-of-a-bitch.”

“Ain’t they all?” Bridge quipped with a laugh. The humor escaped Bobby.

“I gotta go get ready. We’re on in ten.”

“Awesome. For real. Break a leg or something.” As Bobby walked away, Aristotle came over, pointing towards the door. Bridge’s next client had entered the hall. Bridge put @Rg0n0t’s card in the table’s ashtray and activated its self-destruct code, a program that not only caused the card’s physical material to break down, but sent a virus through the GlobalNet that erased the message trail from the card. The only evidence of the transaction was now in Bridge’s head and Bobby’s conscience.

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Rex Kusler – Punctured

Title: Punctured

Author: Rex Kusler

ASIN: B0036FTYYY

Page count: 280

Genre: Mystery

Price: $1.99

Author Bio:

I wrote 4 novels in the late ’80s, and in those days had no trouble finding reputable agents. In fact, for various reasons, I switched agencies 3 times. Back then, most agents would only send out one novel at a time to one editor at a time, and each would usually take 2 or 3 months to consider it. My last agent, Joshua Bilmes, spent four years sending my private eye novel around. I couldn’t write anything else, because it would just have to sit and wait until he was done sending my PI novel around. So I quit writing. Thirteen years later in 2003 I wrote a ghost story Angela and Bilmes didn’t want to sell it, nor anyone else, mainly because it didn’t fit into a specific genre. A few months ago I finished a Las Vegas mystery Punctured. I had emailed Joshua Bilmes and asked him if there was still a market for mysteries and he said yes. So I wrote it, and by the time I had finished it, he was too busy to take a look at it. He’s gotten tied up with Charlaine Harris and Brandon Sanderson. I can’t find another agent for it. So I put both books on Amazon. If I sell 500 of one or the other, I’ll write another novel, otherwise I’ll just stick with writing short stuff for the mystery magazines.

Tell us about your book:

Investigating your brother-in-law’s murder can put a strain on sibling relations–when all the evidence points to your sister. Former Las Vegas Homicide Detective Jim Snow quit the force three years ago to play poker fulltime, but he’s been losing consistently for the last six months. Now he has a new challenge to take his mind away from his problems. His sister’s estranged husband was found murdered in an RV storage lot shortly after selling his trailer for eight-thousand dollars cash to their neighbor. Snow and his sister have issues-the last time Snow saw her was two years ago at their mother’s funeral in Minnesota-though they live three miles apart. Suspicion points to his sister, since she stands to collect half-a-million dollars, and her previous husband died during a robbery near an ATM machine. Living off of life insurance settlements from her first two husbands, she’s never had to work. Snow’s not sure his sister is innocent, but he launches an investigation, enlisting the help of a feisty female detective. Punctured is a Las Vegas mystery.

How long did it take to write the book?

Six weeks

What inspired you to write the book?

I sold my travel trailer for cash. The buyer came to pick it up at the RV storage lot just after dark. We stood in the kitchen of the trailer, while he counted out the stacks of hundred dollar bills with the door wide open. It was deathly quiet outside, and it gave me an eerie feeling—like something bad could happen. That experience became the first chapter.

Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?

I have a book on forensic evidence, other than that, all my research was done on the internet. I wrote whenever I had spare time.

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

Pure entertainment.

Where can we go to buy your book?

Amazon http://bit.ly/cgdwXA

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