Sonnet, lyric, haiku, ode, ballad? What does poetry have to do with fiction? Nothing and everything, depending on the author. Poetic language and effective use of figures of speech can enhance a novelists writing style and help create the author’s unique voice. Beautiful language is like a lilting melody, and using poetic elements can create a musical flow of words.
Yet, a writer should be cautioned. Too much can destroy the effect and will be deleted by editors, so an author must pick and chose those moments in the novel that are special, when you want to paint a lasting image and/or create a vivid emotion.
What are figures of speech?
Poetry, besides rhyme and structure, is a combination of word pictures using similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, and allegory.
A simile is a comparison of two unlike things using "like" or "as." His heart pounded like a jackhammer against his chest, and Then, the black dreams rose like demons. Notice the phrases beginning with like. Most everyone knows the chaos of a jackhammer so the comparison is vivid.
A metaphor is also a comparison without the clue words "like" or "as." Frozen with the frightful possibility, Jordan faltered, spitting the words into the dump-yard of his mind. Have you ever thought of your mind as a dump yard, and yet it is. It collects the good and bad of our lives, things we should trash but cling to. Notice how vividly these poetic images heighten the mental picture and emotional content.
Personification is another kind of comparison, giving inanimate objects human characteristics, for example: The moon danced on the water and the tree’s fingers grasped at the fleeting clouds. Obviously the moon doesn’t dance and the tree’s don’t have fingers, but as readers, we can picture the meanings as pictures in our minds. The wind whispered in her ear, and as Mary raced through the dark woods, the branches clutched at her clothing. By using wind whispered, and branches clutching, the reader benefits from the word pictures that clarify and give a fresher image to the reader.
Create A Unique Tone
Alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia reflect the various word sounds. Perhaps you’ve never thought about words in this way, but the alphabet sounds do create a kind of music.
Alliteration refers to the repetition of the initial sound of words. Notice this is "sound" and not the alphabet letter itself. Pay attention to the soft and hard sounds of the letters since the tone can also create mood: the lilting lullaby lulled the lad to sleep (notice the l’s) and muted melodies moved through her mind (notice the m’s). These tones feel soft in the mouth and on the ear, creating a more romantic, gentler quality. Listen to the harder, sharper tones of the s and q often used with suspense, anger, or humor: the sudden sharp snap startled her and his quick quip caused her to cackle. Notice it's the sound of the word and not necessarily the alphabetical letter.
Assonance is the repetitive tone of the vowels giving a melodic feeling to a line of dialogue or narration. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain and hear the "o" sound in the rolling, tolling, golden bells.
Onomatopoeia is a word that resounds like the word it describes. His hand smacked against his leg, the iron bell clanged the hour and the snake hissed as it slithered past. Smacked, clanged and hissed are words that sound something like the noise it makes. This works well for the sound sense in fiction. Words like zoom, crack, thud, ting, tinkle, and similar words, create a kind of musical sound to the reader.
Combining Poetic Elements
Using my novel, Upon A Midnight Clear, as an example, you’ll see that sometimes elements such as simile, metaphor, and alliteration can appear in one sentence. What could she do to help this child, now bound in a cocoon, to blossom like a lovely butterfly? Notice alliteration in "b" words: bound, blossom, and butterfly. As well you’ll see a metaphor —bound in a cocoon—and a parallel simile referring to the cocoon’s release of a butterfly.
From the same novel, this scene depicts an extended metaphor as well as alliteration. Read this example: Notice the alliterative words are bold along with the angel metaphor.
Trance-like, he followed the prints that wove through the evergreens and around the elms. In an open area, he paused. On the ground, he stared at imprints of angels. Heads, wings, and bodies pressed into the pristine snow. But, sadly, all adult angels. No seraphim or cherubim. No Nattie.
He looked again at the fanned angel impressions at his feet. He pictured the young woman, flinging herself to the ground, flailing her arms and legs to amuse his silent child. Callie’s laughter rang in his mind. Angel? Yes, perhaps God had sent a human angel to watch over his daughter.
In these two paragraphs, we also see a motif---the element of angel. This rounds out a full picture of what Callie has come to mean to this man.
By using various poetic elements and weaving a meaningful, well-developed motif through fiction you can add continuity, charm, and beauty to a compelling story along with creating your distinctive writer’s voice. Readers will not forget the beauty of your words and the images you create. Remember, be selective when you use this technique. Overdone it losses the effect you hope to create.
My next blog will deal with motifs, themes, and symbols. I'm leaving on a week's vacation, so keep writing and enjoying the use of poetic devices.