Prose is the go-to method when writing fiction. It is basic text without regard to any structure or the sound of words. It is clear, straight-forward, easy to understand, and is often the best method of delivering a story. But, utilizing poetic devices and techniques can enhance your story, make it more effective, and add a pleasurable element to your writing.
The written word is visual and conveys meaning just by the reader looking at it. But, it is still incredibly connected to sound. For instance, don’t you, at least sometimes, hear the sound of the words in your head when you are reading? Or, you have sounded a word out when trying to figure out how to spell it?
By taking into consideration that there is an almost automatic connection to sound in written language, writers can find new and interesting ways to enhance the reading experience by utilizing poetic devices that play with sound. Consider these:
- Alliteration – Repetition of consonant sounds, primarily at the beginning of words.
Example: Peter Parker (You see this a lot in comic book names.)
- Assonance – Repetition of vowel sounds.
Example: I saw the lying man die after committing the crime. (The I sound is repeated throughout the sentence.)
- Onomatopoeia – Words that sound like what they mean.
Example: Boom! Splat! Drizzle, Splash.
- Repetition – Obvious, but the same word or idea occurring multiple times.
Example: The phrase “So it goes,” in Slaughterhouse-Five.
- Rhythm and Stress – The pattern and flow of sentences and paragraphs. This can include word, sentence, and paragraph length, as well as the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.
Example: I am a man in need of food and drink as well as love. (The words in bold are stressed, and this pattern of unstressed, then stressed syllables makes for a particular rhythm.
These sound devices and techniques might be especially useful for names of people or places, as names will be repeated more often by the reader than other parts of the text. One memorable name from The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury is Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud. A name that evokes dread and fun at the same time, and is also a lot of fun to say.
Depth and Meaning
But not all poetic devices are concerned solely with sound. Think of the following:
- Imagery – Language that seeks to invoke sensory details (visuals, sounds, feelings, smells, tastes) in the reader’s mind.
- Theme – A central idea to the story. Usually everything else in the story implies or reflects the theme.
Example: Hubris/pride is a theme of Frankenstein.
- Symbolism – Something (objects, actions, people even) that represents more than just itself.
Example: The apple that Adam and Eve eat is more than just a piece of fruit.
- Tone — The attitude of the writer toward what they are writing about.
Example: A novel can have a comedic tone or a dramatic tone. The way in which the story is told through word choice and how the author and/or narrator feels about the subject matter of the story creates a particular feeling in the reader.
- Personification - Describing inanimate objects with animate characteristics.
Example: The sun smiled upon the town. (The sun is not literally smiling, but the comparison evokes a general feeling of contentment in the town as the sun is described as if it were alive.)
- Irony - A discrepancy in what is told and what actually is. It is often achieved when there are two parties (such as the reader and a character), and one is aware of something that the other is not.
Example: A character is idly going about their business unaware of the killer stalking them (whom the reader is aware of).
- Hyperbole - Essentially exaggeration. It adds emphasis and can be used to humorous or dramatic effect.
Example: She babbled on for days. (Well, she may be chatty, but in reality she only babbled on for twenty minutes.)
- Allegory - Abstract qualities represented in characters or events.
Example: In Moby Dick, the hunt for the whale represents deeper, philosophical ideas than just guys out to hunt a whale.
- Metaphor – Comparing two dissimilar but somehow connected things (without using the words like or as–that is simile).
Example: Their love was a dying sun in a condemned galaxy. (The love is not literally a dying sun, but it conveys an idea of inevitable failing to these particular characters’ love.
Not based solely on sound, these devices and techniques more readily transfer to fiction. Employing them can often make your prose feel more poetic, without it sounding so.
And, of course, there are many more useful poetic devices (sound-based and not) than all of the ones listed here.
So, why do any of this? Well, it is a matter of effectiveness and the way the story is created in the reader’s mind. The shape, sound, pattern, phrasing, and implication of words can convey a scene more vividly for a reader.
Pattern and sound for instance can create a more pleasant and clear reading experience for the reader as words and ideas flow readily and simply when used with the rhetoric of poetry.
Poetic devices and techniques can also make for a different flavor or feel in the reading experience; and maybe that flavor or feel relates well to the subject matter of your story. Take for example falling in love. It is a very poetic experience unto itself, even when not using any poetic devices. But, using them can better convey that feeling of falling in love to the reader.
With fiction, the writer’s concentration is on conveying the story in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Often, writers strive to make their prose as transparent as possible, so that the meaning of the words appear in the reader’s head without much interference from the actual word. They do not focus on the audible side to language or stylized, poetic techniques and devices.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enhance your writing, make it more effective, or just add another element to it that you find appealing by adding poetry to your prose. So, although not necessary to create a good story, it is one more useful tool to keep in mind when writing prose.