Tag Archives: Patrick Rothfuss

#amwriting: poetry in prose

MSClipArt MP900390083.JPG RF PD Both poetry and prose have evolved over the last two-hundred years. In 1816 words were art, and they were frequently crafted into a piece  as if you were decorating a house–the author placed them in such a way as to be artistic as well as impactful.

Think Dickens, and Byron, and Mary Shelley.

A random comment in another forum led me to think about poetry and prose, which of course, led to a blog post.

Much of the time, modern poetry doesn’t rhyme. And even without rhyme, some authors write poetic narratives. But if it doesn’t rhyme, what makes poetry “poetic?” And where does it fit into modern prose?

As always, I turned to the “college of the internet” and did some research. Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge says, “Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.” (End quoted text.)

In his April 19, 2012 blog post for Harriet, (the Poetry Foundation’s blog for poetry and related news) titled The Difference Between Poetry and Prose,  Martin Earl says a number of things.

Quote: “Prose is all about accumulation (a morality of work), while poetry as it is practiced today is about the isolation of feelings (an aesthetics of omission).” 

Well, that didn’t help. Taken individually, I understood each of the words that make up that sentence. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand what Mr. Earl intended to say by combining them so incomprehensibly.

I realized I would need an interpreter. So I prevailed upon Stephen Swartz, author, and professor of English at a well-known university, who is also a good friend of mine.

Stephen explained what Martin Earl may have meant: “I can only take that to mean that the writing of prose is, e.g. like a description, a compiling of details. a productive activity. I agree with the definition of poetry being a limitation of words/details in the service of presenting something esoteric such as thoughts and feelings, abstractions rather than the concrete. For prose, we accumulate words; for poetry we try to do more with less.”

Now THAT made sense to me.

However, I did find a portion of Martin Earl’s post to be understandable without the aid of my friendly neighborhood professor. Toward the middle, he explains the evolution of how poetry became prose, places it in a historical context and then explains that continued progression away from poetic prose in modern literature.

Earl writes, “In both classical and modern languages it is poetry that evolves first and is only much later followed by prose, as though in a language’s childhood, as in our own, poetry were the more efficient communicator of ideas.”

He goes on to say, “With the spread of the printing press after 1440, texts no longer had to be memorized. Poetry’s inbuilt mnemonics (rhyme, meter, refrain, line breaks) were no longer essential for processing and holding on to knowledge. Little hard drives were suddenly everywhere available.” (End quoted text.)

That makes complete sense to me on a personal level. I can remember anything I can set to a rhyme, or make into a song.

I believe using rhymes as mnemonics (which is defined as a memory device) is fundamental to human nature. We developed complex languages within our tribal communities while we were still in Africa, before the great diaspora. It was there in the earliest stages of our humanity that we gained the ability to describe the wider world to our children. With that, we had the capacity to understand and describe the motives of another person.  We could explain the how and why of an incident. We saw the divine in every aspect of life and developed mythologies combining all of these concepts to explain the world around us and our place in it.

Printer_in_1568-ceWe learned ways to memorize  and pass on ideas as abstract as legends or sagas. Through those stories, we could learn larger lessons from the mistakes and heroism of our ancestors.  My theory is that we developed poetry at the same time as we developed language.

Every tribe, every culture that ever arose in our world had this same tradition of passing down stories and legends using rhyme and meter.  Rhyme combined with repetition and rhythmic simplicity enabled us to remember and pass on wisdom to our children.

Wikipedia describes poetry as: “a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning.”

It also describes prose as: “the most typical form of language. The English word ‘prose’ is derived from the Latin prōsa, which literally translates as ‘straight-forward.’”

In poetry, saying more with fewer words forces us to think on an abstract level. We have to choose our words based on the emotions they evoke, and the way they portray the environment around us. This is why I seem to gravitate to narratives written by authors who are also poets—the creative use of words elevates what could be mundane to a higher level of expression, and when it’s done well, the reader doesn’t consciously notice the prose, but they are moved by it.

We have no need to memorize our cultural knowledge anymore, just as we no longer need the ability to accurately tally long strings of numbers in our head.  We’ve begun to like our books with straightforward prose. Flowery language is no longer acceptable in the books we read.

This is also true of modern poetry.

The love of poetry continues, and new generations seek out the poems of the past while creating powerful poetry of their own.

Authors craft incredible narratives, often without knowing they are poets.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss 2nd coverPatrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind:

“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

“The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.” (End quoted text)

That is some powerful prose. It is both straightforward, and poetic.

That is where craft comes in. Choosing words for the emotions they evoke and the way they portray the environment the author has imagined is what lends great narrative prose its power. We can still appreciate beauty combined with impact when it comes to our prose.

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#amwriting: Rothfuss and Gaiman, crafting good prose

Stardust, Neil GaimanSome fantasy qualifies as literary fiction because of the way in which the story is delivered.

One example of what I think of as literary fantasy is Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. In the very first sentence of chapter one, Gaiman commits the most heinous crime an author can commit, according to those critique groups armed with a little dangerous knowledge:

Quote: There once was a young man who wished to gain his hearts desire. 

And then, to make matters worse, he throws out a bit of background:

  1. Our story starts in the village of Wall, a tiny town about a night’s drive from London. A giant wall stands next to the town, giving it its name.
  2. There’s only one spot to pass through this huge grey rock wall, and it’s always guarded by two villagers at a time, and they are vigilant at their task.
  3. This is peculiar, because all one can see through the break in the wall is meadows and trees. It looks as if nothing frightening or strange could be happening there, but no one is allowed to go through the break in the wall.
  4. The guards only take a break from the wall once every nine years, on May Day, when a fair comes to the meadow

omg! Did he really do that? What was he thinking, starting a fantasy novel with a TELLING, PASSIVE sentence followed by an info dump?  To answer your question, he thought he was offering up a good story, and guess what? HE WAS!

And he did it with beautiful, immersive prose.

name of the wind -patrick rothfussWho else writes great prose? Patrick Rothfuss, for one. Take the first lines of The Name of the Wind. 

Quote:  It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

Rothfuss then goes on to commit what some purists (aka trolls) consider a heinous crime–he DESCRIBES THE SILENCE. He does this on the first page and guess what–the reader is sucked into the story and has no desire to leave.  To compound that crime, the story is a story within a story, told to a chronicler, and what most would use as the prologue actually comes after the first chapter, in chapter eight:

(quote) If this story is to be something resembling my book of deeds, we must begin at the beginning. At the heart of who I truly am. To do this, you must remember that before I was anything else, I was one of the Edema Ruh.

When we write, we are writing because we have a story to tell. (Yes, I said tell). To that end, every word must count, every idea must be conveyed with meaningful words, and sometimes you can just have a little fun with it.

In the opening lines of Gaiman’s Stardust, nothing unimportant is mentioned although the prose meanders in a literary way. Yes, he takes the long way, but the attitudes, mores, and personalities of Tristam’s village are conveyed with humor and the journey is the best part of this fairytale. He never devolves into purple prose.

The Elements of Style calls “Purple Prose” “hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.”  To be fair, purple prose is subjective and each reader has a different level of tolerance for it, but it is something we definitely don’t want. What do you want to convey? Choose your words based on what you want the reader to see and feel:

  • Plain: He set the mug down. (conveys action–what’s going to happen next?)
  • Somewhere in the middle: He eased the tankard onto the table. (conveys a medieval atmosphere–what’s going to happen next?)
  • Bleah: Without haste, the tall, blond barbarian set the immense, pewter, ale-filled cup with a wooden handle onto the stained surface of the rough, wooden table. (conveys nausea–don’t care what happens next.)

Of course you are not going to devolve into sticky-sweet goo in your attempts to show the mood and atmosphere. But please, if I may use a cliché here, don’t “throw  the baby out with the bathwater.” Lean prose with well chosen imagery will express your ideas in such a way that the reader can hang their imagination on your words.

In direct contrast to Gaiman’s lighthearted opening prose in Stardust, the opening lines of Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, are dark and heavy with portent.  Rothfuss sets the mood, and conveys the subtle power kept restrained by Kote/Kvote, and he uses this atmosphere to drive the tale.

Both Rothfuss and Gaiman use words chosen for their imagery. Gaiman’s story is told with sardonic humor, which makes it all the darker, and Rothfuss’ prose evokes the dark of nightmares. They write with widely different styles, but both books are dark, both books are fantasy, and both books moved me.

Both authors write so well that the internet is rife with haters and trolls who can’t wait to trash their next book. THAT, sadly, is the mark of success, or genius, in today’s world of fanatics in dark rooms, armed with a rigid idea of what fantasy should be, and waging war via the internet on authors who dare to write outside those boundaries .

GRRM Meme 3Write from your heart, and dare to write what moves you. Think about the rush of “yeah, this is it!” that you get when you read a piece that takes you out of this world and changes your life for a few brief moments. That author knows something about the craft, or you would not have been so moved by it.

Study the prose of those whose work shocks, rocks, and shakes you. See how they craft the sentences, and form the moods and emotions that drive the plot. Learn from them how to show the true character of a protagonist, or the smell of an alley by the wharves. Read, and then apply what you’ve learned from the masters to your own work.

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2014

nano_14_ml_badge_300pxNational Novel Writing Month begins in just 15 days. I am the Olympia Washington municipal liaison, but this year I will not be able to attend the first two days of write-ins in my region, as I will be at Northwest Bookfest, a conference at Northwest University,  both as an attendee and as a presenter. On Sunday November 2, I will be talking about writing natural dialogue. As you know, I love to talk about the craft of writing, and can talk until the cows come home, to use a tired cliché.

However, I will be working at my word count through the evening in my hotel room–and cheering my fellow WriMos on with virtual write-ins. Beginning Monday the 3rd of November, my life will revolve around writing the rough draft of my novel, helping my friends get their rough draft written, and encouraging the young (and not so young) writers of our community to explore their storytelling abilities.

Patrick Rothfuss said in his pep talk last year, “Thou shalt not just think about writing. Seriously. That is not writing. The worst unpublished novel of all-time is better than the brilliant idea you have in your head. Why? Because the worst novel ever is written down. That means it’s a book, while your idea is just an idle fancy. My dog used to dream about chasing rabbits; she didn’t write a novel about chasing rabbits. There is a difference.”

Oly Nanos icon for fb 2That completely describes what NaNoWriMo is all about–getting that novel out of your head and on to paper. If you don’t write it, you will never see what a wonderful idea it really was–and even if it doesn’t go as well as you planned, who cares? This is about the journey, more than it is about the destination.

It will be a month of dirty dishes, dirty house, piled up laundry…oh wait, that’s normal for around here. But anyway, I will do nothing but attend as many write ins here in the local area as I can and find as many ways to encourage secret authors to get that book out of their head and on to paper as is humanly possible.

I can hardly wait to get started!

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What I’m reading

name of the wind  -patrick rothfussSome authors write so well you live the work with them. I love that when that happens. I’ve been reading a lot, as you probably know, and I love to talk about what I have recently read.

Last week, on Best In Fantasy, I reviewed book one of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of The Wind.  I had this to say about it: “The blurb didn’t really sell me, but when I was deciding whether or not to purchase this book, I noticed that the negative reviews were written by people who are not really into reading for pleasure, and some of the negative reviews seemed written by moderately illiterate non-readers. To me, this is a mark of a classic—Tolkien, Jordan—all the great literary-fantasy authors attract 1-star reviews by people whose favorite genre is whatever is written on the toilet-paper wrapper. My instinct was correct—this book is a true classic, both literary and fantasy.” 

I have to say, I loved his cover, also. It totally reflects his style of writing, beautiful, harsh and mysterious.

Desprite Measures Deborah JayBefore that, I read “Desprite Measures” by Deborah Jay. That book is completely different, being an urban paranormal fantasy-romance. I had a great time, and this is what I said about it: “Okay–we all know the cover above looks like I’ve taken a side-trip into a lurid romance. Don’t be deceived by the cover! Yes, there is some graphic sex, and yes there are other elements that might hint that grandma has taken a dip into a lurid romance novel, but stick with me! Desprite Measures by Deborah Jay is a modern day urban fantasy. It is not a deep book, but is perfect for whiling away rainy afternoon. “

Dragula, Nicole Antona CarroI had been in wacky mood for a couple of weeks. During that time I also read Brawn Stroker’s Dragula” By Nicole Antonia Carro. Was I surprised: “I bought Brawn Stroker’s Dragula, by indie author Nicole Antonia Carro on a whim. When I read the title, I was expecting something incredibly camp and lightweight, but that is certainly not what I got. Instead, I found a tale full of people I could call friends, and situations I hope my friends never find themselves in!”  I absolutely enjoyed the book.

Happy Hour In Hell, Bobby Dollar 2 - Tad WilliamsAs everyone knows, I love indie authors, but I also love certain authors whose work I’ve been following since long before the indie option was even thought of. One of those authors is Tad Williams. He is famous for writing one of the most enduring fantasy series ever, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, but he also has written  some excellent urban fantasy. His style is hard-edged. A few weeks ago I read “Happy Hour in Hell, Book 2 of Bobby Dollar.” I had this to say about it:  “Okay, now we are talking deep. Happy Hour In Hell (Bobby Dollar 2), by Tad Williams takes us from the bowels of Heaven to the heart of Hell, and its a rough ride, and a heck of a good story…. If you like your angels as painted by Michelangelo, you are in the wrong place. Bobby isn’t that sort of an angel. Bobby gets in and does Heaven’s dirty work with his bare hands. He’s a hard-boiled detective, a bad-boy, and he’s the sort of angel my mother warned me about. But he’s also just the sort of angel you want on your side when you suddenly find yourself dead, and your soul is being judged.”  That is one entertaining book.

the eyre affair jasper ffordeSpeaking of entertaining, I finally got around to reading “The Eyre Affaire” by Jasper Fforde, and I found it to be painfully funny: “Over Thanksgiving, my son, Dan, pressured me to drop everything and read The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.  Published in 2000, the Eyre Affair was Fforde’s first novel. The book was generally acclaimed, with critics calling it “playfully irreverent,” “delightfully daft,” “whoppingly imaginative,” and “a work of … startling originality.” My son adores this book and the entire series. I found it—interesting—and I heartily enjoyed this book despite the tortuous plot, the side trips that go nowhere, and the occasional moments of HUH?!? WTF….” 

the cold, Aura BurrowsI love Audible books, and have been listening to a lot of great books. In fact, I’ve  been following a serial posted on BigWorldNetwork.com, an affordable source of online reading. The website bills itself a s cross between TV and Books, and I really like it. I think this type of publisher will be a big factor in the shape of the industry over the next decade. They have talented authors, and you can either read OR listen to it being read on-line all you want for $3.00 a month subscription The series I have been following is The Cold, by local Olympia area author, Aura Burrows, who is also a friend of mine. I am into episode three now, and this tale is gripping. I love the way the reader, Willow Wood, tells it. In fact, I plan to indulge in two or three more episodes today, once I have my work done!

I have another friend, Joan Hazel, with a book launching on Wednesday. She has written the second installment in her paranormal romance series on shape-shifters, this one titled “Burdens of a Saint”. It launches Wednesday, and she has kindly agreed to talk about writing, and will be herewith me.

My reading schedule is jam-packed, and that’s the way I like it. Nothing like a good dose of fantasy to keep me busy! I hope you are finding plenty to love in what you are reading.

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