Monday, October 3, 2011

Each Line a Poem

Also known as, "The Post Where I Revert Back into an English Major"*

Friday I came home to see The Writer's Portable Mentor in my mailbox--it shipped faster than I had expected! Unable to resist, I've already cracked it open. I've never had a writing book that focused so much on prose, but this is exactly what I need.

Priscilla Long takes a great deal of space explaining the music and poetry of words--their alliteration, the sound of their vowels, their syllables. In a way, each sentence in a work is a poem, where each word is carefully thought out and chosen. There's a lot of work that goes into prose revision--it's exciting and terribly frightening at the same time.

The pen is BLUE.
She also talks about concrete words. I learned about concrete descriptions in high school, but she takes it a step further. Name the roads, tell the reader what kind of tree it is. Use the senses--not just "she smelled" or "he heard," but describe things with nouns that can be perceived.

Food for thought, surely. As an example, I'm including a passage from The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien--in part because Long uses it as an example of excellent prose, and in part because I actually own this book, and agree that the writing is impeccable.

They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself--Vietnam, the place, the soil--a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus, all of it, they carried gravity. They moved like mules. (p.14-15)

*And yes, I did major in English (though I rather preferred my minor).


  1. Very beautiful excerpt. I can't wait to see how your writing improves!

  2. That is beautiful! And I'm looking forward to getting The Writer's Portable Mentor.

  3. *sigh* I love The Things They Carried. I'ts such an exquisite book.