Category Archives: Writing

The Modern Rap Fan’s Guide to Rhyming

I have a minor obsession with poetic techniques, rhyme schemes and suchlike. I also love wordplay. This gives me a whole new level of joy when listening to rap music. I’m always like, ‘Fierce internal rhymes’ and ‘Did you hear the enjambment on that?!’ The fun never ends in my house. This is my quick guide to poetic techniques that are in vogue in the educational medium we call hip hop music. You’re welcome. drake

  1. The Drake: Actually reputedly invented by Big Sean (who is actually medium sized for an adult human), the technique is to throw something on the end to be the rhyming word or phrase – a word that isn’t integrated into the previous sentence. See ‘Forever‘:
    She insists she got more class, we know
    Swimming in the money, come and find me, Nemo
    This makes every line a punchline; it can be witty, irreverent, and is a good way to slip in a topical reference (perhaps to a clown-fish-based Disney film).  Kanye-Creative-Genius
  2. The Kanye: The key is to find as many words as possible that rhyme with your own name and insert them as end rhymes in an A-A rhyme scheme. See ‘Famous‘:
    For all the girls that got d*** from Kanye West
    If you see ’em in the streets give ’em Kanye’s best
    Well I’m Kanye impressed. This technique is self-referential, perhaps self-mocking, and a way to marry braggadocio and punning in a meta society. Also, it’s an entertaining way to practise rhyming – look up your own name in a rhyming dictionary and go to town.
    Gambino
  3. The Gambino: This chap did not invent the rhetorical question; he’s not even the most famous proponent e.g. What’s a goon to a goblin? or Can I get an encore? However he often combines the rhetorical question with anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses, to have a cumulative, powerful effect: See ‘Heartbeat‘:
    Are we dating? Are we f****ing?
    Are we best friends? Are we something…
    See also ‘Bonfire‘:
    You want to see my girl? I ain’t that dumb.
    You want to see
    my girl? Check Maxim.
    And ‘III. Telegraph Ave.‘: 
    Can we just roll with the feeling?
    Can we just roll for a minute?
    Choose a start to a question then vary the ending to have a hectoring, bold effect.
    nicki-minaj-whats-good_nu0iffukzj1qzwh14o1_500
  4. The Minaj: Go full meta and just announce what rhyming couplet you’re aiming for and hope the populous are happy to go along with it. See ‘Only‘:
    My man full, he just ate, I don’t duck nobody but tape
    Yeah, that was a set up for a punchline on duct tape
    She’s actually great at assonance (no pun intended), consonance and internal rhymes, but her ‘I’m going to include something about this because it rhymes with this’ speaks to what we all know poetry really is.
    kendrick
  5. The Kendrick: Mix every linguistic technique with extraordinary realism, conscience and a bit of free jazz and be king of everything.

Of course these clever souls use a vast array of techniques; I’ve just picked out a few that I think you should all try to employ in the rhymes (or poems or novels) you’re secretly writing in your bedrooms. You know who you are.

Are there any other rap or poetic techniques that are tickling your brainboxes at the moment? Share please!

 

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Nine Frightfully Impressive Words for Your Halloween Vocabulary

I read the dictionary so you don’t have to. The selection below could, in my opinion, be well employed in horror stories and casual Halloween party conversation:
“You look positively sepulchral.”
“Why, thank you!”somebody

Eldritch: Weird, ghostly, unnatural, frightful, hideous. (Of obscure origin. Potentially something to do with elves.)

Gloaming: An Old English word for twilight. (Useful now the latter has become synonymous with sparkly vampires.)

Imbrue: To stain, especially with blood.

Lambent: Of a flame (fire, light): Playing lightly upon or gliding over a surface without burning it, like a ‘tongue of fire’.

Lycanthropy: The transformation into werewolf form.

Mizzle: 1. Misty rain (modern). 2. A sudden or surreptitious departure or disappearance (rare/archaic).

Rutilant: To shine with a reddish glow.

Sepulchral: 1. Pertaining to the tomb or interment. 2. gloomy; dismal. (From the Latin Sepultra: to bury.)

Susurration: Malicious whispering.

Definitions were checked in the OED. Those are just a few words I’ve come across lately and enjoyed. Please add your favourites – leave a comment!

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Thirteen Thoughts On Dialogue

Readers love dialogue, or so I’ve read; apparently the white space is less daunting than solid paragraphs. In your novel make sure dialogue is achieving something – plot or character development. The dream is to create a level of naturalism.

  1. frozenInclude interruptions and partial sentences. In real life people often tail off, or leave the other person to fill in the end of their sentence.
  2. Think about how each of your characters would speak.
  3. People’s vocabularies vary with up-bringing, situation, where they live or have lived, level of education etc. Give your characters different vocabularies, though avoid stereotyping.
  4. Related to this, it is worth considering whether they would use different colloquialisms, sayings, cultural references or slang. Evan Kingston is excellent at this.
  5. To create pace with your dialogue and to reflect stress in the characters keep it short and sharp. To create more intrigue and drag things out use longer exchanges.
  6. Sadness or anxiety can be expressed by someone stammering or falling over their words, not quite knowing what to say.
  7. Dialogue is as much about what characters don’t say as what they do. Subtext and mystery will keep your readers intrigued.
  8. Avoid expository dialogue: the dreaded ‘info-dump’. Never let one character lecture another with information just because you want your audience to know it. Make it an exchange of questions and answers. Leave things unsaid or imply them.
  9. Make sure your characters don’t stop or sit down to have conversations. In real life conversation happens while people are doing other things. Please don’t have dialogue meetings.
  10. Use adverbs sparingly when you’re not using tone or accompanying actions to show mood.
  11. To check whether your dialogue flows like real human conversation, read it out loud. Get your friends to join in and make an evening of it. If it doesn’t sound like you intend it to coming from your volunteer thespians, then it probably won’t read right either.
  12. Dialogue should be realistic, but as with everything in novels, it can be more exciting, quicker, wittier and more convenient than real life.
  13. funny-english-men-drinking-teaRelated to the above, do start chapters or sections in the middle of conversations. The start can be dreadfully dull. If books were real life we’d be twelve pages in and still only have established that everyone is fine, weather is happening, and we’d all love a cup of tea, if it’s not too much trouble.

Do you have any further thoughts on dialogue? I would love to see them in the comments. Please do like or share if this has been of any use to you.

If you’d like to have a dialogue with me, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

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Description – Don’t Leave it Too Late

Or, Avoiding the Longbottom Paradox

Readers who are invested in your story will begin to imagine the people and the places in it. This is what we want: for them to care about what you’ve created like it’s real. This means that, consciously or not, the reader is creating a picture in their minds. By adding detail too late on you can disrupt their absorption in your world by contradicting their image of it.

For example, if you want the reader to know that the character has an extraordinarily deep voice, or a strong accent, tell us that when they begin speaking. If you only share that after a significant portion of dialogue, the reader may feel as if they have been reading it wrong. Get your essential description in early to avoid reader upset.

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher: always cut off at the knees so you can't see he's standing on a box.

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher: always cut off at the knees so you can’t see he’s standing on a box.

It’s the same feeling you get when a film adaptation of a book comes out and the characters look nothing like how the source material describes them. Think of 6’5″ Jack Reacher being played by Tom Cruise. A brief Internet skim reveals that the opinionated masses believe that compared to the books, film Jane Eyre is too pretty; Katniss is too fair-skinned; Neville Longbottom looks too much like a young Clive Owen; and Tyrion Lannister is far too sexy for his (leather) shirt.

It’s fine for the reader to guess details that you don’t mention at all, it’s just when new information is introduced later that it can be annoying. 

That said, you are allowed  to surprise the reader on purpose, for example: ‘Betty swore internally at her alarm clock each morning, dreading another day of work. It was Monday and rain clattered into her windows. She dove further under the duvet; it was dreadfully cold. Well, no one can afford to heat draughty old buildings anymore. Eventually, the sound of her beloved dogs yapping inspired her to drag her weary legs out of bed. I suppose one must persevere, she thought, one is the Queen of England after all.’

What do you think? Has this ever happened to you when you’ve been reading?

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The Best Valentine’s Cards for Writers

I was looking for one that said, ‘looking into your eyes is like getting a five star Amazon review that’s not from a relation’, but alas, these were the best I could do. They were all discovered on the craft wonderland that is Etsy. Click on any image to open the gallery.

 

What do you make of my choices? Could you write a better one? Please leave a comment below.

See my favourite Valentine’s gifts for book lovers here. If you’re not in the Valentine mood, read my post about magnificent single people in literature here.

If this has brought you any joy whatsoever, please like and share.

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The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf

The Mark on the WallThis is one of my favourite short stories: a meditative stream of consciousness with intelligent irony. It’s also where the band Modest Mouse found their name. I wrote a piece of close criticism on it for a course I completed earlier this year. I’ve highlighted the literary techniques Woolf has used – it’s so impressive how much she has fitted into just two paragraphs. We can all learn from the greats.

I chose the following paragraphs to analyse:

Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall. In order to fix a date it is necessary to remember what one saw. So now I think of the fire; the steady film of yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece. Yes, it must have been the winter time, and we had just finished our tea, for I remember that I was smoking a cigarette when I looked up and saw the mark on the wall for the first time. I looked up through the smoke of my cigarette and my eye lodged for a moment upon the burning coals, and that old fancy of the crimson flag flapping from the castle tower came into my mind, and I thought of the cavalcade of red knights riding up the side of the black rock. Rather to my relief the sight of the mark interrupted the fancy, for it is an old fancy, an automatic fancy, made as a child perhaps. The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.

 How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it…. If that mark was made by a nail, it can’t have been for a picture, it must have been for a miniature—the miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations. A fraud of course, for the people who had this house before us would have chosen pictures in that way—an old picture for an old room. That is the sort of people they were—very interesting people, and I think of them so often, in such queer places, because one will never see them again, never know what happened next. They wanted to leave this house because they wanted to change their style of furniture, so he said, and he was in process of saying that in his opinion art should have ideas behind it when we were torn asunder, as one is torn from the old lady about to pour out tea and the young man about to hit the tennis ball in the back garden of the suburban villa as one rushes past in the train.

Here’s my analysis:

virginiawoolfThis short story can be seen as a study of internal monologue as a form and an exploration of the fluidity of thought. The story begins with the word ‘perhaps’, immediately drawing attention to the unreliability of a first person narrator recalling the past and to give it the naturalism of a person trying to recall the specifics of an event. Throughout it has a conversational tone, ‘so he said’, as if the narrator is confiding in the reader. The same conspiratorial effect is created by ‘A fraud of course’, wherein the similar vowel sounds verge on assonance, giving an added phonological impact to this colloquial declarative that abruptly ends a descriptive flight of fancy.

The narrator fancies she sees the fire as ‘the cavalcade of red knights’. The alliterative fricatives in the phrase ‘that old fancy of the crimson flag flapping’ lend an excitement and verve to this image. There seems to be some irony in her ‘relief’ as the ‘sight of the mark interrupted the fancy’ because the majority of the story seems to be her exercising her imagination. The fact that it is ‘an old fancy, an automatic fancy, made as a child perhaps’ implies that this is part of her character – the tendency for her mind to wander to the fantastical. Again in the phrase is the ‘perhaps’ of not quite knowing from whence her thoughts and memories come. This self-confessedly fallible narrator seems more genuine because of her uncertainties: an irony that adds to the depth of the narrative point.

The dark spot on the wall is the focus of the story that she returns to, periodically anchoring the stream of consciousness. Colours of ‘crimson’ and ‘red’ provide a contrast with the mark, ‘black upon the white wall’, perhaps juxtaposing the vibrancy of the imagination with the room. The description of her knight image is finished with the words ‘black rock’. The pararhyme creates a definitive, conclusive end to her distraction. She returns directly after to the mark. The colours ‘red’ and ‘white’ reappear in another fanciful thought: ‘the miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations.’ It is interesting that the flowers of her simile are given colour, yet the ‘three chrysanthemums’ that stand on her mantelpiece are not. This could indicate that she is more taken by the brilliance of colour in her mind’s eye than in reality and so more absorbed with her internal life.

At times the story seems a self-aware exploration of internal monologue, ‘how readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object.’ The lexical field of nature hints at the idea that it is ingrained in human behaviour patterns to think this way.  In this simile, the ants carry ‘a blade of straw’, rather than grass, thus suggesting that their exercise is futile and ultimately unfulfilling. The implication is that swarming thoughts are similarly fruitless.

Complex sentences reflect the flow of related thoughts; the final sentence of the second paragraph is significantly longer than others, evoking excitability in the focaliser’s rapidly flowing thoughts. The extreme verb ‘torn asunder’ indicates the significance of this conversation to her, potentially because of the idea presented: ‘art should have ideas behind it.’ It is possible that Woolf is making a wider point here about the art of literature that she intends the reader to pause on. The simile that follows shows the narrator seeing things as they almost happen, ‘as one is torn from the old lady about to pour out tea and the young man about to hit the tennis ball in the back garden of the suburban villa as one rushes past in the train.’ Her experiences are incomplete, unsatisfactory, connoting the truncated and fleeting nature of thought. It is also reminiscent of the way she pulls short and limits her moments of imagination at the start of the story.

A contrast is created by the staid thinking of the people that owned the house previously, who moved because they ‘wanted to change their style of furniture.’ Their insistence on a single style of house and décor is contrapuntal to the fluid, imaginative thinking of the narrator. The repetition in ‘an old picture for an old room’ highlights the simplicity of their view.

The narrator’s curiosity about the neighbours seems to be phrased more as one would refer to a story than to people, ‘one will… never know what happened next’, as if their lives are a tale without ending. This further connotes her tendency to imagination. In this case and elsewhere, the voice changed from using the first person ‘I’ to the inclusive pronoun ‘one’, which creates a distance from the sentiment. This has the effect of drawing attention to the thoughts and their processes: she is observing the thoughts as if they are held by another, but also creating the sense that her concerns could have universality.

This story typifies a modernist transition from traditional first person narration to stream of consciousness. The narrator begins by resisting distraction, drawing the story back to the mark on the wall. However, in her attempt to express the nature of wandering thoughts, she ultimately introduces imagery that is more elaborate and evocative than her childhood imaginings. The reader realises that mark on the wall is the catalyst for an exploration of the ever-active mind.

Read the full text of The Mark on the Wall here if this has sparked your interest.

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Naming Characters: Make it Easy for Yourself and Your Readers

Anna Karenina - only dates men called Alexei.

Anna Karenina – only dates men called Alexei.

When naming your characters, there are simple ways to make life easier for you and your readers.

  1. Ideally, each character name should start with a different letter of the alphabet. I’ve seen manuscripts where writers have mistyped one similar name rather than the other. Also, a lot of readers don’t read the whole word every time, so an ‘Alice’ and an ‘Abbie’ can easily be confused. This can cause readers to miss or misunderstand details of the plot. I am of the opinion that Tolstoy’s work would be much easier to follow if he hadn’t named every third character ‘Alexei’.
  2. Choose character names that only have one spelling. It’s very easy for you as a writer to put down a manuscript for a while, come back to it and start typing ‘Anne’ rather than ‘Ann’.
  3. Uriah Heep never quite forgave his mum for that name.

    Uriah Heep never quite forgave his mum for that name.

    The same goes for last names. Be particularly wary of double letters; they’re harder to see on a read through. ‘Barrat’ and ‘Baratt’, for example, look very similar when skimming.

  4. Choose something that is easy to pronounce. Anything perplexing will put off a reader if they have to struggle through it each time it appears. This doesn’t mean it has to be a well-known name; you can make it up completely just as long as it follows standard phonetic rules. That is, every reader will ‘guess’ the pronunciation in the same way; ‘Bilbo Baggins’ would be an example of this.
  5. You can use your names to give the reader some indication of their characterisation. You don’t have to go the full Dickens and use very literal names (‘Uriah Heep’ and ‘Mr Sharp’ are very clearly antagonists in David Copperfield); consider Austen’s ‘Marianne Dashwood’: the name hints at her flighty, skittish tendencies.

Of course, the mistyping issues can be solved by a careful proofreader. Your character choice should primarily be based on what you want to call them and what you feel suits them, but do think of your reader too. 

voldemort-name-pronounce

How did you choose your character names? 

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Advice for Students: How to Write Your First University Essay

Eve Proofreads

Whether you’re coming to it from A Levels or the world of work, writing your first academic essay is a daunting task. The first thing to do is choose a topic, ideally a few weeks before the deadline so you have time to really think about it and avoid a last-minute panic! Make sure you go for something that interests you, ideally something that you attended the lecture and seminars on. The more you like a subject, the less of a chore the work will feel; you’ll spend more time on it and get a better result.

 It’s absolutely fine to start by reading a basic text book and online encyclopaedia articles to get an idea of the topic, but make sure you use serious, academic texts when in comes to referencing.

 The rule for referencing is if you are stating a fact or the opinion of another person, rather…

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Exclamation Marks

Westward Ho!

It is impossible to say this town’s name without sounding like you’re suggesting a galleon-based voyage towards it.

The key point with exclamation marks is to use them sparingly, otherwise they will lose their impact. There are three main uses:

1. Exclamation marks can be used to indicate an exclaimed sentence: ‘With a gorilla in a hot air balloon! A hot air balloon of all things!’

2. In speech they show that something is shouted or said loudly: ‘Get that gorilla back in its enclosure!’

3. They can also be used to indicate that a statement is intended to be humorous: ‘I couldn’t tell if it was him or the hippo that had made the mess!’

However, if the humour is evident without the exclamation mark, it is often more amusing and stylish to dead pan.

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?

With this many exclamation marks how could this not be a prudent fiscal move?

The main issue that occurs is over-use. Please don’t use more than one at a time. If you feel that you need to give more emphasis to a sentence than others that already have one exclamation mark, it is likely that the original sentences didn’t require exclamation marks at all. I associate multiple exclamation marks with dodgy advertising; my spam folder is full of exclamation marks.

It is often better when meaning is conveyed through content. Do it with your words, not with your punctuation.

How do you feel about exclamation marks? Do you use them in your writing? Leave me a comment.

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Sibilance

Sibilance is the recurrence of a hissing ‘s’ sound which can be effective in prose and poetry. It is sometimes referred to as sigmatism after the Greek letter sigma. Sibilance, as with all types of alliteration, draws emphasis where it is used. Note all the ‘s’ sounds in this extract from John Masefield’s Sea Fever:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

In this case, the sibilance gives a sense of flow, reflecting the movement of waves in the sea. It makes it very pleasing to read aloud – give it a try!

Shushing LibrarianSibilance is used commonly to draw people’s attention or admonish them (sssshhh!). Therefore, we know that it is an intense sound and can thus add this intensity to a piece of writing. A good example of this can be found in Bram Stoker’s Dracula: ‘The smell of sweetest victory swirled in his nostrils, overpowering the stale smell of battered bodies that lay underfoot.’ Here it also helps to highlight the contrast of the ‘stale’ and ‘sweet’ smells, using this phonological pattern to encourage the reader to associate the two descriptions.

Can you think of any other good examples of sibilance? Tell me in the comments!

Please do like and share if this has been an edifying read. Thank you!

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