2 Important Tricks for Making Your Prose Sing

2 Important Tricks for Making Your Prose Sing

Words are the building blocks of our craft, and yet the way words are put together is a facets of storytelling writers often overlook in our mad dash to perfect plot, character, dialogue, and POV.

Learning From the Masters of Prose: Frances Mayes

But when a book as luscious as Frances Mayes’s Bella Tuscany falls into your hands, you can’t help but be reminded of the importance of beautiful words singing together within the harmony of perfect sentences.

Mayes sketches her life in Italy with elegiac prose that makes the reader feel as if he’s stepped inside a poem. You just want to close your eyes and savor the bliss of such phrases as:

The ripe peach colors of the house rhyme with yellow, rose, and apricot flowers.

It also kind of makes you want to throw up your hands in defeat, since there’s no way your prose is ever going to trickle off your pen in such beautiful patterns!

Mayes’s 2 Secrets to Make Your Prose Sing

If you look closer at Mayes’s writing, you can learn some of her tricks.

1. Pay Attention to Details in Your Prose

Mayes’s most important lesson is her attention to detail. Her descriptions are never vague. She hits the reader with solid noun after vibrant verb, as is especially evident in her tantalizing descriptions of food, such fried tomatoes, and her use of color in phrases like “blond light” and “tanned to the color of an old baseball glove.”

2. Be Succinct

Mayes’s other secret is that she never says more than she has to. Her splendid choice of words means she never has to linger overlong on descriptions. She selects the few details that bring the scene to life for the reader, then lets his imagination take over.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How do you make your prose sing? What’s your favorite line you’ve ever written? Tell me in the comments!

2 Important Tricks for Making Your Prose Sing

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I love that you’re doing this site for writers! What an amazing encouragement…

    I totally agree that beautiful, lyrical prose is the best inspiration there is. In fact, I’ve gone to my library’s webpage and ordered up Bella Tuscany for another go-round!

    Inspiration–come on in and join me by the fire!

  2. Very nice, Katie. You’re a lovely young lady. Keep up the great work!

  3. Thanks for sharing! I’ll come watch the video after work. Can’t wait.

    Happy Wednesday!

  4. This is very cool, KM! Love that you chose to sit in front of a bookcase ;). I love reading your blog, and now I get to love “watching” your blog, too! You have such a knack and honing in on a single point and finding the perfect examples for illustrating your points. I’m speaking at a local writers group tomorrow night, and I have your blog listed as a “resource” for writers (I think I told you that?). I can’t wait to tell them you’ve added this feature.

  5. This blog just continued to get better & better much like a fine wine ages over time.
    I can’t wait for the next installment.
    Thank you for all you do to assist others!

  6. Yay!!! What a gal!!! Good job, and great idea!!!

  7. Great post. Very motivating. And I am looking forward to watching the videos.

  8. Very inspiring video. I enjoyed watching and hope you will add more videos to the blog.

  9. @Madison: If you haven’t read Mayes’s first book Under the Tuscan Sun, I suggest you start there. They’re both beautiful!

    @Maggie: Thanks, Maggie!

    @Kimberly: Hope you enjoy it!

    @Kat: Yes, my bookcase is my favorite nook. Alas, I’m getting too many books (is there such a thing?) to fit in it. Maybe I’ll have *two* favorite nooks before long!

    @Melinda: Thanks so much. You’re very kind. 🙂

    @Sage: Thanks for stopping by!

    @Wanderer: I appreciate the encouragement, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

    @April: If all goes according to plan, I hope to feature a video post every Wednesday.

  10. Katie, this was very good! 🙂 Good job!

    The descriptions you mentioned do sound beautiful… you don’t get that too much in murder mysteries! :p I may have to read one of her books to get some ideas, but then I’d need a POV character that would allow for that kind of description!

  11. True… Mayes’s style definitely wouldn’t fit in all genres. But the way she utilizes details to make descriptions pop wouldn’t be amiss in any kind of writing

  12. Great job, Katie.

    I bookmarked the video to reference again later.

    After I read Bella Tuscany, I loved it for its beautiful prose, but that discouraging voice whispered into my ear, “Wow. Give up now, because you can never write like that.”

    I’m too stubborn to give up, so I’ll try the tricks you suggested. Then maybe. By some miracle. We’ll see. 😉

  13. The good news is that I’m sure even Frances Mayes looks at her work and feels it’s not always up to snuff. So there’s always hope for the rest of us!

  14. This is such a great idea, K.M. – two-minute lessons = woo-hoo! I love the title, “Make Your Prose Sing”. Thanks for the video.

  15. Loved watching the video, K.M.! I look forward to future writing installments 🙂

    I agree that though often overlooked, prose is definitely important! I love when I can read a book, and really savor all of the ‘spice’ to the book, like creative analogies, and specific details.

  16. @Shannon: Thanks! I hope the two-minute length means the posts will be bite-sized enough for busy writer folk like us to digest on the go!

    @Mia: I think we tend to obsess about the big stuff in writing (and rightly so), but when I step back and look at the books I’ve read that I remember most, the top of the list is packed with those that featured beautiful prose. It’s a simple thing – but too vital to overlook!

  17. I love, love, LOVE this, Katie. I feel like I’m sitting right there with you. I learn so much from you! 😉

    I really want my prose to sing.

  18. Thanks, Sandra! I’m glad you were “sitting” right there with me. 🙂 We’ll pretend we’re sharing a cup of coffee and a good book!

  19. Absolutely fabulous!! I love learning from you and now this new feature makes me feel I’m right there with ya. Blessings galore 🙂

  20. Thanks so much, Lorrie. I hope the new series proves a blessing to everyone.

  21. Great new feature – short enough to provide a guilt-free break in a writing day, but long enough to say something worthwhile!

  22. Thanks, Roz. I had fun putting it together, and I hope my readers will benefit from it!

  23. This awesome, KM! Thanks!!

  24. Thanks for commenting, Kristen!

  25. I love your vlog! Great advice and wonderful examples. I’ll have to bookmark this to use when I start revisions:)

  26. I’ve had plans for “vlogging” for almost a year now, but I just now got around to making it a reality. I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes!

  27. Great idea – which is what I need to think about for my blog that I am so bored with right now “Great ideas” – if I’m bored with my blog, I bet others are, too

    Started to listen, then was interrupted, so will try again in a few-but love the bookcase full of books! 🙂

  28. I’m not bored with it! 🙂 But fresh ideas are always fun. I’m having a lot of fun with this one.

  29. Huh. So /that’s/ how ‘elegiac’ sounds out loud. 😉

    I love how you’re experimenting with all this cool technology we have available to us, and how much fun you’re having with the experimentation. Turns out, I’m having fun watching the various results. You’re a natural, Katie.

  30. Thanks, Phy! I’ll tell you a secret: I had to listen to my computer dictionary pronounce “elegiac” before I could get it right!

  31. I’m still wanting to find time to read more at your blog but this is so very exciting—to see you in person too! I’ll be back and I’m wanting to glean some more great book titles that will help me.

  32. Thanks for stopping by! I hope to post the book analyses every Wednesday.

  33. Thank you so much for this wonderful, motivating video! I am actually beginning to believe that even I could make my own prose sing!

  34. Very nice KM. Your a natural in front of the camera, and the content was excellently communicated. You should do well with this new feature. I’ll be back!

  35. @Mirah: Go for it! I’m firmly convinced anyone can learn to be a wonderful writer, so long as he’s willing to work at it.

    @DL: Thank you. It was a bit nerve-racking at first, but I think I’m going to end up enjoying my little productions.

  36. I loved this idea! The video was awesome! I’m such an audio learner. If I can hear the information, it will sink in better!

    Maybe you can have us do a quick activity that goes along with your lesson. Have us write a description of something we ate today or something we see from where we are sitting, and we can write it in the comment box.

    Not that I’m asking for homework

  37. What a great way to share even more information and thoughts on the writing craft! Thanks for your generous gifts.

  38. I think this is a wonderful idea. Listening to your voice reminds me of how the spoken word confirms and validates the flow of the written word. Very nicely done.

  39. Bravo, Katie! You did a fabulous job! I love the music intro, too.

  40. @Faith: Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll see if maybe I can work it into next month’s batch of videos.

    @Natasha: You’re very welcome!

    @Charity: When you think about it: the storytelling form started out verbally, so it’s no wonder we find validation reading aloud – or being read to.

    @Sharon: Thanks! And I’m so glad you like the music. I had a dickens of a time finding something I liked!

  41. Great job! It’s always nice to put a face with a name – and you have such a lovely face ;o)

    Yes, would love to see more – your posts are so informative and helpful. Thank you :o)

  42. Thank you, Erica. 🙂 I’m excited that everyone seems to be enjoying this new venture!

  43. When I saw your post, I thought…Yay! I get to hear Katie-kins speak! And boy, what a treat I got! This is a great idea! Even though fiction is not my thing, I love picking out the little tidbits I can use! Blessings on your new venture! It’s wonderful!

  44. Thanks, Lynn! 🙂 You’re a dear.

  45. I force myself to finish books- learning from the painful ones just as much as the riveting ones. I think authors internalize a lot from the storytelling of others. It’s a great way to learn to write!

  46. For better or worse, I finish the bad ones too. And, actually, some of my favorite books have been ones I didn’t particularly like until the ending! Totally agree about learning by osmosis.

  47. I cannot wait for the next episode, this was blissful! I’ve been so caught up in story in character, language,prose, description and the like? Last thing on my mind. I merely wanted the story down. But where was the world around the story? I do hope to see lots more installments. 😀

  48. It is funny how we often forget about beautiful prose, isn’t it? And yet it’s the foundation of everything we write!

  49. K.M., I’m so impressed! Are you also a broadcaster? Your enunciation is crisp, and your eye contact solid but not hard. (Dare I say al dente?)

    I appreciate the tips. Fewer words, but make them transport. I need to read more often so that I may soak up all these fabulous nouns and verbs.

    It also seems that a shift in thinking is required, a loosening if you will. We must learn to describe things as we actually see and feel them instead of shunting them back at the reader in precise but unmoving formal businesspeak, or our own familiar casual comfort words. We must learn to see and feel things deeply, because I think people can tell when we’re guessing at an emotion.

  50. Al dente eye contact… sounds reasonable to me! No, I’m not a broadcaster. Just a writer who pretends not to be camera shy. 😉

    I think, too, when we try to dig down deep inside ourselves and describe things as we see them, instead of how they necessarily are, we often find incredibly original phrasings – and we end up able to help others see old details in a new way.

  51. I am so happy I found this blog!!! It is fantastic and exactly what I need! Tons of knowledge!!! Yay for all you are doing!


  52. Welcome, Jen! Hope you find what you’re looking for!

  53. I learn more and more with your effort to teach and help. Thanks for an informative video.

  54. So glad you’re gleaning!

  55. I love that you’re having a video on your blog now – I look forward to hearing the next one! 😀

  56. Thank you! I think it’s going to be a fun addition.

  57. One day, when I get more confident, I want to be able to help other writers like this.

    Love the video. Excellent points throughout.

    (Makes your blog stand out.) 😉


    from the desk of a writer

  58. Thanks, Corra. And, I’ll tell you what, if a camera-shy introvert like me can do it, anyone can!

  59. Very well done video, and a couple great points made as well. Whenever I find myself satisfied with my prose, I remind myself that Edgar Allan Poe wrote his as poetry first, and that leaves me with a long way to go.

    Lyrical prose has always won in my opinion.

  60. I didn’t know that about Poe. It’s great anecdote though – and a high bar to shoot for!

  61. Well done, you!

    Sharp nouns. Vibrant verbs. And just enough detail to let the reader’s imagination join in the music. Just lovely inspiration.

    Congratulations on your newest idea!

  62. Thanks, Marisa! Just enough detail to let the reader’s imagination take over: I couldn’t agree more. Those “telling details” make all the difference.

  63. I think that´s a very fair way to deal wirh description 🙂 It´s always about finding the right word instead of dwelling in a full pool of them. As you said, sometimes simple details can be life-savers!

    And just to let you know, your post about modifiers have been very useful for me! In my WIP (I have a WIP now, yay!) I was about to write “flowery garden”, when your words came to my mind and I realized I was indeed beeing lazy, telling instead of showing, so I made my character “grab one of the many flowers” instead.

    Thanks a lot 🙂


  64. Good for you! I’m glad you found the post helpful. Don’t be afraid to throw lots of descriptors against the wall to see what sticks. Sometimes we have to pour everything out just to see what will work best – then trim the words that don’t work.

  65. It was very helpful indeed 🙂

    Yes, I usually do that and then red-mark those lines I´m willing to double check later on.

    I don´t think description is a bad thing, it just have to be used wisely. You can open with actio and then slow down a bit, like the calm before the storm, like when you´re on a rollercoaster and you go up step by step, but you know you´re suddenly going to fall hard. And scream. And that your heart will still racing long after the journey is over. That´s what we all want after all, right? ^^

  66. Description is definitely good thing. It’s easy nowadays, with all the emphasis on action, to get gun-shy of description and err on the side of not enough. But description is what allows readers to visualize the story. Without enough description, they’re left grasping to figure out what the author intends.

  67. Yes, it´s description what allows readers to get into the story. IT will alwats feels odd when you can picture it properly.

    Description isn´t good or bad by itself, it´s always about the proper balance. As everything in life 🙂

  68. After reading you too much, watching you and listening to you felt quite different and good. And aren’t you a lovely lady with a lovely voice 🙂
    And I really loved your idea. In debates of strong plot points, POV’s, characters, etc etc. We often forget the main essence of writing, words.
    Thanks for reminding us

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I so often go to the movies to learn (and teach) storytelling that it can become easy to overlook the key differences required in *writing* stories, and, of course, the major one is always going to be prose.

  69. Hi, Katie. This post was lovely as always. It’s inspiring to see the first post that eventually led to your up-to-date video series. I want to share my thoughts on this subject.

    I love elegant, melodic and harmonic prose. I love how it feels to read uplifting words connected so seamlessly and eloquently that it seems heaven is not so far to reach. When the prose is so vibrant and positive, it feels like your soul is being lifted up high.

    In a way, lyrical prose purifies our taste in Literature. The more enthralling the books we read, the more we enjoy the process of reading. And what could be better than reading and rereading to our heart’s content? I think it’s a universal truth when readers go back to reading ’cause of the evocative power of elegantly written books.

    I hope to write one as well someday. But I’ll start practicing now and hopefully, I may inspire you in my future works. May The Prose ever be in your favor.

  70. I have been trying to use the prose Ms. Mayes uses. The problem, I believe, is that I didn’t know how she did it and it sounded so strange to me. So now I have to go back and try some new descriptions in my WIP and see what happens.
    Thank you, Katie.

  71. This is really the most important thing in a book for me, but so hard to find!

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