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

Bella Tuscany Frances MayesBut 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.

Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

    Thanks!

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

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

  6. So glad you’re gleaning!

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

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

  9. 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.) 😉

    Corra

    from the desk of a writer

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

  11. 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.

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

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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 🙂

    M.

  16. 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.

  17. 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? ^^

  18. 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.

  19. 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 🙂

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

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

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