The young lady helping me with book promo – Dianna Gunn (check her out at http://thedabbler.ca/author/dlgunn/) – this week suggested I write a blog about how I composed the poetry in my novel The Exile of Elindel; and did I have any tips. I sat and thought about this. The usual tumbleweed scenario. I have never analysed my technique, assuming I have one. I just write it because I’m inspired with an idea or I need verse to serve a purpose, and either it works or it fails miserably.
Dianna’s suggestion did stir up a distant memory, however. The first thing I ever wrote was a poem. I was about six or seven years old. I’m not saying I was the literary equivalent of Mozart or anything like that. It was a piece of doggerel about a crocus and the coming of spring. What prompted me to write it, I have no idea. There were four verses and it was a rhyming poem. I was very literate for my age but I don’t recall being a fan of poetry. I don’t read much poetry now and when I do I prefer it to be very traditional. A Shakespearean sonnet is my idea of perfection. (Tip one, check him out. He’s rather good!)
That crocus poem was a defining point in my life and all because of my teacher’s reaction to it. She thought it was extraordinary, probably because of my age, and showed it to the other teachers. It was pinned to the wall for everyone to see. I was somewhat taken aback by all the fuss but, basking in the glow of their admiration, I had an epiphany: this was my thing. Not poetry as such. Words. I could manipulate words. I could paint pictures with words. With words I could get approval. I had a skill that not everyone else had. That was when I first knew I wanted to be a writer, although I may not have articulated it to myself in that way at the time.
As for writing the verses of The Exile of Elindel, all I can say is, it’s easier when you know what you want to say. If you need a banishing spell, for example, you have to use words designed to ward things off, but you can’t just tell the bad guys to go to hell if your characters live in Dark Age Britain. You have to choose language appropriate to the setting. I spent countless hours with an old dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus trying to find the right words for my verses; words that in themselves created a certain ambience. Nothing can capture mood in quite the same way as a poem can. A poem is the distilled essence of emotions and feelings. A poem is also like a jigsaw puzzle made of words. You have to get all the right pieces to fit in the right place and still keep the integrity of the overall picture; the prevailing mood (Is that tip two?).
Every time I revised and rewrote the manuscript, I changed the verses. I’m a bit OCD with poems. There’s always room for improvement and sometimes you think you have the right word, but you haven’t, thanks to all the subtle nuances of the English language. Tip three: if you want to write poems, you need an extensive vocabulary. Even more so if, like me, you prefer traditional poetry. The restrictions of metre and rhythm and rhyme can make it very difficult to say exactly what you want to say – perhaps that’s half the fun! The smaller your vocabulary, the fewer your options for self-expression.
The verses in The Exile of Elindel are much shorter now than they were originally. They were too wordy and repetitive, mainly because I loved the sound of certain phrases. Following my editor’s advice, I pruned extensively and have to say the verses were greatly improved. Tip four: as with everything else, less is more.
There will be more verses in books II and III – depending on what we do during the editing process – and again I found these fairly easy to write because I knew what I had to say and how to say it. Other poetry I’ve written has always arisen from an idea that popped into my head and needed to be expressed. If I can end a poem with a little twist, so much the better, otherwise the ending should be satisfactory. A poem should say something worth saying, I think. Perhaps it should have an introduction, a middle and a conclusion, like a well-crafted essay.
Tip five: have fun with words. I once wrote a poem about a crocus and discovered I just liked playing with words. I guess I always will.