Poetry’s Gift to Prose

Simon Kindt – Cool

Every now and then a book arrives full to bursting with an idea so thought provoking, or titillating, that nobody cares how well it’s written. Despite the novel’s faults, people who’ve hardly read books (let alone buy one) will see it for sale in a service station, or games emporium, or stacked in a toy store, and buy it just because they’ve heard the buzz this little slab of paper created.

Even while you shake your writerly head over them, you can’t deny the power of the ideas that gave us Fifty Shades, Ready Player One, Da Vinci Code or even those Potter books.

The rest of us can’t rely on coming up with a world defining idea.

We’re going to have to haul ourselves out of the ordinary with our word skills, and that’s where the gift that is poetry enters the mix. While prose is all about sentences and what comes next, it’s the poetic eye (or is that ear) that adds the colour and feeling to the prosaic. When your writing is too flat, too ordinary, too bolted down to reality, it’s poetry that helps writers add sensory detail, playfulness, and a rich imagery deftly drawn.

Poetry is about nuance, about showing and suggesting connections. Story should be about nuance too, but it’s so easy to forget all that when your main aim is to achieve a word count.

And, of course, poetry is about language and how it fits together to create an effect as well as create a story.

Simon Kindt – in action

On Saturday, May 19, Queensland Writers’ Centre is bringing Brisbane poet, arts worker and teacher Simon Kindt, to Bundaberg, to our rooms at 80A Woongarra Street.

The morning session, The Spaces Between: An Introduction to Poetic Writing   is an exploration of metaphor, imagery and writing for sound, designed for writers who want to test the notion that poetry can lift there words out of the doldrums.

The afternoon session focusses on bringing poetry off the page. Beyond the Page: Exploring Movement, Sound and Music  is for beginner and intermediate writers, and explores the power of sound and music intrinsic to poetry.

To book, click on the links above. Costs per session range from $30 QWC members’ concession to $55 non-member non-concession.

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Hungry for the wolf

I’m enjoying a coffee, taking a breath, when a woman I met for an hour in a workshop more than a decade ago stops to say hello.

She asks me if I’m still working. I am. Writing isn’t something you retire from, though I’m trying to retire into it.

Her face lights up. Not often do I actually see a face light up but her joy seems luminescent. If you need a beta reader, she says, I’d love to read something for you.

Read something for me. What? What does that mean? No!

Ok, this scene is not true representation of the facts, but a blend of recent experiences. The one truth is that the term beta reader is being thrust at me from unexpected and unlooked for directions.

Remain polite while declining offers like this. And no, not because you’re shy about your own writing, but because a beta reader has to work for you, not the other way around.

And, not to make too many bones about it, some self styled beta readers take as their right the chance to fiddle with a manuscript.

Folks who appear at your writer’s shoulder as if by magic, or are as enthusiastic as a puppy being offered a walk, or who have decided it might be fun to dabble in the creative process… Those dear puppy-dog people have to be regarded with the same distrust as spam email offering you the world – if only you just say YES.

Stay right away from them.

True, a Beta reader can be any casual reader you can get your hands on. It’s best if they read the type of story you’re hoping to sell. They may have writing or publishing experience (again, in your area of expertise) but it doesn’t matter if they don’t, because a Beta reader gets your polished MS. The one you’ve tweaked and burnished and laboured over. The one you’re ready – almost ready – to send off to an agent or publisher.

Remember, they’re Beta readers and Beta means second. A Beta’s job is to read the MS for enjoyment, and to then point out the few (we hope) remaining flaws the author has overlooked during the rounds of rewrites.

If you want any more than that, and you should, then you’ll need your Alpha reader.

Yes, Alpha – not the biggest, not the meanest, not the most dominant, but an individual you trust first to tell you any ugly truths respectfully and honestly, and an individual who can speak from actual knowledge.

In fact Alphas will read the story long before it’s finished, give feedback during the writing process.

Why? Because Alphas can be trusted to ignore the fact the MS isn’t yet polished to a high sheen. They won’t waste their time mentioning typos, grammar etc. (you know, nuts and bolts errors you’ll clean up on subsequent edits).

Alphas can tell the difference between a scene still in outline and one fully fleshed (believe me, many Beta readers can’t) and will know, without asking, that you’re still working a scene over.

More than that, a good Alpha will agree to read your chapters as you rewrite and polish, because an Alpha knows their job is not a one read deal.

An Alpha is there for you. They are your first reader, and the one you trust. And for a long time they’ll be only one you trust enough for this job. Eventually you might have as many as three or four.

Once you’ve finished primping and polishing, then you turn to your Betas, plural. Hundreds of them if you have the time or are anal enough.

Betas bring a new focus. They haven’t been privy to MS development and can see where the author’s intensity, and the alpha’s depth of involvement, may have missed something. The Beta is the writer’s last line of defence.

They read your final draft once, tell you what they loved (a strength), what they hated (a weakness), and go back to their life. Compare reports from enough Beta readers and you can get a pretty clear idea of how the average reader will see the story.

Of course, you might want to cut a bit of red tape and mash up the alpha/beta job description – wait until your first draft is almost finished then ship it to as many readers as you can dig up, get some opinions, edit a little, send it out again, argue with the readers whose advice you didn’t follow because, when it came down to it, you really don’t trust them enough… and so on.

Or you can just face the fact that while Betas are ten a penny,  you’ll never repay  a good Alpha.

Is there a difference between Landscape and Setting?

I think there is.

But what I think doesn’t matter. On May 21, BWC will be hosting T M Clark, a writer born in Zimbabwe, now calling Queensland home (having also lived in England) to help us understand how writers need to be Inspired by Landscape, rather than settle for using setting as an atmospheric backdrop.TMClark

Bookings are Essential through the Queensland Writers Centre.

As you can imagine, setting features strongly in TM Clark’s books, which are described as African Suspense. Some might think Tina Marie is ‘lucky’ to have first hand knowledge of a landscape we Australians probably consider exotic.

One point might be that we are all living our own exotic lifestyles. We just don’t notice any more.

The other point might be that Landscape is much more than a location, exotic or otherwise. Landscape isn’t a relief painted with broad brushstrokes. It’s not an accessory. It is the living world your characters find themselves in.

Elizabeth George, American Queen of Crime, a writer of mysteries set in England (you might know the Lynley Mysteries), has this to say in her book, Write Away.

On the surface, it would appear that landscape and setting are the same creatures, identical twins given different names just to confuse the beginning writer. This, however, would not be the truth since setting is where a story takes place–including where each scene takes place–while landscape is much broader than that…Landscape in writing implies much the same as that which is implied by the word when it’s used to refer to a location in a country: It is the broad vista into which the writer actually places the individual settings of the novel, sort of like the canvas or other medium onto which a painter has decided to daub color.

“You need to think about the landscape of your book because if you’re able to make the landscape of place real, you can make the land itself real, which gives you a leg up on making the entire novel real for the reader.”

If you want TM Clark’s take on the Inspiration Landscape can lend to your latest MS, make sure to book early.