Damn Fine Writing: 7 Secrets of the Poetically Exceptional

Damn Fine Writing: 7 Secrets of the Poetically Exceptional

Ah, the quest for damn fine writing. It’s not just about putting words on paper; it’s about evoking an emotion, painting a vivid scene, and making the reader hang onto every syllable, every pause. The greatest writers don’t just tell stories, they mesmerize with their poetic precision. How do they do it? Let’s delve into the secrets.

1) The Power of Imagery

The Secret: Masterful writers possess the ability to paint with words. They don’t just describe; they evoke and manifest landscapes and emotions in the reader’s mind.

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

  • T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

How it Works: Eliot doesn’t just describe April; he imbues it with emotion and contrasts – the cruelty of a month that awakens dormant life.

5 imagery examples

Example 1: “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Example 2: “I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills.”

  • William Wordsworth

Example 3: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”

  • William Wordsworth

Example 4: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure dome decree.”

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Example 5: “He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest.”

  • W.H. Auden

2) Metaphors and Similes

The Secret: A well-placed metaphor or simile can turn a simple sentence into a powerful message, comparing two unrelated things for a striking effect.

“Time is a river sweeping away all that is born.”

  • Ancient Proverb

How it Works: By equating time to a river, the writer illustrates the relentless flow of life and mortality.

5 metaphor examples

Example 1: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

  • William Shakespeare

Example 2: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player.”

  • William Shakespeare

Example 3: “Her smile was like a summer sunrise.”

Example 4: “His words were threads of silk, soft and delicate.”

Example 5: “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

  • Emily Dickinson

3) The Rule of Threes

The Secret: A series of three can be rhythmically satisfying and helps drive home a point.

“Of the people, by the people, for the people.”

  • Abraham Lincoln

How it Works: Lincoln’s repetition emphasizes democracy’s comprehensive nature, creating a lasting impact.

Rule of 3 Examples

Example 1: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Example 2: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt

Example 3: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

  • Abraham Lincoln

Example 4: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.”

  • William Shakespeare

Example 5: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

  • Julius Caesar

4) Alliteration and Assonance

The Secret: Using repetition of initial consonant sounds or vowel sounds in close proximity makes prose sound poetic.

“Do not go gentle into that good night.”

  • Dylan Thomas

How it Works: The repeated ‘g’ sound gives a musical quality to the line, making it memorable.

Alliteration Examples:

Example 1: “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”

Example 2: “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck If a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

Example 3: “The lark at break of day arising From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate.”

  • William Shakespeare

Example 4: “Fleet feet sweep by sleeping geese.”

Example 5: “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plains.”

5) Minimalism: Less is More

The Secret: Sometimes, the most profound thoughts are expressed in the fewest words.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby”

How it Works: Fitzgerald encapsulates the human struggle against time and fate in one concise line.

Minimalism Examples:

Example 1: “Carpe Diem. Seize the Day.”

Example 2: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

  • William Shakespeare

Example 3: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

  • Albert Camus

Example 4: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

  • Often attributed to Ernest Hemingway

Example 5: “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

  • William Shakespeare

6) Anaphora: Strategic Repetition

The Secret: Beginning successive clauses with the same word or phrase adds emphasis and rhythm.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

  • Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”

How it Works: Dickens’ repetition spotlights the contrasts and contradictions of the era he’s about to dive into.

Anaphora Examples:

Example 1: “Every day, every night, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

Example 2: “Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition!”

  • William Shakespeare

Example 3: “Not time, not money, not laws, but willing diligence will get this done.”

Example 4: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields.”

  • Winston Churchill

Example 5: “To raise, to rise, to rise.”

7) Paradoxical Truth

The Secret: Presenting contradictions that reveal a deeper truth makes readers pause and ponder.

“I can resist anything except temptation.”

  • Oscar Wilde

How it Works: Wilde’s wit shines through, highlighting human nature’s often contradictory impulses.

Paradoxy Examples:

Example 1: “The more you know, the more you realize you know nothing.”

Example 2: “I must be cruel to be kind.”

  • William Shakespeare

Example 3: “Men work together… whether they work together or apart.”

  • Robert Frost

Example 4: “Less is more.”

Example 5: “The only way to overcome death is to die.”

Remember, damn fine writing isn’t about adhering to a strict formula, but understanding these tools and techniques can certainly elevate your craft. Every writer has their own rhythm, their own voice. Find yours, refine it, and with every word you pen, aim to touch the soul.

PS These 7 will get you started, but you should check out this complete list of writing and rhetorical devices.

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