In her poem, “Sacred Emily,” Gertrude Stein wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” This line is often interpreted as meaning things are what they are. In Stein’s view, the sentence expresses the fact that simply using the name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it.
In literature, objects can simply be what they are or they can symbolize something more than what they are.
A symbol is anything that hints at something else, usually something abstract, such as an idea or belief. A literary symbol is an object, a person, a situation, or an action that has a literal meaning in a story but suggests or represents other meanings.
If you want to learn more about crafting symbols in your story and how to use poetic techniques to deepen your prose, please join me this Thursday, April 21 for my writing webinar Sound and Symbol: How to Use Poetry to Deepen Your Prose, which is part of the Free Expressions Literary Series.
I’ll dive deep into how poetry can add sensory engagement to your prose.
We can have general symbols—like the aforementioned rose—and we can have specific symbols.
A general symbol is universal in its meaning. Even if the symbol was removed from a work of literature, it would still suggest a larger meaning, i.e. the rose symbolizes romantic love throughout time.
No matter what you write—emails, short stories, novels, or nonfiction—your prose can be more persuasive and impact your reader more effectively by using poetic devices.
Below are three blog posts to help you discover the power of using rhetorical techniques to create more poetic prose.
This Thursday, May 13, I’d love to have you on my webinar Adding Poetry to Your Prose.
You can buy the entire webinar series featuring well-known writers, including Donald Maass, Emma Dryden, and James Scott Bell, or scroll down to May 13 and grab my webinar. If you can’t make it live, you’ll receive the recording and all my handouts afterwards.
I’d love to see you there!
Until then, please enjoy these posts:
Use rhetorical devices to evoke readers’ emotions
Rhetorical devices: Your secret writing weapon
Add alliteration to make your pages pop!
Writer’s block. Real or imaginary?
I’ve heard different definitions of writer’s block over the years, but I think my favorite is from writer and teacher Victoria Nelson in her book On Writer’s Block. Writer’s block is often our subconscious mind’s way of letting us know something isn’t right, Nelson says.
I’ve definitely experienced this kind of writer’s block. Years ago, I was working on my memoir and I got to a point where I just couldn’t write anymore. I was totally blocked. So I stopped and thought about Nelson’s words and discussed my problem with a fellow writer. I finally realized that my memoir was focused on the wrong person! It took me two attempts to fix it but when I finally got it right, the story just flowed from me. Poof! My writer’s block was gone.
But not all writer’s blocks are created equal. A writer can experience what I call minor writer’s block. Nothing major is wrong, but when you sit down to write you feel resistance to putting words on paper. This mostly happens to me when I’m working on a project that feels scary or outside my wheelhouse—when I am stretching my comfort zone.
How do you conquer this kind of writer’s block? I’ve tried different things over the years, including: Read more
Experts say we are most like our five closest friends. I think that’s true. Our friends usually have similar interests and values as we do. Looking at someone’s friend circle can tell you a lot about them.
I’ve started using a friendship circle to track my friendships as a way to see where people belong in my life—this helps me keep clear boundaries which is something I always need to work on.
Recently, I wondered what would happen if my main character Caitlin filled this out. Who are her friends, and how do they reflect who she is to my reader? I had her fill out my friendship circle and the results really helped me get a clearer sense of who she is deep down inside.
I’ll share my experiment with you, but first a bit about how to use the friendship circle. Read more
In my 20s I was busy working and raising a family. I had no time for anything else, much less any creative endeavors. But one day I realized that part of me was missing—my creative self. I knew I needed to do something to fulfill that emptiness within but I didn’t know how to start.
Literally, the next day I was browsing in a book store and a book fell off the shelf and landed on my foot! Make Your Creative Dreams Real by SARK became my inspiration for designing my creative life. I don’t think I even finished the book, but I read enough to make a list of creative projects I wanted to pursue. I chose one—writing—and thus began my creative journey.
What I’ve learned over the years is that creativity begets creativity. Practicing creativity in any form exercises and strengths our creative muscles. Think of your imagination as a muscle for a moment.
When I had ankle surgery and couldn’t walk on my right leg for three months, I was amazed at how quickly I lost muscle tone. When I measured my calf muscles in both legs, my right leg was one inch smaller! Your imagination is like this—if you don’t use it, you lose it. And when you do exercise it, you gain momentum over time. Read more
The key to writing strong, believable characters is to really know and understand your characters as if they’re living, breathing human beings.
You want to know your character’s background, what makes them tick, what has happened to them to make them who they are today, what they dream about for the future, and more.
You need to know all this even if it’s not in your story. I keep separate journals for each of my main characters so I can write about them and write from their point of view.
One tool that has helped me delve deeper into my characters’ motivations comes from human needs psychology which has defined six basic human needs.
Motivational speaker Tony Robbins has written a great article on these needs, “Tony Robbins: 6 Basic Needs that Make us Tick.” The six needs are: Read more
As mentioned in part one of this post, writing prompts can help get us into the flow of our writing. Poetry prompts are easy. Pretty much anything can be a poetry prompt. But what if you’re working on a longer project like an essay, short story, or novel? Learning to develop your own prompts for a specific project can be a powerful tool in your writing practice.
The more we practice developing prompts and writing from them, the better writers and storytellers we will become.
Think about the word practice for a minute. Practice is defined as to do something habitually and also as to pursue a profession such as law. But, really, anything can be a practice.
I’m currently doing a 30-day yoga challenge courtesy of “Yoga with Adrienne” on YouTube. I don’t have a naturally flexible body, so I have to modify many of the poses. This is one of the things I love about yoga—it’s flexibility to fit any body type. It’s called a “yoga practice” for a reason. I love saying the words “yoga practice” because they remind me that I don’t have to be perfect. In order to get better at anything, we have to practice it. Read more