I’ve just been re-reading a book of short essays written by my friend the talented poet and entrepreneuse (plus many other exciting things) Gwyneth Box. The book is called A poet’s dozen and it explores many devices and ideas for writing poetry. So many of Gwyneth’s ideas are pertinent to my current project (even though I’m not writing poems, I’m writing ghost stories) and I was particularly struck by the essays on line breaks, reading aloud and titles.
Gwyneth points out the effect of line breaks on emphasising particular phrases or words within the poem. I find the same can work well within prose.
This is a concept often used in modern in children’s literature. You only have to look in many recent picture books to see sentences spread across pages, or over the page to great effect. The current Children’s Laureate, author-illustrator Lauren Child takes it further, her text climbs stairs and flies around the page, often upside down or in multiple fonts and sizes. Although Lauren Child is perhaps best known for her books about Charlie and his little sister Lola, my personal favourites are Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book and That Pesky Rat. It all adds to the storytelling. I can understand, though, that it might not work for a serious grown-up story …
… or would it?
Gwyneth Box also writes of the benefits of reading aloud – and not just at live lit events, such as Words of Love earlier this month. And not only for work that is designed to be read aloud, such as monologues or other performance pieces. Reading your work aloud as part of the review/editing process is a very effective way of spotting snags and hitches that might trip up your reader, interrupting the flow of your idea or narrative. It’s also a chance to check the rhythm of the language and syntax – does it enhance or distract from the atmosphere of the piece? This can come across more strongly if you read to someone else, or even better listen as someone else reads your work aloud.
Then there’s the title. The very thing that might persuade (or fail to persuade) someone to read that particular poem, story or book. As Gwyneth points out, some poets don’t use titles, opting to number their poems instead, albeit often within an overall themed collection. I don’t think I could get away with that as a writer of short stories – where would be the incentive to read story ‘5’ without even a hint of what it’s about?
It helps me to think of the title as a piece of the whole: the frame around the picture, a clue, a sneak preview, sometimes a play on words or just a brief summing up of what the story is really about. It’s proved a bit tricky coming up with a title for this blog post. You might like to add your own?
N.B. Read more from Gwyneth Box on her website: www.gwynethbox.com