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Worrying your writing (Continuation)

Example One: A student's poem

This is how it's done. Let's look at a passage from a writing student's poem about a city girl sitting on a wild, isolated cliff:

                    Yet as I lay there
                    A feeling of tranquility
                    Unnoticed at first, but
                    Slowly gaining in strength
                    Was infused into my being by
                    The strange lullaby of waves attacking
                    The merciless rocks.

Now, let's apply what we have learned so far in our writing lessons. Let's worry it. Read again, slowly.

1. 'As I lay there...' - This is a good active use of an otherwise inactive transitive verb. In this instance, the message is very clear, very strong.

2. 'A feeling...' - It is always better to describe the feeling or the sensation in powerful words expressing your own perception, rather than call it 'a feeling'.

3. 'Tranquility...' - Here we raise the red flag with regard to the use of an abstract noun. Consider the reader's sensitivities before you declare this final.

4. 'Gaining...' - Think of the use of an -ing verb or the same one directly in the past tense. Could you use 'gained'? Could you not? It's the writer's choice.

5. 'Strength...' - This word is quite strong for an abstract noun. However, do you really mean 'strength'? Perhaps you meant 'intensity', not 'strength'.

6. 'Was infused...' - Another red flag here, for the passive. Try rewording this.

7. 'My being...' - This is an unsuitable use of an abstract noun, when you are actually referring to your person. You should make it more precise, by using a concrete noun denoting your whole body, or a part of it, say mind or heart. 

8. 'Lullaby...' - This is a good use of a common noun, even inspiring calm and tranquility, as we read.

9. 'waves...' - Another common noun that comes to qualify the lullaby. Can you 'hear' the lullaby now? Could you 'hear' it before you read 'of waves'?

10. 'attacking' - A verb finishing in -ing - do you mean the 'state of attacking' or do you mean the continuous action. It may be all right, but watch it carefully.

11. 'rocks' - This is as concrete as it can get, and a good sound at the end of the poem. Can you hear it's 'plonck'-like end sound?

Let's see a revised version

   I lay there.
   Slowly my ear came alive
   To the thunder
   Three hundred feet below me -
   The waves' continuous attack
   On the merciless rocks.
   A strange lullaby.

Now, how much stronger do you find this new version, after the author reviewed the points above?

There is more clarity, although the text can be worked further still. We shall consider such kind of further work, after we'll have discussed the Adjective.

As we shall see later, meaning is not the only aspect that makes for magic in a piece of writing, whether verse or prose. There is also the sound and rhythm of the words, but... everything in its good timing.

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