Here’s a recent post at Well Storied: Three Tips for Crafting Lyrical Prose
Tips are all very well, but this gave me pause. Can you teach someone to write serviceable prose? Sure. Can you actually teach someone to write lyrical prose? Um. Can you provide three tips that make an actual difference? Um …
Well, I am skeptical, but let me see.
Tip 1: Use different types of repetition. The author is talking about alliteration, consonance, and assonance.
Hmm. The first thing that sprang to my mind was none of the above. I thought first of repetition of words, and the book that sprang to mind was The Silver Chair by CS Lewis. In that one, Lewis might have gone a little overboard with repetition of certain words, such as “moonlight” and “silver.” He might not agree that he overdid it; I read in Planet Narnia that Lewis specifically liked repetition of words as a way of achieving lyricism in prose.
CS Lewis also used plenty of other techniques, including alliteration, as here in The Screwtape Letters : “Was he not unmistakably a little man? A creature of the petty rake-off, pocketed with a petty joke in private and denied with the stainless platitudes in his public utterances.”
Tip 2: Set your syllabic style. The post appears to mean, stick either to shorter words or longer ones.
That seems weird to me. Though the author of the post does say, “Now, this doesn’t mean you have to use the same syllable count throughout your entire short story; instead, you just have to keep some syllabic consistencies within certain sections of your prose.”
… No, that still seems weird to me. I guess I would think of this as part of the style, but only part, and not necessarily worth focusing on especially. Word choice is surely at least as important as number of syllables.
Two syllable words that anybody would use:
Christmas, special, garden, midnight, happy, future, Monday, water.
Two syllable words that not just anybody would use:
adjure, ersatz, verdant, feckless, ribald, inure, nuance.
Number of syllables actually has little to do with style. I mean, I guess it’s a contributing factor to style, but pulling it out as one of three factors on which to focus seems, yes, weird. It seems to me that it would have been better to say Set your style and discuss that, as opposed to focusing on number of syllables.
Tip 3: Consider sentence structure.
The author of the post says: “A short, punchy sentence conveys abrupt truth, sureness, and practicality. A long, flowing sentence, however, can usher in a lyrical feel and a sense of elasticity.”
Here I agree. However, I’d roll that into “style,” and I’d add that it’s important to note that a short sentence only has maximum punch if it’s surrounded by longer sentences. Let me see . . . no, nothing here about how varying your sentence length could be important.
Pretty sure that three fairly simplistic tips are not going to guide anyone from serviceable prose to lyrical prose. Pretty sure that ten tips won’t do it either. I think what might is reading a bunch of novels written with lyrical prose. After reading ten or so, maybe that would be the right time to ask yourself what the authors are actually doing and begin to dissect sentences.
So, fine —
Ten authors who write lyrical SFF, in no particular order
2. Guy Gavriel Kay
3. Ursula K LeGuin
4. Jane Yolen
5. Catherynne Valente
6. Peter S Beagle
7. Gene Wolfe
8. Joy Chant
9. Rachel Neumeier
Who else? Pick someone to fill in the blank.