Six reasons to write narrative in poetry

Almost every day I wonder if I should have written my science-fiction story in prose, as is usual with fiction. Instead I wrote all three books as free verse, in a long narrative poem. Many people do not like to read poetry — too complicated, too intense, too much like high school. Poetry books, even those that tell stories, do not sell well. There is not even a category in Amazon books for ‘Poetry, Science Fiction’. Poetry is boring.

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I could have written my books as prose. I have written four books (unpublished) of fiction, so I know a bit about the process. If I was given the choice of reading a tale in poetry or prose, which would I choose? I only know, the story of Odymn and the Slain, set on the planet Meniscus, was made for poetry.

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Meniscus Crossing The Churn cover painting (3)

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1. The strange world of Meniscus needs strange description. This is a world where all is viewed through a purple mist.  The smell of cinnamon dominates. Water flows upward not down, and floats in droplets in the air. The alien language spoken on Meniscus is itself filled with alliteration and strange sounds. The word choices of poetry help the reader take the journey to Meniscus.

Bubbles rise, meet surface,

swell to domes, stretch and burst.

Disperse in elastic, floating drops.

 

Droplets hover

above the sheen of mosses,

between emerald and velvet ferns,

fronds flat and freckled.

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2. Poetry allows terse story-telling. A lot of information can be packed into a few lines. Description is sometimes sacrificed, but the reader, embedded in the story, can fill in the detail. Sometimes the world created by the dual effort of writer and reader is more complex and complete.

A slear-snake, trolling for prey.

Nostrils expel viscous breath, visible

in the light of the rising moons.

 

Putrid exhalation,

sulphides and zootoxins,

evolved to paralyse prey.

Three eyes, oozing.

 

Her muscles respond,

propel her forward.

Side-wind and a claw

rakes her back.

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3. The brevity of poetry suits the communications of the characters. The Slain, a genetically modified human with nictitating eyelids and the ability to channel energy to his armour, speaks rarely and briefly. Odymn sometimes jabbers she talks so much. The gaps and rhythms of poetry allow spaces in their conversation, the way white space on the page relieves our eyes.

“Odymn,” she says.

“Named by my father.

 

“Now you,” and points at his chest.

 

Blue sparks snap to the tip of her finger.

Faint vibration through hand, along arm,

deep into torso.

 

Penetrating stare.

Lazy double blink.

Membrane and lashes close and open.

 

“OK. I’ll choose a name for you.

Daniel. Or James.

Not quite right, too common.

 

“You need an alien name.

Something deep from Dock-winder mythology.

Amblyn, god of fire. Or De-al, water-weld.”

 

Steady stare. Double blink.

One hand lifts. One finger raised to lips.

Be silent.

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4. Odymn, the main female character, has a skill to help her survive on Meniscus — she is a practitioner of parkour. Parkour is a way of moving through the landscape with running, jumping and climbing. The flow of poetry helps with the description of the fluid movements of parkour.

Dismount from the tree.

Trunk to trunk and flip forward.

Leap and struggle to stick the jump.

Vault and pivot.

 

Loves the silence,

quiet impact of feet, slap of fingers.

Ballerina toes thumping the stage.

Hands touching the surface of planet.

'parkour through the wood'test

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5. When I write in free verse, I leave out most of the little words, the, and, a …  There is not much room for adverbs or unnecessary adjectives. The nouns and verbs tell the story. Actions read as more immediate, fast-paced and urgent.

Fingers ripping fabric.

Knee on her throat.

Violated by mouths and teeth,

dragged backwards over cobblestones.

Rising mist of red.

Fabric and legs splayed.

Skull-cracking fist.

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6. Love scenes are fun to write in poetry. The reader uses every word to suggest a hundred more. Even a word like ‘peel’ becomes sensuous, embedded with meaning.

He lifts her, removes

every barrier between them.

Cold copper and silken ribbons

peeled away.

 

His skin a brief pause

before muscles

and movement.

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'uneasy sleep'.jpg

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I have considered writing other books in the series in prose. But when I do, I remember what is sacrificed. Brevity, depth, intensity, strangeness and urgency are components I want to keep in the story of Odymn and the Slain. Occasionally, I can relax the poetry to write dialogue, for example. But I always want to return to a place where the reader can walk through a village on Meniscus and experience the surroundings in brief impressions, as we do in reality.

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Narrow streets.

Smooth stucco, mossy stairs.

Aroma of brewing zed.

Passageways exhale

solace, comfort, repose.

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All my best,

Alexandra

JDB_0389 (2).jpg

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working on a sci-fi series

When I first started writing my science-fiction series Meniscus, I had no plans for a series or even a book. I wrote a chapter of Meniscus: Crossing The Churn because my writing group wanted to hold a Saturday workshop on science-fiction/fantasy and I had nothing to share. I pulled out a story I had written years before but it was unbelievably bad. All I salvaged from the older story was the name of the heroine ‘Odymn’.

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'parkour through the wood'test.jpg
Odymn, my main character, is an expert at parkour … helps her travel through the Themble Wood and get them out of sticky situations

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Months later, I have two of the series published and four more in the wings. Since the story is written in the form of an illustrated long poem, a 150 page book is about 10,000 to 15,000 words long. This is only about 1/10th the length of a normal book, so when I finish, the story will be the length of a short novel. Once you get used to the narrative poetry form, the result is a rather quick read.

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All six books tell a story: on a planet where humans are not allowed to have relationships, a small group of humans tries to build a community and recapture some of what they have lost. Within that longer story are six shorter story arcs, one per book.

 

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'transport crash'paperback
more characters are added to the story when a transport crashes in the desert in Book 3

 

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The table below shows the unfolding story in terms of theme, story length and number of characters.  Writing a series differs from writing a single book in that elements of the later story must be placed in earlier books. For example, the lost child in Book 6 is introduced in Book 2, the former girlfriend of the Slain is introduced in Book 3 but is not one of the characters until book 4, and so on. If you want to know what is in the mysterious box in Book 2, Meniscus: South from Sintha, the answer is in Book 3 (Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb)!

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Book Pages Word count Number of main characters Theme
Meniscus: Crossing The Churn 147 9,556 3 A young woman, Odymn, thinks she has found her freedom when she is rescued from servitude by a genetically-engineered Slain whose kindness may not be consistent with his purpose.
Meniscus: South from Sintha 151 9,740 6 The Slain, for love of Odymn, tries to return his former acquisitions to their homes and finds the task more challenging than he thought possible.
Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb (DRAFT) 244 15,310 13 Winter comes to planet Meniscus and Odymn must cope with the survivors of a transport crash without the help of the Slain.
Meniscus: The Village at Themble Hill (DRAFT) 220 15,229 16 When the Dock-winder overlords threaten their friends, Odymn and the Slain try to find a safe place to build a new community.
Meniscus: Karst Topography (DRAFT) 148 ? 9147 ? 17 The Slain and his friends travel to the city of Prell to rescue the women of the community but Odymn is not among them and the Slain fears she may be dead.
Meniscus: Encounter with the Emenpod (DRAFT) 140 ??? 10,000 ??? 16 + A mysterious alien begins to rebuild the community of Themble Hill and helps the Slain and his friends to find a lost child.

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For each of the books, I am at a different stage in the writing process: marketing for Book 1 and 2, editing for Book 3 and 4, and creation for Books 5 and 6. It means I am never bored, still embedded in the creative process and getting feedback as I go.

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If you have read one of the books in the series and want to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

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alien moons
‘alien moons’, acrylic, Alexandra Jane Tims, 5″ x 8″, May 2017

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Copyright Alexandra Tims 2017