Poetry Before Horror: A Beginning Writer’s Insight

I learned a simple yet valuable lesson within the first chapter of Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer. It seems so simple, like something I should have realized already. Something so logical, like the exhale follows an inhale. Here is the text in her book that stuck out to me, knocking me over with an “ah ha!” moment:

“What I noticed, close reading along with my students, was that frequently in Babel’s fiction, a moment of violence is directly preceded by a passage of intense lyricism. It’s characteristic of Babel to offer the reader a lovely glimpse of the crescent moon just before all hell breaks loose. I tried it – first the poetry, then the horror – and suddenly everything came together . . .”

Recently I have been reading The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, and I decided to pay attention to this concept, poetry before horror, while reading. Sure enough! Without providing any spoilers for The Nightingale, I found two incidents almost immediately. An enjoyable scene where children are playing together and everyone is laughing, is quickly followed by an unwelcome guest. A character falls ill, but is enjoying a tender moment with a loved one before passing away.

Sometimes the poetry is a visual. Perhaps a beautiful stage set behind ugly drama. A cherry tree’s pink petals drift to the ground, feathering out over nameless fallen soldiers, masking the truth that was their end.

It’s an interesting concept. I look forward to playing around with it while I chip away at my novel. I also look forward to finding time to read this book beyond chapter one! If I already found such great wisdom in the first 12 pages, what more treasures could be lurking inside, I wonder.

For those of us who are writers, have you read any good books on or about writing? I have heard interesting feedback on Stephen Kings, A Memoir Of The Craft. I hope to get to this book next.


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