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How to Guide an Author to Read Poetry to Improve their Prose

In the developmental editing process, you might notice an author relying on similar images and words that are repeated every so often throughout the manuscript. As editors, we can facilitate and expand the growth of our authors’ prose through poetry to inspire fresh language and images. By encouraging the author to read poetry for specific craft skills and ideas, they can translate what the poets are doing to their prose writing, and add more diverse elements to their style. Some of the takeaways you can have your authors focus on include:
Rhythm and Sound
Rhythm and the sound of words are key aspects to poetry, but prose writers can utilize similar techniques to enliven their sentences. In her article for NY Book Editors, Tania Strauss says through your control of rhythm and pacing, “you can manipulate the speed at which the reader reads, emphasize certain thoughts and ideas over others, and even affect the reader’s perception of the narrator’s personality.” With new perspectives on syntax and structure, your author can play around with the variability of their sentences. They can choose to lull the readers with their rhythm or to pack a punch into their prose with a staccato sentence, among other techniques. This is a good aspect of poetry to have authors focus on if you feel that their sentences could be more diverse or if you feel the author could lean into their style more.
Compelling Images and Metaphors
Many poets do a great job of creating lines that captivate the reader’s imagination. If you feel like a scene could use another memorable image or two to really solidify it, you can have your authors focus on how poets create interesting images, as well as how they build complex metaphors. Often, the images to look for are those that don’t rely on what we are used to as readers. Exciting and vivid images will build more intrigue into the descriptions a writer employs, and they won’t rely on the same, rote language that’s been used plenty of times before.
Surprise
Pivot points, turns of phrase, subversions, and strong word choices are all ways a writer can surprise their readers at the sentence level. In poetry, this often comes in the form of line breaks or an interesting word or two, but the prose writer can use these small moments to keep readers interested in what your author will say next because they have already shown they take care in their craft to write thought-provoking sentences.
These can be ways an author builds momentum over the span of the scene, chapter, or manuscript to carry the reader through the story. If you find yourself pulled by the narrative but the sentences could have more moments of subverting the reader’s expectations, this is a fun space to have authors think about.
I’ve only included a few ways poetry can help your author’s prose, but it’s safe to say that there are many more craft elements to glean from poetry. However, you don’t need to prescribe poetry simply because the manuscript could use some sort of a boost. The venture into poetry can help a writer throughout their lifetime, and this is a great time to dive into poetry with all of the excellent contemporary poets publishing incredible work.