Writing Tip by Catherine Daly

Stress:  A Revision Exercise for Prose or Poetry
Don’t really SCAN.   Mark the stresses in your piece, or, if it is long, start with the first paragraph.  You might work through each character’s dialogue separately.  Even if this is a poem composed in meter, ignore scansion and merely looking at stresses.  Marking stresses may require reading aloud! even if plain speech is not your objective.  Marking stresses may require  dictionary work (itself a set of effective revision techniques), to see how stresses should fall.  While you must know the words in your writing, dictionary pronunciation can force you out of your ear  (“I want a stress here, so I will stress this when I read it”) into the way your readers will encounter your words.  Be careful not to mark line or sentence ends and starts due to placement; a corollary is, in the same way placement emphasizes, stresses emphasize words or syllables.  What words and ideas receive stress?  Are special sounds stressed, or does the verbiage mutter?  When I do this, I find words to delete and phrases to restate succinctly.

Now look at the parts that make you happiest.  Are they stressed differently than other parts?  Is this good or bad?  Sometimes I’m pleased with  accidentally metrical lines before I know if they are metrical.  After that, consider patterns.   Is there a pattern of stresses?   Would it be interesting to make the pattern more consistent?  elaborate?  Should you mix it up, lest consistency lull?   Should characters speak or think in different patterns?   Can stresses add interest and meaning to your words?

Biography of Catherine Daly: Catherine Daly lives and works in Los Angeles.  She is author of eight books of poetry, most recently VAUXHALL (Shearsman Press, 2008), and has three books of poetry forthcoming.  She also writes reviews, essays, and creative nonfiction and makes text objects; her blog is http://cadaly.blogspot.com.


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