Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cold Medicine

I’ve been under the weather lately, which without fail always results in me 1. Not wanting to write and 2. Eating too much toast. This is a writing blog, so I’ll focus on that first thing. Not Wanting to Write is an old blues song we all know. My usual remedy when I begin humming the tune is to mess around with a writing exercise or two for a while and focus on something outside of the novel but related to a character or a scene. I do this for a while and then the juices kick in. Why just last week I was bubbling about a fruitful new exercise I’d cooked up and I told you all about that. Lately, however, I’ve not had the oomph to even tackle one of the exercises. They all just loom so large, so long, so very--

Excuse me. Had to blow my nose.

Anyway, what I have been doing is rereading with pleasure a book called Word Magic, by a Minnesota writer, Cindy Rogers. The first chapters of the book are devoted to a witty and useful discussion of some familiar and not so familiar rhetorical devices that we should all have in our tool box. Alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia—those are familiar to us all. But Rogers delves into some of the less familiar devices.

Anaphora is the repetition of leading words (or clauses): “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired…” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Epistrophe is the repetition of a word or words at the end of a phrase, or clause, or sentence: Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians).

Antimetabole is the repetition of a word or phrase in reverse order: “Ask now what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country” (JFK). You can be even more precise with this one and bookend a sentence with the same word: “Break was when she watched the waves break” (MRQ).

Epizeuxis is the repetition of one word for emphasis: “Water, water, everywhere /And all the boards did shrink/Water, water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge).

Okay, the poets in the crowd are by now muttering, “Hon—these are all old tricks in our playbook.” Okay, probably so. But I’m still pleased with my discovery that crafting just a line or two according to a certain form is a wonderful sick-bed writing exercises; tough, sure, but just the right focus and scope for those days when any activity is likely to be interrupted by a period of lung-clearing.

There’s plenty more in Word Magic (anadiplosis, anyone?) but I’ve already lifted enough from the book; Cindy is a tough cookie and I don’t want to get sued. Also, it’s time for some toast.


  1. Marsha, I hope you're feeling better. At least the cold hasn't affected your thinking and writing power. Maybe ... could it ... that the cold slowed you down enough to get some rest in bed ... ? Could it be that there may be a good reason for catching a cold?
    But hurry up and get well!

  2. Plus, don't forget that, betwixt the lung-clearing and the toast-eating, you wrote this great post, which is exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks!

  3. Aw. Eleanora and Christine, you're going to heal me with kindness.

  4. I hope you've fully recovered. I love the lessons we learn through your discomfort. :) and :(