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Playing the Poet in Science Fiction (terribly)
I'm a terrible poet. So when I decided to make the main character in my latest novel a poet as well as a secret agent, the solution was simple: make her terrible at it.
I admit it. I suck at poetry. I’m not very attuned to math either, so navigating rhythm, meter, and scansion is difficult for me. But as a literary art, I love it...
When I decided that the main character of my latest novel, STELLAR INSTINCT, needed something to counter all her amazing abilities as a secret agent (with a flat character arc), I came up with a solution: make her a struggling poet.
Lilline Renault is on top of the spy game. She rocks at her job as a GAM-OPs agent. But, she aspires to be a respected poet. This secondary goal worked wonderfully for me, creating a parallel character arc that made for a super fun ride. I crafted meh poems and invented off-the-wall new or revised poetic forms to enhance the world building.
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When an unexpected writing turn leads to a literary payoff at the exit ramp.
In the end, the story’s two themes intertwined in a wonderful and serendipitous way, helping me accomplish my goal of giving a superhero-type character a sub-arc to create additional internal tension and a second set of external obstacles in the plot.
I had so much fun I’m continuing with it in the next installment, TO SPY A STAR.
Invented Poetics in Stellar Instinct
To give you an idea of how I played around with poetic structure and verse, here are two examples of new or modified versions of poetic forms that I included in the book:
Modified Cinquain (Zeret style):
Exponential word growth, the same as in a Cinquain poem but with an equitable reduction, from one to four and back again. The form evolves out of the more traditional Cinquain verse, where the lines increase from one to four with a final line of a single word. The assigned grammar for each line in traditional Cinquain is thrown out in the modified Zeret style. Syllabic design is maintained in the new form with a 2/4/6/8/6/4/2 sequence. No scansion. The lines of words crossing the page, and retreating again, contribute a visual component to the poetic aesthetic.
The Carka Cut-Up:
Leaves the lines disfigured, as if the verses were slashed with a knife. The brute syntax is meant to be part of its expressive voice, both vulgar and aggressive.
This one was inspired by the cut-ups of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, which themselves point back to the influence of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin.
Moral of the post?
Don’t hold me to this, but when you suck at something as an author it might be a great resource for your characters. They can suck at it too. You can suck at it together as you live through their eyes in the story. We writers love character flaws and I’m realizing that my own are great fodder for my books.
Thanks for reading. There’s Nevair a dull moment!
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