Young Writers Society

Home » Forums » Resources » Knowledge Base » Poetry Tutorials

Editing for Emotion



User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:41 pm
View Likes
Aley says...



Editing For Emotion


One of the most common things to hear about poetry is that it "isn't emotional" for a reviewer, but what does that mean? First, know a poem doesn't have to be geared toward eliciting emotion from a reader. It can be written to elicit deeper contemplative thought or to present a clean observation of the world surrounding the speaker. Just because a poem doesn't have emotion doesn't mean it's bad.

If you're a poet who wants to elicit emotion, and you just can't seem to get there, the following are some tips and tricks to help determine what is missing so you can edit a poem to create an emotional piece after the fact.

The first section, Finding Emotion in Poetry, will help you determine if you can find emotion in your poetry yourself and define some of the ways emotion operates language. Afterwards, Preaching in Poetry will cover language which is considered "preachy" and provide tools to help identify preachy language, as well as some definitions. Last, Adding Emotion to a Poem will give you tools to edit and revise a poem to infuse it with a boost of the emotion you want.

For those of you unfamiliar with words like allusion, connotation, alliteration, metaphor, simile, and so forth, please see this article: Kiss My Assonance - 5 Ways to Improve Your Poetry

If you want a more generalized article on editing poetry, check out the sister article to this one: Editing Your Baby

Last edited by Aley on Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806




User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:45 pm
Aley says...



Finding Emotion in Poetry


Writing emotional poetry can be difficult, but finding emotion in a poem is often more challenging as you approach a poem you have written and read several times already.

Where's the thrill in something you've already read?

To combat this, there are a few things you, as a writer, can do to determine where the emotion is in your poem or where your poem is supposed to contain emotion but doesn't. These include reading it aloud and in different tonalities, looking for button words, making sure it is relatable, and checking for clichés.

Of all of these things, using button words and making sure it's relatable are things that should be done if you want to evoke strong emotional responses from your audience. Otherwise, using loaded language and descriptive nuances can help create a vivid story, as long as you do so without falling into the trap of clichés and idioms that seem to describe the feeling oh so well.

The easiest thing to do is add loaded language, which is playing on the connotations of words we're familiar with to create a vividly described world. The most difficult to get rid of is clichés, as oftentimes it can take hours to unwind what is and is not a cliché. To start, it is best to be very familiar with your poem's language.

The next sections are about things you can look for in your poem to see if they may be holding you back or providing emotion. They are button words, specificity, and clichés.

  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:45 pm
Aley says...



Button Words


Button words are words that create an emotional response from the reader automatically because of our connotations with the word. This could be something positive, such as "patriotic hero" for readers in the United States, evoking a sense of pride, awe, and bravery, or something polarizing like "abortion" and "gun control." These words evoke a reaction from your desired audience in a way that is immediate and unavoidable. You can find many of them in media and politics, like when politicians refugees "invaders" or "security threats" rather than "refugees." Even the words "refugee" and "immigrant" themselves are button words with varying emotional responses depending on the individual.

There are a few different ways to use button words in poetry. If you're speaking about a hot topic, like politically divisive topics or world news, you can avoid using button words entirely and instead use loaded language to convey a different emotion from your audience than what the public generally believes. Then, in the turn of the poem, you can reveal what you're really talking about, using the button word to shock the audience into re-reading your work to determine if your point is true.

You can use neutral language in the same way. This is an emotional strategy that a lot of science fiction uses in short stories.

You can also use button words to start the poem. Sylvia Plath does this in her poem "Daddy" by calling her father a Nazi and saying she was in the Holocaust. These are powerful button words, even more so at the time the poem was written. They were used to evoke emotions of hate, despair, and shock from the reader. Similarly, we can use current or relatively recent events, like 9/11 and health crises, to shock and evoke emotion from our audiences today.

  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:45 pm
Aley says...



Loaded Language


Along with button words comes loaded language. This is language that evokes one of the five senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing, or taste. To get these senses tingling, you have to use language which has connotations to certain feelings. These words also have emotional connotations, such as home vs house, car vs SUV, phone vs iPhone, and shoes vs work boots. They add to the story by being what they are and thus create a more vivid picture for people.

Oftentimes when writing short stories or novels, loaded language is one of the things that writers lack when they are told that they are "telling" instead of "showing," so using the same techniques that prose writers use we can put emotion into our poetry. Here are a couple articles about language which loads emotion.

Breathing Emotion into Scenes
Show and Tell

Basically, the first article talks about adding descriptive language to sentences which are falling flat. In poetry, adding a lot of detail can bog down the reader, so adding in description has to be done succinctly, or quickly. Using metaphor, simile, and allusions can help create the same effect doubling the words in a sentence can do for novels. This will help create loaded language as you present your ideas to the reader without drawing out the size of the poem.

  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:46 pm
Aley says...



Specificity


A trick in poetry is being specific enough for readers to see and feel the events of the poem while avoiding being too specific, to the point where the events of the poem become an inside joke that readers won't understand. Specificity, or how specific something is, can both be what you need and what you need to remove. This section will be about balancing that fine line.

Unspecific


You can tell your poem is not specific enough if it could have been written by anyone. The more people who could have written your poem, the more specific you need to be. Read through your poem and see how many details about the speaker you can pick up and how many things are missing. Try to build a profile about the speaker and see what you've really got there. Decide if the speaker likes or dislikes the subject, if you can make a guess about why that is, and what the speaker's life has been like up to this point.

You might not get all the answers you want, but if it narrows it down to a specific person, to someone who has to have been a teacher, in their late 20s, alive during a certain time period, in a writing class, with three kids and a wife that left him, then you've got a pretty specific poem.

However, if what that teacher is saying about those kids could be said about any kids, like "you're my favorite daughter, oh wait, only daughter, hah," then it's not specific enough! Look for how much detail about the subject can be gleaned, and ask yourself after each bit of information, "could x say this?" and substitute x for a bunch of different people: a priest, a war veteran, a god, an overlord, a baby, a cat.

To be more specific, add in names, dates, nicknames, specific events, metaphors that describe a specific situation, and memories. They don't have to be real memories, but they have to feel real.

Too Specific


You can tell when your poem is too specific when no one can relate to the situation. You don't want it to be unrelatable, just specific enough that other people feel like they're hearing from a real person. This balance is important because if it is too specific, it sounds like your speaker is telling an inside joke but the entire world is an outsider.

To determine where this might be happening, think about reading the poem as if you were reading this to your teacher, parent, or distant cousin. Someone who isn't in your day-to-day life. Would you have to explain yourself anywhere? What areas would you be hesitant to read because they might not be understood?

These are the areas that need to be less specific. Add in the explanations that you'd likely give and provide readers with a chance to understand. The best way to get rid of overblown specificity is to show the audience what is going on rather than telling them. Add a stanza where you go to the situation like you were writing a movie, and then trim back useless language afterwards.

  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:46 pm
Aley says...



Clichés


Clichés phrases that everyone is already familiar with or words being used in familiar, worn-out ways. As a new writer or someone who doesn't read much, these will be harder to pick out. Everyone from the 1990s is going to have different things they've already heard a million times that they consider cliché as opposed to everyone from the 2000s who will have heard/seen other things. For instance, the "duck face" in selfies might seem cliché to someone who went through that phase, but for someone who's never taken a selfie, it might still be cute to make kissy lips at a camera.

The best way to find clichés in poetry is to listen to your reviews! You cannot identify something you haven't read before, but the more people you find who say, "Oh yeah, I've heard that before," the more likely it is to be cliché. Not only that, but they will be able to better identify what is and is not familiar to a larger audience.

To find clichés yourself, the best thing to do is to research your phrases and word choice. Google It. Idioms, or phrases specific to a language or dialect which don't translate well, often are cliché for that language. If you take a phrase in your poem that's a description of something and google it, you can see how many different people have said something similar. Google is an amazing tool to determine whether something is actually clichéd or not.

When you google something, click on some of the safe-looking results and read what's there. If it's in a poem already, chances are you don't want to use it unless they're using it in a different way. Not only does this mean you'll read a lot more, but it also gives you an idea of what's out there when you go back to rewrite.

Reading is your last best chance to find out if something is clichéd or not. Read a lot! Find poems in your genre or with your theme, and read them. That's going to give you the lay of the land, what people are saying when it comes to that topic. For instance, if you read 10 poems about love, and all of them gush about how great it is, and then you read 10 poems about sadness, and all of them are woebegone about breakups, you can determine what type of poems are missing in relationship to sappy love poems and write something other people haven't already read. It takes time and dedication, but it will give you a better understanding of your audience, their expectations, and what they've heard a million times already.

  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:47 pm
Aley says...



Preaching in Poetry


One of the hazards of writing poetry is that you may end up becoming "preachy." This is mostly because as a writer you want to say me, you, and I, but it develops from I to you and when it starts that downward spiral it's only a matter of time before this very specific "you" that you're speaking to has a very specific thing that they're doing. Along with the balance of specificity, preaching in poetry is one of the larger problems in this genre.

Sometimes this occurs because of a lack of pronouns (she/he/me/they/us/you/etc). The language that results, which I call preachy, is language which is imperative. Imperative language gives commands. Examples range from "Don't go in there" to "Love God for he loves you" to "Don't stare at the sun or your eyes will bleed." The issue with these is that they can be answered by someone saying, "Uh no! I don't want to" or "No, I don't believe you." Both of these answers invited the reader to lose faith in the honesty of the poet and thus lose focus on what's actually going on in the poem.

Assumptions are oftentimes what sink a poem into this language. If you're writing with the assumption that your reader has done something or is something or feels something, then chances are there will be someone who has not or does not do or feel this thing. These are Devil's Advocate Readers. I'm a huge one. Whenever I see an assumption in a poem, I automatically search for a way that the poem could be true without the assumption being true. Basically, I like to argue. If you're ever unsure of whether it actually is an assumption or imperative sentence, you can do the test in the following post.

The reason it is a problem is because, beyond Devil's Advocate Readers, a poem is like when you've got two people meeting on the street for a short amount of time. However long it takes for the poem to be read, the reader is listening to this other person's language and message. If it starts bossing them around, it becomes irritating. It's like if someone walks up to you and begins trying to command your entire life style. Personally, I don't like it when someone decides that my point of view is wrong and needs to change without my input. A poem shouldn't be giving a "To-Do" list to a stranger, unless that's the point of it.

  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:48 pm
Aley says...



"You're Not The Boss of Me" Test


This test (YNTBoM) is geared towards discovering imperative language and assumptions in poetry by reading the poem and, after each line, filling in a moody person saying "Uh, no, you're not the boss of me!"

If you can say, "No, you're not the boss of me" after a line, then the line potentially needs fixing. You can decide for yourself if you want to leave it in or not, but knowing it is there is important.

To edit these lines, consider changing them to things the speaker rather than reader does. Show readers what's going on instead of bossing them around. Taking the examples from earlier, "Don't go in there" can change to "I don't go in there"; "Love God for he loves you" can change to "I love God for he loves us"; and even "Don't stare at the sun or your eyes will bleed" can change to "I stared at the sun and my eyes are bleeding." All these options provide a more personalized statement that takes the command out of the voice. You can even change it to third person by using different pronouns.

One of the reasons this helps get rid of imperative language is because imperative language by definition lacks a subject, because the subject is implied. ("Don't go in there" = "Don't [you] go in there.") Changing the sentence so the action is done by the speaker adds a subject. You can add any subject you choose.

This practice also provides the same language while developing a sense of emotional balance between what you're saying as a poet and what you expect from your readers. If you write from a personal experience as a speaker, than you're going to get more people saying, "Yes I've had that experience" or at least saying "I understand that experience and sympathize with it" rather than "Uh, no, don't tell me what to do," which pits reader against speaker rather than keeping them on the same side.

Now, if you want to create a really deplorable character to evoke emotions of rage, then go for it! Like I said, you can decide whether you want to boss your reader around now that you know what the effect will be. Using this knowledge to your advantage will create a better poem. I strongly encourage you do that with every bit of information you collect about writing, always.

  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:48 pm
Aley says...



Adding Emotion to a Poem


The above sections are all about how to find emotion in poetry and what some of the different tools are that you can use to do so. This last section is about how you can directly infuse poetry with emotion while writing and editing. There are a few ways we have yet to cover: rewriting, ranting, describing emotions, and finding your passions. The first of these, rewriting, is exactly how it sounds, but the other three have a bit more to them than just to rework a poem.

Rewriting a poem can help boost the emotional content because sometimes it's difficult to write a poem while you're too caught up in a moment. To rewrite an emotional poem and add emotion, think back to what you were feeling at the time and try to infuse that into the poem by new word choices and a slightly skewed perspective. Instead of thinking about it as you writing the poem, describe it as a character you're writing. This will help differentiate between what you're feeling and what you're writing so you can come out with a good ending and direct the poem as you write.

The flipside of that is to rant about whatever it is you're feeling. Get everything down all at once, but when you're doing this, you have to remember to focus on a couple poetic devices so that it is relatable. What those devices are doesn't matter. Remember, you're writing to an audience, not just writing to write. That audience might just be you in the future when you come back and read this 20 years from now, but you're not going to remember the specifics, so using a metaphor, simile, alliteration, button words, and loaded language will help develop a clear sense of what's going on so that your audience isn't lost. To better get this down the first time, imagine you're explaining/ranting to a person who's not familiar with your day-to-day life. Go into details about why you're upset, angry, or really passionate about whatever you're ranting about, and get those down as you're going so you don't have to add them in later.

One of the ways I've found helpful over the years to better write sad or extremely happy emotions is to brainstorm ways to describe what I'm feeling when I'm feeling something. Oftentimes I'll write out whatever sensations I have as specifically as I can. The development I do there, I use in later poems. Basically, I create a stock vocabulary for myself about what certain things feel like for me. For instance, sadness for me feels like something in my lungs, whereas for other people it's something in their stomach or muscles. This differentiation are going to make the unique experience that your poems provide over someone else's.

So next time you're really upset, pull out a spare piece of paper and take a couple minutes to describe how you feel in as much detail as you can to yourself. Don't post it as a poem, but use it the next time you want to make a sad poem. That way, you can hold some punches and use whatever variety you came up with through many different poems rather than losing the chance to use all of it at once by posting your brainstorm.

Similarly, finding your passion can be the same sort of situation. Think about all the different topics you know and write a sentence about them. Whichever ones you really can't just write one sentence about or one paragraph, that's something you're passionate about. Take the emotions you feel towards that subject and put them in another brainstorm so that you can save them for a poem about something you're not so passionate about, but which you want to convey passion about.

  





User avatar
806 Reviews

Supporter


Gender: Female
Points: 1883
Reviews: 806
Fri Jul 29, 2016 3:49 pm
Aley says...



Summary


Some of the ways that emotion in poetry can be expressed include using specific types of language and adding details about certain situations. Develop an understanding of how you feel when you're feeling feelings, and use those understanding in your poetry. Avoiding preachy language can engage your audience in commiserating with any situation by giving them a chance to decide for themselves if they've felt like that or if they can understand how it feels. Assumptions often break down the trust between speaker and reader by changing what the reader believes about the speaker, and destroying the illusion that the speaker is speaking to them in particular when they get details wrong. Lastly, clichés are hard to find, but googling phrases and wording that you use can help determine how many other people use that language and develop a base for how much you should be reading.

In all, the best thing is to read what you want to write and try to identify what it is the writer does to engage the reader. This understanding will take time to develop, and as you do, explore. You can try different things and different techniques. If you bring techniques you use in other types of writing to poetry, you can see how it applies. Listening to the critiques you get can then become more than just "did they like it" and move toward "did I succeed in what I was trying to do?" which is where we should be aiming with our poetry.

  








Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.
— Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights