The Tell-Tale Blog – Tips for Writers from Edgar Allan Poe

For Halloween, my blog dressed up as the blog of Edgar Allan Poe

About Me

 

Edgar A. Poe, New York

 

Known in some circles as “The Tomahawk Man” because in criticism I will be bold, and as sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me.
I am also the Editor of THE BROADWAY JOURNAL; author of THE RAVEN, and still as poor now as ever I was in my life.
I blog about the art of writing and occasionally rage against the idiocy of the literati.

Blog Excerpt

We would have to be living in the 19th century to not know that National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow. In an effort to assist participants in their endeavor, I have compiled a list of tips for writers from my critical essay The Philosophy of Composition.

  • Always be original.
  • Have the plot mapped out in your mind. Every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its [final resolution] before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the dénouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.
  • Ask yourself, “Of all the many emotions the mind body and spirit can perceive, which will leave the greatest impression upon my reader?” then choose a novel and vivid ‘effect’, or impression.
  • Once you have determined the effect you wish to convey, decide whether the effect is best illustrated by incident or tone — whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone — afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.
  • Make your work readable in one sitting.

It is my opinion that any work should be undertaken step-by-step with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem, even though this seems too rational a process for a romantic writer.

For the sake of an example, let us look at my own process for writing The Raven, which actually began with the final stanza.

I started first with structure. I did not conceive of any specifics about what the poem was going to be about. I was not thinking of a Raven. I only determined the length of the poem, which is ideally 100 lines. (The Raven is 108.)

Next, I considered the impression, or the effect I wished to convey to my readers, and if I’ve blogged about it once, I’ve blogged about it a thousand times: Beauty is the essence of any poem and an obvious rule of art. That pleasure which is at once the most intense, the most elevating, and the most pure, is, I believe, found in the contemplation of the beautiful.

Having determined my effect, I next considered tone. Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears. Thus, melancholy is the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.

With the tone defined, I next contemplated what poetic techniques to use to best evoke melancholy, and hence, I decided on the refrain, specifically a one-word refrain. At this point, I considered the sound of the refrain, which led me to the word – ‘Nevermore’. Note, that this word came to me through the mechanics of the poem and not through any contemplation of character, setting, or other story details.

Nor did the use of a raven in the poem arise from a previously constructed story idea. I chose a raven because the refrain was most plausible being repeated by a non-human being. My first thought was of a parrot, but a raven fit the tone of the poem.

At this point, I asked myself “Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death — was the obvious reply. I now had to figure out how to combine my ideas in the best way possible to prove this point. Details like setting, character, dialogue began to emerge, but it’s important to note that these details and circumstances came as a means to fill out the meter and structure I first determined.

As I’ve reached the word limit we typically set for blog posts, I will close for now with a final piece of advice for those endeavoring to write a novel in one month:

Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

***

Bibliography

Poe, Edgar A. The Philosophy of Composition.

English, Anthony D. ed. Concise Anthology of American Literature. NY: Macmillann Publishing, 1993.

A Dream Within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand —
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep –while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

© Edgar Allan Poe

Love’s Alchemy

This week’s See*Photo*Write Challenge at 1st Writes reminded me of the poem Love’s Alchemy by John Donne:

Some that have deeper digged love’s mine than I,

Say where his centric happiness doth lie;

I have loved, and got, and told,

But should I love, get, tell, till I were old,

I should not find that hidden mystery.

Oh, ’tis imposture all!

And as no chemic yet th’ elixir got,

But glorifies his pregnant pot

If by the way to him befall

Some odoriferous thing, or medicinal,

So lovers dream a rich and long delight,

But get a winter-seeming summer’s night.

 

Our ease, our thrift, our honor, and our day,

Shall we for this vain bubble’s shadow pay?

Ends love in this, that my man

Can be as happy as I can, if he can

Endure the short scorn of a bridegroom’s play?

That loving wretch that swears

‘Tis not the bodies marry, but the minds,

Which he in her angelic finds,

Would swear as justly that he hears,

In that day’s rude hoarse minstrelsy, the spheres.

Hope not for mind in women: at their best

Sweetness and wit, they are but mummy possessed.

***

al·che·my

[al-kuh-mee]

noun, plural -mies for 2.
1. a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concernedprincipally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and anelixir of life.
2. any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.

***

I studied Donne in college and confess that although I wrote and presented a paper on his work at a conference, I don’t think I ever fully understood the metaphysical poet.

Today as I read and pondered the poem, I interpreted it to mean: (FYI – if you are a student who ‘googled’ an analysis of John Donne’s Love’s Alchemy and got this post, please hit the back button now because I don’t want to be the reason you fail) there is no element in nature, no chemicals or materials that combine and create love. Love is not born when stars are aligned a certain way and two people drink from a magical well at precisely the same time. There are no love spells or potions. Love is from God and cannot be explained in forms of science.

Poetry Smoetry Part 1

I don’t consider poetry my strong suit. However, I’ve been known to dabble. Thanks to Writing with Shelley’s Poetry Schmoetry Blogfest, I’ve decided to go out on a limb and share some of my dabbles.

Falling Star

 

The sun is my sister.

The sky is our home.

Separately we reign.

 

The Earth is an alien.

A terrorizing image

of what could be…

or

An extraterrestrial

paradise of promises

for the future.

 

This lifetime is over.

I long to flee

all that is familiar.

 

I fall light years.

Triton trumpets my arrival.

An abyss awaits.

 

Homesick, I look to the sky.

Without a telescope,

how easy now to see –

How much brighter

the sun compared to me!