How Presentation Can Add Emotion – Lessons Learned From Spoken Word Poetry

As a prose writer, I’ve always enjoyed poetry from a distance. If someone makes me read one, I’ll read it and take it in stride, but as soon as they’re gone, I’ll put it away. I often just find that prose speaks so much more to me than poetry and so, stay away from poetry as often as I can. However, this weekend I went to a Poetry Slam which has started to change my tune.

For the uninitiated, a Poetry Slam is a competition of spoken word poetry. Google Def Jam Poetry and you’ll get an opportunity to see some of the best in the business at work. While I didn’t see anyone quite to that caliber, many of the competing poets were highly talented and opened my eyes to how I could bring poetic techniques into my own writing.

The winner of the Slam struck a chord with me as I really enjoyed the way he used the flow of his work to highlight his emotion. I asked myself, how could we extend this to prose writing? A lot of his emotion is derived from his delivery. How do you convey a raised voice, an intense thought, faster pace, when you aren’t in control, when someone is reading your words on paper?

First, be willing to play with font. Italics can be used for more than just book titles, and caps lock, while annoying on forums, can be effective when rationed. For instance, in a recent piece I’ve written, I attempt to highlight my intense thoughts by utilizing italics. “I could just kiss you, I thought”. In a similar sense, caps lock can be used to highlight a louder delivery, seen when I write “Attempting to win her attention, I said ‘Dan Brown’s a great author.’ Failing to get her attention, I try again. ‘DAN BROWN’S A GREAT AUTHOR.’ I shouted, perhaps a little louder than I’d intended.”

Suddenly, the presentation of your writing is doing a little more than simply conveying the words to your reader, but also giving a feeling for what’s being described. A great example of this is in John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany, in which everything said by Owen Meany is in full caps.

Going beyond simple font tricks, sentence structure can do wonders to convey the feeling of the piece and help replicate a lot of the emotion seen in spoken word poems. Shorter sentences slow the writing, making it choppier but placing a greater focus on the individual words. Longer sentences can speed things up as you find no hurdles in your reading, and placing a greater focus on the bigger picture.

Taking it even further, paragraph structure can do the same thing as sentence structure, only on a larger scale. More regular paragraph breaks can cause the writing to appear more staggered and slow the reader’s intake of everything you’ve said. Longer paragraphs have the reverse effect, burying the reader in an uninterrupted wave of text which they can digest quickly.

Unfortunately, we don’t always have the opportunity to read our pieces aloud to others. However, by utilizing these techniques, I believe you can capture some of the magic and emotion of spoken word by presenting your writing in a unique manner.

Martin Fister is an active product blogger, writing for web sites including barbie bedding [] and Xscape. In his spare time, Martin also pursues his interests in the music industry as a journalist.

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