I love necklaces. No, I’m not a hippie. I’m not a cross-dresser. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I just love the many ways in which women make themselves beautiful. A French twist, a bare shoulder, smoky eyes, a pretty necklace.
Diamond necklaces are stunning. Not that I see them except in the window at Tiffany’s, mind you. But to be gorgeous a necklace doesn’t need to be made of rare gems. More important are design factors like harmony, balance, proportion, movement, contrast and emphasis.
For instance, harmony is achieved by using similar elements in the composition of the necklace. Wood and clay together evoke the Earth. Turquoise and silver also are a natural combination, as you can see in jewelry shops all over Santa Fe.
Distribute the elements of a necklace evenly and you have balance, but as effective can be an asymmetrical composition, or one in which the visual expectation created on one side of the necklace is off-set or reversed on the other.
Contrast, such as alternating beads of onyx and opal, is visually interesting if not symbolically intriguing. Complimentary color-wheel choices are like variations on a theme. Textural contrasts also catch our eyes. Movement is how a necklace visually directs your gaze, explaining why drop necklaces probably are my favorites. Ahem.
In composing a necklace you can also work with proportion, for example making pearls larger as they descend toward the necklace’s nadir. A point of emphasis also draws the eye but remember that the emphasis only emphasizes when it departs from its context.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A single diamond solitaire on a woman’s left ring finger is a beautiful thing. It’s symbolic and emotional. I’m not against rings. But for me an engagement ring and an artfully composed necklace do not compare. One is simple and pure, understood with one look. The other is complex and engaging, demanding that you look again.
A bride is a gem, no question, but a married woman is a necklace. I’m sorry, should I have composed that metaphor the other way around? Never mind. The point is, what’s beautiful in necklaces are not gems themselves but the way in which you arrange them.
Which brings us to words.
“We live and breathe words,” said Cassandra Clare. “Words are wind,” spoke George R.R. Martin. “I am apt to get drunk on words,” confessed Madeleine L’Engle. Words. Choosing the right ones preoccupies us. Luger is better than gun. Is “delicious” or “scrumptious” the more tasty? Avoid adjectives ending in LY. The Ango-Saxon rooted word is stronger than a word with a Latin root. And on we go. Get the right words and you’ve got everything right, right?
Here’s the thing: The right words are gems but a word by itself is not a necklace. Words gain their power when we set them in patterns. In this, poets, debaters and speechwriters have much to teach us.
Academics also have studied the tricks of word patterns and have fancy names for them: alliteration, anaphora, aphorism, assonance, asyndeton, binary opposition, catachresis, chiasmus, epistrophe, euphony, hypallage, inversion, litany, litotes, meiosis, metaphor, metonymy, neologism, nonce words, occupatio, onomateopia, paradox, parallelism, paratactic, periphrasis, stichomythia, syllepsis, synecdoche, ubi sunt, zeugma.
You can look up those terms or just think of arranging words to create repetition, parallels or reversals. Be brief. Put strong words at a sentence’s end. Compose sentences with symetry and paragraphs with contrast. (That last sentence was an example of zeugma.) Or just make your prose sound good.
I mention all this because when readers read our stories we want them to feel something not small. (Note: litotes.) We want their hearts to ascend mountains. (Note: metaphor + assonance) To do that we cannot just scatter words like tacks or hope the most expensive ones will buy us readers’ feelings. I’m all for gems but I’m more for necklaces.
Best of all are strong words, especially heart words, strung in shapely patterns. Winston Churchill knew this. When we wanted to stir Britain to war against Germany he spoke to Parliament in exactly that way.
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
Even a hippie would pick up a gun. That’s the power of strong words set in elegant patterns. Churchill’s call to arms was a diamond necklace.
So, how much poetry do you need in your prose? Let me ask you this: How often do you want readers to feel something not small when they read your novel? Maybe once or twice? I hope not.
Try this: Pick any scene at random from the middle of your WIP. Identify what you want your readers to feel as they read this scene. Pin down the moment in the scene when readers should feel that feeling the most. Okay, last step…ready? Right at that spot, do this:
Make a necklace.
Did you try it? How did it work out? Is that spot in that scene more emotional? What if you made necklaces throughout your WIP?