Have you ever had the experience of reading, or even writing, a passage from a book that made your breath catch?
The kind of writing that had you reading that sentence or paragraph over again and dwelling on the words and how it made you feel?
It’s the style of writing that stays with you long after you’ve closed the book, leading to the condition known as a book hangover, where you’re still thinking about the last book while trying to get into a new one.
If you can still quote lines from Shakespeare and some of the great poets and writers, even though you read them years ago, you’ve no doubt been captivated by lyrical writing.
But what is lyrical writing, and when does it tip too far into purple prose?
And how do you consistently create lyrical prose in your own writing?
- What Is Lyrical Writing?
- How Does Lyrical Writing Differ from Purple Prose?
- 7 Tips For Crafting A Lyrical Writing Style
What Is Lyrical Writing?
Lyrical writing is a poetic writing style that aims to evoke emotions and feelings in the reader. It’s beautiful writing – even if the subject matter isn’t – that flows and entices and draws us in.
Word choices, sentence lengths, and the rhythm of the writing aren’t there by accident. They are deliberate choices by the author, designed to create a specific reaction or emotion in the reader.
Elements of lyrical writing might include:
- A mix of long and short sentences giving flow and rhythm to the piece.
- Use of repetition, such as alliteration, to emphasize, focus on certain aspects of the text, or even raise a smile.
- Deliberate word choices to evoke feelings or paint pictures in our minds.
Writers use a lyrical style to capture the reader and keep them involved in the story.
You’ll recognize lyrical writing when you can’t put the book down, and it almost feels like a shock when you finally come out of the story and back to reality.
How Does Lyrical Writing Differ from Purple Prose?
If you’ve ever read any purple prose (or written any – we’re not judging here), you’ll know it when you see it. But what is it?
Purple prose is usually overblown and overdone, with too many images, metaphors, and techniques all thrown in, to the point that it’s actually a distraction from the story rather than an enhancement of it.
It sounds grandiose and far too much, like someone’s opened a whole can of alphabet spaghetti and thought, “What the hell? Let’s throw the lot in,” rather than thinking it through and using only what needs to be there to create the right impression.
That’s the big difference between purple prose and lyrical writing. There’s nothing extraneous in lyrical prose. Nothing is included that doesn’t add to the feeling the writer wanted to create for the reader.
With a lyrical style, sentences, at first glance, might even seem simple, with short words, no fluff, and nothing to spare, right up until you finish reading and experience the impact of it.
7 Tips For Crafting A Lyrical Writing Style
If you want to improve your writing and create a lyrical style that you can rely on consistently, take a look at our tips, and you’ll soon see a difference in your writing:
1. Think about what you want to achieve.
Consider this before you start writing, not just for the whole story but for every scene or passage where you want a lyrical aspect to your writing.
- What impression do you want to create?
- How do you want the reader to feel when they read your words?
- What mental images are you trying to plant in the minds of readers?
It’s okay if you’re not sure. You don’t need every part of your story nailed down before you start writing. Many writers are pantsers who discover their own stories by writing them.
Experimenting and letting loose without a plan in mind can be fun, and it can produce surprises for you and the reader. But knowing the effect you want to have with your lyrical writing can help you focus more tightly on achieving it as you write.
2. Use sound in your writing.
By that, we don’t mean incessantly describing the clanging of every bell or the sound of footsteps whenever one of your characters walks anywhere.
Think about the sound of your writing, the rhythm, and the cadence of each sentence individually and together. Just as poetry makes use of rhythm and meter, you can too.
Obviously, don’t overdo it. You’re not writing a musical. But you can add flow and musicality to your words by paying attention to how your work sounds.
Try reading your work aloud to help with this; then, you can hear what it will sound like to your readers and find any places where the rhythm and flow don’t quite work.
3. Watch your sentence structure.
No one wants to read a story where every sentence is the same length. It would become boring very quickly.
When trying to create lyrical writing, think about your sentence structure carefully. Think about the sharp and abrupt effect a short sentence or a single word can have.
Think about the flow and lyrical feel of long, and even extra-long, sentences. Use these different effects to create the feel you want in your writing.
Don’t forget that this can also work for dialogue. You can indicate some aspects of a character by the way your characters speak. Someone down to earth might use shorter sentences and plain, unflowery words to describe things.
Or you might have a very nervous character who stops and starts what they are saying or talks and talks rapidly and breathlessly because they just can’t stop themselves.
Play around with sentence length and try interspersing shorter sentences with longer ones to see what impact that has.
4. Make use of repetition.
Lyrical writing takes a lot from poetry in terms of technique and rhythm. One way to give your writing a more lyrical feel is to add some repetition for effect.
Try one or more of these elements and see what difference it makes to your writing:
This is the repetition of the consonant sound, such as in this example from ‘Twas Later When the Summer Went, by Emily Dickinson: “’Twas sooner when the cricket went, Than when the winter came.”
Conversely, assonance is the repetition of your vowel sounds, such as in the song, The Rain in Spain, from My Fair Lady: “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”
You’ll be familiar with this from many different tongue twisters, including “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” It’s simply the repetition of the first sound you can hear in a word.
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5. Show, don’t tell.
One thing you must avoid when writing lyrically is telling rather than showing. You don’t want to write beautiful paragraphs hinting at what’s going on under the surface or in a character’s head only to then ruin it by spelling it out for the reader.
A famous example of purple prose does this, and you can see how jarring it is. Here is an excerpt from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
Did he really need to say it was a dark and stormy night with all that other description? Not at all. That’s what you don’t want to see when writing in a lyrical style.
6. Remember that you’re still writing a story.
While lyrical writing can really lift a story, at the bottom of it, you’re not just focusing on writing lyrical passages; you’re also focusing on writing the story as a whole.
By all means, make your writing as lyrical as you like without going into purple prose, but make sure that what you’re writing fits with your story.
- Does your writing suit the type of story, the genre, the characters, and the tropes?
- Does everything fit together beautifully when you’re done?
- Is there anything that doesn’t fit?
This practice really is for the editing stage to catch once your first draft is complete, but it’s still a good idea to keep it in mind while you’re writing.
7. Practice writing lyrically.
Most writers won’t start out on day one producing reams of lyrical prose that blows away their readers. Assume you won’t either, but don’t let that put you off. That’s what practice and repetition are for.
Keep experimenting and trying new ways to write your books. Play with your prose and let your imagination go where it will.
Don’t edit yourself until you get to the editing stage so you don’t shut down your imagination and flow before it can begin.
Pro Tip: Find a style of lyrical writing written by another author that you want to sound like. Then take passages of it and copy them out by hand with pen and paper. You can type it out too, but there’s something about the connection between the pen and paper and your brain that makes you feel like you’re the one writing this beautiful lyrical writing. This technique is called “copywork.” Do it for long enough, and you will pick up qualities and aspects of that writing when you come to write your own work. Try to make this a daily practice, and you’ll find you improve your writing over time.
4 Examples of Lyrical Prose
We’ve included four separate examples here of what lyrical prose looks like, so you can see it in action. Read them while thinking about what emotions they invoke in you and what images they put in your head just from their descriptive qualities:
1. The Prologue from Shakespeare’s Henry V
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
2. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction — Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament.”— it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.
3. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. They set forth at daybreak to see a man beheaded, twenty in all, and Bran rode among them, nervous with excitement. This was the first time he had been deemed old enough to go with his lord father and his brothers to see the king’s justice done. It was the ninth year of summer, and the seventh of Bran’s life.
The man had been taken outside a small holdfast in the hills. Robb thought he was a wildling, his sword sworn to Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall. It made Bran’s skin prickle to think of it. He remembered the hearth tales Old Nan told them. The wildlings were cruel men, she said, slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children.
4. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
Richard Parker made his point with me four times. Four times he struck at me with his right paw and sent me overboard, and four times I lost my shield. I was terrified before, during and after each attack, and I spent a long time shivering with fear on the raft. Eventually I learned to read the signals he was sending me. I found that with his ears, his eyes, his whiskers, his teeth, his tail and his throat, he spoke a simple, forcefully punctuated language that told me what his next move might be. I learned to back down before he lifted his paw in the air.
Then I made my point, feet on the gunnel, boat rolling, my single-note language blasting from the whistle, and Richard Parker moaning and gasping at the bottom of the boat.
My fifth shield lasted me the rest of his training.
With practice, it is possible to develop your own unique lyrical style and raise the level of your writing. Take the time to go through our tips and practice.
Finally, don’t forget to have fun with it. Don’t stress; you’ll learn more easily if you relax.