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Talking with Yourself

Many types of poetry have conversations within them. There are monologues and dialogues, dramatic poetry, and other examples. When building a poetic conversation, it’s important to keep some things in mind:

  • Each character should have a distinct vocabulary, speech patterns, and rhythms. Even when personifying things such as body and soul, or dawn and night, there are characteristics that you can think of in choosing words and style. For instance, body is heavier and slower than soul. Body might speak more concretely and earthily, since it is the clay. Whereas, soul might be lighter, more humorous, and more figurative in what is said. The same is true of any other characters you create. Consider their qualities and how they might sound. Even in choosing the “voice” of a poem that comes from only one point of view, these factors are important considerations. To get a strong voice, you must be able to clearly picture the character in your head. Maybe you base it on someone you know who seems to have the characteristics that you want.
  • Part of what is mentioned in the previous point is that you should really know your characters. This is part of differentiating the voices so they don’t sound like the poet talking to himself. What are the qualities you associate with each character? Is one perky and the other tired? Is one educated and the other not? Define the characters to make the dialogue work better.
  • Another way to deal with having distinct voices is to collaborate with another poet for a dialogue.
  • Say it out loud. Does the dialogue sound hokey, or as if you’re talking to yourself? You can even act it out while giving each voice or character in the poem a different vocal characterization. Another related method is to read it out with a friend or friends taking different parts or roles.
  • Make your characters real by basing them on real people. Figure out the characteristics you want in the character, then try to find someone in your life very close to that sort of personality. Then you can ask yourself: Does that sound like something Sheri would really say? Would Jim use that word? If you’re thinking of a real person, you’re more likely to create a believable character.
  • Name your characters. Even if you don’t use the name in the poem, it gives you a handle to think about the character and keep the voice consistent. In many dialogues or dramatic poems, you’ll literally name the characters and use those names in the poem. But even if you don’t, you might have characters floating around in your head, like: the sad one, that Cockney fellow, the old curmudgeon, the patriot, the lover, or the swashbuckler. Putting a name gives you a handle on the character, and even allows you to recreate the character and voice of the poem for other poems.

So, try a poem with a dialogue today. What can you lose?

Uh...my sanity?

You’d have to have it to lose it.

Good point. The regard of my fellow man?

Don’t flatter yourself.

Thanks.

Anytime.

This sounds like one of those bad dialogues where the guy is talking to himself.

Of course it doesn’t. Can’t you see that the voices are in different colors?

Oh, right. What about for colorblind people?

I think it’s time to go to the next discourse.


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