Category Archives: General post

A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Safe in their alabaster chambers’

‘Safe in their Alabaster Chambers’ is about one of Emily Dickinson’s favourite themes: death. But, as so often with an Emily Dickinson poem, her treatment of this perennial theme is far from straightforward.

Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –
Untouched by Morning –
And untouched by noon –
Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection –
Rafter of Satin – and Roof of Stone!

Grand go the Years – in the Crescent – above them –
Worlds scoop their Arcs –
And Firmaments – row –
Diadems – drop – and Doges – surrender –
Soundless as dots – on a Disk of Snow –

Above, we’ve reproduced the 1861 edition of ‘Safe in their Alabaster Chambers’; an earlier version, from 1859, had slightly different wording. The poem considers the dead, ‘safe’ in their ‘Alabaster Chambers’ or tombs; nothing can affect the dead, not the coming of morning or the heat of noon, nor the passing of years, the fall of kings or queens (‘Diadems – drop’ neatly suggesting the falling of a royal crown as a dynasty crumbles), or the surrender of ‘Doges’ (rulers of city-states like Venice). These events make as little impact on the sleep of the dead as raindrops falling on snow.

All this makes perfectly good sense, of course. The dead are unconcerned with the passing of the day, or the seasons, or whole dynasties and changes of government. But Emily Dickinson seems to be implying something else by saying that the dead are safe in their alabaster chambers: this idea suggests someone tucked up safely in bed, protected from the ravages of the outside world. The clue is provided in the line ‘Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection’. The dead are ‘safe’ not just because they cannot be physically harmed, but because they are ready for the Resurrection, when – in Christian theology – the dead will rise from their tombs for the Last Judgement. The ‘Alabaster Chambers’, however, also imply wealth: these are the tombs of the rich, not some pauper’s grave.

The words Dickinson uses throughout the poem – ‘Grand’, ‘Diadems’, ‘Doges’ – similarly imply the well-to-do and aristocratic, summoning the idea of the wealthy leaving money in their wills when they die, for chaplains and others to say prayers for them in the afterlife, praying for their souls. In other words, this poem is not just about the dead, but a certain class of dead, we might say. In this context, Dickinson’s word ‘meek’ (‘the meek members of the Resurrection’) is decidedly ironic: Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that the meek are blessed, because they will inherit the earth; but there is little that is ‘meek’ in the rich dead that inhabit those alabaster chambers.

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421 ways to say said? Simplify dialogue instead… Courtesy of NOW NOVEL

400 ways to say said? Simplify dialogue writing | Now Novel

If you search for alternative dialogue tags to use in your story, you’ll find many lists. While some synonyms for ‘said’ read naturally (such as words conveying volume like ‘whispered’), others come across as overwritten and forced, particularly in the wrong context.

Here are 5 simple ways to avoid clunky overuse of ‘he said/she said’:

1. Decide if dialogue tags are necessary

Sometimes we say ‘she said’, ‘he said’ or ‘they said’ when we don’t need to. Just because it’s a writing device commonly used in dialogue doesn’t mean you have to use it. When you get to the end of a line of dialogue, ask yourself:

  1. Is it clear, from context, who is speaking at this moment?
  2. Do preceding narration and formatting (such as line breaks) help clarify who is speaking?

If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these, you don’t need tags.

For example, you wouldn’t need to use dialogue tags in the following example. The narration beforehand makes it clear who’s speaking, and the details of the characters’ speech give away who says what:

She picked a bit of fluff off her top, looked out the window. He wondered whether he was boring her.

“You seem distracted.”
“Hmm? You’re being intense again, Guy.”

It’s clear from the narration, description and actions who is saying what in the scene. The girls’ actions make it clear she’s the addressee of ‘You seem distracted.’ Her response also gives us a sense of how her date says this.

2. Favour unobtrusive tags

The stranger the tag, the more colourful and quirky, the more it will stick out in your dialogue.

Ideally, your reader is getting as much clarity from what characters say as they get from howthey say it.

The infographic below (via The Puppet Show) has some good alternatives. Yet it suggests words such as ‘enunciated’ as a synonym for ‘said’. However, if you were to use this tag randomly in the middle of dialogue it would seem arbitrary.

280 ways to say said | Now Novel

For example:

“You seem distracted,” he enunciated.

Because ‘to enunciate’ means ‘to say or pronounce clearly’ it doesn’t completely make sense in this context, since there isn’t a clear reason for the boy to ‘enunciate’.

However, if clarity of speech were relevant to a scene, you could use this word as a tag as it would fit. For example:

“Speak slower.” The speech therapist’s eyes were stern.
“The w-wascal wabbit wan-” he enunciated, wishing each ‘R’ could be clearer.

However, you could achieve a similar effect other ways, too. For example, using ellipses, i.e. punctuation, to show concentration; pauses:

“The w-wascal … wabbit … wan … ” He wished each R could be clearer.

This shows the effort the character is putting in, thus you don’t need a dialogue tag necessarily.

When in doubt, a simple ‘said’ is often enough. Instead of letting different ways to say ‘said’ do heavy lifting, remember this sage advice from Toni Morrison:

‘I never say “She says softly.” If it’s not already soft, you know, I have to leave a lot of space around it so a reader can hear it’s soft.’

3. Use physical gesture and motion instead of ‘said’

Other ways to say ‘she said’ avoid dialogue tags entirely. You may draw attention to the character who has said a line by immediately following speech with that character’s actions.

For example:

“No I absolutely will not!” She banged the pitcher of water down on the counter so hard Sarah was surprised the bottom didn’t crack open.

It’s clear from just this line that a female character is in the scene with Sarah, and she’s furious.

The advantages of showing who said what via movement and gesture are:

  1. You can bring in scene setting elements (where the conversation is taking place and the objects surrounding characters) subtly. This adds detail and mental imagery.
  2. You can ground your characters’ conversations in a sense of place. This avoids dialogue that resembles heads in vats chatting away without bodies, movement or direction.

Ways to say said - Toni Morrison writing tips | Now Novel

4. Use ways to say ‘said’ that add atmosphere

Using gestures and actions such as the following, as outlined above, helps to lend character and emotion to dialogue:

  • She gazed out the window (this suggests being lost in thought, or perhaps longing)
  • He turned his away (suggesting withdrawal or retreat)
  • They elbowed each other and jumped up and down (suggesting children vying to be heard above each other)

Also think about ways to say said that convey volume and tone, i.e. atmosphere. Although Toni Morrison’s advice above is good (creating quietness using the spaces around characters’ lines), the occasional ‘she whispered’ has its place, too.

Synonyms for said that show volume include:

  • Quietly: ‘Mouthed’, ‘whispered’, ‘hissed’, ‘mumbled’, ‘muttered’, ‘said, under their breath’
  • Loudly: ‘Yelled’, ‘shouted’, ‘bellowed’, ‘screamed’, ‘roared’

The above words remind us that tags that indicate volume and tone are typically reserved for extremes – of tension, emotion or environment. A kid protagonist might whisper in a creepy graveyard, a pranked neighbour might ‘bellow’ in pure outrage. Yet these are suitable tags for climactic moments. Make characters bellow or whisper every other line and the device loses its effect.

5. Switch to a narrator or other character’s reaction

Because dialogue is relational, an exchange between two or more characters, it also works to switch to another character’s reaction instead of focusing on the character who’s just finished speaking.

For example, read the following brief dialogue:

“You wouldn’t believe what happened next. I was-”
“John, can we pause this for a second, I really need the bathroom.”
When I returned, I couldn’t believe he was still going. Something about what not to do in an avalanche. As if he were the only one at the party who’d ever had any adventures.

Here, because the second character addresses John by name, we know who’s been speaking. Because of their interruption, as well as their shock that John is still speaking when they return, we also get a sense of how John speaks. It’s a one-way street, John holding the floor (and holding his listeners ransom).

As you can see from the above, there are many ways to show who is speaking in dialogue. Other ways to say said can avoid dialogue tags entirely. Use gesture, movement or reaction to show your reader details of character and setting.

Need help improving your dialogue? Get help with everything from formatting to context when you enroll in our four-week writing course, ‘How to Write Dialogue’. Or join Now Novel for constructive feedback on your writing and help brainstorming ideas.

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Should I or shouln’t I, here is the answer to that question.

via No, You can’t have too many books.

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A day of darkness

22nd. March 1832 and one of the greatest thinkers of the age dies at the age of 82. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe , whose last words are reputed to be, “More light.” A poet, novelist and philosopher he was probably most famous for his work, “Faust,” written in two parts the second of which being completed in the year of  his death and published posthumously.

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Off to the Highlands for Hogmanay

So we boarded the Northern train
in howling winds and stinging rain.
The guard, with duties now performed
gives one last cry of all aboard.
Green flag raised, his whistle blows,
checks the carriage doors all closed.

Whilst stowing cases overhead
released our snorting fiery steed
With metal and mesh racks overflowing
four bare round lamps, all gently glowing.
As we settle back on the velour seating
Our ankles warmed by piped steam heating.

So leaving the station far behind
we catch the rhythm of the lines.
Windows sealed against the chill
the rhythmic, rocking motion will
enfold us in it’s gentle arms
as we succumb to it’s lazy charms

After eight long hours the race is run
to our right the rising sun
our destination close ahead
reluctantly our journey’s end.
So sadly we depart the Northern train
Counting the days till we ride it again

 

 

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S C Vincent Thursday photo prompt – Eye

Eye of Horus.JPG

See

here

the Eye

of Horus

healer, protector

son of Isis and Osiris

by the wearing of me may you live long and prosper

 

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Sue Vincent’s #Writephoto, Change of Season

A

shaft

of light

illuminates one tree

and silhouettes in stark relief

the ravages of Autumn’s dessicating wind and warmth

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You’ll Never Be A Good Writer If You…

Source: You’ll Never Be A Good Writer If You…

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Colleen’s weekly poetry challenge #Haiku #Tanka #Haibun Spirit and Joy

haiku

May the Holy Spirit

bring you joy everlasting

by the Grace of God

tanka

Typically British, don’t you know

A cricket fan’s joy

lies in seeing the two teams

playing by the rules.

As players we should always

keep the Spirit of the game.

Haibun

The Queen, God bless her

A toast to bring joy to all

of British spirit

On the occasion of the announcement of a major Royal event, such as engagement to marriage, the birth of a child or significant Royal birthday it was customary for a signal  to be transmitted to all serving members of the British Armed Forces wherever they were, be it on ships or on land in all corners of the world. The signal was generated and was usually personal from Her Majesty The Queen inviting all to join with her in celebration. The instruction would be given to, “Splice the mainbrace!” All were then entitled to draw a free drink which had to be consumed immediately and generally accompanied by the toast as described above. In a true spirit of cameraderie, great joy was felt by all at her generosity.

 

 

 

 

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#Daily prompt Leaf Leaf

Their day is done
Chameleon leaves,
 red,yellow, brown,
spiralling down
 to carpet the ground
and muffle wild sounds
once  English greenwood fair
stark now the grey and bare,
limbs reaching heavenly
bereft of their canopy
call out for the sun
stand in supplication
withering, slumbering
till Spring comes calling

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