That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

Stories in Sync: Poetry and Rhythm in Storytelling

There are books and stories you greatly enjoy—and then there are ones that make you giddy. Dizzy. Breathless. Stories that take a leap forward in complexity; that dazzle you with audacity. The ones where you say NO THEY DID NOT JUST DO THAT. NO THEY WENT THERE. Or, OMG, I GET IT I GET WHERE THEY’RE GOING.

I don’t think everyone has the same giddy stories. We might agree on a group of good, well-loved stories, but a giddy story is that one that speaks to you, that has that moment where you and the story are so in sync that you jump to the next moment together, the next heartbeat.

Many of these are tied up with beautiful language for me, with poetry. If you start to recite St Patrick’s Rune at me I will be immediately back in Swiftly Tilting Planet, with the earthshakingness of that story.

At Tara in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power
And the sun with its brightness
And the snow with its whiteness.…

It’s a mnemonic, it’s a little wound-up clock full of the story, and you recite the lines and it starts going.

Go and catch a falling star
Get with child a mandrake root….

That runs through Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and I was shocked to finally read it in English Lit. There I was, suddenly on the Wastes with Sophie and Howl.

I just read Jo Walton’s My Real Children, and hit the same rush of giddiness at seeing that she had used one of my favorite poems, John M. Ford’s “Against Entropy” as the epigram. Now whenever I see this poem, it will start its own story, but also begin unspooling My Real Children for me.

The worm drives helically through the wood
and does not know.…

It doesn’t have a poem smack in the middle of it, but Helena Bell’s work is poetry, through and through. You have probably all read “Robot” at this point (if not, I’ll wait) but this is one of my giddy stories. When I ran one of Hel’s stories on the Toasted Cake flash fiction podcast, I talked about how one of the things I look for in the stories I select is pyrotechnics. By that, I generally mean language or structure, but I also mean that whatever unusual choice you have taken, you have dazzled me with it. Hel’s stories do that in spades.

It’s not a poem that repeats, but it might as well be.

You may wash your aluminum chassis on Monday and leave it on the back porch opposite the recyclables; you may wash your titanium chassis on Friday if you promise to polish it in time for church…

She sets up a perfectly gorgeous rhythm of commands, and between the spaces of the commands you hear a number of stories: the woman who is telling this, her history, the world’s history, our own history (the resonances with Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”.…) And then she begins breaking up her rhythm just at the very end, and that’s what makes the story perfect; that’s what sets it in stone so neatly; that’s where my breath was taken away.


Tina Connolly lives with her family in Portland, Oregon, in a house that came with a dragon in the basement and blackberry vines in the attic. Her stories have appeared all over, including in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is a frequent reader for Podcastle, and narrates the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. Connolly’s historical fantasy series Ironskin continues with Silverblind , available October 7th from Tor Books. 

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