L is for Lyrical Prose

Lyrical prose makes the words sing, doesn’t it?

Without the restrictions assigned to other styles, fiction writers are free to express their creativity, bend rules, even alter time and place to give us beautiful prose.

Take Anna Karenina and the paragraph that sums up hopelessness and pain.

“All her illness and treatment stuck her as a thing so stupid, ludicrous even! Doctoring her seemed to her as absurd as putting together the pieces of a broken vase. Her heart was broken.”

Tolstoy could’ve limited this to “Her heart was broken,” but the reader would have been robbed of Anna’s emotional complexity. No emotion, no reason to care, little reason to read on.

Another book that comes to mind is Janet Fintch’s “White Oleander.” The heart-wrenching images stick in this reader’s mind like glue, but without having wrapped the story in lyrical prose the images would have faded from memory soon after.

Here’s a short segment form the opening paragraph: “We couldn’t sleep in the hot dry nights, my mother and I. …  I climbed to the roof and easily spotted her blond hair like a white flame in the light of the three-quarter moon.”

The beautiful imagery describes Mom’s restlessness, (showing her almost on fire), which lead to their problems.

Lyrical prose conjures up vivid images; it creates psychological and emotional depth. I have deep admiration for authors who take the time to use language as musical instruments, to serenade the reader with their prose.

None of this is without an element of danger.  Overwriting tends to sneak into lyrical writing. We make small moments larger than life. Overuse metaphors and similes (I know I have to avoid such pitfalls).

The language doesn’t always have to be musical and rhythmic, right? Imagine how exhausting for the reader to experience the character’s deep emotional feelings all the time.  

Searching for the the right balance isn’t easy. So, the study continues.

How do you find the right balance? What is the effect lyrical prose has on you ?


Thank you for stopping by my site. Hope to see you on Monday, when M is for Murals of Southern California. Have a magnificent weekend!


Photo credit: Photo – Wordsthatsing: wordpress;


36 responses to “L is for Lyrical Prose

  1. I think you have to have short, striking descriptions that create an image in the reader’s mind. Easier said than done!

  2. I admire this kind of writing. It really is like the words sing off the page.

  3. A lovely post Sylvia. I am writing a second memoir and this style can apply for non-fiction as well. Finding balance is like walking a tight rope when you are writing about tragic events and you want your readers to continue reading, to have hope that better times are coming in the next chapter.

  4. I agree that balance is the key. A writer aspires to depth and meaning but if you lose your reader in the thick soup, you’re just writing to impress yourself.

  5. What a lovely picture of the girl with the guitar on her back to illustrate your words today. “Authors using words as musical instruments.” That image will stick with ME!

  6. A topic dear to my heart! I strive to find that balance of lyrical prose and effective storytelling – long enough to convey important details of the tale, but concise enough to keep the reader from losing interest. It’s a challenge, the less-is-more approach, where quality overrides quantity. Beautiful artwork!

  7. Lyrical prose appeals to the poet in me. I’m in awe of writers who can do it well.

  8. Great post. I think any writer needs to be on the look-out for overdoing their style.

  9. A lovely post… it’s the idea of show don’t tell. Show me the character’s pain, don’t just tell me they are in pain. But I think there is a balance, because I don’t want to be weighed-down with description in lieu of page-turning storyline.

    L = Leit-Motif

  10. What a wonderful topic for the blog challenge! Lyric prose makes a story sing. Lyric prose is alive with emotion. MM

  11. I like it when it’s done well, but generally speaking I prefer when authors can get a lot across with only a few words. That takes talent.

  12. Nice post! I think the trick is to get the right balance of moving the story forward and being lyrical while doing so.

  13. Great examples and a good topic for L! It’s made me go away and look at my prose.

  14. The Night Circus came immediately to mind as I read your words. Such a beautiful book.

  15. Such beautiful pictures. Definitely showing and not telling. It is a fine balance though. I don’t know if I actually hit the mark correctly. I probably do too much telling. :)

  16. i admire lyrical prose, but i think some people have that talent and i dont. erin morgensen with night circus definitely has it (marcy’s comment reminded me)

  17. Wonderful post and such a provocative question—one to which I have no answer. I haven’t yet found my balance. Lyrical prose moves me and I treasure beautiful writing. But because I write genre fiction, lyricism is not a place I can dwell. I do allow myself to indulge during highly emotional or intensely reflective moments. I think it adds depth, complexity, and texture to my work which is otherwise intentionally spare.

  18. Those were awesome passages to pick. As a fiction AND nonfiction writer, I enjoy the ability to make things ebb and flow in my writing. Keeping my characters at a distance, then bringing them so close you can truly feel what they feel. I try to make beautiful sentences, it’s something I strive for. But…well…like anyone…sometimes, you just gotta delete em :)

  19. I absolutely agree that balance is key. It’s very easy for one word to lead to another, and what could have been lyrical simply becomes excess.

  20. I love passages like those but I also agree about the need for it to be balanced. Those images are best used when mixed into the narrative sparsely so that they strike that much harder when you come upon them. Elizabeth Gilbert is, in my opion, a master of that.

  21. I love lyrical prose! I loved White Oleander for that purpose.


  22. Hi Silvia .. you’ve got lots of responses re the writing – but I loved the Anna Karenina passage .. but the picture is extraordinary! Cheers Hilary

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