Traditional Poetry Forms: Ballad

Poetry has been used since the dawn of civilisation to tell the stories of the past and the distant. In the middle ages, the form of choice for this oral tradition was the ballad.

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Ballads are quite simple poems that tell a story, making them narrative poetry. They follow a simple meter and rhyme scheme so that they are memorable and can be set to music. Ballads were used to tell the stories of Robin Hood, Beowulf and many a bard’s tall tale. If you would like to write a ballad, perhaps as part of a fantasy series (where they fit very well if you have a medieval theme), then read on.

Stanzas
Most European ballads are written using four-line stanzas. There is no limit on the number of stanzas in a ballad, so use as many as you need to tell a story. However, the ballad is best written concisely, so use the short stanzas to keep the story moving, foregoing excessive detail in favour of imagery and metaphor.

Rhyme
Ballads typically follow an ABCB rhyme scheme, giving the effect of being written in couplets.

Metre
The first and third lines of each stanza are usually written in iambic tetrameter, meaning they consist of eight syllables and follow a pattern of alternating stress beginning with an unstressed syllable. The second and fourth lines are shorter, written in iambic trimeter. This is basically the same as iambic tetrameter except with six syllables rather than eight.

Example

O mother, mother, make my bed,
   O make it saft and narrow:
My love has died for me today,
   I’ll die for him tomorrow.

That’s an excerpt from “Barbara Allen”. You can see from where I have added bold type where the stressed syllables are and that they alternate. The second and fourth lines, though they contain seven syllables rather than the usual six, are still in iambic trimeter but end with an unstressed syllable, which is commonly known as a feminine ending.

A Couple More Things
As with all poetry, rules are made to be broken. The ballad can be reworked to your liking, with changes in metre, rhyme and stanza length. But in order for you to get a feel for what makes a ballad a ballad, you should practice the traditional form I’ve laid out for you.
You should also read some ballads, not least because they are very fun to read aloud, but also because they will give you a more intuitive grasp on the form. Some of my favourites are: “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and “The Lady Of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

And that concludes this post on the ballad. Do you have a favourite ballad? Leave a comment below. Please like and share. You can follow Writer’s Allegory on Twitter (@writersallegory) and you can follow me (@matt__milton) as well.

Until next time, keep writing!

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7 Ways To Reinvigorate Your Writing In 2016

Happy New Year! I hope you had an excellent holiday season and managed to find time between bouts of frivolity to get a little writing done. However, if you’re anything like me, trying to get anything productive done in the last week of December is a fool’s errand!
But now we’ve arrived in 2016 and it’s back to work with no excuses.
Did you make a New Year’s resolution? I made several, one of which was to take my writing to the next level in 2016. If you want to do the same, to reinvigorate your writing and start 2016 on the right foot then these tips are for you.

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1. Try New Forms
Do you only write short stories? Peg yourself only as a novelist? Is poetry your only creative outlet? Branch out.
Different writing forms require you to create in new and exciting ways. Even if you don’t fall in love with any new forms you can still learn a great deal from trying to write in them for at least a little while. And you never know! You may be an excellent playwright but have confined yourself only to novels, or a great poet who only writes screenplays.
You owe it to yourself, as a writer and as a creative person, to try new forms and learn from them. All writing is interconnected. The greatest writers have at least dabbled in poetry, prose and plays.
See also:
How to Write a Short Story from Start to Finish – The Write Practice
How to Write Poetry – Creative Writing Lessons
How To Format Your Screenplay – Writer’s Allegory

2. Switch Up Genres
In the same vein, cooping yourself up inside one genre can stifle your writing and suffocate your creative innovation.
There are so many genres you can write in and, while there are some merits to writing primarily within your favoured genre, sticking to only one means you miss out on interesting and valuable components of other genres that you can incorporate into your favoured one.
After all, genre fiction can only be stale if the genres stay entirely rigid and seperate from each other. The fluidity of writers in genre fiction leads to interesting developments within genres and leads to the creation of new genres.
Of course, if you don’t write genre fiction maybe you should give it a go, and if you only write genre fiction perhaps a dabble in literary fiction might be on the cards. Don’t hem yourself in.
See also:
List Of Writing Genres – Wikipedia
25 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING HORROR – TerribleMinds
Traditional Poetry Forms: The Sonnet – Writer’s Allegory

3. Broaden Your Reading Horizons
If you’re going to broaden your writing practice, you would be best advised to do the same for your reading habits as well.
Every writer does some things very well, as sure as they do some things not so well. Reading a variety of authors in a variety of genres, even in a variety of forms, gives you examples of all kinds of writing done well and not so well. Recognising how this is achieved is a core part of improving as a writer and as such reading a broad variety of different writing will help in this endeavour.
Of course, you shouldn’t read books that you simply won’t and don’t enjoy. Keeping the passion for reading is as important as keeping the passion for writing. But you shouldn’t shy away from reading something new because you don’t know if you’ll like it or not. In fact, that is exactly what you should be reading.
See also:
Books in 2016: a literary calendar – Guardian
Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels – GoodReads

4. Experiment With Voice
The primary goals of writing practice are to improve your technical craft, improve your structuring and to find your voice.
Finding your voice as a writer is a very difficult process and there are no shortcuts. You simply need to write until it feels right. But there are inefficient ways of finding your voice, and the most common way writers stunt their progress is by settling in to a voice that isn’t quite right but “good enough”.
A way to freshen up your voice is to experiment with entirely new ways of writing. You could study other writers and try to emulate their voice, or you could tell stories in a completely new voice that is nothing like yours. You’ll find that there are new and exciting things you’re able to do along the way, and some of these may be incorporated into your primary writing voice.
And it’ll be fun to write in the style of Douglas Adams, I assure you.
See also:
Voice in Writing: Developing a Unique Writing Voice – Writer’s Digest
10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice – Jeff Goins

5. Develop A Writing Strategy
While writing is a creative pursuit, many writers find that following a writing process helps them to be more productive and allows them to get out of their own way when writing.
Planning may seem the very opposite of creativity, but what it does is keeps you writing with certainty. Without a plan you may find yourself stopping and starting, trying to decide where you’re going next. This halts the creative flow and can even contribute to writer’s block.
Having a process for planning and outlining, setting yourself clear goals either for word count or scene count and paying attention to what works best for you and keeps you creative and productive can really take your writing to the next level.
See also:
Outlining Your Novel: Why and How | The Creative Penn
Outlining Your Novel – K.M. Weiland

6. Follow Writing Blogs
Even your downtime from writing, those little breaks that you allow yourself, can be used productively.
You should always be learning from those around you, and with the blogosphere spanning the internet you’ve never had more people around you willing to impart their knowledge. There are so many great blogs for writers like you that cover all sorts of perspectives and subjects within the field of writing. There are bound to be blogs that will be useful to you.
Engaging with writers through their blogs is free and easy. You could waste 15 minutes scrolling through your twitter feed, or you could load a couple of blog posts and learn something new to improve as a writer.
See also:
Top 25 Writing Blogs | Positive Writer
Live Write Thrive
Helping Writers Become Authors

7. Join Writing Communities
Another great resource the internet has coughed up for writers is the online writing community.
This includes message boards, online workshops, subreddits and a plethora of community-driven blogs. Even social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have groups and hashtags geared towards bringing writers together.
Engaging with other writers can help you tackle the inevitable loneliness that comes with a writing, the solitary pursuit that it is, and feeding off of a sense of community can help bring life to your writing by increasing your enthusiasm with the craft.
See also:
WritersCafe.org | The Online Writing Community
Writers Online
Scribophile

BONUS: Participate In Competitions
An underappreciated way of breathing new life into your writing is to participate in writing competitions.
There are countless writing competitions, big and small, that you can participate in every year. No matter what form you write in there is always some competition you can enter at any given moment.
Writing for competitions can force you to try something new, such as writing to theme or to a certain word count, and the rewards range from small cash prizes to publication to places in writing schemes. Having a set deadline can also force you to be more productive, and knowing that someone with real writing chops will be reading your writing will give you that extra drive to really deliver your best work.
See also:
A List of Creative Writing Competitions in 2016

Good luck with the new year and all of your writing endeavours. How are you planning on making 2016 a year of writing success? Leave a comment below.

Happy New Year, and keep writing!

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