One of the most useful things that I got out of Clarion as a writer is the concept of goblinfruit. The concept came to us from the brilliant Nalo Hopkinson, who talked about one of her favorite poems, Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market, which absolutely everyone should read. It is a gorgeous piece of word art.
And partly because of that beauty and lushness the concept of goblinfruit is really helpful for me as a writer. And to my knowledge, to at least my classmates as well. So I figured, why not share it wider?
One of the more dreaded critiques of writing that I’ve come across is the concept of “purple prose” and the concept of Goblinfruit is sort of the opposite.
Come buy, come buy
Come buy, come buy:Excerpt from Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”
The whole first passage of the poem is little more than a list of fruits and berries. And yet, by the time she’s done with that one passage, I dare you not to be craving for fruit or berries. I know I am as I write this.
Some of my favorite writing teachers throughout my learning process have encouraged their students to read and study poetry to better understand the impact the right words can have. Mary Robinette Kowal has a writing exercise she had us do where everyone starts out with the same dialogue and ends up with a completely different story. So much can change just through choosing the correct words. Now, Mary Robinette’s writing exercise is not quite the same as goblinfruit but it’s a good starting point. Goblinfruit goes a bit further.
Taste them and try
The idea is that trough the choice of the right words, you can invoke a feeling that the reader can feel like they’re right there with you. Reading Goblin Market, you can almost feel the evening breeze on your skin as you stand there in the glen with Laura, trying to decide whether to stay or to go. In the beginning, you can almost taste the various fruits and berries the goblins are peddling. And yet, the poem moves along through its events at a fair pace. The entire poem is about 3000 words long and manages to cover a lot of ground in that space. Choosing the right description words to bring the reader into the narrative, without necessarily using a lot of words to make it happen.
And that, my friends, is a trick and a half.