Skip to main content

Using Poetry Techniques to Polish Your Fiction

Image placeholder title

Today's guest post is by John Smith, a blogger and aspiring writer.
Go check out his blog on writing!

--

A few years ago, I took a creative writing class that involved writing a 40-line poem. After finishing the poem, I went back and reread it. And you know what? It sucked. It felt like I just wrote a one-paragraph story and broke it down into 40 lines of text. There was no rhythm or sense of emotion. There wasn't even a single, simple rhyme. I realized that I had no concept of poetry.

At first I didn't care. I was never going to publish a poem. However, after the poetry assignment, our professor transitioned our lessons to writing short stories. Once he showed us how poetry can be used to write stories, I realized at least some level of poetic skill is needed to write great novels.

Let me tell you the two things I learned in that poetry lesson.

1. In a poem, every word counts.
Every … single … word. Poetry is like a 14-page story conveyed in 14 lines. Each word must express the mood and meaning, and gives it a certain impact. These words are called "energy" words. For example, let's say you're writing something about waking up and getting out of bed.

Ordinary, no impact:

I got out of bed

Now let's try it using words of "energy":

I exploded out of bedorI crawled out of bed

Each word counts. A single word can hold a lot of meaning and evoke the entire mood of a poem. This same concept applies to writing short stories and novels—you can build mood in a scene, dialogue, description, or chapter by careful choice of words.

2. Metaphors and similes can help you "show, don't tell." Using metaphors and similes also engage the reader's imagination and pull them deeper into the scene. Let's say you're writing about someone about to die:

She looked sickly and close to death

This writing directly tells the reader that the character is dying. Let's add a simile to show instead.

Her eyes peered at me like someone already in the grave.

As you can see, using techniques like similes and metaphors can add more impact to your writing. They can also draw more attention to it, so don't use metaphors/similes unless the moment calls for it. Otherwise you may be overwriting.

I learned other things from my poetry lesson, like rhyme and rhythm, but if you take just these two things, and apply them to your fiction, they will improve your writing.

--


Interested in exploring more how poetry can improve not just your writing, but your creative life? Check out Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen.

Or, start following Robert Brewer over at Poetic Asides.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Submitting Your Work

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Submitting Your Work

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not submitting your work.

Making Your Fiction a Place You Want To Be

Making Your Fiction a Place You Want To Be

Author Janet Key shares the feeling of not wanting to revisit the world she was creating and the tools she used to help make her fiction a place she wanted to be.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Backstory Change

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Backstory Change

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character's backstory change.

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: Portrait of a Thief

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: Portrait of a Thief

The editors of Writer’s Digest are proud to bring you the first book club pick, Portrait of a Thief, to read along with us.

6 Ways To Fight Your Inner Critics

6 Ways To Fight Your Inner Critics

For many writers, self-critique gets in the way of making much progress. Here, author Julia Crouch shares 6 ways to fight your inner critics.

Writing Allegory: A Convenient Place to Hide

Writing Allegory: A Convenient Place to Hide

Where realistic fiction felt both too restrictive and too revealing for author Susan Speranza’s transition from poetry to fiction, she turned to allegory. Here, she shares examples of famous allegories throughout history and how allegorical writing helped shape her novel, Ice Out.

Instagram: An Underutilized Tool for the Freelance Writer

Instagram: An Underutilized Tool for the Freelance Writer

In this post, author C. Hope Clark shares tips on how freelance writers can use Instagram as a tool to find more freelance writing connections, assignments, and overall success.

Jane Porter: On the Joy of Writing Mature Characters

Jane Porter: On the Joy of Writing Mature Characters

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jane Porter discusses celebrating the nature of getting older in her new romance novel, Flirting With Fifty.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 610

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a "different way of seeing the world" poem.