Have you considered taking a poetry workshop?
What, you may ask, can a poetry workshop do for me? You’re a romance writer, a mystery writer, a western writer, a young adult writer…. So why would you take classes in writing poetry?
How do you challenge your writing talent?
Have you heard the saying, “don’t poke the bear”? Well, in writing, poking the bear is what we do. It’s our pièce de résistance. And poking the writing bear also means doing something “not normal” for you.
Poetry isn’t everyone’s cup of writing tea. I get that. I write horrible poetry. As a teen, it was all angst rhyming drivel. As an adult, sometimes something actually comes out worth sharing.
I have found that pushing my writing boundaries jumpstarts creativity in my brain. Not only do I attend writing workshops in my genre, I expand my talent by doing other workshops including poetry workshops.
I’ll never be the Poet Laureate of Texas or win audacious awards. Well, there was that one award… but that was after three beers so we won’t count that one.
Let me share a bit of what I’ve learned at poetry workshops with you.
Omit the first line
Even poets write warmup drivel. For a poem, it’s usually the first line. For writers, it is more—perhaps the first paragraph, but usually, it’s the first scene or chapter.
That first section of writing is usually how we get up to speed in our story. We want to start our story in media res, i.e. in the middle of the tension or conflict. You might have heard of it as the “fish head” that you chop off to get to the meat of your story. If you need the backstory, weave it into the story in smaller tidbits and pieces so that we don’t bore the reader with long sections of exposition.
2nd word is best
In poetry, that means find a better word—noun, verb, adverb, etc. That may include replacing the word with a single word or it might include using a metaphor. The same can be used in fiction.
“He ran quickly.” Or “He ran so fast he didn’t feel the cuts on his feet.”
“She loved him with all her heart.” Or “Every time he kissed her, her lips tingled.”
Make words new
Don’t be boring. And that goes further than saying avoid clichés.
Poet Ann McCrady advises to make new words. What does that mean?
“The trees rustled in the wind.” Or “The trees laughed in the wind.”
“I need some leisure time.” Or “I need some chair time.”
Write what you don’t know
We’ve all heard the cliché “write what you know.” But in fiction as in poetry, what we don’t know is the kernel we want to expose.
In writing science fiction, for example, many writers wax eloquently on a spaceship and what it looks like and how it works. But what’s more interesting is what we can’t see in that ship and how what they don’t see will affect the characters.
In writing romance, many writers try to tantalize us with the size of a character’s biceps or his deep voice. But what might be more interesting to a reader is whether he tucks in his shirt. What socks he wears. Does he close shave? Are his nails polished or rough?
Tidbits of information that reveal character are what we want.
Poetry is big on sensory perception, whether it’s external or internal, and how to present it in a new and unique way.
In fiction, we have the same problem.
Sprinkle the senses like seasoning on every single page.
What are the five senses?
One sense can’t do it all.
Don’t rely on only one or two senses. Many writers use vision almost to exclusion of all the other senses.
Eyes tends to do a lot of stuff and try to carry the story’s tension, emotion, and/or conflict. This includes the word “gaze” “stare” “look” “glance” “saw” and so on. Search for those words including “eyes” and find something new or some unique way to present what is needed for the character to ascertain.
The word “felt” is often overused. If it’s important enough to tell the reader how the character felt, don’t write “He felt sad.” Show us using as many senses as you can.
Hearing is a necessary sense and is often underused. What a character hears versus what is actually presented is a great way to reveal character. We often hear one thing, but understand it as something else.
Another underused sense. Clichés like “acrid” and “metal” when indicating a taste of blood don’t help your story. Be bold. Make your reader taste it.
Probably the most underused sense in fiction and yet, memories made from smell last the longest in us humans. Every place has it’s own smell—clean or dirty—and the reader needs to smell what the POV character smells. The musty smell of dirty laundry overflowing across the room. The dank smell of rotting wood. The sting of too much pepper. The brain freeze of a cold drink, the resulting smell of whatever the drink is in the nose. His scent of aftershave reminded her of a vacation in the Alps and all that went with it.
Before starting that draft, whichever draft it is, make a list of power words concerning your scene and characters.
Power words are those words you may or may not use but that are more active, vivid, descriptive, and improve your writing by using them.
In Scrivener, I put them in the notes section on the right before writing my scene. In Word, open a second doc file to keep beside the one you are writing in. However I do my list of power words, I keep it open and visible while I’m writing or editing that draft.
Brainstorm words on paper if you want and put the relevant words in your note file. This is a great place to work on the power sensory words as well.
Not everything you write will go in your story.
If I’m writing a speculative fiction story, perhaps I’d brainstorm words like:
engorged, amorphous, porcelain, rigid, porous, sheen, luminous, irised, and so on.
Of course, I went through several words not worth keeping in my power word list. Lame words that, in comparison to the words I wrote, are lackluster and vague.
Some words I don’t want in my story are words like “came,” “went,” “pretty,” “big,” “little,” “tall,” “ugly”, “angry,” “very,” “almost,” “nearly,” and not very often do I want verbs like “was” and “were,” and so on.
Poetry is like prose, but more succinct. It puts in a few lines what we put in novels. Poetry is sparse where prose is expansive.
Yet they both have the same intention: to present something to the reader that is unique in some way, something that affects the reader through emotion, adventure, and wonder.
Give poetry workshops a try. Affect your reader like a poet. Give them the beauty of language presented as story.
Check out her upcoming workshop — Edit Like a Pro: Digging the dirt out of your draft – starting Oct 29, 2018
Pat Hauldren is a speculative fiction writer in Grand Prairie, Texas, USA. Pat publishes nonfiction and fiction and teaches writing workshops around the world.
Her latest short story, “The Near Girl’s Gift,” is published in the anthology Short & Twisted Christmas Tales. Find Pat online at www.pathauldren.net