Friday, January 22, 2010

Using Poetry to Explore Character

Huh? Why would I want to do that?

I introduced this exercise into my novel writing course because poetry was a requirement for the curriculum. But I've kept using it because I found it a useful tool to explore character and theme. By concentrating on the poetic forms rather than content, you're able to stand back and examine your story from different angles that you may otherwise overlook.

I have included some examples drawn from my own story to show you what I mean. Obviously, you don’t have to be a poet to have fun with this. In my experience the more rigid the form for the poetry, the more it frees up different connections. It’s surprising what you can come up with when looking for another syllable.


2 syllables One word giving the title. (noun)
4 syllables Two words that describe the title. (adjectives)
6 syllables Three words that express action. ( Verbs)
8 syllables Four words that express feeling
2 syllables One word that gives the title a different name or, repeat the title possibly using a synonym.

Example-using my main character.

brave, resourceful
running, fighting, riding
finding place of belonging

Haiku: Japanese form of poetry, generally used with nature themes. Form requires 17 syllables in three lines with pattern:

5 syllables
7 syllables
5 syllables

Example: Thinking about my antagonist...

Shadow flashes past
vile, repugnant and alone
feasting on your soul

A limerick is a short, funny, often nonsensical poem with a specific rhyme and rhythm pattern.

8-10 syllables rhymes with lines 2 and 5
8-10 syllables rhymes with lines 1 and 5
5- 7 syllables rhymes with line 4
5- 7 syllables rhymes with line 3
8-10 syllables rhymes with lines 1 and 2

Example: I have always been dreadful at these.

There once was a boy who loved to ride trains,
Much train trivia lived in his brain,
Jake knew how much gold
The boxcar could hold
And he even liked riding in the rain.

The Persian word for quatrain, or four-line verse. The rubai is an ancient literary form the Persian poets have used to express their thoughts on diverse subjects. Because a rubai is so short and its rhyme scheme so restrictive, it often makes use of metaphor or imagery to express its meaning.

rhymes with lines 2 and 4
rhymes with lines 1 and 4
usually does not rhyme
rhymes with lines 1 and 2

Example: thinking about my main characters journey

Bringing together a family that has lost its way
Through time and space I must travel in a day
To hell and back before the stroke of twelve
To heal the cracks and finally have my say.

Write your characters name vertically. Then write the lines of your poem, starting with the letters you have written. Each line can be a word, a phrase, or a sentence. I have chosen to do my character’s name. You could also choose the one word which represents the theme or heart of your story.

Journey through time and space
Awakening a sense of purpose and belonging
Keeping fast to convictions

Look up different forms, experiment and don’t take yourself too seriously.

1 comment: