Why Fiction Writers Should Write Poetry

Brevity is the soul of wit

I’m a writer who is late comer to writing poetry.

I never even tried until two years ago.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read quite a bit. You can’t study English and not read lots of poetry. It the dominant literary mode for a long time.

But I could never quite get into it. My classmates would rattle off their favorite poets and recite passages, but unless I had to read it for school I stuck to short stories and novels.

I had tried half a dozen times to scribble out some verse, but they never went anywhere.

I could probably find some half filled notebooks that act as monument to this fruitless endeavor.

So I stayed away. I’d leave poetry for the poets, and focus on prose, because I had plenty of work to do there.

It wasn’t until I was in a bit of a lull when these lines started sneaking into my head while writing. I’d write them out and once and while it sounded pretty good.

It grew even more when I challenged myself to write and post a short story every day. Some days I’d have a little trouble getting started and I’d write some lines of a poem I was thinking about to get the creative juices flowing.

And it worked. It always got the writing tap running. It was just enough to get the writing muscles working but there wasn’t much time invested and I didn’t get sidetracked. Sometimes when writing a story, two or three ideas pop up and and next thing you know you’re working on everything except the project you started on.

And poetry can teach the writer a lot about the act of writing. William Faulkner thought poetry was the ultimate form of writing, “Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first,” he told The Paris Review in 1956, “finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

For the most part poetry uses much fewer words than a story. So you have to get across what you’re trying to say in much less time. It’s quite a skill to say a lot with a dozen words.

As a short story writer you also don’t have much real estate with the reader to make an impact.

You have so few words and you have to cram a beginning, middle, and end in there, as well as develop a character or too, all the while making the whole thing interesting.

I mean if you want to write terse, crisp fiction then there is nothing better than poetry as an exercise. Poetry with give you that pugilistic prose all writers covet.

Word choice is another benefit.

With a poem each word matters. Like really matters. I’ve sat there stroking my chin searching for just the right word in a poem because you have to make sure it fits.

And when you put this much thought into the writing it expands your vocabulary and the rhythm of your words. When I write a lot I tend to get repetitive and you want to spice up the prose for the reader.

If you spend some time with poetry it helps make your writing more interesting.

It will also help your writing flow better. Rhythm is such an important part of verse. There needs to be a musicality to the lines if you want them to land.

This flow helps with stories too. You don’t just want the plot to be fun to read but the writing should help carry the reader along.

For me, I like my short stories to sound like someone’s telling it to you. It should have that sitting around the campfire listening to rhapsodic raconteur vibe.

I struggled with this a lot. I am not the most natural writer and many times it sounds boring and mechanical. Poetry helped liven it up.

It can also inspire stories. Maybe you write a poem with a bit of story in it, and with a little expanding it becomes a story.

This actually happened to me to other day it served as the nexus of this article. I was writing a poem and started with the line, “the candle was silently screaming,” and a full fledged story popped into my head.

Here it is if you’re interested:

So if you’re stuck on a piece or want to improve your prose I suggest giving poetry a chance.

I did it and it helped a lot.

There are some examples below.

Written by

Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories.

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