River Rocks – Tools for Poems and Stories

River rocks - pick one and tell its story.
I was recently away at a poetry retreat in Burnt River. A wonderful getaway that turned out to be the best vacation I've had in a long time  thanks to the finest and purest river in Ontario and great poets for company and inspiration. 

After so much immersion in poetry, I came home feeling refreshed and oddly gung-ho to switch gears and start writing some fiction.

In what ways do poetry and fiction overlap? Here are some poetry tools and ways to transfer some of these tools into the world of fiction. 

Some Poetry Tools
Some Fiction Tools 
  • Make sure you include concrete objects. 
  • Concrete objects expand to amount to a setting. (Some poets say: location, location, location! So the difference here is perhaps a matter of magnitude.)
  • Try to write about an "occasion"  however small it might be. Occasion is a tricky word - I don't mean Christmas or anything like that (although you could write about Christmas)  but whatever it is, it’s something that has importance to you. 
  • The "occasion" or "event" might be minute or huge - but even if it's a bird's eye view – you're taking us through a series of events or at least expanding the event to include more parts of the experience.
  • Look for fresh ways to express things – as in stay away from cliches. Be careful of overusing abstract words like the soul, evil, hope, eternity and freedom. You have to work for these words (somewhat)! 
  • Is the word choice in fiction just as crucial as the word choice in poetry? For some authors you would think so. 
  • Look for some rhythm in your words – if it's disjointed and sounds like you're trying to say a whole bunch at once – you might need to think of another way to say what you're trying to say.
  • When you read a story aloud – you do hope for a certain rhythm to the words – although in general you don't want it to be so pronounced as to make the listener overly conscious of it.
  • You want to open with something inviting – conversational even. However you start it needs to be a strong line – which will help form the whole poem.
  • Fiction writers swear by the importance of the first line. The word "hook" doesn't quite speak to me. Invitation – sounds more appealing.
  • There is a progression – a middle where certain ideas/images/emotions are expanded upon – perhaps you might call it the "meat."
  • The middle is often where fiction writers tend to sag – and there's a lot of talk about increasing the tension and number of obstacles – but perhaps you could look at it as simply going further in-depth about your story to convince the reader (and you) that this is a "real" world.
  • The end hopefully has a feeling of completion – even if it drops off - it drops off at the right moment – which somehow magically brings some new aspect / new twist / new way of looking at something – that has come out of the exploration/writing of the poem.
  • The end is another trap for fiction writers (and poets). I get intimidated with phrases like "growth of the character" and "epiphanies."  If the end is something that comes out of the beginning and the middle – I wonder why so many authors have to see  the end before they begin writing? Whatever works.
  • Of course the structure of poetry includes such things as stanzas, different forms and line breaks (or lack of line breaks in prose poetry). I find the options so helpful and varied.
  • I find structure the most elusive aspect of fiction. Perhaps the epistolary novel would be the easiest for a poet to write - as each unit is contained and has a visible structure. 
  • don’t necessarily think in terms of “characters” when it comes to poetry  – although of course “characters” do show up. They may be part fictional – but I don’t feel as if I’m “making them up” – they are real within the context of the poem.
  •  The idea of  “creating characters” has never been a particularly helpful phrase for me. And creating a “cast of characters” seems all the more daunting. Better to just begin to tell the story and see who shows up.

Some people don't know what poetry is and it bothers them (actually even scholars of poetry can't define it).  I often wonder: what is fiction?  

Poets and fiction writers - please post your thoughts and suggestions! What "tools" leave you feeling blocked and what "tools" open the door for you?

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