Monday, August 22, 2016

3 Ways Poetry Can Enhance Your Novel

You know what I've been thinking about lately? Poetry.
I know, right? I'm as shocked as you are. I've never been much of a poet. I mean, I rhyme couplets with the best of them, don't get me wrong. But I took a poetry class in college, thinking it'd be a breeze for me, and found out I sucked.

And granted, that was a college level poetic forms class. Really what I discovered is that I hate conforming to rigid rules in my writing. Some people flourish. I just feel like it stifles my creativity. There are certain genres I don't write for the same reason.

As with anything in life, if I really wanted to be good at poetry--form or otherwise--and I put my mind to it, applied myself, practiced, I could become good at it. I don't have the drive or patience. Basically, I just don't wanna.

But lately I've noticed several different works that have used some kind of poetry--poems, songs, prophecies, if we're talking high fantasy--that really enhance the story.

The example I'll use is a film. It's called Interstellar. Has anyone seen it? If you haven't, it's fantastic and I'd highly recommend it. One of my faves. During the highest-drama parts of the story, when there's the most suspense, the highest stakes, they add a voice-over of Michael Caine (who has a beautiful, calming voice) reciting the Dylan Thomas poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Something about the juxtaposition of those two things was just so compelling. The first time I watched that film was on a small screen with a terrible internet connection, but I was still completely entranced by it.

So why does adding poetry, lyrics, limericks, etc work so well when they're done correctly? 

1. It can be used as a contrast. It's hard to show high-action drama but also bring across a calm, emotional theme. If you stop in the middle of your action scene to philosophize about theme, it's gonna kill your story. Editors will gleefully take a red pen to that crap. But using poetry accomplishes both at the same time. (Okay, it's harder to do it at the exact same form in book format than in film form, but you get the idea. It's easier to insert a few lines of poetry in an action scene without disrupting the flow of action. Or you can put it right after the scene to reinforce the theme you wanted to get across without being preachy or "telling" your reader something.)

2. It can bring theme across in a more obvious way. Building on #1, you may have a theme you want to bring across, but of course you can't just tell the reader what it is. This is a great way to actually put the theme into the story in a more-obvious way. Some writers may feel that this isn't subtle enough, but I think if done correctly, it can be very powerful.

3. Reinforcement. I keep mentioning theme, but you can use poetry to reinforce anything. Character arcs, symbols, conflicts, foreshadowing. Anything you want. In short, it's another tool writers can use to help not only tell their story, but bring it across in a powerful way.

I've already started employing this method in my WIP, which is a high fantasy. It kind of opens up a whole new world of exciting possibilities.

Have you used poetry, lyrics or something similar in any of your stories? How did it go for you?


  1. I am anything but a poet, so that would be a real stretch for me. Song lyrics I've used though.
    Several authors have mentioned using poetry lately.