Poetry workshop: The stanza break

blocks stanzas

A lot of new poets do one of two things – they either write all of their poems in blocks with no stanza breaks, or they use lots of stanzas (or verses) without understanding why they’re doing it. I was in the first group for a long time. It was as if a stanza break with all that white space was too scary, too much of a decision! There is always a case for a poem with no stanza breaks. You might want something that feels totally cohesive and complete, or a stanza break or two may create pauses … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: the line break

line breaks

Where to break a line can be one of the most perplexing decisions for new poets. Is there a formula? A set of rules? No, not really - the decision-making process simply develops over time and with practice. But there are quite a few guides to help you. One is about line length. A longer line creates a sense of flow and slowness, it tends to be more rhythmic and "calming", even musical. Whereas short lines create a sense of pace, they are often less rhythmic and sometimes even jerky. … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: First and last lines


We hear a lot about the first line and first paragraph of a short story or first page of a novel - how important it is to engage the reader and hook them into your story. It's no different for a poem. From your first line, a reader can and does make up their mind about whether to read the whole thing. A generous reader might give you three lines or a stanza, but especially if your poem is on a blog or webpage, it's too easy to click on to the next one. You may well resist this opening of … [Read more...]

Poetry workshop: The title

Why should a poem have a good title? What can it add? Why is it important? Many poets wrestle with titles and end up using what is called a "label". So their poem is about whales, and they call the poem Whale. Or after trying a few different titles, they decide to call it Untitled (or to be clever and call it Untitled 23). A poem without a strong title is a missed opportunity. A good title can do a number of things: * It can act like the first line of the poem and pull the reader in * … [Read more...]

What makes a great verse novel?


The first verse novel I ever read and loved was Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. The second (four years later, in 2003) was Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. But in between those two, I read a lot I hated. And I’ve read more since then that I thought were just banal, chopped-up prose. It was hard to complain about them, though, because I didn’t really know what a verse novel was “supposed to be”. However, in the past 6 months I’ve had to tackle this question in considerable depth, because I chose … [Read more...]

Reader’s question: when is it plagiarism?

Flannigan writes: When is it plagiarism? Recently, I was getting on with my writing, and I was doing well, too. Getting the words in, doing something different. Inspiration poured from books I’d read and things I’d seen. It was fun. I was having a laugh. But I missed reading. So I’d decide well, I can do both. So every day, I’d read a chapter of my book, and then write a bit. I’d write, read, write, read, write, read. It got to the point where I was reading a chapter of a book, and … [Read more...]

Why writers need to research the past AND the here and now

Runaways postcard Perth

You might be writing something set in the present day, in your home town or city, and feel you have no need of research. But today’s readers are drawn to stories with details and descriptions that feel authentic and that can be visualized – it’s part of the way our culture has become so much more visual. While I’ve written a number of historical novels now, and honed my research skills through trial and error, I’ve also come to realize that even my contemporary stories improve with realistic … [Read more...]

Ask me a question about writing

Today, it's your turn. Ask me a question about anything to do with writing, critiquing, editing or publishing! If it's straightforward to answer, I'll compile some questions and answers and put them in a post. If the answer needs a whole blog post, I'll do that, too. If you don't want to post in the comments section here, feel free to email me at sherryl (at) ebooks4writers (dot) com. Join in the discussion! … [Read more...]

Life writing and fiction: too much or too little?

Recently I’ve critiqued several fiction works that were at least partially (if not completely) based on the author’s own experiences. We all do this, of course. We give our characters our own reactions to terrible and wonderful things, we use our memories of events and people to create action and character, and we even use overheard or remembered conversations as a basis for our dialogue. In other words, every fiction writer uses snippets in different ways. But when you write something that … [Read more...]

Using secrets in fiction


There's a writing exercise I've used a few times which tends to strike fear into almost everyone in the class. I first saw it used about 20 years ago, and I admit at the time I "fudged" my contribution. What is it? It requires everyone in the class or group to write down a secret they've never told anyone, and put their piece of paper into a hat, which is then passed around so that everyone receives someone else's secret, and must then write about it. It does have a "get out safely" option - you … [Read more...]