Haiku: The Power of Brevity

Are you sometimes distracted by “shiny objects” around you? I am, and in today’s world, so are a lot of readers. That’s one reason I love haiku, not only as a reader, but as a writer, too.

First, what is haiku?

(Note: Not all haiku have seventeen syllables in the 5-7-5 structure. Sometimes this is due to translation.)

I enjoy reading haiku because it evokes a powerful image in only seventeen syllables. It’s a “story” I can read in a few seconds. It touches me, even if there are “shiny objects” waiting to distract me:

Blow of an ax,
pine scent,
the winter woods.
~~Yosa Buson

 old pond
a frog jumps in
the sound of water
~~Matsuo Basho

I enjoy writing haiku because it has taught me to use words sparingly. As with almost anything in life, haiku’s brevity leaves me wanting more. Verbosity is not necessary for powerful writing, as can be seen in the following haiku:

Don’t imitate me;
it’s as boring as the two
halves of a melon.
~~Matsuo Basho

Wrapping dumplings in
bamboo leaves, with one finger
she tidies her hair
~~Matsuo Basho

A giant firefly:
that way, this way, that way, this –
and it passes by.
~~Kobayashi Issa

Haiku is able to pack a punch in so few words because:

  • it focuses on a brief moment in time

The toddler –
as he laughs
autumn evening

~Kobayashi Issa

  • it uses provocative, relatable images

blow dandelions
and watch a thousand wishes
scatter in the wind
~Life: Haiku by Haiku 

  • it gives the reader a sense of sudden enlightenment and illumination

damsel fly dances
skips along the water’s edge
flirting with demise
                         ~Life: Haiku by Haiku 

The above points are followed by examples of haiku, however, these guidelines can also be used as tools to strengthen your non-haiku writing.

Here are a couple of other ideas on how to use haiku with your writing:

Summarize with Haiku
Do you find it a challenge to write your elevator pitches or synopses? Try a different twist: You may find it easier to summarize your book as a haiku first, then from that haiku, develop your pitch or synopsis. After all:

  1. There’s no shorter elevator pitch than a haiku.
  2. Haiku captures the “essence” of the scene, chapter or book.

For example, the following haiku from The Red Kimono summarizes my entire historical fiction:

a porcelain mask
though inside a heart beats strong
even the oak breaks

Writing a haiku about your book will help you to capture the essence of the book, which is one of the most important aspects of both your elevator pitch and your synopsis.

To further demonstrate, following are a couple of haiku I’ve written about other popular books:

mischievous Scout sought
adventure, but instead found
compassion for Boo
                                 ~To Kill a Mockingbird 

Scarlett chased lost love.
When at last she loved Rhett, he
didn’t give a damn
                              ~Gone with the Wind 

the yellow-brick road
path to the greatest treasure
there’s no place like home
                         ~The Wizard of Oz

Haiku as Writing Prompt
Haiku can serve as excellent writing prompts. How? Find a haiku that captures your imagination and expand it. What is the story told in those seventeen syllables?

Here’s an example of an excerpt, written “on the fly” using the following haiku as a writing prompt:

Crisp air nips my nose
Snowflakes dust my lashes
A walk in winter
                 ~Life: Haiku by Haiku

Expanded to a Story:

Jo stared out the library window, daydreaming about what it would be like to be one of those snowflakes drifting, swirling, slowly, slowly to the ground.

Wait. Was she really imagining being a snowflake? That did it. She had to get out of that stuffy, stale room where she’d been practically shackled during finals week.

Oh, to be on the outside. The air, cool and crisp. What harm could it do?

With that, she rushed for the exit and burst through the door. She inhaled the air, so crisp and cold it stung her nose.

But she noticed the silence most. So immense it enveloped her. So quiet, she could hear the “plip” of each snowflake that landed on her jacket, as if it whispered “goodbye” before melting away.

Whether you condense a story into a haiku or select a haiku to expand to a story, give these techniques a try. Sure, they’re a little “different.” But sometimes, taking a different writing “path” inspires us and may lead to places we might not have “seen” otherwise!

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Give haiku a try! Here are a few photographs to use as prompts. We’d love to read your haiku in the comments. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Haiku: The Power of Brevity

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