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. 🙂

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Deep POV and Perspective

What draws you to a story? My favorite stories are those written in what’s often known as “deep point of view.”

 

In my novel, The Red Kimono, I created three separate Deep POV/Perspective characters: Sachi, an 8-year old Japanese American girl; Nobu, her 17-year old brother; and Terrence, Nobu’s African American friend. As you might imagine, all three saw the years surrounding World War II differently.

 

The Editor’s Blog says:

Deep POV takes readers into the head and heart of a character, allowing the story to be seen and felt through the character’s experiences and history and thoughts and feelings.

In preparing for writing workshops, the Sisterhood often discusses debates argues about the difference between Point of View and Perspective. We go back and forth on what to call it. But then, isn’t it a woman’s prerogative to change her mind?

Here’s how NYBookEditors.com defines each:

  • Point of view focuses on the type of narrator used to tell the story
    1. First person – “I”
    2. Second person – “You”
    3. Third person – “He, she, it, they”
  • Perspective focuses on how this narrator perceives what’s happening within the story

What we call it is not so important as how we create and use Deep POV/Perspective, because writing in this way helps the reader to experience a story through the characters’ eyes, not the author’s eyes. It draws readers to empathize with characters, to love or despise them, to cheer for their successes or failures.

Exercise:

  1. Think of a memory that involves you and a friend or family member.
  2. On a sheet of paper, make two columns.
  3. In one column, write everything you recall about that memory. (Feelings, reactions, opinions, senses you recall.)
  4. Without letting your friend/family member see your recollections, ask him about his memories and write down everything he can recall about the event.
  5. Compare the two versions.

This exercise demonstrates the power of perspective and how completely it can change a story. Everything depends on from whose eyes the story is seen.

How?

To create a deeper intimacy between your characters and your reader, in other words, to create scenes with Deep POV/Perspective:

  1. Know your character. An author must know her characters as well or better than she knows real people in her life. How does your character see the world? How would she react in certain situations? How do her memories influence how she sees the world? One way to get to know answers to such questions is by interviewing your character.
  2. Be constantly aware that your character doesn’t know everything. He can’t know what’s happening in another room, or what someone said about him two days before. Stay in your character’s head—no head hopping!
  3. Avoid using, “filter words” such as the following.
  • She wondered. . .
  • He thought . . .
  • She was . . .
  • He felt . . .

Example:

  • Out of Deep POV – Kim was beginning to feel nervous as she sipped her tea. She wondered if Nick would take the time to meet her at the coffee shop.
  • In Deep POV/Perspective – Kim sipped her tea to calm roiling nerves. Still, her foot continued to tap the floor. It was a bad habit her mother always brought to her attention, which only served to make her tap harder and faster. Would Nick show up at the coffee shop? Would she be worth his time?

In Example 2, (Deep POV/Perspective), there are no “tags” or “filter words.” We are in Kim’s head. We know her memories, her concerns, her irritations, her fears.

In short, wherever possible, “Show, (through your character’s eyes). Don’t tell.”

Exercise:

  1. Choose a scene from your story/novel.
  2. Write it from different character’s perspective.
  3. If you write the scene “in the head” of this different character, you’ll be surprised about what you’ll learn about your characters, scene and story.

Deep POV/Perspective is like adding color to a canvas or photo.

Splash a little color onto your writerly canvas!

Interviewing Your Characters

How are your story ideas born? For me, it all begins with a character. Maybe it’s someone I see at a mall, or at the airport. Perhaps it’s someone in a car next to me at a traffic light. The list goes on and on.

Next comes “I wonder.”

I wonder why he is smiling? Why is she crying? What makes him clutch so tightly to that steering wheel? Where is he going? Who is going to meet her at the airport?

With such curiosity in the beginning, your character’s story might flow like ice melt in the spring. But lines or pages into your story, “winter” often comes too soon as your ideas once again begin to freeze.

What then?

I’ve shared many of the techniques I’ve used to “thaw the frozen stream” in my book, Creative Characterization. But my favorite method is “Interviewing Your Character.”

Characterization is only one element of fiction. But, in my favorite stories, other elements—plot, setting, and conflict—are seen, felt, touched, heard, even tasted through the characters. Therefore, an author must know her characters as well, if not better than, the “real” people in her life.

So, how do you get to know your characters–make them tell their secrets? I’ve used two different techniques:

Interviewing on Paper

  1. Write down several questions you’d like to ask your character. (Suggestion: Use the list below to start a conversation with your character, rather than a Q&A session.)
  2. Close your eyes and imagine sitting with the character. Imagine the setting—the sights, sounds, smells.
  3. Write down the conversation as it happens in your mind.
  4. As your character talks to you, pay attention to his “voice” not only in dialogue, but also internalization. Write in that voice.
  5. This is not a time to edit or censor, but to gain knowledge. Don’t lift your pen from the page or your fingers from the keyboard.

Interviewing “In Person”

  1. Find a friend, relative or fellow writer to interview you as you portray your character.
  2. “Become” your character. Assume her personality, including her voice. If she’s a child, speak as a child. If she’s from the South, speak like a Southerner.
  3. Your interviewer can start with a few questions listed below, or ask something he’d like to know, especially if he’s familiar with your story or character.
  4. As best you can, remain in the persona of your character. Try dressing as your character!

The deeper you get into the role of your character, the more you’ll discover about your character and how he or she sees the story.

Here are a couple of questions to get you started. Try to start a conversation, rather than firing off questions like in a Q&A session. As in real life, you’ll learn more in a conversation.

  • Tell me about something or someone who made you angry or happy.
  • Who was your greatest teacher?
  • Tell me about a time someone teased you as a child.
  • If you had one day left on earth, who would you want to spend it with?
  • Tell me a secret, either about yourself or someone else.
  • Who would you like to thank and for what?
  • If you could be a fly on the wall, where would that wall be?
  • Who do you need to forgive?

Though I have many other questions in my book Creative Characterizationtry to come up with your own questions, too. I created my list of questions by thinking of things I’d like to ask friends, family and even strangers to get to know their secrets. (I rarely have the courage to ask some of these questions of people in “real life,” but you can ask your characters ANYTHING, right?

I’ve used interviewing many times with my stories or novels, but my favorite instance–the time I learned the most–was when I interviewed Nobu, a character from my historical fiction, The Red Kimono. If you’d like to read the interview, click HERE.

You’ll learn many new, exciting and perhaps, surprising things about your character (and story) through this “conversation.” However, you probably won’t (nor should you) use everything. Still, the more of your characters’ secrets you learn, the better you’ll know how he sees the world. This knowledge will lead to deeper and richer characters and stories and therefore, will keep your readers turning the pages.

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NOTE:  I’ll be teaching the interview method and other characterization development techniques with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen at this year’s Ozark Creative Writers Conference October 11-14. Come enjoy the Ozarks in autumn—the perfect setting to share and learn with other writers.

Celebrate Poetry-4/8: FRIENDSHIP

I love Ruth Weeks’s haiku!

Life: Haiku by Haiku

The theme for Day 8′s celebrating National Poetry Month is “Friendship.” Click HERE for details of this haiku celebration of throughout the month of April.

Since I’m not in the drawing for my own book, I decided it’s okay if for the friendship haiku, I don’t post one of my original haiku. Instead, I’m going to post a haiku that my dear friend, Ruth Weeks, wrote as a “farewell” haiku when I moved from Fayetteville to Dallas:

sisters not of blood
but soul mates from start of time
love needs no reason

laughing Ruth is the one on the far right. From left to right, Linda Apple, Pamela Foster, Patty Stith, Moi, Ruth Weeks — The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen

Obviously, it made me cry. 🙂

Share your haiku about FRIENDSHIP in the comments of this post and you’ll be entered in the drawing for one of three signed copies of 

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The Lusty Month of May

Hope to see you at the OWFI Conference, May 1-3 at the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City. I’ll be presenting three workshops there!

Jan Morrill Writes

Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. I used the title of a song from one of my favorite movies, Camelot, as a brazen attempt to attract your attention. But, my post does have to do with May.

I love May for at least two reasons:

  1. Spring should be in full bloom by then, though with the winter we’ve had, one might have some doubts.spring
  2. The OWFI Conference!! I CAN count on that! This year’s conference will be held May 1-3 at the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City.

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Take a peek at the wide array of presenters at this year’s conference — including me!

Here’s a teaser for the three different workshops I’ll be presenting:

Characterization: Using Letters & Photos to Bring Characters to Life
Friday, May 2, 10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.

Are you challenged with getting your characters to “talk” to you? I have a couple of successful methods I’ve…

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The Ghost of Branson Rodeo Bling Queen

Spending time with Ruth can not only be spooky, it makes me laugh until my stomach hurts. 🙂

Truths by Ruth

This weekend I attended the first meeting of the year of the Ozark Writers League in Branson, Missouri.  Snow and ice holding me prisoner in my own house for days on end, being behind  at work, and a $200.00 electric bill had turned me into a depressed, grumpy ol’ bear.  I needed this get-out-of-Dodge weekend in the worst way.  Hanging out with creative, like-minded folks always recharges my battery, plus as an added bonus, I rode to the meeting with one of my best pals, Gyspy Jan.  Gyspy Jan moved to Big D a few months ago leaving a huge hole in my heart, so spending time with her made my dull high-pro glow bright and shiny once more.

We stayed the night in Hollister at the Ye Olde English Inn.  The Inn drips charm, The first time I stayed at the Inn a perfect stranger grabbed my hand at the door and said, “this place is haunted…

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The Song that Came to Mind

What song first comes to mind for you? What’s the story behind that song?

Jan Morrill Writes

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Last night, I drew another prompt from the writing prompt box I recently created:

Write about the first song that comes to mind.

Music…a song…can take me back in time faster than almost anything, except perhaps a scent. So, I enjoyed this prompt.

I’m sure it will be obvious to you that I changed a name to protect the innocent. And, it’s funny how the mind fills in details that have been forgotten, so perhaps there are a couple of minor embellishments. But it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Following is the song and the story that first came to mind. I would LOVE to hear about the story behind the first song that comes to your mind!

Yesterday

One of my most romantic moments came when I was in fourth grade. Back then, romance was made of fairy tales, of princes on white stallions and happily-ever-afters.

I…

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An Interview with Writer’s Block

How can this guy be in so many places at once?

Jan Morrill Writes

It has now been three months and two days since I’ve written a single word on Broken Dreams, the sequel to The Red Kimono. And other than a few blog posts and a few haiku, I’ve written nothing to speak of.

Granted, the last few months have been hectic, frenetic and just a little chaotic with book signings, presentations, fulfilling miscellaneous obligations AND moving to Dallas in anticipation of the birth of my first grandchild. Still, I have to place the real blame on the creature we all know as Writer’s Block. How do I know this? Because in the week following Thanksgiving, even though I’m all settled into my new home and have few responsibilities to fulfill other than waiting by the phone for news that my daughter-in-law has gone into labor, I haven’t written anything.

writer block

So, I’ve decided to interview this unwelcome visitor who is no…

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To Miss or Not to Miss?

Whoa! It’s been a long time since I’ve shared anything on the Sisterhood blog! Here’s a peek at what’s inside my head. 🙂

Jan Morrill Writes

I’ve been remiss in posting to my blog. I’ve been remiss in writing anything, as a matter of fact. Busy, busy, busy, but those are only excuses, aren’t they?

I hope to get more writing done while I’m house/dog sitting for Stephen over the next several weeks. The farm was always a good place for a little peace and quiet. But, after my first night there, I began to think about the things I miss and the things I don’t miss.

I’m not sure how long this will go on, especially since I’m always pretty tight-lipped when it comes to putting personal things out into the blogosphere. But, at least for now, my reasons for missing or not missing feel pretty safe. Also, this is one of those topics that I think to myself, “Why would anyone even care?”

But I’m going to write it anyway, even if it’s just…

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Add the Sisterhood to my list of blessings, too.

Jan Morrill Writes

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post since Saturday afternoon, upon my return from the Northwest Arkansas Writers Free Conference. Oddly enough, I intended to title the post “Blessed.” This morning, as I see #Blessed is a trending hashtag on Twitter, I decided I can’t procrastinate any longer.

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At Saturday’s conference, I was one of the morning presenters, with my Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. I discussed two different methods I use to develop and deepen my characters:

  1. Interviewing the character
  2. Describing a photo or painting in the voice of your character

Here’s a copy of the PowerPoint I used in this presentation: Memorable Characters.

If you’d like to read an excellent recap of the day, my friend, Staci Troilo wrote about it on her blog. Click here to read her post titled, “Six Speakers, I Mean, Reasons Why Saturday Was So Great.” Thanks to…

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