Wednesday, August 8, 2012

8 Ways Haiku Helps Fiction Writers

(photo courtesy of
An old silent pond...
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again. 
--Matsuo Basho, translated by Harry Behn

Have you ever tried your hand at haiku, the poetic form of three lines and (traditionally) seventeen syllables? If not, would you? Particularly if you are a fiction writer and don't consider yourself a poet (like me)? Well, I for one have reconsidered...

First a definition:

"Haiku--an unrhymed verse form of Japanese origin having three lines containing usually five, seven, and five syllables respectively; also: a poem in this form usually having a seasonal reference."--merriam-webster

Secondly, observations on its form:

"Originally a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables in three lines, a haiku juxtaposes seemingly unrelated observations in order to glimpse the hidden connections between things."--John Drury, Creating Poetry

"Technically, a haiku must refer to a season...But for Western poets, the distinction may not be so useful or important. We normally call a haiku any three-line poem, give or take a line, that couples insights or images together in a flash." --John Drury

"Haiku are based on the five senses. They are about things you can experience, not your interpretation or analysis of those things. To do this effectively, it is good to rely on sensory description..." --Wikihow

"Although traditional haiku are often about nature or the changing seasons, they nonetheless manage to convey emotion." --Bruce Lansky

"Haiku teaches the power of observation and the importance of editing. You know you've done a good job of editing when the version with the fewest words makes the strongest impression." --Bruce Lansky

"Haiku will keep you working with words, but it will also help you deal with your stress. And here's the best part: You don't have to wrestle with rhyme!" --Diane Mayr ("Too Busy to Write? Keep in Shape with Rhymes, Limericks and Haiku," The Writer Magazine, October 2002)

So with all this in mind, how might haiku help a fiction writer? Taking from the above quotes and adding a couple of my own favorites, here's a list of eight benefits, all good practice ideas for any writer. Haiku:

1. sharpens observation skills
2. taps into sensory details and imagery potential
3. gives practice in making connections (think plot twists and the unexpected)
4. explores emotions
5. generates words and creativity
6. strengthens editing skills
and--proving to be of particular value to me--
7. fosters a writing habit
8. is portable!

By the way, at least two children's authors have taken the idea and incorporated haiku in their books. Lois Lowry's Gooney Bird is So Absurd has the characters writing haiku, as well as couplets, limericks and line poems. It's a cute book. And then there's Jack Prelutsky and his picture book, If Not for the Cat, Haiku, in which he writes haiku riddles about animals (example: "Boneless, translucent/We undulate, undulate/Gelatinously*) and the reader must guess the identity. Clever idea!

Haiku. It's not just for poets anymore.

(*Answer to Prelutsky's riddle? Jellyfish!)


  1. I remember writing haikus in junior high :) Maybe I should make a point to write a haiku as a warm-up exercise everytime I sit down to write!

  2. I think you might like it, Jess--it's turned out to be quite fun for me :-) and like I say, portable. No matter where I'm at and what's going on, I can still practice writing!

  3. I'm not sure I'd be able to write haiku, but I like reading a few pages from Ellen Hopkins' novels in verse before I start writing each day, and after I take breaks. I find it helps my writing, even if I'm not writing a novel in verse.

  4. Stina, don't know if the haiku I write is any good, but it's definitely challenging my creative side :-) I'll have to check out Ellen Hopkins' work. I just finished Helen Frost's Crossing Stones, another novel in verse, and one I'd recommend...

  5. I agree, Haiku is a great exercise. It's been a while since I wrote any - might be as long ago as when I was homeschooling my kids and we studied it. I did more recently write some limericks with a 7th grader I was tutoring. That was a fun exercise for her and me. :) I think I should work on some Haiku soon. Thanks for this reminder and wonderful insight!

  6. Thanks back to you, Karen. Hope you find haiku fun again, too :-)

  7. Well, I think we'd all love to read some of your haiku, so bring it on! ;)

  8. I think I'll add it to my writing exercises list. I don't like the merely descriptive Haiku, but I LOVE the ones that link two things unexpectedly.