In my last post, I wrote about using poetry in my creative writing classrooms, and how that changed my fiction writing. I'm continuing my diet of poetry theme by sharing an example of a poem that can be used for tightening up one’s prose. It's great for developing a character or setting, or simply for having fun. It’s called a cinquain. Cinquains are five-line poems, there are several styles to choose from. Some use rhymes, some require a certain number of syllables, and others use specific parts of speech in a particular pattern. The latter is my favorite and the one I’m going to use here. Take a look at the pattern below. It’s easy to follow.
Line1: A noun
Line2: Two adjectives
Line 3: Three -ing words
Line 4: A phrase
Line 5: Another word for the noun
I usually start out by having my elementary students write their first cinquain about an animal. What kid doesn’t like animals?
Licking, barking, jumping
Always there for me
Easy, huh? Slap a title on that puppy (no pun intended) and you have a poem, and a child who feels empowered by his or her writing. If I were in a classroom, we’d move into writing about ourselves.
Scribbling, reading, outlining
Bringing life to the page
With older kids, we experiment with cinquains as advertising copy. It’s a kind of eye-opener for them when they see it expressed this way. It’s also a great conversation starter about how we don’t always notice the role writing plays in our everyday lives—the back of cereal boxes, video game instructions, a recipe, and so on.
Walking, running, sprinting
Gives me happy feet
Are you seeing the connection to prose? Can you tell how this simple five-line poem could be used as inspiration for creating a character? What about world developing? What would it look like to describe an underwater city using a cinquain? How about the weapon the murderer used on that dark and stormy night? This kind of tight writing will force a writer to zero in on words that carry the most impact. If you can only have 2 adjectives, you’re going to choose the ones that will elicit an image or sensory reaction from your reader. But be careful. Cinquains are addictive.
Here’s one last cinquain. This one is for a character in a YA manuscript sitting on my Dropbox cyber-shelf. I plan to take it off the shelf one day and blow the dust off of it. Maybe this poem will motivate me to do that sooner rather than later.