Poetry Tricks for Children’s Authors
Teacher: Lil Chase, senior editor at Caroline Wakeman Literary Agency
I would not advise people to use flowery prose when writing for children. In general, it’s best to speak plainly and let the action tell your story. However, studying the tricks used in poetry is a really good way to learn how to use language effectively.
1. Use imagery to convey mood. This is essentially, Show, don’t tell (which we talk about in another post). Describe an image, using simple but concrete language, and let that image convey a mood. Think of the visual of the floating plastic bag in the film American Beauty (1999) – it was so melancholy… but it was just a plastic bag!
2. Think about how to use line breaks, punctuation, and even capital letters for dramatic effect: ‘He turned to me, took my hand and we ran,’ could have more emphasis if it was written.
He turned to me and took my hand.
He turned to me.
He took my hand.
3. Poets think of the ‘white space’ on the page. Words are most important, but the white space around the words plays a part too. It helps if a page is pleasing to look at.
4. Identify the word with the most punch and end the sentence with it.
The last word of a sentence should pack the most punch.
5. In poetry, ‘less is more’. Consider every word in every sentence: can you substitute a word for one that’s more powerful? Can you find a way to say something with fewer words, but more impact?
Sarah Crossan is an example of an author who has written many books for children in poetry form. I’m not suggesting you write your book in verse, but take a look at her work and see how she uses her poetry skills to great story-telling effect, and try some of these tricks in your next story.
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