Monday, February 29, 2016


One of my dear friends, Jan Morrill, writes beautiful Haiku—a Japanese form of poetry which uses seventeen syllables in a five, seven, five arrangement. I am always struck by how powerful her poems are and how they can be read in one breath.

One day we tossed around ideas for presentations we wanted to develop. I suggested she teach Haiku, not only as poetry, but also as a way to write more powerful prose. She looked dubious but said she'd think about it. Well, last week I had the pleasure of attending her workshop: Haiku: The Power of Brevity, and I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation. She explained how this form of poetry is traditionally written in present tense, focusing on nature, using provocative, colorful images, and how it gives the reader a sense of sudden enlightenment.

And then, as I had hoped she would, she suggested very nontraditional uses of haiku to strengthen our prose, such as using haiku as a writing prompt. She showed us pictures and asked us to write a poem about the scene. By the time we were finished our minds were stimulated and our creative juices were flowing. Another suggestion was to use haiku to break through writer's block by summarizing a scene or chapter. She did this in her novel, The Red Kimono, when the heroine, Sachi, was sent to a Japanese internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Jan wanted to capture the emotion of a little girl as she walked through her home for the last time. Below is what she wrote:

My house is empty
but memories will remain
echoes in my heart

Jan's final suggestion is the one that made me want to applaud! She told how haiku could help us write a synopsis. Yessss! If you've written a book I'm sure you've said the same thing as me, "Writing a synopsis is harder than writing the whole book." After all, after spending months, sometimes years, developing a world and filling it with scenes, how on earth do we condense three-hundred-plus pages into one? Well, how about condensing it into seventeen syllables? By doing this we capture the essence of our story. By way of demonstration Jan does this with Gone With the Wind:

Scarlett chased lost love
when at last she loved Rhett, he
didn't give a damn

For our writing exercise she suggested we summarize a book we have read or one of our own with haiku. I chose my newest book, Writing from Your Soul:

Life is our story
we entrust to the future
wisdom from our past

This exercise fun and mind stretching. I was surprised by how these three lines embodied my book. From this I could easily write a synopsis. Another fantastic benefit, as Jan points out, there is no better way to formulate an elevator pitch—a pitch that takes no longer to give to an agent than it takes to go from one floor to the next.

I'm having a lot of fun with this. Why not give it a try?

To learn more about Jan Morrill and haiku please visit her website:
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