Mike M., Margaret P., and Jennifer F., Writing Center tutorsPlease keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Center so that we can address them for you.
Poetry falls into the very broad category of "Creative Writing." While there are many differences between creative writing and academic writing, there are many similarities as well. Just as the writer of a persuasive paper must maintain an awareness of the work's audience, so must the writer of a screenplay or a mystery novel keep his or her readers firmly in mind. And just as academic writing covers a broad spectrum of assignments, so does creative writing span a great variety of writing modes, including (but not limited to):
Keep in mind as well that these writing modes are not divided by insurmountable boundaries. Prose poems blur the line between poetry and prose. A work of literary fiction might contain elements of fantasy or romance. And while creative writing assignments for your classes might be more straightforward, an awareness of how writing modes and their conventions can interact is important.
- Literary Fiction
- Genre Fiction (Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance, etc.)
- Creative Nonfiction
Because of the diverse goals of these specific types of writing, formulating a definitive "how to" guide to creative writing would be extremely difficult. However, despite its wide-ranging nature, certain principles apply to all forms of effective creative writing. The following key terms, sample assignments, and web resources were collected to help you through the process of creative composition regardless of the type of creative writing you choose to pursue.
Of course, if you would like to explore any creative writing issues beyond the scope of this page, the tutors at DePaul's Writing Center are eager to speak with you about your particular project-in any phase of its creation.
The following list borrows from the Roane State glossary of Literary and Poetic Terms, and provides a foundation of important poetic terms. See the complete list here. Another resource used is from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and can be found at this site. Other resources include the reference works listed above, as well as Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry by David Mason and John Frederick Nims.
Note as well that many of the figurative tropes used for poetry might play a part in the composition of fiction and vice versa. For example, metaphor can play a big part in fiction and setting can be very important to poetry.
- alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginnings of nearby words.
- allusion: An allusion is a reference that is not stated explicitly, but rather in an implicit manner that relies on the reader's knowledge of historical figures, past events, other literary works, styles, etc. Many allusions are literary, while others are biblical or mythological, and yet others are in the form of the work itself. For example, writing in heroic couplets forges an allusive relationship with past well-known couplet writers (Dryden and Pope) and also the time in which this was most in vogue (the eighteenth century).
- analogy: An analogy makes a comparison, but not only that: because one thing is shown to be like another thing, it can be assumed that other similarities will follow.
- assonance: Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sound in nearby words.
- caesura: A caesura is a pause within a line of poetry, generally determined by punctuation but not necessarily.
- consonance: Consonance is an identical consonant sound preceded by a different vowel sound (e.g., home, same; worth, breath; trophy, daffy).
- diction: Diction is, put simply, word choice. For example, if you're writing about someone having dinner, that person could be eating, dining, consuming, etc. Diction, tone, and voice are very closely linked. If there is a persona speaking in your poem, think about how he, she, or it (if you are personifying an object) would speak.
- end rhyme: End rhyme is rhyme that comes at the end of lines.
- end-stopped line: An end-stopped line is a line that ends with a pause.
- enjambment: Enjambment is when the line of poetry runs without a syntactic pause into the next line. This is a stylistic choice, and often reading your work out loud will help you to determine where to break the line.
- extended metaphor: An extended metaphor is a sustained comparison in which part or all of a poem consists of a series of related metaphors.
- figurative language: Figurative language is not the language of the everyday. Rhetorical tropes such as metaphor, personification, analogy, etc. make up the language that is often used in poetry.
- line breaks: Where a line is broken makes a tremendous difference in how a poem is read. When writing, try your line breaks in many different ways and read the results out loud. Lines can be either end-stopped or enjambed.
- metaphor: A metaphor makes a comparison between two unlike things, but does so implicitly, without words such as like or as (as in a simile). A metaphor makes a more direct connection, such as "my house is a tomb."
- meter: Meter is the rhythmic pattern of stresses recurring in a poem.
- near rhyme: (off rhyme, slant rhyme, or approximate rhyme): Near rhyme is almost, but not exactly, alike. This is often used, not because a more exact rhyme could not be found, but to jar the reader off balance. Instead of hearing the expected sound, the reader hears a sound that is close, but not the same. Emily Dickinson used this often in her poetry.
- personification: Personification takes a non-human object or an animal and attributes it with human characteristics.
- rhyme scheme: Rhyme scheme is how rhymes are positioned in a poem. Note that different types of formal poems have different rhyme schemes, and while there are many stanzaic forms that are fixed by convention, there are also many possibilities for working with these forms in new ways. Rhyme scheme is marked by a notation of lower case letters (ababcdcdefefgg, for example, is the Shakespearean sonnet).
- simile: A simile makes an explicit comparison between two things by using words such as like, as, than, appears, or seems. For example, "my house is as a tomb."
- stanza: A stanza is a grouping of lines, set off by a space, that often has a set pattern of meter and rhyme. There are often stanzas in free verse that have no set formal pattern.
Common Writing Assignments/Exercises
The Poetry Resource Page also has a number of exercises you can use to come up with creative ideas for your poetry.
- Acrostic poem: An acrostic poem spells out a word or phrase through the first letter of each line. This can be the title of the poem, a word connected to the poem, or a secret meaning not at first apparent about the poem.
- Create a page of metaphors: This is a helpful exercise for many reasons. Not only does the writer begin thinking metaphorically, but the creation of a single metaphor may lead to an entire poem. Besides, having a page (or several pages) of metaphors that might find their way into a future work is a great resource to have.
- Epistolatory poem: Compose a poem as if it were a letter. This could be a letter from you to someone you know, or it could be a letter to or from a historical figure. The possibilities are endless. (You might also try writing a short story in this way.)
- Update a fairy tale or myth: pick a tale that you know well and then get creative. This can be especially fruitful due to the wealth of archetypes and symbols that abound.
General Creative Writing Advice
- Purdue University's Online Writing Lab provides helpful explanations of the aural elements of poetry, including meter, scansion, poetic feet, and line length.
- The University of West Virginia describes various genres of poetry.
- This document from Northeast Mississippi Community College provides an extensive list of definitions of different types of poetic forms and structures.
- Some books that you might find useful (and fun to read) include: Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Sheila Bender's Writing Personal Poetry: Creating Poems from Your Life Experiences, and Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux's, The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. For those who wish to experiment with traditional forms, look for Mary Oliver's Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse.
DePaul English Department links
- 10 Tips for Creative Writers from Dennis Jerz at Seton Hill University provides advice for fiction writing, including brainstorming, developing characters, and structuring your piece.
- Brainstorming help from the University of Buffalo provides a list of questions to help you generate ideas.