April 16, 2008

using poetry to create character

My weekly writing group most recently began using poetry to create raw material for other written work such as plays, screenplays, etc. This is a method I've used many times to discover my characters, uncover plot and to further examine the relationships between my lead character and his/her enemy or lover.

Often, my poems end up as monologues or as scenes within a play. The poem itself gets transposed into dialogue, which helps heighten the style and language of the piece without any "effort" - very often a poem can tell a writer, in so few words, what the essence of a scene actually is. It "cuts to the quick" and resonates with emotional truth.

Poetry creates the "aha" moment - which always leads to good drama.



Write a poem that captures your character like a photograph. See them in a specific fleeting moment. See them as another character saw them. Freeze that image in time. Flesh out the specifics, explore the details.

Use this poem as your inspiration. Steal its structure and make it your own. Copy the form or reject the tone. Use this poem as a launching pad for your own exploration.

by Tony Hoagland

Maxine, back from a weekend with her boyfriend,
smiles like a big cat and says
that she's a conjugated verb.
She's been doing the direct object
with a second person pronoun named Phil,
and when she walks into the room,
everybody turns:

some kind of light is coming from her head.
Even the geraniums look curious,
and the bees, if they were here, would buzz
suspiciously around her hair, looking
for the door in her corona.
We're all attracted to the perfume
of fermenting joy,

we've all tried to start a fire,
and one day maybe it will blaze up on its own.
In the meantime, she is the one today among us
most able to bear the idea of her own beauty,
and when we see it, what we do is natural:
we take our burned hands
out of our pockets,
and clap.

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