I am an (aspiring) fiction writer. I write prose. However, every so often, I run into a need for poetry. I might need a prophecy, or a ritual blessing, or a character might be serenading another, or some piece of information should be hidden in an old song: I need verse. The plot demands it.

Trouble is, I'm not a poet. I find myself beating my head against RhymeZone, producing cringe-worthy manure. (Not that I specifically need rhyme. I am aware of alliteration, and other tools. I can't do anything useful with them either.)

Is there a solution? Do I write my way around the verse, change the plot so it isn't needed? That limits me considerably in the fantasy genre, particularly in High Fantasy. Do I pretend that the prophet/serenader was also a lame poet, and hope the readers can forgive the cringe-worthy small bit of verse if I give them good plot? Is there a way I could learn to write better poetry?

I should add that I read quite a lot of poetry, in English, French, Hebrew and Russian, and I can't write decent poetry in any language. At all. So apparently reading is not how you learn to write in this case. At least not how I learn.

And to clarify yet again, I'm not looking to become a poet. My passion is telling stories. It's just that sometimes the story calls for verse, and I can't seem to give it that.

  • Have you tried other forums for critique? (I had some bad couplets and cut them from mine, deciding that it was too risky with all the other elements I try to include. Dreams, flashbacks, etc.) Your post reminds me of a fantasy piece entered for critique at AW about a year ago that opened with poetry, and the advice was to seek critique for that part of the submission in the poetry forum.
    – SFWriter
    May 24, 2018 at 0:12

5 Answers 5


Steal it!

For a ritual setting, the poetry is plausibly old stuff, so find some very old poetry in the public domain, and look for passages you can steal. You don't have to attribute it to anybody.

If you have studied enough, you can change some words, paying attention to rhythm and rhyme, and perhaps change a piece of old poetry to your own uses. Wedding vows might be lifted from many a love poem.

Tell, don't show: Fake it!

Or similarly, skip over the actual recitation, and describe the poetry, mentioning a few highlights of some poem you found, one that compared love to the cuddling of birds and the purity and sanctity of the white blossoms of orange trees.

But don't quote it, just describe what he said, and to be fair what your MC remembers of what was said, which may be just some poetic bits and pieces, not the whole thing verbatim. Perhaps the first and last lines verbatim, which is often what people remember from such addresses.

  • 1
    @Galastel go with Amadeus! I'm a prose writer too and studied poetry at university for three years. I read it, devoured it, wrote and rewrote it but it didn't make me a poet. I would think twice about spending years trying to hone the craft. In my experience of writing alongside poets, your mind either works that way or it doesn't. My poet friends were also in my prose classes and I envied their ability to construct the most beautiful images in words, snails who carried their hearts in their shells, and haunting descriptions I would have given my eyes to be able to conjure.
    – GGx
    May 24, 2018 at 15:04
  • 1
    But when I asked them what it all this beauty meant and how it advanced their plot, they had no idea! I can’t write poetry. But I can spin a good yarn. There are writers out there who craft the most hauntingly beautiful and poetic prose while spinning a compelling, page-turning story, but I believe that most of us mere mortals can either do one or the other. So, go with Amadeus’s advice!
    – GGx
    May 24, 2018 at 15:04

Since you are writing in the fantasy genre, is there any reason that the poetry needs to be in a human readable tongue?

I can imagine that humans, living among other older species, might know just enough elvish or dragon-tongue to properly pronounce a few lines of ancient verse; with no real understanding of that languages' subtleties such as meter or rhythm.

The more learned among your human characters might even be able to translate the ancient verses into human words, such that the meaning and beauty of the previously presented nonsense words can be offered to the reader, without any poetic artistry being required of the translation.


My recommendation is to... read poetry, then learn and practice writing it. I think you'll find that nothing will improve your prose writing like studying and writing poetry. This depends on how much effort you put into it, of course, but not only will you have some nice (short? your stories can refer to excerpts instead of entire works..) verse but you'll develop imagry, mood, metaphor, etc.


Good poetry starts with feelings. Start by logically deducing which feeling your poem is about. Then elicit that [passion | intensity | warmth | ardour | fervour | vehemence | fire | excitement] in yourself and use it to inform your choice of language.

... intimate connection between language and emotions is a must for contemporary poetry where everything is designed to act directly upon you: a poet’s word choices aim to trigger your memories, associations, and images, their tone, meter, and rhythm reach for your body, while their rhymes, repetition, and alliteration land on your tongue to be tasted and savored.

(Aneta Pavlenko, on Psychology Today)

You're a prose writer and so you already have a good vocabulary so all you need to do is connect to your primal emotions. Once you're there, you can use them to inform your poetry.

Here's how to get to your feelings:

Movies. Every now and again I find myself welling up at a certain point in a movie (at which point I blink furiously before the wife notices). What you (and probably me) should be doing at that point is writing a poem. Get down in words what's moving through your body; because this is where the emotions live. Record what's going on in your throat, heart, chest, skin, eyes and mouth and then use it.

Mirroring. Fire up a browser and search for pictures of people who are experiencing emotion. Then mirror those expressions and postures in your face and body. It might sound like a weird thing to do, but it works. Paul Ekman did some experiments in this field that reveal that we can trigger emotions by artificially putting those expression on our face.

Talking. Sharing how you feel with a trusted friend (or an anonymous forum) is a great way to bring your emotions to the fore. Practice revealing your love, anger, disappointment, shame, embarrassment, guilt, and pride with others and you will find that you can access those things more easily when it comes to writing poetry.

Accept. Sometime we try to repress our emotions (like I do when watching movies) or rationalise them away by telling ourselves that they don't have a purpose or that they aren't useful. When we do this, we find that when it comes to writing poetry we view our words as 'cringe-worthy manure'. Learn to love and accept emotions and the language they inspire.

I know that this answer probably seems like it's about emotions rather than writing, but there is a connection. Even if it doesn't seem to make logical sense, it's something worth trying. And if it works, then you have another tool in your box as a writer, especially if you have a need for poetry (or well rounded characters). There are, of course, other ways, but this works for me.


That is a good question.I will try to give my two cents to help you a bit.

When writing prose,it is the power of your imagination that enables you to produce a masterpiece.When it comes to poetry, only the strength of your emotion(feeling) regarding a particular subject matter can save you.

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words-Robert Frost.

You cannot write poetry with a cold heart.You must feel it.The emotion must burn in you.It is those flames that give life to your poem.

You may want to write a poem that has a happy mood ,yet you don't feel happy.That is where your imagination comes in. And you must choose your words well to ensure they represent your meaning well.

Bottom line is -Emotion.If you feel it,the words will come,and your reader will feel it too.

A poem begins as a lump in the throat,a sense of wrong,a homesickness,a lovesickness-Robert Frost.

All the best

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