3 Ways to Use Alliteration

by Ellen Gwin

What is alliteration?
Alliteration is the repetition of consonants (and sometimes vowels) at the beginning of two or more consecutive words. 

What about consonance and assonance?
Consonance is the repetition of solely consonants throughout consecutive words. These words can go at the beginning or in the middle of a word. 
Assonance is the repetition of solely vowels throughout consecutive words. These words can go at the beginning or middle of a word. 

1.To set the mood
Different sounds are linked with different connotations; one can use this concept to their advantage in poetry.
For Example:
S’s bring about a mood that feels whispered and intimate (or a snake-like)
H’s to makes the poem sound soft, hushed, or breathy 
R’s sound “French” and romantic (or like pirates)
B’s & P’s seem to boom or pop out loudly

2. Because it sounds pleasant
The repetition of consonants (or in some cases, vowels) sounds pleasing to the ear. This is because it provides a sense of rhythm to the poem and indicates how it should be read. This provided rhythm allows the reader to feel more closely connected to the work.
For Example:
The bumbling bear bellowed behind a beehive.
Slither snakes spoke of sinister stories.
Fiddling foxes found refuge in Finland.

3. To grab readers’ attention
One can use alliteration to simply draw attention to a specific set of alliterative words or
One can use alliteration to draw attention to themes throughout your poem through the use of alliteration at key moments with similar ideas in mind. 

3 Ways to Use Personification in Poetry

By Ellen Gwin

Definition:
Personification is the act of giving human characteristics (such as speech, actions, emotions, thought) to something that is not human (animals, insects, objects, abstract concepts etc.).

Different uses for personification:
This poetic device can spruce up internal monologue poems, give life to a setting, make images more vivid, create a deeper emotional connection, and for many other entertaining reasons.
Personification can also help readers understand the abstract/intangible concepts a writer is trying to get across.

1.Take the Viewpoint of the Object
Make the speaker take the viewpoint of the object. Give this object thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. 
For example:
Use a mirror or a painting to discuss beauty.
Teapot to discuss family generations.
Use a blanket to discuss comfort. 
etc. 

2. Make Multiple Objects Speak
Place your speaker in a setting (a forest, a bedroom, a library) and make the objects speak to their reader.
The objects could express their thoughts/opinions, give advice, discuss memories, etc.

3. Use Personification for Abstract Concepts
One could create a character/creature to embody the idea of love, fear, time, etc. 
Examples can be found in:
Greek Mythology, Alice in Wonderland, Spirited Away, etc. 

3 Steps to Writing an Allegorical Poem

By Ellen Gwin

Allegorical Poetry:
An allegorical poem is a poem that holds two meanings: one should be able to read the poem for both a literal and a symbolic meaning. In literature, allegories typically fall with three categories: religious, political, or historical.

What’s the difference between an allegory and an extended metaphor?
In an allegory, all characters, places and objects become linked with figurative symbolism within the extended metaphor. It’s kind of like creating an alternate universe with rules linked to rules of the reality of your story (religious event, political event, historical event, etc).

Examples:
Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene
George Orwell’s Animal Farm
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible
Emily Dickinson’s poem 479
Dante’s Divine Comedy

Step 1: Choose your idea
Whether it be morality, religion, politics, a historical event: choose an idea to model your symbolic story after.

Step 2: Plan out the literal story first
Who are important figures related to your chosen idea?
What are important events related to your chosen idea?
Where are important settings related to your chosen idea?

Step 3: Create your surface story
Create a surface story (the alternate universe) that you can easily find correlations with.
The story can be set in a different time period, a fantasy universe, on a smaller scale (i.e. a family to represent a country), etc.

3 Ways to Incorporate Allusions into Poems

By Ellen Gwin

1. Mimicry

Mimic rhythms or structures

Use Shakespeare’ iambic pentameter
Write a Spenserian sonnet
Mimic a poem/pieces of a larger work as a whole
For example: I modeled a poem after a famous speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

My teeth are decaying, rotting from the inside out. Years of swallowing bile laced confabulations finally decomposed the nerves within and made me numb to my next glass of gin. Bitter and crude but honest I am, no one deigns to come near my foul speaking breath. In solitude but not alone, I let my words flow. 

Friends, Americans, Countrymen lend me your nose. I come to bury “fresh breath,” not to praise it. The evil that one hides will always leak out; the good is often found in brutal honesty. So let it rest with fresh breath. Let those around me be solely filled with stinky sighs. 

Oh but the judgement! Those painted with bruised lips have lost their reason; the pain is not worth the infliction. Bear with me; I do not prefer the stench of bad breath but I must give pause to “fresh breath” in the name of sincerity. 

Mimic plot, characters, background stories, or other ideas

10 Things I Hate About You is modeled after Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.

Model a character after a historical or literary figure:
Either choose one of your own accord or look into archetypes such as Magicians (Merlin, Harry Potter), Creators (gods, scientists), Femme Fatales (Lilith, Circe), etc.
Use literary/historical references as the background for your poem/story
Allude to similar ideas regarding religion, morality, politics, etc.

2. Make References

Paraphrase a quote
Shakespeare said, “These violent delights have violent ends.”
To reference it in your own writing, one could say, “They say all chaotic good brings about chaotic events.”

Compare a character/event to a literary/historical figure/event
Model a character after the infamous Mussolini; make them speak harshly and shortly with chutzpah
Model a character after Duessa in Spenser’s Faerie Queene: give them a nature of duality and deception.

Use literary/historical symbols
An apply to symbolize sin
A lotus to symbolize Buddhism
A guillotine to symbolize revolution

3. Read through your poem for associations

For example:
If you’re writing about a garden maybe make a reference to the Garden of Eden or Ophelia.
If you’re writing about the ocean maybe reference Poseidon, Varuna, rebirth, or Ulysses.
If you’re writing about heaven maybe reference Mount Olympus, archangels, or John Milton.

Mood Board Poems

A tactic for overcoming writer’s block by Ellen Gwin

Mood board poems are a tool I invented (I think) to help poets stimulate their senses, get in touch with their subconscious, and seek inspiration.

Mood board poems typically do not hold a lot of depth or emotional weight– they’re typically more akin to aesthetic writing.

Symbols that occur in mood board poems are meant to be accidental or natural, not placed or overthought.

One can use this tool to create poems or seek inspiration for other poems.

  1. Stimulate the five senses
    Sight, smell, sound, and touch
    For a breakdown on stimulating the senses please click here
  2. Search for inspiration
    Go back through and connect ideas that did not seem purposeful before.
    Then go back and delete ideas/words/phrases that ended up not fitting in
    Once finished, read the poem to find out what theme/topic/idea has been nagging at you to write

Here’s an example of a mood poem by me

My Daydreams by Ellen Gwin
Raspberries in rich cream sitting on silver plates while angels promenade around a whimsical garden. 
Human-like creatures with golden eyes and fiery dispositions drinking Cabernet Sauvignons that resembles blood a little too much. 
Crystal from Czech full of peony petals spilling and over the lavender carpets and floating with the movement of those in skirts.
Delicate hands dancing while feet clumsily find their way to maneuver with a partner. 
Candles on antique sticks dripping onto maple tables velvet chairs tickling my bare thighs.
Pearls and opalites kept in ornate boxes while rosaries and aquamarine dangle from a beaded bonsai tree.
Bumblebees making geometric honeycombs in willow trees living in sweet harmony with kissing butterflies.

In this poem, I used foods to stimulate taste and smell while using whimsical imagery inspired by a garden party in the 19th century to stimulate sight and sound.
From this poem, I realized I had the nature of “good VS evil” on my mind through references I made to angels and blood.
From here, I decide to write poems that use fruit as a vehicle for discussing heaven and hell.

5 Tips to Write More Throughout the Week

By Ellen Gwin

  1. Carry a Pocket Sized Notebook
    Write while you’re in transportation or other small breaks
    When you randomly get inspiration
    To quickly jot down a phrase or observation to return to later
    Etc.
  2. Seek inspiration in supposedly mundane places
    Routine: hair, driving, work
    Art you see daily
    Uniforms
    Weather
    Photos/videos on social media
  3. Let writing be relaxing
    Heat up a some tea and take the time to write
    Make a snack plate and eat while writing
    Paint your toenails while you write
    Go for a stroll and bring a small notepad
    Etc.
  4. Read in the morning and plan what you’ll write in your head throughout the day
    Read prompts, definitions, about certain symbols, etc.
  5. Set aside 30 minutes just for writing right before an activity
    Before a shower, bed, work, breakfast, etc.
  6. Mostly importantly, allow yourself to breathe
    For some, writing daily is a great habit to get into but if it’s causing stress then it’s not the writing tactic for you! Always make sure your hobbies and passions are enjoyable.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

by Ellen Gwin

Writer’s block is nothing to be embarrassed about. Whether it’s been a day or a year, it happens to everyone! Fear not, cures exist.

  1. Make Pinterest mood boards of photos that inspire you

2. Read philosophy, allegorical literature, or really anything

I like to read some classic Aristotle/Plato/Socrates but also Nietzsche, Descartes, and Kant.

Some allegorical literature includes Faerie Queene, Animal Farm, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and The Little Prince.

3. Listen to music with no lyrics

This can be classical music, jazz, techno, acoustic, etc.

Either try to come up with lyrics to the song or just forget about words completely and vibe out.

4. Engage with the world around you

Go on a walk, hang out with friends, call your mom, get out of your head.

5. Bounce ideas off a friend

Sometimes it helps to get the juices flowing but sometimes it just helps to think out loud.

6. Writing anything and everything that comes to your mind for 10 minutes

Even if it’s “bad.”

3 Tactics for Using Verbs in Poetry

by Ellen Gwin

The three concepts I will introduce go in with the “show, not tell” theory. While a lot of people believe poetry (and other descriptive writing) mainly consists of adjectives, verbs act just as descriptive as adjectives while also bringing the reader into the moment when used properly.

By learning these three concepts one can learn to write in a descriptive and captivating manner.

Keep in mind that one does not need to follow these rules in their writing 100% of the time, I know I do not! However, they do work to make writing more interesting and should be kept in mind when writing.

  1. Strong Verbs VS Weak Verbs

Strong Verbs VS Weak Verbs

Weak verbs loosely state the action while strong verbs act as more of a descriptive action.

For Example:
I told her to slow down
VS
I advised her to slow down

For Example:
He ran around the building
VS
He scampered around the building

For Example:
He held the newspaper in his hand
VS
He clutched the newspaper in his hand

State-of-being Verbs

A type of weak verb which includes “to be” verbs on top of have/had/has, do/does/did, shall/will/should, would/may/might/must, can/could.

In the words of Richard Nordquist, “A state-of-being verb identifies who or what a noun is, was, or will be”

For Example:
I wanted to be on time
VS
I wanted to arrive on time

For Example:
He had to leave early
VS
He needed to depart early

For Example:
She was eating a cake when she began to choke
VS
She took a bite of cake when she began to coke

Verbs accompanied by adverbs

Another area where weak verbs occur is when an adverb accompanies a verb. If you’re having trouble replacing adverbs try replacing the verb instead or vice versa.

For Example:
He ran quickly to the store
VS
He dashed to the store

For Example:
She walked sadly around the house
VS
She moped around the house

2. Active Voice VS Passive Voice

Active Voice

Active voice makes sentences less wordy and the meaning more direct. Active voice also helps remove state-of-being verbs and other weak verbs. Active voice is useful when setting a strong and clear tone for readers.

Passive Voice

Passive voice becomes useful when the writer wants to emphasize the object(s) impacted by the verb. This is helpful when writing about victims of violence, famous works of art, geographical locations, etc.

What does this mean for my writing?

One should steer towards active voice but use passive voice to put relevant information at the forefront.

An example when active voice is better:

Passive:

Merlot was spilled on my white, lace Easter dress.

My lips stained my grandmother’s antique set.

Green tomatoes ripened too quickly to fry.

My copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray has blood on it.

The bushes lost their rose petals too early this spring.

Active:

Spilled Merlot on my white, lace Easter dress.

Red lips stained on grandmothers antique tea set.

Green tomatoes ripened too quickly to fry.

Drops of blood landed on my copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Rose petals fell off their bushes too early in the spring.

An example when passive voice is better:

Active: The policemen killed George Floyd.

Passive: George Floyd was killed by policemen.

Active: I took an airplane to the ocean.

Passive: The ocean can be reached by airplane.

3. Propel Sentences with Verbs Instead of Adjectives

Often when people think of poetry, they think of flowery adjectives (and the wooing of women). However, while adjectives are useful and impactful when used correctly, the poem cannot move forward unless verbs become involved. Verbs also stimulates the readers senses, allowing them to feel more engaged in the work.

In a sense one could say verbs propel writing more than nouns or adjectives. When writing with verbs, the adjectives will come naturally and therefore not come across as overdone.

For Example:

I opened my eyes and saw an array of pastel flowers sitting in golden enameled vases.

VS

When I opened my eyes, I felt the room flower into an array of pastel hues with touches of gold gracing my giddy glances.

The first sentence falls flat while the edited version, with verbs propelling the sentence, the sentence pulls in the reader and allows room for the story to grow. Verbs could be used to discuss what else is in the room, to move to a different room, to bring in a new character etc.

Websites All Poets Should Visit

by Ellen Gwin

1. Publishing Tools:

Poets & Writers: pw.org

“Poets & Writers” posts about different writing contests, Literary Magazines, contains database to research different presses, advice articles on publishing, and guides.

Submittable: submittable.com

Magazines and presses post listings and ask for poets to submit their work for review. The listing usually states a topic, how many pages to submit, and whether or not to include a bio.

Kindle Direct Publishing: kdp.amazon.com

KDP allows writers to self-publish e-books and paperbacks for free. Easily upload a manuscript and an image for the book cover and KDP makes it into a book for sale on amazon. The website is very user friendly and provides templates, guides, and self-publishing tips.

Poetry Foundation: poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/submit

A well-known literary journal, just be sure not to submit anything you’ve posted on instagram.

Kenyon Review: kenyonreview.org/submission/

Another well-known literary journal, again, just be sure not to submit anything you’ve posted on instagram.

2. Promotion Tools

Poets & Writers: pw.org

“Poets & Writers” has a list of different literary events (virtual & in-person) as well as resources for connecting with other poets.

Fivver: Fivver.com

Writers post their own listing on this website and wait for responses. This is usually done with commissioned work. However, writers can also respond to other people’s listings and offer to write for them.

WordPress

Use wordpress to post your poetry, prompts, writing tips, and other content in an organized manner. Just be sure to use hashtags so your work will be seen!

Hellopoetry

Hellopoetry is website you can use to publish your poetry, submit poetry to publishers, and meet other writers.

3. Educational Tools

Poets & Writers: pw.org

“Poets & Writers” holds workshops all around the US. Currently all workshops are held online due to COVID-19. There is a fee and an application.

Poetry Foundation: poetryfoundation.org

“Poetry Foundation” posts articles on improving writing for all age groups and contains a glossary for poetic terms.

Kenyon Review: kenyonreview.org

Holds workshops for different ages and interests.

BBC Poetry

bbc.co.uk/poetryseason/

On BBC Poetry you’ll find poetry guides, readings, interviews, and advice.

How to: Show Instead of Tell

By Ellen Gwin

What is “Show Don’t Tell?”

When workshopping poetry everyone always screams, “show us, don’t tell us!” But what does this mean? I feel like I’m already showing. How do I put my abstract ideas into concrete sentences?

“Show don’t tell” does not necessarily mean one should add more adjectives to frame the scene, it means to capture the scene, emotions, experiences, in a way that the reader can draw their own conclusions.

*Click here for a quick write-up on how to write descriptive with verbs instead of adjectives*

Anton Checkhov explains the “show don’t tell” concept by saying, “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” What Checkhov says here is that when you want to discuss the moonlight, instead mention how the light of the stars reflects off broken glass; when you’re capturing a scene or an emotion, you should close your eyes and really put yourself in the moment: in the senses, and in the feelings.

Most people know this quote by Checkhov in the shortened version, “don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on the broken glass.”

Show is a tool used by writers to provide concrete and/or vivid details in writing. These details help readers develop their own relationship with the work by helping them create mental images and forcing the reader to empathize & interact with the writing.

Tell simply states to the reader what happens, what is present in the scene, how it happens, and how one should feel. This tactic creates a one-sided POV, which causes the writer’s view to seem two-dimensional and the reader to feel like the cannot forge a personal connection with the work. The lack of personal connection will make the reader feel uninvolved and therefore uninterested as they will not be using their imagination, experiences, or unique ideas.

5 Ways to Implement “Show Don’t Tell

1. Appeal to the reader’s five senses

Stimulate the reader’s five senses through your words: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.

This technique helps to show instead of tell but also forces your character (and therefore reader) to interact with the scene more!

For Example:

Sight— What exactly does your character see? Is it associated with a memory? Does the sight cause an emotion or action? Does whatever you see interact with anything else in the scene?

If the character sees the snow don’t just say “I looked out the window and saw white snow.” Talk about how your character jumped into the frigid, fluffy snow that reminded them of all the summer popsicles they’d consumed in their youth back in Louisiana. Talk about how the snow was so bright the sunlight reflected back into their eyes causing them to accidentally stepped into a giant fluffy pile of snow, soaking their socks.

Smell— What exactly does your character smell? Is it associated with a memory? Does the smell cause an emotion or action? Does whatever you smell interact with anything else in the scene?

If the character smells a pie talk about which direction in comes from, what other scents it might be mingling with in the air, show a memory the character associates with the pie.

Sound— What exactly does your character hear? Is it associated with a memory? Does the sound cause an emotion or action? Does whatever you hear interact with anything else in the scene?

Every sound, big and small, creates a vivid detail. Humans rely on sound whether we are fully conscious of the background noise or not. Is music playing, are birds chirping, leaves rustling, fires crackling, voices giggling, voices whispering, the sound of a refrigerator?Where is the sound? Is it close or far? Is it annoying or pleasant?Don’t just talk about sitting in a silent office. Say you were writing in an office supposedly silent but all you could think about was the clunking of the damned ice machine down the hall.

Taste— What exactly does your character taste? Is it associated with a memory? Does the taste cause an emotion or action? Does whatever you taste interact with anything else in the scene?

Taste is about what your character tastes obviously but also about the texture of the food. Food/drink is also interesting because dishes are geographically unique and sometimes even social-class unique. What your character eats and how they react to it reveals a lot about them. How the dish is prepared will also reveal a lot about other characters in the room. Is the food good or bad? Is it a meal or grown off a tree/vine? What does it feel like in your mouth?

Touch— What exactly does your character touch? Is it associated with a memory? Does the touch/feeling cause an emotion or action? Does whatever you touch interact with anything else in the scene?

Touch involves more than what your character touches with their hands. What is your character sitting/standing on? What are they wearing? Is it comfortable? Are they fidgeting with anything? Holding anything? How does the weather make the character’s skin feel?

2. Replace abstract nouns with verbs

Abstract nouns express concepts, ideas, and qualities that are intangible like: love, hate, freedom, beauty, peace, truth, chaos, courage, sadness, joy, anger, belief, etc.

Obviously not all abstract nouns are avoidable and unnecessary, but one should try to limit them.

By showing these intangible concepts instead of telling them, they become more tangible to the reader. If the writer simply says, “Bob is in love,” the reader must take their word for it. However, if the writer shows how Bob is in love then the reader gets to experience it along with Bob, forging that personal connection.

Instead of saying your character is in love, show the reader how your character acts around the one they love or when they are in love. Maybe the character buys extra pastries every morning for the coworker they have a crush on, maybe the character is so distracted by their enamored thoughts that they trip over a curb.

Instead of saying your character is brave, show how they are brave; make your character do something outrageous.

Instead of saying the citizens have no freedom, show what they do not have. In juxtaposition, show what those in power do have.

3. Replace adverbs

Adverbs steal a chance from the writer to show how the character carries out an action rather than plainly telling what the character does.

A few examples of adverbs are : absentmindedly, beautifully, lazily, quickly, carefully. Here is a list of more adverbs.

Obviously not all adverbs are avoidable and unnecessary, but one should try to limit them.

In one of my favorite books about writing, On Writing by Stephen King, King says, “with adverbs the writer..tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly.

For Example:

“She walked home from school absentmindedly,” could instead be, “She walked home from school tripping over cracks in the sidewalk, thoughts more tangled than her hair.”

4. Use verbs in lieu of adjectives

This is one that I am working on myself and I find it very difficult!

Instead of describing a person or object, show what their actions are. This way the reader can connect with the person or object by implementing their own POV.

For Example:

Instead of saying someone acted cruelly, show what cruel things the person did. Use action, do they hit babies? Did they insult someone? Did they stomp on a flower garden? If the person sneers, what put the sneer on their face?

If you say someone’s jewelry is shining, talk about how the jewels catch the light instead.

If you’re describing the blue sky, talk about how the bird fly in a cloudless sky, talk about the way the sun beats down with nowhere to hide.

Show the reader the descriptions of everything by demonstrating the adjective through an object in action.

5. Take advantage of metaphors and similes

Using metaphors/similes will spruce up a boring description, make inanimate objects animate or purposeful, and liven simple verbs.

Don’t overuse this one as it could get annoying to your readers!

For Example:

When showing people one can evoke the personality of the characters as well. Instead of she was tall and brave, “she stood graceful as a lily and tall as a tree in the face of absolute horror.”

Instead of cautious, “he hid behind his glasses like an ostrich sensing a hunt.”

Instead of big, blue, eyes, “his eyes were like the vast ocean.”

When showing a setting one can use interesting images and verbs to capture the vibe of a scene. Saying “the bed was in the corner, a closet to the right, and one big window outlooking a parking lot,” sounds so boring.

Instead say “A bed wider than the grand canyon begged to sing me to sleep, a closet deeper than the ocean to hold all of my clothes, an angelic window like a glimpse into my future.”

OR one could say, “a bed smaller than a popsicle stick, Harry Potter would have laughed. I turned to the closet and found something akin to an upright coffin. The window was permanently fogged over like stained tupperware.”

When using simple verbs, one can use metaphors or similes instead as a way showing the action. Simple verbs can include verbs in the “past simple” tense: angrily, happily froze, bounced, boiled, argued, held, examined, etc.

For example instead of, “he spoke angrily,” one could say “he growled the words like a grizzly bear.”

Instead of “she held the trophy” one could say “she cradled the trophy like a new born baby.”

Instead of saying, “she examined the paper thoroughly” one could say “she was more thorough than a dog under the dinner table on Thanksgiving.”

I hope everyone found these tips helpful and happy writing! –Elle