Writing persona poems

A New Perspective

As we continue to explore different approaches to poetry, today we are going to look at the persona poem. Persona poems are poems written from a perspective other than your own. You use your imagination to enter the world of another character. You can write a persona poem from the perspective of a friend, an enemy, a relative, a pet, a celebrity, a historical figure, a character from literature or you can make up a character of your own.

The basis or a persona poem is a change in point-of-view. You aren’t just writing about another character, you are writing as if you were that other character. You try to think like that character. You imagine that character’s thoughts, actions, skills and limitations. You try to capture the world in which that character lives and you portray it as if you were that character.

This is a style of poetry that is heavily influenced by fiction. You leave behind your point of view and take on another. You try to bring a character to life and make that character interesting to your readers. It can be challenging, but also freeing. You are given the chance to change your style, tone and perspective, at least for the length of one poem.

Adding a fictional layer to your poetry allows you to address issues you can’t comfortably express as yourself. Persona poems can be an excellent method for dealing with personal issues that are too close for you to write about from your own perspective. Persona poems also can be a great way to explore your feelings about an social or personal issue by looking at it from the other side. What would the person on the other side of the issue say to you?

Poetry Assignment

Write a persona poem that incorporates one of the past two concepts. It should either address a social issue or it should provide a strong sense of place. One great way to do the latter is to write a poem in a public place, and to observe the people around you until you find someone interesting that you can imagine a back-story for.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Persona poems are an opportunity to explore new worlds. Fiction writers get to do this all the time. There are some poetry writers who write almost exclusively in other personas. The poet AI (pronounced “I”) is an excellent example of a persona poet. She has written from the perspectives of miners, farmers, abusive husbands, the famous and the infamous. No poet writes more vividly from other people’s perspectives than Ai.

Dread 2004

Vice 2000

Greed 1994

How to write a query letter

Query letters are a much-debated practice in the writing community. Many writers swear by them, but others feel they are a waste of time. Formal query letters were the accepted practice in the magazine and book market, but submissions have become much more casual in the age of blogs and other web-based publications. There are many successful writers who stick to sending completed manuscripts or informal, ultra-brief queries.

Here are some advantages to writing a formal query letter:

  • A well-written query letter helps prove to an editor that you are qualified to write the piece.
  • Sending completed articles blindly can indicate to an editor that you either failed to sell the article before, are submitting an article that was not written specifically for their publication, or are attempting to resell a previously published article.
  • Short, informal queries will often go unread or will be given less weight by an editor if they are a stickler for the formal process.
  • A formal, detailed query gives you the opportunity to do preliminary research for a piece that can then be quickly converted into an article.
  • When submitting a query to an online publication, your query will look better than 90% of the other queries being submitted to that publication.

Here are some disadvantages to writing a formal query letter:

  • Writing a good query letter takes time. The freelance market pays less for articles than it did in many past years due to a glut of writers and the low profit margins of web publications. This means that the amount of time you spend querying takes a bigger piece of your profits.
  • The quick turnaround time to publication for web sites means that timely topics grow stale quickly. Sometimes it is better to be fast than formal.
  • Building relationships with publishers is easier and can happen in a number of different ways now (Facebook, Twitter, Blog Comments). It is possible to build relationships before sending queries.

Below is a point-by-point description of how to write a query letter.

Know your target

  • Study any publication before you submit a query letter.
  • Get writer’s guidelines for the publication if they are available.
  • Study the publication’s masthead (or “about” page) to identify the appropriate editor for your query. Do not rely on Writer’s Market. Editors change jobs frequently.
  • You may send the same subject query to more than one publication, as long as they do not compete and you have taken the time to make sure the subject is appropriate for both publications.

Your query letter should have a professional look.

  • There should be no spelling or grammar errors.
  • Be sure to include the date on your letter. This can be important if you feel later on that your idea has been stolen.
  • It should be addressed to the appropriate editor. Use their full name and do not use Mr. Mrs. or otherwise. The exception to this rule is Dr. or other professional title.
  • The publication name and address should be correct.
  • The salutation should be formal.
  • If mailed, the paper and the letterhead should be clean and professional. Standard 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper should be used.
  • Single-space your paragraphs and double-space between paragraphs.
  • If mailed, the Query should include Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE)so that the editor can return your article or reply to you conveniently.
  • Include your name, postal address, email address and phone number in the letterhead or at the bottom of the letter.

Your query letter should be interesting

  • Your query should introduce a fresh idea/topic/angle.
  • The idea should be set off in the type so it is easily viewed.
  • Your idea should be presented at the very beginning of your letter.
  • Your lead-in should excite the editor.

Your query letter should be specific

  • Keep your query letter concise.
  • Lay out exactly what you intend to include and exclude from your article.
  • Give a proposed article length. Round to the nearest 100 for under 2000 words and to nearest 500 for articles over that length. The length should be appropriate for that publication.
  • Identify which section of the publication you believe your article fits within.

Your query letter should be persuasive

  • Include writing samples that are appropriate to the publication, article topic, and writing style you believe the publication is looking for.
  • Present any credentials or awards you have that show you are qualified to write, especially about this subject.
  • Identify other similar publications that have published your work.
  • Identify any sources you have that you feel would help persuade the editor.
  • Your article should show why you are the best and only person to write this article for them.
  • Close your letter with a phrase such as: “I look forward to hearing from you. Please write or call if you have any questions.”

Respond promptly when a query is accepted

  • When an editor expresses interest in (solicits) your article, send it to them promptly. In your cover letter, remind them of their request.
  • You do not need to enclose an SASE when sending your article.

What you should not do in your query letter

  • Do not mention who has rejected the piece before.
  • Do not include other people’s statements about your article.
  • Do not tell the editor how long and hard you have been working on this article.
  • Do not mention the assistance of others.
  • Do not tell them that the piece still needs work.
  • Do not request advice, comments, criticism or analysis.
  • Do not talk about how thrilling it would be to be published.
  • Do not include inappropriate or off-subject information about yourself.
  • Do not discuss the rights you wish to sell.
  • Do not discuss price or payment.
  • Do not give your social security number.
  • Do not give or discuss copyright information.
  • Do not wear out your welcome by writing too much or failing to get to the point.
  • Do not query without studying the publication enough to know whether your idea is appropriate.
  • Do not waste your time querying an unreceptive editor over and over again.
  • Do not present ideas for several different articles in the same letter. This can be done once you have established a rapport with an editor or website publisher, but should not be done in a blind query.
  • Do not use obscenities or inappropriate content.
  • Do not send inappropriate, off-subject samples.
  • Do not present the article as a way to increase SEO or otherwise explain the benefits of publishing an article on the web. Your publisher already knows these things.
  • Don’t try to pitch articles that are more to promote your your own web site or client site. Pitch article that are a clear benefit to the publication. There is no quicker way to a person’s spam filter than to market articles like this.

Sample Query Letter:

Max Swif
Securities Editor
Money Bucks Magazine
1010 E. 10200th Street
New York, NY

August 22, 2013

Dear Max Swif,

Proposed Article:

You’ve Got Fraud! How Internet con artists can crush your portfolio

Last Monday, the Enforcement Section of the Massachusetts Securities Division ordered a temporary cease and desist order against three men it accuses of manipulating the stock market by flooding Yahoo.com with tens of thousands of false and misleading statements about Biomatrix Inc (BXM.N) and Genzyme Corp (GENZ.O). This is the latest in a growing series of civil and criminal lawsuits against people who manipulate stocks through mass emails or in this case, by posting misleading statements on financial discussion boards. My article will detail the trend from the perspective of three people.

  • A securities trader whose legitimate stock analysis email newsletter has contended with fake announcements by people who acquired his mailing list.
  • A lawyer who represented a client in a case similar to the Massachusetts case.
  • An investor who blames her loss of $70,000 in the stock market on fraudulent discussion-board posting.

In my article I will discuss the negative effects of fraud on investors and companies. I will also discuss how you can protect yourself from fraud. More importantly, I will show how you can be victimized by the trend even when you don’t receive a fraudulent email or read a misleading post. Because such fraud can cause an individual stock to both rise and fall dramatically, investors who never see the misleading information can still end up investing in a bad stock or dumping a good one.

My article would be an excellent fit in your Caveat Emptor section’s ongoing coverage of investment potholes. As is customary for that section, I will include a sidebar of ways you can protect yourself from Internet investment fraud. My advice will include: verifying any news through conventional sources, keeping an eye out for any unusual email from online newsletters, never trusting blind e-mails, and carefully watching or avoiding discussion boards altogether. The last point, that discussion boards rarely result in good investments, will also be a focus of the article. If you would like, this can also be turned into a sidebar.

In addition to the three sources above, I have access to dozens of other securities professionals, legal authorities and investors. I have been a professional investment counselor for the past fifteen years and was one of the earliest adopters of Internet trading. As a former state representative, I authored several investment fraud bills that are still on the Arizona law books. For the past two years I have written a weekly investment article for Phoenix Business Insider. I have also published investment-related articles in Worthwhile Investor, Smart Stock Analyst and Fund Advocate.

Enclosed are reprints of three of my recent articles covering investment and the Internet. These articles will demonstrate both my knowledge of the subject and my ability to convey that knowledge to the reader. Your readers need to know about this looming crisis and how it can affect their investment strategies. Please call my office to discuss any further details or resolve any questions. Thank you for your consideration.


John Doe
Box 901010
Scottsdale, AZ


About the letter

This author of this query letter may or may not have some advantages over you. The author is someone who has all of the experience and credentials necessary to write the article, and has already secured sources. You may not have everything he has, but you need to know how it sounds when you do.

Note that the query is timely. The author may have been researching Internet fraud for months, but he went out and found an article that ties his research to that week’s news. Also note that none of his sources are from the particular case he mentions. Instead, he uses that case as a selling point for his research. Quite possibly he has already written a related article for his column, and he now wants to reuse part of it to make a national sale. There is nothing wrong with this practice. Selling similar articles (not just reprints) to different markets is perfectly acceptable.

Poetry prompts

Here are poetry Prompts from four years worth of 30 Poems in 30 Days.

Use the word Pattern in the first line and/or the last line of your poem.

Write a poem that begins with you waking up.

Write a poem that begins with a proclamation. If you need a phrase to get your juices going, try “I will”.

Write the final line to your poem first, and then write the poem to get to that ending. I am choosing to end my poem with “His hallucinations make him giggle” which others are welcome to use.

Pick three words that you absolutely love the sound of and set out to use them in your poem.

Use the same (or similar) words in both your first line and last line, but change the order or the meaning of the words from the first line to the last line.

Write a poem that involves an animal.

Write a list poem about things you have done in your life.

Use the word “secret” twice in your poem.

Use a letter count as a constraint for your poetry, either writing a brand new poem or rewriting an old poem to fit the new pattern. You can either count the spaces and punctuation between words as letters or count only the actual letters. Keep in mind that you don’t have to use the exact same number in every line, you can also develop at pattern such as 20-25-20-25.

Write or rewrite a greeting card poem so that is has meaning to you, or at least is funny.

A Ritual Poem takes a ritual (real or imagined) and brings a sense of meaning and reflection to the ritual it describes. Here are some steps to follow (a ritual poem ritual):

  1. Pick an element of life that has or deserves a ritual
  2. Decide the result you would want the ritual to produce
  3. Think of the actions you would take to achieve the result
  4. Turn the actions into steps or commands

Write a poem using Skeltonic Verse.

Write a poem about a specific but minor memory you have from more than five, but less than ten years ago.

Write a Tanka. Feel free to write more than one if you like.

Write a definition poem. A definition poem takes a word or a concept and attempts to define it, provide perspective, redefine it, or create a definitive example of it.

Write a poem that is set at or near where you live.

Write a poem in the form of a letter (epistle).

Write a poem that begins and ends with three single syllable words.

Write a poem that begins with a line of advice or instruction, such as don’t give up or take a left at the willow tree.

September 21st is the last day of summer in the northern hemisphere and the last day of winter in the southern hemisphere. With that in mind, write a poem in which the seasons play a role.

Write a poem in which a similar or identical phrase is repeated three or more times throughout the poem.

Write a poem using iambic pentameter. If you aren’t familiar with Iambic pentameter, it is discussed in full here.

Write a poem that begins with the word “I”.

Write a poem as that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once.

Write a poem about a natural event.

Use one of the lists of words above or pick your own morpheme and use it to add adnomination to your poetry.

Pick two or three words from your last poem use them as the first three words of this poem.

Write a poem that gets shorter with each line.

Write a poem about the end of something.

Write a poem about something you believe.

Write a poem that includes at least one description of an object that is six or more words long.

Write a poem that uses some sort of meter. If you want a challenge, attempt a meter you haven’t worked with before. For an extra added challenge, try to work in the word belly.

Write a Blues Sonnet:

  1. Write 5 thematically similar heroic couplets of iambic pentameter.
  2. In first four, repeat first line of each couplet, yielding the 14 lines of the sonnet.
  3. Then, if desired, modify middle lines, of the stanzas without disturbing rhyme or rhythm to strengthen the stanza and give variety.
  4. Get out a blues recording and have fun singing your blues song!

Write a poem about an event in your life that you have strong feelings about (it doesn’t have to be painful) without stating how you feel about the event. If you want an extra challenge, end every third line with the letter “R”.

Write a poetic parable. Feel free to play with the form. Sometimes it is more interesting when the lesson is just a bit absurd.

Write about something in your life that you do every day. If you want an added challenge, make the first and the last lines the same or similar.

Write a blank verse poem. Blank verse has meter, but no rhyme. The typical meter for blank verse is iambic pentameter, but you can try other meters as well. If you want an added challenge, include the word “line”.

Write a Pantoum. Feel free to experiment with the form until you write something to your own liking. If you enjoyed this, try a sestina or villanelle.
Write a poem that tells a story. For an added challenge, use a word count. Write four stanzas, each with 30 words.

Write a poem as if it were an entry in someone’s journal or diary or even their Twitter account. If you want an added challenge, limit your stanzas to 145 characters so they mirror the limitations of texting.

Go outdoors and get some fresh air. Find a comfortable spot and write a poem. If you want to try a tanka (or a few) go for it.

Write a poem in ten minutes. It should have at least 100 words. For an added challenge, work in the word “speed”.

Create your own found poem. If you are looking for inspiration, use Google News to find an article to your liking.

Write a poem that uses exactly the same number of characters on every line. You can pick the length, but once you start you have to stick to it. For an extra challenge, try writing about an event that has happened in the past 24 hour.

Write a poem that ends with the word “quiet”.

Either use a set of hyponyms as the structure for your poem or write a poem around the phrase, “He was blue, she was a rabbit.”

Write a poem that uses something other than traditional end rhyme.

Create a poem that uses one of the following word combinations (they don’t have to be in the same line):

  • boot, tune, fool
  • but, feet, knot
  • kit, tap, pock
  • seize, fourth, thighs

Write about something you can see from the window of your home.

Write a poem about a place you have been or a journey you have taken.

Call an old friend and write a poem after the conversation

Find an original way to describe a chair and make that the first line of your poem.

Write about the first time you did something.

Write a poem that demonstrates strong emotion without ever stating what that emotion is.

Write a poem about a contest, a win, or a loss.

Write a poem as if it were a letter to a friend.

Include the word right or rights in your poem.

Start your poem with a piece of advice.

Write a poem about your childhood. Explore an actual event that had some emotional significance to you. Avoid using any description of how you felt about the event then or how you feel about it now. Instead, try to make the emotion of the event come through in your descriptions of what happened. Feel free to post your poem in the comments or on your own site with a link back to here. This will give other people the opportunity to read your poem.

Write about an event in your life that happened within the past week. Take some time to think about the week and look for event that has some emotional meaning for you, but not so much that it would be painful for you to write about. Sometimes smaller moments have more meaning. Feel free to post your poem in the comments or on your own site with a link back to here. This will give other people the opportunity to read your poem.

Find a news or opinion article that was published on the web this week. I recommend using Google News because it can take you just about anywhere. Look for a story that has some emotional or philosophical impact on you and use that story as the basis for your poem. If you post your poem here, be sure to post a link to the original article so we can see the inspiration!

Get out of the house and write in a new place. Write about the place you choose to go to. Don’t just rely on what you see. Describe the smells, the tastes and the sounds if you can. Try to give your readers a full picture of the place you choose.

Write a persona poem that incorporates one of the past two concepts. It should either address a social issue or it should provide a strong sense of place. One great way to do the latter is to write a poem in a public place, and to observe the people around you until you find someone interesting that you can imagine a back-story for.
Take at least five minutes to meditate in a quiet room free of outside influences before you write today’s poem. Try to clear your head of stray thoughts. Once you feel like you are clear and calm, write your poem. Let the topic be about whatever comes to mind after your meditation. If you have never meditated before, simply sit in a chair with your eyes closed and try to relax.

Write a list poem that uses a single line for each item on the list. Feel free to choose one of the topics above, or use anything else that comes to mind. As always, post the poem in the comments section if you would like to share it.

Write an elegy about a person or event that is meaningful to you. You don’t necessarily have to approach the most tragic event in your life. Don’t try to take on an event that is still too difficult for you to deal with. Look for something that you can handle.

Write a poem using a specific meter. The meter can be of your own choosing or even your own making, as long as you put a pattern into place. As always, feel free to post your poem in the comment section of this post.

Write a three or more stanza poem that uses a metered style for the first two stanzas and a non-metered format for the remaining stanzas. As always, feel free to post your poem in the comments section for others to see.

Read a poet you don’t like. Try to figure out what they do that upsets you and determine whether or not this assessment is fair. Try to think of ways that you would approach the same subject matter using your style. Write a poem that addresses some of the same subject / style / tone of the poet you dislike but do it in your own style.

Write a poem using syllabic verse. You can assign length ether by line or stanza. If you are stuck for a way to begin, start with this two-word ten-syllable line: Incompatible Participation
Read a poet you don’t like. Try to figure out what they do that upsets you and determine whether or not this assessment is fair. Try to think of ways that you would approach the same subject matter using your style. Write a poem that addresses some of the same subject / style / tone of the poet you dislike but do it in your own style.

Today is a two-part assignment. The first part is to think about your method of writing poetry. The second part is to shake up your process. If you have a lot of structure, try loosening up. If you write very loosely, try adding some structure to the process. Find a new place to write or use a different tool. The change doesn’t have to be major, but if you post your poem, please tell us what you changed.

Write a poem that uses at least two different forms of repetition. Try to embrace at least one form of repetition that you don’t ordinarily use.

Write a poem that follows the three rules of the imagists.

  1. Direct treatment of the “thing”, whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.

Revisit a previous poem, perhaps one you especially liked or one you had trouble with, and write another poem following those same parameters.

Wikipedia’s Random Button is a great and magical thing. Click it and write about whatever subject comes up.

Include the words “formal” and “casual” at some point in your poem.

Write a poem that has a variable line length rather than a set meter. Use either enjammed or endstopped lines.

Write a poem that begins with a negative image or statement and ends with a positive image or statement.

Write a three stanza poem that shows a progression with each stanza. The three stanzas should serve as a beginning, middle and end respectively. It might help to picture the poem as a three act play.

Try something that scares you (just a little) and then write a poem about it.

Write a poem that discusses a real moment in your life without discussing its larger meaning or attempting to lead the reader to a conclusion.

Include a verb in every line of your poem.

Write a poem that begins and ends with the same word.

Write the first draft of your poem in paragraph form and then change it into a free verse poem. Don’t be surprised if you have to change lines, words and phrases. That is a part of the process.

Look at some old photographs and write about a memory or a thought that they give you.

Write a poem that either uses no words longer than five letters or no words shorter than five letters.

Write the final line of your poem first, then figure out a way to get there.

I feel like ending with something technical but random. Don’t include any word with a single “A” in it, but do include at least one word with two “A”s in it.

Write a poem that takes place inside a vehicle (car, truck, train, plane, boat, etc.)

Write a poem in which you use three different words for the same or a similar color.

Write a poem that uses two or more different settings / locations.

Write a poem that includes at least three different flavors and two odors.

Write a poem in which each line has six words and makes a statement or at least expresses a complete thought.

Write a poem in which every stanza either begins with a question or ends with a question.

Write a poem in the form of a joke.

Write a poem that takes place at a public gathering such as a meeting, a carnival, a sporting event or a concert.

Write a poem about building or creating something by hand.

Write a poem that involves cutting, chopping or dividing something.

Write a poem about having to defend yourself or someone else.

Write a poem in which you discuss three things that you or your persona wants.

Write a poem that repeatedly uses numbers.

Write a poem that involves a plan.

Write a poem that take place at a specific time of the day.

Write a poem that involves consequences.

Write a poem that takes place in or otherwise involves a classroom.

Write a poem about waiting for a specific event.

Write a poem about getting lost or losing something.

Write a poem about getting or sending a message (postcard, letter, phone call, email)

Write a poem that includes something that malfunctions or breaks down.

Write a poem about training for something or working towards a distant goal.

Write a poem about a person or a place that has several different names (it’s actually quite common).

Write a poem in which something gets opened or closed.

Write a poem in which something gets faked or simulated.

Write a poem about a rivalry.

Write a poem about a place that has changed considerably over time (construction, destruction, renovation, disrepair, etc.)

Write a poem that involves flirtation.

Write a poem that includes a path, a trail, or a map.

Write a poem that involves a long-term relationship (love, friendship, family, group, etc.)

Poetry writing tips

Listen to criticism and try to learn from it, but don’t live or die by it. When I was in college, I would always take my best reviewed poem from the previous class and submit it to the professor for the next class. Invariably, the next professor hated the poem, and could provide good reasons why it failed.

When you write a good poem, one you really like, immediately write another. Maybe that one poem was your peak for the night, bit maybe you’re on a roll. There’s only one way to find out.

The bigger your theme, the more important the details are. A poem with Love, DestinyHate or other huge themes in the title already has two strikes against it (and I like love poems).

Say what you want to say. Let your readers decide what your poem means.

Feel free to write a bad poem.

That one perfect line in a thirty-line poem may be what makes it all worthwhile. It may also be what is ruining the rest of your poem. Keep an eye on it.

Don’t explain everything.

Untitled poems are like unnamed children.

People will remember an image long after they’ve forgotten why it was there.

Develop your voice. Get comfortable with how you write.

There are many excuses not to write. Try using writing as an excuse not to do other things.

The more you read, the more you learn. Read poetry often.

The more you write, the more you develop. Write poetry often.

Poems that focus on form are rarely my favorites, but most of my favorite poets learned how to write in forms before they discarded them. Writing in forms is a challenge. It makes you think.

Don’t be afraid to write from a different point of view. Write a poem that says exactly the opposite of what you believe. If you can, do it without irony.

When you cannot write, lie on the floor a while, go for a walk, or at least twirl around in a circle. Do something that changes your perspective.

Write in different places. Keep a notebook. Write in a park or on a street-corner or in an alley. You don’t have to write about the place, but it will influence you whether you do or not.

Listen to talk radio while you write. Listen to the people who call. Great characters and voices emerge that way.

If you don’t like a poem or poet you read, figure out exactly why. It may reflect something you don’t like about your own poetry.

When nothing is coming, start writing very fast. Write down any and every word, phrase or sentence that comes to mind. Do that for about a minute before you go back to working on your poem.  I call this trick flushing.  Feel free to use anything you came up with, but the purpose of flushing is to clear your head.

<Make a list of poems you can remember specific lines from. Go back and read those poems. Figure out why they stuck with you.

Keep a dream journal. Dreams are your mind at it’s most creative so pay attention to them. Don’t feel you have to write a poem about your dreams unless one truly inspires you. The main goal is to see what thoughts the dreams lead you to.

Analyze other writer’s poems. Figure out what works, what doesn’t work, and why. Think about how you would work with the same material and concepts.

Use humor, irony, and melodrama, but don’t abuse them.

Write the worst poem you can possibly write. Use clichés, use pretentious words, and beat your reader over the head with your point. Felt good, didn’t it? Now get back to work. The point is, don’t be afraid to write a bad poem. Every great poet has written a bad poem. Most great poets have written hundreds, even thousands of bad poems. The great poets kept writing though, and so should you. If it takes a hundred bad poems to produce a poem you like, finish those hundred poems.

Limericks can be fun too.

Every line of a poem should be important to the poem, and interesting to read. A poem with only 3 great lines should be 3 lines long.

Poems should progress. There should be a reason why the first stanza comes before the second, the second before the third, and so on.

Follow your fear. Don’t back away from subjects that make you uncomfortable, and don’t try to keep your personal demons off the page. Even if you never publish the poems they produce, you have to push yourself and write as honestly as possible.

Find a way to publish your poems. Sooner or later you have to send your babies out into the world to find their way. Emily Dickinson was a fluke. Most people who don’t publish while they’re alive will never be seen or heard of — no matter how great their poems.

Buy poetry books, especially books by current writers. Give back to the poetry community by reading (and paying for) the works of others.

Go to poetry readings. Check your local arts publications for upcoming events. Almost any sizable town has readings every week or every other week. This is a great opportunity to meet poets and people who care about poetry.
When you go to readings, donate money and buy books if you can.

Host a poetry event or organize a reading.

If you want to swap poetry and criticism with your peers, form your own group. Many local arts publications let you list your group for free.

Publish your own poetry journal or web site. Even a few sheets of paper stapled together gets the word out.

Whatever else you do, keep writing.

Creating a believable world

By Sharon Caseburg

One of the greatest difficulties Speculative Fiction authors experience when writing stories in this genre is in their ability to provide a believable environment for their readers.

Any kind of speculative fiction, whether it be hard-core Science Fiction, Time Travel, Horror, or Fantasy requires readers to put aside the conventions they have become accustomed to in the “real world” for the world the author presents in the story. This of course holds true for speculative romance stories as well. For the most part, readers of these genres are more than willing to put aside the customs of the world they live in, for the environment the author has created. However, when the author does not provide a believable realm, readers can easily become disenchanted with both the author’s world and in turn, the story itself.

Basically, this translates to the more the author knows about the world he or she is creating, the more confidently the author can write about it. If it is obvious to readers that the author fully believes in this alternative world, then, more than likely, readers will follow.

So how can the author successfully prepare for the creation of an alternative environment?

The answer may sound easier than it really is: work out ALL the details of your story before submitting your final draft to a publisher.

Although this point may seem obvious, it is more difficult to perform than it sounds. No New World can successfully come into being without the author first performing proper research. Whatever you do, don’t entirely make up your New World as you write your story! Map out everything you can possibly think of before you write about your realm. This activity will help make the actual writing about the environment much easier and will prevent any glaring inconstancies, the bane of any speculative fiction reader, from occurring.

One easy way to get started on creating a believable environment for your story is to pick up a reference book on world building from your local library or check the Internet for good sources of information. Use a variety of search engines when doing your research on the Internet. This will give you the widest pool to draw from. Be thorough in your background exercise and consider questions about your realm that may never come to figure in your story. You would be surprised at how knowing details that do not figure prominently or at all in your story can enrich your story-telling technique and help you in creating a lush and vibrant landscape for your readers.

Here are a few things to consider about the world you are creating. Answering as many of the following questions as you can will help you shape a strong, believable world; a realm you will be confident in writing about; a world that your readers can believe in. As well, don’t limit yourself to this list. When you get down to it, there are thousands of other details you can consider; however the following list can help you get started:

  • Is the New World predominantly like the one we currently live in? Is it different? How is it different?
  • What is the environment like on your New World? Is the air quality good? Is the air polluted? Is there an Ozone layer? Do civilizations live in protected environments? How are these environments constructed? How are these environments controlled?
  • Is there water on your world?
  • How does the sun rise? How does it set? In fact, is there a sun?
  • What are the life-sustaining factors of your world?
  • What is the nature of your society? For example, is it predominantly agrarian or is it technological? Is it modeled after a real civilization that once lived on this earth? If it is, research everything you can about that civilization. It will help you decide what is similar and what is different. If the world is technological, to what degree?
  • Is your world contemporary, futuristic or alternatively historical? If it is futuristic, is it far-futuristic or near-futuristic.
  • What year does your story take place in?
  • What calendar does your civilization observe? In fact does it even observe a calendar?
  • What seasons exist in the realm?
  • What is the plant life like in your realm? In fact is there any plant life?
  • What is the style of clothing worn?
  • What currencies are used?
  • What mode of transportation is used? If you are inventing one, how does it function? Is it petrol powered? Solar powered? Powered by another source? Describe the source in detail.
  • Does the military exist in your world? How is the military structured?
  • What is the hierarchy in the elected officials of the realm? Are there elected officials in the realm? Is it a monarchy? A democracy? Do elders exist in the community? What role do they play? Is there a hierarchy that is adhered to with these individuals?
  • If you are inventing new races of life forms, be prepared to make detailed notes about their societies as well.
  • How do people communicate with each other? Is communication verbal?
  • Are there computers on the world? Are they the same as here?
  • Do people read and write?
  • Does telepathy exist?
  • What is the same in the New World as in this world?
  • What is different?
  • How do people celebrate?
  • How do people grieve?
  • How are the young in society treated?
  • How are the elderly in society treated?
  • What is the average life span of your characters?
  • What is the diet on your New World?
  • And anything and everything else you can think of about your New World.

Remember that you are the creator of your New World. And you are all-powerful. While you may choose not to answer every question on this list, or perhaps you will create new questions to consider, knowing as much as possible about your New World will result in a more believable environment for your readers. The more intimately you yourself know your new environment, the more deftly you can convey its intricacies, even the unseen ones, to your audience.
Sharon Caseburg’s work has appeared in Visions and Voices, The Writing Parent, Freefall, Backwater Review and forthcoming in Pottersfield Portfolio.