This summer, I’m teaching English 211: Intro to Creative Writing, a class I’ve taught a few times in the past. I split the course into two genres, poetry and fiction. The more times I teach this class, the more I realize there is a lot prose writers can learn from writing poetry, and I tell my students that, especially when some of them groan about having to write poetry. The genre teaches writers compression, to cut out all of the fat. During workshop sessions, I tell my students to ensure that ever word in their lines counts, and to remove what they don’t need, especially conjunctions and prepositions. This skill of careful editing is useful in fiction because you don’t want your short story or novel to get bogged down by unnecessary details and extraneous sentences. Poetry teaches a writer to make every word matter, to capture a reader’s attention from the first line.
There are other techniques paramount to poetry that are useful in fiction, especially extended metaphors, similes, and concrete imagery. In fact, image/metaphor/simile/sensory detail are the first techniques I cover in the poetry section. These tools energize the language and imagination, and they do the same things when employed in prose.
Right now, my class just started the fiction unit, and as someone who writes poetry and thinks about it daily, it’s nice to step away from my familiar genre. Meanwhile, the students now have some techniques they learned from writing poetry that they can use in their fiction.