How to Write Speculative Poetry

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I haven’t talked much about writing poetry on this blog. I have, however, talked quite a bit about speculative genres, mainly science fiction and fantasy. When you think about these genres, you might think of fiction, including novels and short stories. But speculative poetry also exists, and it acts as a great way to take your writing in new directions if you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy.

But how does writing speculative poetry work? With poetry, you need to focus on the way the words dance together and how the form and rhythm enhance the images you describe. You need to be able to tell a story and describe things in vibrant ways. But while many poems do tell narrative stories, speculative poetry utilizes story slightly differently. Ready to learn about speculative poetry? Check out below!

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One of the biggest differences between speculative poetry and other types of poetry is the story. Speculative poetry focuses a lot on narrative, almost as if you were telling a fiction story rather than a poetic one. In fact, a lot of this poetry can be written in prose poetry form, so it almost looks like fiction. But no matter what type of poetic form you choose, this type of poetry needs a story to be the main focus. The sci-fi or fantasy narrative you create should translate your story into poetic form, but, like fiction, you need to lay the groundwork first. To focus on the story of your piece, remember the following:

1) Know your genre – Suppose you want to write fantasy (or fantastic poetry). How do you do that? First, research the genre and find out what makes fantasy stand out from other speculative genres. Note its characteristics, or the type of stories fantasy often conveys. This doesn’t mean you should rely on the tropes and cliches of the genre. Instead, learn the elements of the genre, then keep that knowledge in your back pocket when you start coming up with a story. Once you focus on what you want your story to be, you can then shift to working on poetic form.

2) Create characters, setting, and more – Obviously, once you come up with a story idea, you need people and places to fill it up with. These story rules apply to any form, whether fiction or poetry. Characters should be complex and interesting. Settings should be descriptive and engaging. When writing speculative poetry, the story needs to shine, especially with its descriptions. So if your characters aren’t interesting or your setting doesn’t shine, the story (and ultimately the poem) falls flat. So like fiction, get your worldbuilding down, then use those details to bring your poem to life.

3) Make sure the story actually makes sense – Poetry needs to be clear, just like fiction. When writing a story, even in poetry, you shouldn’t gloss over any plot holes or add too many elements that might make your story difficult to recognize. Authors might fall into this trap because of how poetry relies on imagery or figurative language. You might create vibrant descriptions and details of what’s happening in the narrative, but the glaring plot hole or convoluted storyline overshadows that. If the story doesn’t make sense, then the beautiful language you crafted doesn’t mean anything to the reader. Focus on the story, and make sure it can fit into poetic form without confusing your readers.

Next comes the poetry aspect of the poetry. You have all the makings of a story, but poetry requires a slightly different technique. You need to be able to translate your story into whatever poetic form you choose, but that doesn’t necessarily mean just writing a paragraph and calling it a day. Prose poems for sci-fi or fantasy do exist, but even then the narrative flows like poetry rather than just a paragraph. Before writing poetry, remember to:

1) Establish rhythm – Even if you write free verse rather than any specific form, your poem should maintain a beat, or rhythm. When a poem has a specific meter, the words almost have a sing-songy quality to them to make the poem easy to read. In free verse, writers need to be mindful of the words they choose as well. The poem should still be easy to read, with words that work together in a way that roll off the tongue. For more information on how to do this, check out this awesome source for young poets!

2) Work with the words – Even though you’re establishing rhythm, don’t forget you also have a story to tell. You want the story to come across as clear and concise as you possibly can just like you would in fiction. To do so, this will take some time. This is where your writer’s intuition comes in handy. Read and reread your work. Read it out loud. Is it easy to read because the beats are good? Does the story still flow nicely? Nothing will come to you right away, so be diligent and patient.

3) Make sure the imagery contributes – I recently talked about using imagery in a story. Poetry uses a lot of imagery and figurative language to convey ideas in new ways. When you do, it should contribute to what you’re describing in a way that doesn’t confuse the reader or take them out of the story. For example, if you’re writing a high fantasy story in a poem, modern phrases or language wouldn’t make sense in that world. It might work in another poem, but remember that the story is the focus here. Whatever you describe needs to enhance the story without taking it in a new direction.

As with everything, you need to practice. Combining narrative and poetry takes time to perfect. Even small forms such as sci-fi haiku! The key is to combine story and poetry in a way that brings the genre to life and also lets the poetic language that you created shine. Speculative poetry isn’t as well known as speculative fiction either, as far as craft is concerned or where to read it. Check out places to submit speculative poetry below!



Strange Horizons

Abyss & Apex

There are plenty more places to submit sci-fi and fantasy poetry. Check out the full article from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association here. Happy writing!

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