Day 6: Line breaks three ways

Happy Monday! Yesterday’s exercise was hard for me. I want to try it again. But first, moving on…

Today, let’s practice line breaks.

The line guides the reader and also the pace of  the poem.

The line break adds tension to the poem.

Playing with the line breaks helps you add tension, and it can also identify words that the poem doesn’t actually need.

Today’s exercise is basic: Make a new copy of your poem in a prose block. (Tip: If you’re using Word, press Ctrl+H, and then replace ^p or ^l with a space.) Then try the following:

Break the lines based on a number of syllables. You can choose a number, or you can choose the perfect stopping place for your first line, and use that number of syllables. The goal is to use that number of syllables and still be happy with your end words. (If you don’t like to end a line on “of” or “the,” what can you add or delete to avoid that?)

Break the lines based on the number of beats–let’s say, five, even though your line might not be iambic pentameter. I’ll propose one rule here: Don’t add–unless your poem suggests something wonderful that hadn’t come through before. In other words: No filler. Yesterday’s exercise gave you some work with hearing beats, but if you’re still uncomfortable, check out this interactive tutorial.

Take a look at the two versions of the poem. If possible, read them out loud. What’s working? What isn’t? Where do the line breaks feel forced?

Rewrite your poem with the line breaks that feel right to you. Check whether the poem wants to fall into stanzas. Compare this new version with the others, including the original.