Transitioning in Writing - What to expect when you move from Poetry to Prose, or Short Stories to Novels
I’d say that most (or at least a good amount of) people aren’t very welcoming to change. Sure, it’s inevitable, but the general goal is to find a specific routine and stick with it (with few exceptions). This is also how it is for writers as well. You find a genre or two you're comfortable with, create a writing style that works for you and you’re pretty much set for life. The only change we have to expect in our writing is it slowly getting better more and more as the years go by. But what happens when your writing changes more than that? What happens when you’re looking to change the format you write in?
For those of us who choose to venture into other forms of writing, learning how to write again but in a different way can be challenging, especially for writers who make the conscious effort to try something new (such as a hardcore prose writer to poetry). So, as someone who writes in many different formats, here is my take on transitioning in writing, how to be successful at it, and what worked for me.
Prose to Poetry
For me, moving from prose to poetry was a mix of both a natural change and a more conscious effort to try a new format. I wrote poetry very casually (and briefly) when I was younger, but never really saw it as something I wanted to explore or be better at. I just wrote it because I could and I felt like it. The first time I really made an effort to write poetry was when I discovered escapril for the first time. Afterwards, I started writing little bits of poems, or scribbling down lines I thought of. Little did I know that I’d eventually be writing more poetry than prose.
I think the best advice I can give someone hoping to get into poetry is to make your own definition of poetry. By this, I mean that poetry is too diverse and interpretative to be put in a box. There is no single right way to do poetry, so experiment and figure out what works for you. I was always worried that I wasn’t a ‘real’ poet or my poems were too juvenile because I always put rhymes in them. It’s what I learned back in kindergarten when we were taught what poems were and something that I just never grew out of. Most of my poems have a rhyme somewhere, whether intentionally or not, because that’s just how my mind creates poetry. That’s just me as a poet, and once I was able to accept that and stop looking for what a ‘good’ poem should look like, I was able to finally get to a place where I’ve truly begun to like my poetry.
I don’t understand fancy line breaks or experimental forms, and they are not what makes someone a good poet. Poems need a rhythm to hold them together, or a specific kind of flow, and I find the best way to create a flow in poems is through rhythm or repetition. This works for me. For others, it may be ellipses or specific themes that bring everything together. Maybe it's imagery, or words, metaphors or forms. Whatever it is that makes your poetry stick, find it and start creating your own poems. Do not try to mimic someone else’s.
Long form Prose to Short Stories & Flash Fiction
Going from prose to poetry (or vice versa) can be difficult, but there is a certain kind of nuance that comes with going from long form prose to short stories that can make it arguably more difficult. You might think “It’s the same thing, just writing less” but in all honesty it’s much more complex than that.
Writing a short story involves the creation of a completely different kind of idea. Take for example, you have an idea for a fantasy story involving a princess slaying a dragon to save her prince. The prince will first have to be taken by the dragon, then you have to write the princess’ journey to the dragon’s keep, the great battle between them, and finally the reunion between the two royals - not to mention the appropriate amount of angst and suspense. Now, how would you write all of that in, let’s say, less than 1000 words?
Although it is not impossible to write a well developed story with defined characters and tense action in a short story, it is significantly harder to do with a small word count - especially when you only have big ideas. Scaling down your ideas, or at least being able to condense them into their core components, takes a lot of skill and effort, and is something I still struggle to do. Usually, my idea of a short story is 5,000 - 10,000 words, which is still pretty lengthy. Flash fiction proves to be the most difficult for me to this day, since I have a hard time thinking small and an even harder time condensing my stories. Even when I do have a reasonably small idea, I end up over writing and ending with a word count higher than I intended it to be.
As of now, the shortest story I have ever written (without an imposed word count) ia around 750 words in all - which to be honest was just a fluke. For me, the only way to write a truly short (1500 - 3000 words or less) story is to have a small idea that doesn’t need too much expansion, work with a prompt, or not think about word counts too much. Focusing on achieving a small word count will only infringe on my writing process, and if necessary, I’d rather cut down later than not write what I originally wanted to. Working with a prompt can sometimes narrow my ideas into something that’s easy to focus on, rather than having free reign to do whatever I want with a story. But out of all of these methods, I think having a small, manageable, but still interesting and exciting story idea is the best way to write short stories.
Condensing or scaling down a larger idea into something that will fit into a flash fiction piece can be a lot of work. Chances are that that big idea you had will work best in a longer format, and it’ll be more fulfilling for you to be able to fully flesh it out in the way you originally intended without compromising details. If condensing your story is the best way for you to write it, definitely go for it but I find that I personally get the best short stories out of ideas that were always meant to fit a short format. Not only that, but writing them comes to me more naturally because I am able to just write what I want without any restrictions.
Again, this is just what works for me. Writing from a prompt or having a small idea can do wonders, but it still can’t stop me from overwriting at times. Condensing stories isn’t something I’ve gotten the hang of yet, and I’m hoping to get better at it in the future, but maybe it works for you. It takes a lot of skill to be able to find the essence of your story and concentrate it into a shorter format. Either way, a surefire to get better at writing flash fiction is to continue practicing it (or in my case, get assigned several flash fiction stories in a row and be forced to learn it).
Short Stories to Screenplays
In my opinion, once you’ve got a nice screenwriting program (there are several free versions available for purchase online) and a basic understanding of how the format works, you can pretty much write a screenplay/script. However, if you’re hoping to write a good screenplay, then there are some things you’re going to have to focus on.
Screenplays are obviously written very differently from general prose. There’s a much greater emphasis on visual storytelling and dialogue. While writing prose, you could say Jordan nodded yes in response, but in her mind she was very angry’, but in a screenplay you can’t exactly do that. All of that information would need to be given through either dialogue, visual cues (e.g. describing the character’s facial expressions), or a director’s interpretation of your script after it is written. It’s common knowledge in screenwriting not to over-explain your character’s actions or feelings so that they can be later interpreted by an actor or director. The most important thing to note is that less is more. This means that you have to learn how to write just enough of your character so that their actions can be interpreted by an actor without you infringing on their creative process.
A lot of screenwriting is about subtlety. Don’t tell the audience what a character is thinking or feeling. Don’t write out every action or movement. Don’t describe every detail of the room or what books are on the bookshelf unless it is essential to the plot. A screenplay is the first step in a great collaborative effort. You will have a team of people working with you to bring the elements of your story together. Of course (especially as you become more experienced with it) you can add in more details to your screenplay where you see fit and really add your creative touch to it, but always remember that a screenplay is a part of something bigger. Many of the details you want to add (such as clothing or set design) don’t necessarily need to be in there.
My advice is to practice writing dialogue and describing how your characters feel through their actions. Learn to use less words and find the most important actions and set pieces to describe. For me, having some guidance while learning to write screenplays was very helpful. It can definitely be self-taught, but it wouldn’t hurt to check out a program like Young Screenwriters which offers free screenwriter courses to interested youths, or even a program like Studio Binder which has a built-in guide to help beginners with the screenwriting format.
Screenplays to Game Writing (Narrative Games)
Okay, so you’ve finally decided to make that Twine game, or maybe you just want to write the next indie horror hit. So in essence, you have to write a game script. Personally, I haven’t used any specific game-writing software but it is important to note that with or without software, game writing is very complex. It is not only dialogue and story, but also environment, lore, interactions with objects, movements that will later be designed, fight and action sequences, and that’s just the tip of the ice-berg. It gets much more difficult than that, especially with ‘Choose your own path’ type games where you have to branch out different pathways for each decision made by the player (I recommend Twine for plotting those out).
Player decisions and actions have to be formatted into the game. You have to decide if all the objects in this particular hallway will be accessible to the player. If you’re in an open world game, how will you lead the player down the right path to continue the story without infringing on the game play? The last thing you want to do is take control away from the player (one of the main appeals about games) so how do you guide them to the necessary areas to advance the plot while also putting them in an immersive world and giving them the opportunity to do whatever they want?
Game writing largely depends on what kind of game you want to make (i.e. do you want to write a writing simulator like The Stanley Parable, a dialogue-less horror game like The Forest, a cute fun-sy adventure game with a bigger focus on gameplay than plot like Overcooked or a text-based game like Howling Dogs) and so I can’t get into all the specifics now, so the main thing I’ll say is that in game writing you should always remember the player while writing. How can this scene lead naturally into an action sequence for the player? How will the player react to this revelation? Does it make sense to the plot if the player has a weapon in this area of the game, and if they don’t how will it affect the gameplay? How do you want the player to feel after playing this game?
Keep these questions in mind, and you’ll be on the first step to game writing. We’ll talk about game engines, graphics and animation at another time.
That’s all for now. Remember, these are some of the tips and tricks that worked for me when getting into different writing formats. Writing forms are so vastly different from each other and there’s several ways to approach them, meaning that even if my methods don’t help you, there are still a lot of different things you could try to get better adjusted to them. In essence, it takes an intimate understanding of how each format works and a lot of practice to figure them out. No one is going to perfect prose or poetry on their first try. Some things will come to you naturally while others you’ll have to struggle with. No matter the case, as writers there is always joy to be found in creating something, and if there are so many other forms of writing you could challenge yourself with, why not try something new? Good luck!
is a Canadian-Jamaican student, slowly making her way through the writing world. She aims to not only write, but be impactful and play her part in making the world a less judgmental and more accepting place for people everywhere.
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