Turning a Story Into a Poem

Many of you started your narrative writing assignment by writing a story. Elegy and Epic poems are stories first, poems second. But how do you turn the story into a poetic format?

Here are some quick tips on poem formatting:

1) Words at the beginning and end of a line are the most important/significant to your story; these words are strong and give a lot of imagery

2) Stanzas can be short or long. There is no line requirement for a stanza.

3) Stanzas are separated by topic. When you start a new stanza, you are setting a new tone or talking about a new person, place or idea.

Your elegy or epic should have three sections (not stanzas; you will have more than three stanzas).


1) Grief - Introduce what was lost, give imagery and describe how you felt after it was lost.

2) Praise - Go back in time. Remember what life used to be like before the person/place/thing was lost. What happy or positive things do you remember and wish you could see or experience again?

3) Moving On - Where are you now emotionally after the loss? How do we move on after losing someone or something close to us? Where do we go from here?

In the example below, I've highlighted the sections to match the organization. I've bolded the figurative language (simile, metaphor and alliteration).

Elegy story example:

My dog died unexpectedly. It was a shock to my whole family. It was even worse because she died on Christmas Eve. I couldn't breath; I could barely even speak because I was crying so hard. My parents didn't know what to say or how to help me. I was a fish out of water: confused, scared and helpless. I wish I could go on one more walk with her, because if I could I would keep walking until she was ready to go inside. I would give her all the time in the world if I could. She was too smart for her own good. She was just like me. It's funny how that works out with pets. I named her Lucy from the Peanuts character and she took her name to heart. She was bossy, had an attitude, and always wanted everything her way. But that's what I loved about her. For the longest time, I would come home and forget that she wasn't coming to the door to greet me. Then I would remember and the sadness would wash over me like a wave in a stormy sea. A few years have passed and though I've moved on, I can still hear her paws on the wooden floors, racing rapidly past and returning just as fast to her favorite spot.

Using this same order, I would then give my story line breaks to turn it into a poem:

She died without notice or warning.

In between putting up the Christmas lights and wrapping gifts

We noticed something was wrong.

A fish out of water, I could hardly breath.

Helpless, confused and scared,

I rushed to her side, her floppy ears drooped down low

And her tail was limp.

One more walk, one more bark, one more friendly hello

No more.

If only I could have given her all the tiome in the world

During those walks. Now they seem too short.

Lucy wasn't your average dog, taking her namesake too seriously.

She was too smart, too bossy, and so much like me.

And I loved every bit of her.

For the longest time I would come home

And for a split second I thought I could hear

Those little paws

Rapidly racing to greet me then

Returning to her favorite spot.

When I realized she wasn't there

The sadness would wash over me

Like a wave in a stormy sea.

Time has passed.

I've moved on.

But my love for Lucy

Follows me like a shadow.

Keeps me patient and

Keeps me aware of

How short life can be.

You can see I used a lot of the same words from my rough draft story, but I made them more poetic by adding imagery and detail. I also added more figurative language. I separated my stanzas whenever I introduced a new feeling, a new time or a new topic.

If you are writing an epic, your three sections should be:

1) Introduce the hero and their situation.

2) Give them an enemy to fight and a battle to face.

3) How does the battle end? Does the hero win or lose?

Lianna Salva 

English Teacher

RppPhone: (303) 246-3558


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