I Can Haiku. Can You?

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The other night, my son told me his class had to write a haiku. He shared a few from his fellow students, all incredibly creative–one, that I previously quoted here turned out to be floating around the web for quite some time–Doh! I’ll have to let my son know. It’ll make a nice lesson. It’s REALLY easy for students to get busted nowadays 🙂

Anyway, back to the Haiku. I loved that my son’s class was learning about them. Not long ago, Haiku saved me from a frustrating bout of writer’s block.  Writers always get stuck at one point or another, often more than one. For me, it happened with the notoriously difficult-to-tell backstory.  I’d made all the cliche rookie mistakes: too much backstory too soon, tell don’t show, interrupting the story’s flow. Yadda, Yadda, Yadda.

I just couldn’t figure out why Kojiki’s backstory gave me such a hard time. It wasn’t because I needed to write it, I already had–it’s just that I didn’t know how to integrate it into the story’s narrative. I decided, for a few key scenes, to use the characters’ powers–it IS fantasy–as a vehicle for them to share their memories.  It turned out to work fairly well, but I didn’t want to overuse it.  I knew I needed something else, a little variety to keep the narrative fresh.  While the ultimate solution works really well, it doesn’t reflect the crazy path I took to find it.

Remember now, I wanted Kojiki to be a big, heroic epic. An emotional roller-coaster for the characters. It had to be serious and grim. Never in my wildest dreams did I think one of the crassest, most juvenile shows on TV would help me out. That show was Beavis and Butthead.  Yes, you read that correctly. Beavis and Butthead. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit the show often has me in stitches. If you never been a 14-year-old boy, you won’t get it. If you have, then you’ve lived it.

The episode in question had the little delinquents learning about the ‘ancient Japanese art of haiku’.  Needless to say, their haiku were ridiculous. Funny–but ridiculous.

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Halfway through Beavis’s numbingly stupid yet hilarious haiku, I started messing around with haiku in my head. They were just as stupid. Then, something incredible happened.  Inspiration. I realized a haiku would make the perfect delineator for Kojiki’s past and present.  Instead of cueing the reader with the bland ‘The Distant Past’, which I still used by the way, I opened each backstory scene with a haiku.  The reader would know, whenever he/she came across the haiku, we were going to backstory.  I made sure I kept those particular backstory scenes in concurrent chapters to avoid confusion, and viola! Bob’s your uncle.

A little research on haiku courtesy of Google, and I was back in business. I already knew about the format, I just needed to learn more about form. Most haiku have an ethereal feel to them. Like mist on a mountain. I had to go through a couple of versions, but I am pleased with the result. In the end, Kojiki has three haiku, the first of which I’ll use to close this post:

A woman hungers 

Spring turns into winter snow

Winter brings the fire

The moral of the story here, inspiration can come from the strangest places. Keep your eyes and your mind open, and sooner or later, it’ll come.

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