Writing Tip: Narrative Poetry

Photo 2If people are constantly telling you to write a book about your life, but you just don’t have the time or resources to do so, what are the other alternatives? How about trying narrative poetry? The ancients have been using this method to tell tales of fables, myth and adventures for centuries. Most famous are Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, and the epic story of Beowulf. Narrative poetry has no set form to it. No rhythm or rhyme is needed to write one, so there is room to play. You just need to have a main character, and a beginning, middle and end to the story.

Instead of narrating your entire life in a novel, you could pick portions of you endeavors and create a collection of narrative poems instead. CTU’s next anthology (Imperfect Paths) wants to publish your journeys, and a few narrative poems are the perfect way to tell those tales.

Here are a few helpful hints when writing narrative poetry:

Pick a topic and character

We have all had to endure many obstacles in our life or have seen someone else jump over many hurdles. Talk about coming from a broken home, going on a spiritual journey to find yourself, or a business idea that didn’t work out. Do you know a grandparent who has lived through war, a child who has seen the inside and out of the foster system, or a how that person on the side of the street became homeless. There are so many stories to tell about people and their imperfect paths.

Using emotions and descriptions

Write the details. Narrate the emotions each character feels in a way that the audience feels them too. Give every transition of feelings in the poem. And set the scene. You don’t have to get too specific, but make sure you create an atmosphere to parallel the emotions. Was there an epiphany on a mountainside or perhaps an escape from the slums of a city? Put the reader in that place.

Break the barriers

You don’t always have to lead with the beginning of a story. And you don’t have to give every little detail. Start at a crucial point to make the story more intense. Skip a few details to leave the audience guessing. Think the way a script is written vs a novel. Producers and directors often omit little details from the written form to make the movie a more visual tale.

Maya poem.jpgKeep the audience in mind.

A narrative poem can be extremely lengthy. For a contest, you may only get to submit 1-2 pages per poem. Read your poem over and over, and edit as you go. You may find details not necessarily needed. Play with your words and shorten sentences if you have to. You want to make sure your poem captures the reader’s attention in the first few lines or by using a catchy title. You can get as creative as you want with a narrative poem, so use it to your advantage.

Poet Maya Angelou had many stories to tell from the era she lived. Some of her narrative poems are about her struggles not only as a woman, but a woman of color.  They didn’t have to be numerous pages, as she could depict her message in short and sweet lines as she did with “Phenomenal Woman.”

*Enter your narrative submissions for CTU’s next anthology by clicking on the link below*






Donna J SandersWritten by: Donna J. Sanders

Donna is a freelance writer and blogger in West Palm Beach, FL. She is the author of Ataraxia, Cardboard Signs, and Devour Me.

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7 replies

  1. That’s good advice . I’ve been wondering where to go with my writing . This could work . I still have the hurdle of talking about my life but not giving up names . Thank you .


  2. Donna, thank you very much for the great tips. I am excited about writing my poems for the submissions for the anthology. I was wondering if you could answer a question for me? For the last anthology I didn’t want to make my poem too long, cause I was worried it had to fit onto 1 page. Is it preferable for the narrative poem for the anthology to fit onto one page or like you said in your tip it can go to two pages, because narratives do tend to be longer, cause you’re telling the story … Do you feel it should always have a beginning middle and end? I hope I haven’t bothered you. Thank you for the great information. I enjoy all of the writing tips that you post. I want to buy the writing tip book that CTU offers. I am also becoming a big fan of your poetry, and after I purchase the Poetic Melodies Anthology, I would like to buy your book. I hope it will still be available. Thanks again, Kelly Klein


    • Hi Kelly. I would go to 2 pages for a narrative poem if you have more to say. However, keep in mind the published books are usually in 6×9 format, so if you are writing on a normal 8 1/2 x 11 page, One full page is usually 2 pages in a smaller book. If you have any of the CTU books, I would count the number of lines of the poems per page and use that as your guide. Thanks for reading and asking great questions. 🙂


  3. Dear Donna Sanders. I’m ready to write into next book. I have problems entering my poetry for submissions. Because all i have is a cellular phone to work with. I can’t underline title. Can anyone help me with submission. I already have a narrative poem writen. I write daily on creative talents pgs. U are aware of me. Also Raja Williams and Demitri Tyler. On Jul 6, 2016 3:03 PM, “Creative Talents Unleashed” wrote:

    > TheRaven6825 posted: “If people are constantly telling you to write a book > about your life, but you just don’t have the time or resources to do so, > what are the other alternatives? How about trying narrative poetry? The > ancients have been using this method to tell tales of fab” >


    • Hi Jeffery. You will need to have access to Microsoft Word in order to submit to any contest. I would suggest using a local library’s computer and save your submissions on a thumb drive. Or even invest in an ipad if you can. The phone is great for social media, but if you really want to get into publishing then you need to have access to a computer at some point. Hope that helps. 🙂



  1. Writing Tip: Narrative Poetry – TheRaven6825

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