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How to Write a Shrinklit Poem


A shrinklit poem is an eight to 12 line rhyming poem that summarizes a book's plot. While the poem reveals the rising action, climax and resolution, its form allows you to use humor to capture the story's essence. Whether you've just read a book for pleasure or finished an assigned novel for English class, writing a shrinklit poem lets you process the plot while using rhyme and creativity.

Writing a Summary

Reducing an entire novel to an eight to 12 line poem might seem like a daunting task. To get started, Holmdel Township Public Schools suggests writing a summary of the book in your own words. As you summarize, you can pay special attention to elements like setting, character and conflict, as well as significant plot points and themes. Since the summary will serve as a template for your poem, having more information to work with will make the writing process easier.

Condensing the Summary

Since a book summary gives you something manageable to work with, you can condense it even further to only the most important details. As you review your summary, you can consider which characters, ideas and plot points are crucial to someone's understanding of the story. For example, if you're writing about "To Kill a Mockingbird," you would include the setting of Maycomb, Alabama, a small town with strict social divisions according to class and race; the characters of Scout, Atticus Finch, Bob Ewell and Boo Radley; and the theme of understanding people's individual viewpoints.

Rhyme and Structure

Shrinklits are written in couplets -- pairs of rhyming lines. For an eight to 12 line poem, you would therefore include four to six couplets. The poem doesn't have to be written sequentially; you can compose them first, then order them later. After relating the events of the plot, you can also conclude with a couplet that tells the theme of the story. Since the theme of "To Kill a Mockingbird" is that you should try to understand another person's viewpoint before judging them, your ending might be: "Follow not your own views/ Walk in someone else's shoes."

Voice and Tone

In poetry, tone is the speaker's emotional attitude toward the subject matter. Holmdel Schools states that humor, creativity and even sarcasm can transform a shrinklit from a mere rhyming summary to an enjoyable poem. Even if you're writing about a serious plot, your poem will be stronger if you don't resist the urge to be funny or satirical as you work out your rhymes. A shrinklit's tone can often lighten the mood after reading books with heavy, often sad content, as is the case with "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Finished Product

Once you've tweaked the rhyme, line structure and tone of your poem, you can share your shrinklit with teachers, friends and others who have read the book. A sample poem about "To Kill a Mockingbird" might look like this:

Welcome to Maycomb Where diversity's not welcome. Tom Robinson’s on trial Finch defends, they revile. Scout sees the conviction But knows that it’s fiction. Attacked by Bob Ewell For revenge that was cruel. Boo Radley emerges -- Scout’s fear of him purges. Follow not your own views -- Walk in someone else’s shoes.

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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