Poetic license is defined as;
“The liberty taken by an artist or a writer in deviating from conventional form or fact to achieve a desired effect.” -The Free Dictionary
Your license is used when ditching the usual conventions of writing or fact with intent to further the piece you are writing, usually for dramatic affect. Many writers use this, and many writers use this well.
And many other writers use this poorly, hindering the piece they’re working on, rather than building it. Poetic license is easily abused. And it’s not just poets employing this writing technique. Lyricists, fiction writers, and all forms of literature make use of it.
Any person can deviate from traditional language or common knowledge to make their point clear and powerful. This is a beautiful part of writing, the plasticity of it. You do not have to follow rigid rules. The ability to bend language into any manner of shape and form is invaluable. Writing is a malleable art.
How poetic license is used is entirely at the artist’s discretion. You may understand your intent, but if a reader is left puzzled by your device, you may need to reconsider and revise.
Breaking the rules of grammar and structure is not the same as breaking communication. Communication is the goal of a piece of writing, to share your thoughts with the reader. If your experimenting hinders communication, you’re hindering your writing.
I am not suggesting that you abandon all rules of English grammar and completely reject what your 8th grade teacher told you. You’re not James Joyce, who managed to get away with destroying plot structure, and re-creating his own mind-bending form of narrative structure, plot, and language.
Examples of usage
- Creating your own words
- Altering traditional pronunciation of a word (commonly to maintain metre)
- Putting adjectives after a noun (i.e. the deer majestic)
- Deviation from historical fact
- Breaking punctuation intentionally
- Using run-on sentences for a particular effect (i.e. On The Road )
On an important note, your poetic license should be used sparingly and creatively, otherwise your “rule breaking” will lose its desired affect. The usage of poetic license can lead to controversy among grammar nazis, history buffs, and book lovers. You can be simultaneously praised or dejected for its usage.
The poetic license is a privilege for all writers. It’s an acceptable way to break the rules of English and flow your own unique way. There are thousands of resources available online for improving your writing, and bending the rules of literature. Do your research, build your talent, experiment, learn what works and doesn’t work.
Be careful with using your license, you don’t want it revoked.
About Jeremiah Walton
Jeremiah Walton graduated High School the spring of 2013, and is currently hitchhiking cross country, aiming to broaden the poetic community, hitting open mics and slams, and street performing. You can follow his poetry and travels at Gatsby’s Abandoned Children,
Jeremiah manages Nostrovia! Poetry, W.I.S.H. Publishing, The Traveling Poet, and is an editor at UndergroundBooks.