Sunday, November 11, 2012


Last month in my SECRET LANGUAGE OF STORIES column I discussed the importance of minor characters and gave suggestions for several short forms that could be used to explore them such as the epigram and the epitaph. A fun activity making headstones was described.

Another short form I enjoy is the cinquian. Cinquains are also a great way to explore characters. They are short, just five lines long as the name illustrates, so it's important to capture the essence of a character with as few words as possible. It's also a good activity for students who struggle with written language.

Writing character cinquains can be part of a book report or a stand alone activity. They can be used to create a "cast of characters" and because so much white space is left on the page, other artwork may accompany the project.

Because it's a poem, ideas are more important than grammar and punctuation. Ironically though, students are still exploring grammar because the cinquain focuses on using parts of speech to create each line.

The basic format of the cinquain is as follows:

Line 1: One word (subject or noun)
Line 2: Two words (adjectives describing the subject)
Line 3: Three words (-ing verbs relating to the subject)
Line 4: Four words (feeling words, sentence, or phrase relating
           to the subject.
Line 5: One word (synonym or word that sums up the subject)

In my recent paranormal verse novel, Forget Me Not, I wrote sections of the story in screenplay format. As an introduction to one of the sections, I wrote a series of cinquains describing the characters who appeared in that scene. I decided to call this my cinquain chain because of the way the verses appear to be interlocking down the page. See the example below:

Cast of Characters:

afraid, alone
hurting, hiding, biding
never can go back

timid, guarded
sitting, knitting, praying
quiet girl in black

hungry, unsatisfied
holding, kissing, groping
always gets his way

Julie Ann
trapped, bored
forgetting, conceding, letting
she never gets away

dark, dangerous
playing, plotting, punishing
ruler of the hall

And a cameo appearance by:

brave, bold
knowing, helping, showing
he risks it all

So give it a try! Have fun creating cinquains of your own.

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