We all know how a novel, for the most part, is structured: numbered chapters that follow the sequence of the story, with each chapter building upon the previous one and leading into the next. But for poetry and short story collections, the organization is significantly different.
If you’re working on a poetry collection, a short story collection, a series of essays, or even an anthology, you might find yourself feeling stumped as to how to organize them – especially if the only clear connection between the works is that they are all by the same author or fall under the same genre. Not every collection has a clear theme – though many do often follow a theme throughout, regarding their subject matter. This is especially true if we are talking about nonfiction, such as a collection of personal essays or essays on a certain topic. Regardless, it can be daunting to organize a dozen short stories, half a dozen essays or up to fifty poems to create a complete collection!
Here are our tips in craft a compelling collection of poems, short stories, essays, and more that you can apply to your next organization session.
Crafting Your Collection
Start with your most compelling piece – this one is straightforward. Narrow down your most compelling piece – the one with the best hook, the best first line, the best title – and place it at the beginning of the collection. This is what readers will see first. It needs to draw them in. Make sure
Vary the lengths of your pieces – this helps the reading from getting monotonous. Varying the length of the stories or poems will help keep a reader interested and get them to continue to read. A shorter short story after a longer one can feel like a nice break – and is also great for people who read in short bursts or between other tasks during the day! A lot of readers enjoy poetry and short stories for the “bite-sized” experience of them. Accommodate that type of reader by varying the lengths, switching from long to shorter to short and back to long again.
This is especially important if your collection contains a novella – putting the novella at the beginning or the end of the manuscript is your best bet. Never put a novella-length piece right in the middle!
Follow “like with like” writing –this is subjective, but often, a collection of works has a thematic connection or similarity in tone – even if the author didn’t intend it to be this way! Pay attention to thematic connections between pieces and organize them accordingly. If you find yourself noticing
Put an impactful piece in the middle –to bridge the gap between the compelling piece at the beginning and the strong piece at the end, find an emotionally impactful or thought-provoking piece for the middle. This will help to push the reader along and keep them interested! Sometimes, those new to poetry collections or short stories need this type of ferrying in order to get them through the manuscript.
Section the collection into parts – another way to effectively build your collection is to section into parts. If you find that certain poems, essays, or short stories are thematically linked, considered separating them in this way to create a compelling reading experience.
For example, in a collection of personal essays, maybe start with the ones that touch on your childhood or teenage years. Or, if you’re compiling poems, put them into sections by subject matter: poems on relationships with others for part one, poems on the relationship with yourself for part two, and so on. Organizing by linear time, subject matter, or even loosely by theme can help your collection read easier and engage the reader further.
End with your strongest piece – we all want our works to end on a high note, even if that high note isn’t necessarily a happy ending! In poetry, short stories, and other collections, its best to end with your best piece, one that will leave the reader thinking about your work and eager to share their reading experience with others. The strongest piece here is not only the strongest written one, but also the strongest in subject matter. Consider this final piece carefully.
Include an author’s note – lastly, common to poetry and essay collections especially, is the author’s note. Here, the author my elucidate on the reference they made to other poems, other works of literature, other authors, pop culture, history, etc., in an index-like way or simple as a short essay on the contents they feel needed more explanation. A great example of this is when poets mention the names of other poets and poems that inspired them. This is a helpful way to not only properly attribute your influences and writing inspirations, but also to give a shout-out to other poets, whether they be your contemporaries or a poet from the distant pass.
Author’s notes are an excellent way for an author to “converse” with their reader who, having pick up a poetry or essay collection, is probably interested in what the author has to say on certain subjects relevant to that individual, or is looking to explore someone’s else thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Author’s notes, then, can offer the reader more insight into an author’s thoughts and influences, as well as their experiences in writing.
They can even help to contextualize the collection and give the reader a satisfactory wrap-up to the works therein that is more concrete than the final poem, for example. Overall, they are a great addition to poetry and personal essay collection.
We hope that some of these collection-creating tips help you along the way to publishing an amazing volume of poetry, collected essays, or anthology of works. As always, happy writing!