It can be daunting, trying to compress something into only 17 syllables but help is at hand! Click here for an example of sciku writing in action.
Firstly, don’t worry! Sciku are a forgiving medium – the brevity works for you so it’s hard to completely mess up.
Try not to over-think – the easiest way to start is to simply write a few key thoughts, count the syllables and then trim and edit to meet the syllable count. You won’t necessarily produce a masterpiece but it’s a great way of getting your brain into gear.
Think about the crucial elements of your subject. What is the main finding and why does it matter?
Think about key words – knowing the syllable count of a key word can give you an indication of structure.
Think of possible synonyms (or simply look them up – MSWord shows you synonyms when you right click on a word). Is there an alternative that more completely encapsulates the feel of your subject or sounds better amongst the other words of your sciku?
Say your sciku out loud (or in your head). How does if flow? How does it make you feel? What mental images does it stimulate? Imagery is an important aspect of haiku so think about the images you want your reader to think of.
Anthropomorphise – not something that’s normally encouraged in science but the poetic license of sciku is liberating!
Whilst the brevity of a sciku makes metaphors and similes difficult to write in full, they can be very effective. What is your subject like? Does it compare to anything else that is more recognisable to a non-specialist?
Idioms, expressions, phrases and clichés may be useful in explaining a subject in a few simple words.
Don’t stress about grammar – you can use no grammar at all or use grammar as a way of highlighting or creating pauses.
Don’t worry about complete sentences – you aren’t writing an essay. Your whole sciku can be a sentence, each line can be or it could just be a list of statements.
Sciku writing in action
The North American dusky grouse migrates a very short distance: Guinness World Records lists it as 300 meters. The word migration has 3 syllables and makes me think of long distances, of the danger along the way and of birds flying halfway across the world or wildebeest travelling across Africa. The dusky grouse’s trip seems to be the antithesis of this – it’s tiny! The phrase ‘tiny migration’ is 5 syllables, encapsulates this contrast, and the words sound good together. It feels like a line by itself and could be a punchy finish to the poem. I’ve potentially got my third line.
Dusky grouse is 3 syllables. I don’t have to include the species name but I like the way dusky grouse sounds, it already produces an image in my head of the type of subject I’m writing about so I want to include it but I’ve discarded ‘North American’ as it’s both an excess of syllables and clumsy – it would spoil the flow of the poem.
I think about going on a trip, about packing the night before and waiting in airports. I like the idea of the birds really preparing themselves for an arduous journey and then it’s only 300 meters! So I play around with words like packing, preparing, waiting and journey until I remember that when preparing for a difficult event people can be said to be ‘girding their loins’. The phrase neatly captures the idea of preparing for a long journey and is 4 syllables long.
Now I’ve got my third line and two other potential components I can start to put it all together, filling in spaces around what I’ve got so far to help it flow and make sense:
The dusky grouse wait,
girding their loins for the trip –
It’s not perfect but it summarises the information I want to get across and it sounds alright. I’ve used the slightly comical contrast between the imagined distances and stresses of a migration with the reality for the dusky grouse. You can read more about this sciku here.