Kenning Your Way Through Writer’s Block

Contrasts are a powerful method of constructing new ideas and new trains of thought.

Odin Halvorson

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Writers of all experience levels and ages encounter the dreaded bane of writer’s block, but seasoned wordsmiths know the tricks that change the pattern and get the pen flowing once again.

The kenning is an ancient Norse poetic convention that contrasts images to create poetic meaning. It’s a form of circumlocution, where more words than are needed are used to expression an idea. What emerges is a powerful form of metaphorical imagery.

While many of us have heard that we need to write in a “straightforward” manner, kennings force us to do the opposite. By using them, we force ourselves out of the habit of simplistic writing, and into the fey world of possibility.

Kennings were often formed to facilitate the poetic flow of a story. We can use the same principle, today, as a way to practice playing with our language and breaking ourselves out of a writing funk.

Examples of kennings:

  • Sea-steed: ship
  • Feeder of ravens: A warrior
  • Wound-sea: blood

Exercise for Writer’s Block

Tell a circumlocuted story by using the kenning.

It doesn’t have to be long: maybe it’s a piece of 100-word microfiction! Find a way to tell your story without using some of the ordinary words you might otherwise pick.

Instead of “He drove his car, angry with himself, and his headlights burned into the night-time shadows…” try: “Road-rager on a static shadow-river, his vision pierced the night.”

Play with this until you’ve built something that makes sense, but is a unique expression of a common thing! Then, tell me how it went in the comments: maybe even share what you wrote!

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, an independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please smash that “clap” button and subscribe! You can also join my newsletter and get free access to the articles I write!

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Odin Halvorson

A futurist/socialist/fantasist writer, editor, and scholar. MFA/MLIS. Free access to my articles at OdinHalvorson.substack.com | More over at OdinHalvorson.com.