The James Ijames Haiku Play Project

I’ve been writing little haiku poems and plays for a while. I like the form because it forces me to be specific and clear. How can I create a story or character or an emotional arc with a 3 line, 5/7/5 structure? Can I build a world in 3 lines. This feels like a great time to keep myself accountable with writing every single day.

I want these plays to be a reminder that even in isolation we can make a beautiful little impact on people’s lives. Read them. Act them. Share them. Enjoy.    –  James Ijames


Haiku: a form of Japanese poetry that contains three lines total, with each line having a specific number of syllables: the first line has 5 syllables, the second has 7, and the last line has 5 (5-7-5.) Traditional Japanese Haikus have other characteristics—they’re usually about nature and they contain two juxtaposing ideas back to back—but this challenge is about Haiku Plays, so you can ignore those rules if you choose.

Haiku Plays: James Ijames’ Haikus Plays aren’t really trying to be poems, although they have a very poetic feel to them. They capture a moment in time and give us a sense of what that moment looks and feels like, much like poems often do. Every word matters. And although he uses additional words in the stage directions, James Ijames’ Haiku Plays (mostly) stick to the 5-7-5 structure when it comes to the dialogue between the characters. Are you ready to try the Haiku Play Challenge? You know you are!

The Challenge:

  1. Read James Ijames’ Haiku Plays: What do you notice? James wanted to find out if he could create a character, story, or emotional arc (a change or deepening in the way a character feels about something) while limiting himself to the 3 line/5-7-5 syllable structure. How do you think he did? Do you have a favorite? What did you like about it?
  2. Write your own Haiku Play. And really try to stick to the 3 line, 5-7-5 syllable structure. Try to establish a character(s), story, or emotional arch in just three lines. You don’t have to do all of those things successfully; but try to do one of them: Character. Event. Emotional Journey.  
  3. Share your Haiku Play by clicking this link and following the instructions! With your permission, submissions received by May 26 will be shared with the public. 

Quick Tips for Writing Your Haiku Play:

  • Be Specific: James also said that this 5-7-5 form forces him to be specific and clear. That makes sense given how few words (only 17 total!) you have to create a character, or event, or emotional arc! How specific and clear can you be with your 17 words? How does choosing one word over another change how we see a character? How about the words we intentionally leave out? Can the words left unspoken tell us just as much?
  • Can we please talk Stage Directions? What a brilliant way to get around the word limit, James Ijames! The stage directions in his Haiku Plays provide us with so much information about who these people are and what their lives are like, and yet he doesn’t use that many words to do it. What details can you share about the physical spaces your characters inhabit? What might these small details reveal about your characters and their lives?
  • Finally, when sharing a bit about his writing philosophy, James Ijames referenced the influence of playwright Paula Vogel, who says, “The job of the artist is to make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.”  The Haiku Plays seem filled with small, everyday moments, but somehow the compactness of the form magnifies these tiny moments in a way that gives us a fresh perspective on them. How can you zoom your writer’s lens to examine a small moment up closely?