You’ve decided poetry will best serve your story’s subject matter and protagonist. Now what should you keep in mind when writing your verse novel?
Vary the length of poems
Some scenes flow, some end abruptly. Some thoughts wander, some jab. Use this knowledge to your advantage in composing your poetry.
Vary the length of lines
Are there key phrases or words at the heart of your poem? Play with the way you arrange words on the page to determine what look best “speaks” the poem.
Within your poem, group similar ideas as stanzas
allow key lines to stand alone.
Because poetry is both visual and aural, let the structure of your work communicate to your reader your protagonist’s emotional state.
Is she frightened? Think of how this feeling looks structurally (little punctuation? words tightly packed together?).
Is he in a hurry? How can you express this on the page?
You can also use specific types of poetry (sonnets, for example), as Pat Brisson did with her book, THE BEST AND HARDEST THING. In writing about Sylvia Plath, author Stephanie Hemphill chose to mirror several of Plath’s poems, giving her readers a sense of the poet’s style, subject matter, intensity, and character.
There is a lot of freedom with free verse, and it provides a perfect playground for experimenting with language. Read your work aloud to feel what’s working. Don’t be afraid to try new things (and be ruthless enough to delete what doesn’t sound right).
A word of caution:
Poetry is not prose written in short, choppy lines. Poetry captures moments stripped bare of all other distractions and gets to the heart of the scene.
Thanks, Amy, for asking me to do this! I’ve enjoyed intentionally thinking through the creative process, and while I hope something I’ve included here might help others attempt their own verse novels, don’t let my ideas stifle creativity.
Sit with your ideas, try at the best way to communicate them, and enjoy!
Strummed Words says
This is something I’m willing to try. thanks for the tips!
Mrs. DeRaps says
This advice is great for poetry writing in general…thanks!
Shannon O'Donnell says
Wonderful tips, Caroline! And I agree with Mrs. DeRaps – it’s great for all poetry writing. 🙂
Heidi Willis says
Poetry is such a hard thing to tackle. I think so many people think it’s easy, but finding the exact words, the cadence, the visual imagery to evoke the perfect emotion and convey the exact meaning… it’s really, really hard.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in verse. Maybe it’s about time to add one to my list!
Great post. Making sure poetry is not merely split line prose (and thus the work would probably be better off in prose) is such an important point. Well thought out. Thanks! – Stasia
Rosslyn Elliott says
I love reading your thoughts on this subject. ANd I can’t WAIT to read May B.
A.L. Sonnichsen says
Thank you for all this, Caroline. It’s so helpful. I know I’ll be back several times to keep studying it, too. 🙂
Priya Parmar says
wonderful! and wonderful about your sketch? what is it like? congratulations!
Laura Pauling says
This series has been great! Thanks!
We had a GREAT time in class exploring verse novels. I had pairs of people discovering how Sestinas and sonnets work. THEN came using your BLOG sheet for them to consider whether their self-selected verse novels worked. They found the tool quite useful. As I kibbitzed in on their conversations, they were going right down the line thinking about whether the topic was right for poetry and the protagonist worked for poetry. One who read Best and Hardest thing was not too sure about the topic — thinking it might be a bit heavy, BUT since the girl was in poetry class, it worked well.. She also appreciated the light touch that Brisson gave to the topic. I found the book very much that of a novice poet, but it was compelling. You HAD to finish it.
Another question that the students really liked was whether each poem stood on its own. Although we’d all loved Keesha’s House, we really didn’t think that the poems did stand on their own, but the novel as a whole worked. Each poem, to be sure, contributed to the whole.
So thanks, I think I’lll keep this particular Blog-post-turned-handout as a staple in the verse novel study in Adolescent lit.
ALSO request: Spinning the Universe (You’ll lose your mind over this one, a class of 5th graders, each with voices in the book); Perhaps the most incredible verse novel ever written is THE BRAID, also by Helen Frost. Two other of her verse novels, also engaging are Crossing Stones and Diamond Willow. Frost is a formalist, and each book leads her down a different path in terms of form. Structure and form help launch creativity. As you cautioned Verse novels do not consist of prose broken into short lines (although some out there do just that.)
One of my students red one of Ron Koertge’s books and hated it; I just finished Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs and was pretty unimpressed.
What do you think of Sonya Sones novels in verse?
Caroline Starr Rose says
I’m glad to know this has been helpful. Amy, thanks again for getting me to think verse novels through.
Pat, I’m thrilled you were able to use some of this in your class. I haven’t read any Sonya Sones yet, though plan on it eventually. Need to get to Helen Frost, too.
Jessica Nelson says
Hey Caroline, thanks for stopping by to say congrats 😉 That was really nice of you.
So…I didn’t realize you’d sold! Awesome and congrats! I’ll admit though, all this talk of free verse and rhythm is like a foreign language to me.
Very interesting… 🙂