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!