Verse Novel writing – a few tips

I have a new literary love – the verse novel. This is kind of surprising for me because I’ve never really been into poetry but the verse novel is kind of a different beast! My first experience was a ripper – Dorothy Porter’s The Monkey’s Mask. MMThe beauty of Porter’s work is you kind of don’t notice that it’s poetry – there’s a murder mystery, lesbian sex and an improper student/professor relationship. And the wonderful thing – a trait of most verse novels – is the subtext within which the reader’s mind can roam. Children’s verse novels have been a revelation to me. They are exquisite works of art where story and character can shine. In recent times I have enjoyed Australian authors Steven Herrick, Kathryn Apel and Sally Murphy, and international writers Jen BryantKwame Alexander and Virginia Euwer Wolff.Lisa-Jacobson-front-cover-178x240

In June, I did a Verse Novel course with Lisa Jacobson at The Wheeler Centre. Lisa’s verse novel The Sunlit Zone was published by Five Islands Press in 2012. It is a haunting tale of grief and marine biology. So inspired by Lisa, I have a few scribblings that may represent the beginning of a verse novel for kids and I’m seriously considering going back to uni to have the benefit of some poetry coaching.

Lisa started by discussing what makes a verse novel:

  1. It’s book length
  2. It has a narrative story
  3. It uses poetic forms which might include free verse, sonnets, rhythm, internal rhymes, recurring imagery or metaphors

Lisa says – and this is what I find so engaging about verse novels – that it’s okay to leave holes.

‘We want to create an imaginary space in which the reader can climb,’ she says.

Lisa’s checkpoints for revision:

  1. Check the beginning and ending lines of each poem – they need a currency.
  2. Are there any flat lines that aren’t working hard enough?
  3. Are there any clunky rhythms?
  4. Eliminate the clichés
  5. Is the voice still strong – does it sound like the narrator or you?
  6. Are the line breaks in the right spots?
  7. Is punctuation consistent

Is anyone else out there having a go at this tantalising form – I’d love to hear from you 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Verse Novel writing – a few tips

  1. adampb says:

    I was influenced by Steven Herrick’s The Simple Gift to explore the form. I love the seeming simplicity of his words yet it reveals so much of the characters and thematic concerns. To me his verse novel feels natural and optimistic.
    Recently I read Brisbane-based poet Simon Kindt’s verse novel, “no revelation,” a post-apocalyptic dystopia.
    Jessica Bell also has some good verse novel/stories.
    I’m working on a YA verse novel. I love the space it can give and the holes you can leave, allowing the reader to inhabit each poem while still maintaining the narrative structure.

    Liked by 1 person

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