I asked on Twitter for suggestions about what my next Project Mayhem post should be about, and a few people asked me to talk about the process of writing and having a verse novel published.
Immediately I got insecure.
I don’t feel like any sort of expert in writing verse, even though my debut novel, BLOOD WATER PAINT is written in verse. (I talk a little bit about how I came to writing verse in this blog post.)
But here’s the deal. Soon I’ll have a verse novel published. People are going to ask me questions about it. I need to own my experience and knowledge, even while I’m very open about the fact that I’m a beginner.
So here are some things I’ve learned about the process of writing a novel-in-verse.
VERSE IS VERY INTERNAL
This was a fun (hahahaSOB) thing to discover as I adapted my play, Blood/Water/Paint into my novel BLOOD WATER PAINT. Plays are, of course, very external. Actors contain the internal, but what a playwright puts on the page is what is said and what is done. Verse doesn’t usually have a lot of dialogue or a lot of action. At one point during edits, my editor came back to me and said about a specific poem, “This one is almost all dialogue. Why don’t you try flipping it so that it’s almost no dialogue?” It’s a much stronger poem now.
WORD COUNTS ARE NOT AS SATISFYING
If you ever do writing sprints with your friends, and they’re all getting like 1000 words per sprint, if you’re writing verse, it might be more like 200 or 300. Or maybe you spent the whole hour picking out one single perfect word. It has happened to me. When writing prose, I am not precious. I don’t edit every little thing as I go. I can fast-draft. Verse, though, is a whole other animal. A sloth, maybe. Or a snail. It’s slow, is my point.
HOW THE WORDS LOOK ON THE PAGE MATTERS
They matter to an extent with prose, but nowhere near as much as they matter in verse. Something that might be communicated with a whole paragraph—a page, even—of prose, might be communicated by setting a line off from that others with a different formatting choice. This made the final layout stages out of publishing mt verse novel more finicky than they would have been for a prose novel.
IS IT HARDER TO GET A VERSE NOVEL PUBLISHED?
I’ve heard verse-novelist friends express trepidation that going on sub with a verse novel will be even tougher than with a prose novel. I suppose it’s possible there are some editors who will shy away from a verse novel because they feel like it requires certain skills they don’t have. But I think for the most part, when the right editor connects with the right story, that’s not as big an issue. My editor only had very limited experience working with verse before mine. But he connected with and understood the heart of the story, and that’s all that ultimately mattered.
Because really, for all the differences, a verse novel comes down to the same things as prose—characters, desires, stakes, language.
My debut novel is YA. But since Project Mayhem is all about the MG, here are a few of my favorite middle grade novels-in-verse:
LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech
INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thannha Lai
MACY MACMILLAN AND THE RAINBOW GODDESS by Shari Green
FORGET ME NOT by Ellie Terry
MAY B by Caroline Starr Rose
And a really extensive list of MG novels-in-verse can be found here.
What are your favorite novels-in-verse? Have you ever considered writing in verse?