Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lisa: On writing verse novels

Happy Poetry Month!

In honor of one of my favorite months, I thought I'd talk a little about novels-in-verse, since I've published two young adult novels, soon to be three, in this format.

One of the questions I get asked a lot is, "Why do you write in verse?"

Good question.

I didn’t choose the format as much as it chose me with my first YA novel, I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME. I sat down to write, and what came out was sparse, poetic language. I had written three mid-grade novels prior to this one, and half of a young adult novel, all of them in prose. This verse stuff was all new territory. At least as a writer. I had read and loved many verse novels by authors such as Sonya Sones, Ellen Hopkins, and others.

I wrote about ten pages, sat back and thought, what am I doing? As if it isn’t hard enough to sell a novel, now I’m going to make it even harder by writing in a format that will scare some people off? But, I liked what I had and decided to keep going. As Sara said when she took me on as a client, the verse created a unique atmosphere for this ghostly love story, something that would have been harder for me to achieve through traditional prose.

When I wrote my second one, FAR FROM YOU, I had been thinking about the award-winning verse novel by Karen Hesse, called OUT OF THE DUST. At times, the writing is so strong you can almost taste the dust and heat. I wanted to try and do something like that so I thought, what's the opposite of heat and dust? Snow and bitter cold. And so the seed of an idea was born.

I like writing in verse for a couple of reasons. First of all, I do well with little description. That is, trying to find a unique, short, poetic way of describing something. This is much more my strength than writing beautiful, verbose paragraphs. But I didn’t actually know that until I started I HEART YOU. People ask me if writing in verse is harder than writing in prose. And I’m not sure how to answer that. It’s definitely difficult, because you have to tell a complete story and try to be poetic in how you tell it. But for me, it sort of comes naturally. That’s not to say I don’t have to work at it, because I do. I just finished revisions for my third YA verse novel, CHASING BROOKLYN, due out in 2010, and this was the hardest one yet, as the story is told in two alternating points-of-view, a male and a female. Not an easy thing to do in verse! But I hope with each book I improve, and get better at weaving in the poetic elements.

I also like writing in verse because it allows me to get to the emotional core of the story. I’ve received quite a few notes from people who say something like – I love your books, they make me cry! I believe through poetry, a writer can bring to light an emotional truth in a new way. FAR FROM YOU just received a review from “School Library Journal” which states, “[A] roller coaster of emotions to which many teen readers will relate.” That’s my ultimate goal, I suppose, and personally, verse helps me create that ride.

Some people will say – but do teens really want to read a book written in a poetic format? And I say, of course they do. Not all teens, but yes, some do, just like some teens like science fiction and some don’t, some teens like nonfiction and some don’t, etc. Verse novels give readers another type of book to choose from. I’ve found they are great for reluctant readers, because there's lots of white space on the page and they are a fairly quick read.

However, I won't write every book in verse. Not all stories are going to work in that format, after all. But if the verse can add something to the story and help me create that emotional roller coaster teens want to ride, than I'm going for it.

Have you ever read a verse novel? If not, this is a great month to try one!


  1. It's that ability to go right to the emotional core that appeals to me both as a writer and a reader with verse novels.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpes into your world, Lisa.

  2. I enjoyed this post, Lisa. Thanks!

    I've read a couple verse novels and am drawn to trying to write something in that form. I've no idea if I can do it, but it's always good to try something new. Maybe after my current WIP.... ;)

  3. Wow, that's pretty awesome! Writing in verse for me would be really hard (I hate writing poetry) :) ... I'm probably going to stick with detail and such in my YA novel's sequel, but that's an awesome feat! Congrats! :)

    God bless,
    Taylor J. Beisler

  4. A great post, Lisa.
    I, too, came to the verse novel format after writing in prose and also a rhymed picture book. Like you, I started writing my first verse novel without really planning to do it, and discoevred it gave my story a real emotional depth that the particular subject matter needed.

  5. Thanks for doing this =) I am a 12 year old writer and have wanted to do a book in verse for some time. while one book I wrote went unfinished, I tried rewriting it in verse, and I really do like it much better. I would feel honoured if you would read my manuscript before I send it in for publishing somewhere. I'd really like to read someday, i hear you, you haunt me. it sounds like something i'd like. take care, Jessica.H
    contact me at

  6. Lisa,
    I thought that your books two were incredibly amazing. I randomly poicked it off a borders shelf and bought it after barely reading the back. I didn't expect it to be so incredible. I went to a writing workshop camp this past summer and told my writing group about it, and everyone agreed the form was beautiful. Congratulations on such beautiful writing.
    Claire Burch

  7. I'm probably going to stick with detail and such in my YA novel's sequel, but that's an awesome feat! Congrats! :)
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