Five Tips for Writing in Verse with Sherry Shahan

Sherry Shahan knows about writing in verse. Her novel Purple Daze, which has been leaking sneak-peaks on Figment, is a verse-novel. Are you intimidated by writing in verse? Don’t fret; Sherry’s got tips to ease your mind and your pen.

Novels in verse have the power to bring readers closer to the consciousness of their readers. Maybe even closer than novels written in traditional margin-to-margin prose. When should a writer consider this form?

1. Stories that are better told from more one than one character’s point of view. Mel Glenn’s verse novel Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? has more than fifty viewpoint characters. Even if Glenn had used an omniscient viewpoint – in other words, bouncing in an out of others’ minds — it would be confusing to the reader. However, not all verse have more than one viewpoint character.

2. Stories that are predominantly character driven, as opposed to action-driven. Verse novels tend to deal with highly charged emotional issues. Some issues include, incest (Furniture by Thalia Chaltas), mental illness (Stop Pretending What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones), teen pregnancy (First Part Last by Angelea Johnson). In each of these stories, what the characters are thinking and feeling are more important than what they’re doing.

3. Stories with poetry as a subplot or theme. In Locomotion Jacqueline Woodson’s main character Lonnie is exploring poetic forms to help him deal with the untimely death of his parents. In Ron Koertge’s Shakspeare Bats Clean Up the main character is bedridden. He’s a bored kid who reads his dad’s poetry books and then begins writing his own poems.

4. Stories that are best told in short, energetic bursts – instead of traditional margin-to-margin prose. For example, scenes that capture one moment whether it be an emotion or an idea.

5. Try this exercise: Take a paragraph from any novel. Rewrite it in verse. Concentrate on metaphor, assonance, imagery and cadence. Shouldn’t all good writing contain these elements? Sure. But I find it easier to focus on ‘voice sounds’ and ‘patterns of expression’ when my writing looks like poetry.

If Sherry’s tips have gotten you jazzed about verse stories, enter our Story in Verse Contest!

6 thoughts on “Five Tips for Writing in Verse with Sherry Shahan

  1. My poetry fails.
    I have no sense of rhythm (odd because I’m a dancer?) and the words just get all muddle together and it sounds strange and patched together.

    Maybe…that possibly could be why I suck at song writing too…*scampers off to ponder life*

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