In case you missed it, verse novels for children are having a real moment in the sun.
Last year’s CBCA Book of the Year for younger readers was a verse novel by Pip Harry called The Little Wave.
A blend of poetry and prose, narrative and metaphor, plot and lyricism, verse novels can be enticing for reluctant readers because the text is not dense, but their very nature requires a precise use of language that is rich and compelling.
Book Boy Jr, now 14, latched on to Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover a few years ago, surprising me because I would never have thought to give him poetry.
He loved it.
I confess I’m somewhat in awe of the authors who create verse novels, which seem to me to be a blend of alchemy and super structure.
So I challenged award-winning poet and author Lorraine Marwood, whose latest verse novel ‘Footprints On The Moon’ was published by UQP earlier this year, to offer her five top tips for anyone thinking about writing a verse novel for children.
Take it away Lorraine.
Five tips for writing verse novels for children
For me as a poet and writer of verse novels, the magic of this style of writing is in the wonderful mix of poetic language, the ease of reading, and the tension of all the narrative devices. It’s very powerful, and a real challenge to get right.
Here are five tips to get you started.
Tip #1: Choose strong words
Focus on nouns and verbs to make the verse novel concrete and not ‘flowery’. This also allows the prose component to operate at top capacity.
Tip #2: Keep your lines short
Try to stick to up to eight/nine words per line. Sometimes you’ll need just one word to draw out tension and draw the eye down to the next line.
Every word counts. There is no room for padding in a verse novel.
Tip #3: Don’t underestimate the power of white space
White space around the text is a feature. The scarcity of words allows what is written to be more powerfully received and savoured.
Tip #4: Use all the attributes of poetry
Yes, you’re writing a story, but use all the attributes of poetry to pack a poetic punch and mesmerise your audience.
These attributes are:
- using the five senses,
(If you’re interested in learning more about how Lorraine approaches the various techniques of poetry, visit her resources page here.)
Tip #5: Read your work out loud
Poetry is characterised by its ability to be read and enjoyed through reading aloud, and this also applies to the verse novel.
The line breaks (mentioned above) and other poetic devices can be fully enjoyed and understood when you read them out loud.
Try it with these examples from my books:
‘I watch as a globule
of spider thread unwinds
like a fissure
of moon parachuting down’
‘Footprints on the Moon’–Lorraine Marwood
‘The machines hiss and settle into rhythm.
I watch from the calf pen.
Watch as the first cows for sale
are culled into the side pen.
See the morning sun steam over their coats,
hear the belch and rumble of cuds
keeping rhythm with the machines.’
‘Star Jumps’–Lorraine Marwood
‘Then I see a small spiral cloud
the dirt road beside our farm.
a ute passing,
dust tracking its
progress like a light flashing.’
‘Leave Taking’–Lorraine Marwood
A verse novel delivers so much in such a short paragraph.
Bonus tip: Dig deep into verse novels
There are many great verse novelists in the children’s and YA writing field today. Other Australian authors to try include Steven Herrick, Sally Murphy, Kat Apel, Sheryl Clark, Kirli Saunders, Pip Harry and many more.
Read as many as you can get your hands on.
Lorraine Marwood is an award-winning poet and writer, and author of four verse novels for children: ‘Footprints on the Moon’ (UQP 2021), ‘Leave Taking’ (UQP 2018), ‘Star Jumps’ (Walker), ‘Ratwhiskers and Me’ (Walker).
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).