Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 9, 2020

Writing Novels in Verse by Darlene Beck Jacobson – Part 1

After reading Darlene’s middle grade book, WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY, which was written in verse, I asked Darlene if she could talk about how someone who wrote in prose was inspired to write a novel in verse. I asked if she could included things that would help you if you were interested in trying you hand in writing a novel in verse. Below is part one of her article:

Writing Novels in Verse Part 1: by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Back in April I released my middle grade novel WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston). Although it was my second historical novel, the style of writing was a first for me: writing it in free verse.

Since then, many people have asked me how that happened, why I chose to use verse to tell the story, and if I have any tips or techniques for writing novels in this form.

Today I’m going to share the story of how WISHES came to be and why writing novels in free verse might be the best way to tell a story. In a separate post, I will give some of my techniques and prompts to get you started on your own novel in verse.

When it came to writing WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY, I  didn’t consciously decide “This novel is going to be in verse.” Instead, I woke up one morning with a determined voice in my head, a voice of an eleven-year-old boy named JACK who was insistent about telling me what was on his mind. He demanded that I listen.

As I started writing down everything circling my brain, all the things JACK wanted to share, it occurred to me that this was going to be a different kind of story. As Jack’s feelings began to fill up pages in a legal pad, I noticed how raw and unfiltered they were. He didn’t mince words. He didn’t tell me the setting or the background of WHY, WHEN, or WHERE, things I would need to know for a novel in prose.

Instead, he spoke to me in a stream-of-consciousness style, about everything that was on his mind one summer. The first summer without his Dad who was MIA in some war. The working title was FISH, WISH, AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS, so I had made up a sheet of four letter words to help me communicate with Jack. Words like HOPE, MEAN, LOST, KATY, PUSH, FISH, FEAR, etc. As I sat down each day, I’d choose a word and wait for Jack to tell me about it. As he began talking, our conversations led me to the sub plot of bullying, the setting of summer, and a time period in the past – the 1960’s. The words flowed from Jack’s mouth, through my pen, onto the page in a sometimes frenzied, sometimes frantic, always joyful release until I knew exactly where we were going on this emotional rollercoaster ride.

All this brings me to the WHEN and WHY of writing in verse. How do we know when a story is best told in this format? WHY write a novel this way?

Here are some ideas to keep in mind if you think you’d want to write your next novel in verse:

  • Is it a character-driven story that begs to be told in first person POV?
  • Verse novels allow you to write in a less structured way, eliminating the need for quotes to convey conversation, or the use of complete sentences.
  • You can arrange words and sentences on a page so they become part of the poem. For example: see LONG, one of the poems form WISHES, and how it is arranged on the page.

LONG

Why does a day

feel so

L

O

N

G

when you hate what you’re doing?

 

Mom says I need to help Gran and Pops.

Cut grass

paint fence posts

weed the garden and listen to boring stories.

They’re letting us stay

all summer

L

O

N

G

I didn’t ask to come here.

Mom wants to be around family,

Dad’s family.

 

I like my grandparents.

It’s just that I thought we three,

mom,

me,

and my sister Katy

were, are,

Dad’s family.

  • If the story doesn’t need extensive scene setting or background, or a lot of description, verse may be the way to go.
  • Do you enjoy using figurative language when you write? Perfect for verse.
  • For me, the best indicator that I needed to try verse, was the fact that writing this way ups the emotional impact of the story, the conflict, and the interaction among characters. You are into the main characters head throughout and there is no filter for his/her thoughts. They can just spill out and reveal themselves, or wait until a later moment to become public to the other characters. Either way, it’s emotion and feelings that guide the story.

Think you might like to give writing novels in verse a try? Check back for PART TWO next Wednesday where I will share some of my techniques for getting started.

DARLENE’S BIO:

Darlene Beck Jacobson is a former teacher and speech therapist who has loved writing since she was a girl.  She is also a lover of history and can often be found mining dusty closets and drawers in search of skeletons from her past. She enjoys adding these bits of her ancestry to stories such as her award-winning middle grade historical novel WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston 2014) and WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020).

Darlene lives and writes her stories in New Jersey with her family and a house full of dust bunnies. She’s caught many fish, but has never asked one to grant her a wish. She’s a firm believer in wishes coming true, so she tries to be careful what she wishes for.

Her blog features recipes, activities, crafts, articles on nature, book reviews, and interviews with children’s book authors and illustrators.
www.darlenebeckjacobson.com

Twitter: @DBeckJacobson

darlenejacobson13@gmail.com

Thank you Darlene for taking the time to share your expertise with us.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Love this! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Kathy, for inviting me to your blog to talk about novels in verse and my new book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating! I love the process and your descriptions of your story development. Look forward to the next installment! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Enjoyed this so much, Darlene, and just Pinned your book – and lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Awesome post, Darlene!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for this insight. I’m plantsing a verse novel (I think) right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for the tips, Darlene.

    Liked by 1 person


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