Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 16, 2020

Writing Novels in Verse Part 2: How to Get Started: by Darlene Beck Jacobson

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. If you missed reading part one last week. Click here.  Below is part two of her article:

Writing Novels in Verse Part 2: How to Get Started: by Darlene Beck Jacobson

During my previous visit to Kathy’s blog I talked about how my MG novel-in-verse WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston) came about and some things to consider if you are thinking of writing a novel using the free verse format.

Today I want to share some prompts and exercises in writing free verse, and a few poems highlighting them. These techniques are taken from the workshop I present to students and at writing conferences.


  1. The difference between free verse and poetry that rhymes:
  • In rhyming verse, you have to follow meter and can get stuck finding the exact rhyming word to fit into the poem.
  • FREE VERSE allows you to use ANY WORDS that convey the feeling or tone you are trying to establish.
  1. How is free verse different from prose?
  • More WHITE SPACE on the page
  • You don’t have to use quotations for dialogue.
  • You don’t have to always use complete sentences.
  • It “cuts to the heart” of emotion and gets right into a character without spending a lot of time on background and scene setting.
  • You are also free to arrange words on the page in a different way.

(In Writing Novels in Verse Part 1, I showed the poem LONG and how it was arranged on the page.)

  1. How do we write a story in free verse?

Here is the poem introducing the main character from WISHES, DARES, & HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY:


I jiggle the rod, trying

to interest a fish.

Pops expects some level of


He gave up his day

to bring me here.


I wish the fish were biting

like last summer, he says.

We’d have caught a dozen by now.

In our bucket,

one sorry fish stares out.

If it was a fish that granted a wish

I’d ask it to bring

DAD home.


I wouldn’t waste my wish on

another fish.

Here’s another example:


My sister makes me laugh,

even when I feel like crying.

She spins in a circle,

pigtails swinging around,

and around, until she falls drunk with dizziness,

a pile of laughter in the grass.


This time do it with me, Jack.

She grabs my hand. We twirl and spin.

Katy remembers Dad

in a little kid kind of way.

Not the staying up late to talk and sneak ice cream

when everyone else sleeps way.


If he came home,

he would be like a stranger.

Katy wouldn’t grab

a stranger’s hand and take him for a spin.


When we land in the grass,

a thought pokes me

like Katy does with her elbow

when I try to ignore her being a pest.


Will Dad someday seem like

a stranger to me, too?

How many spins does

it take to make

bad thoughts go away?

  • You can also begin with a WORD that evokes emotion: FEAR, HOPE, LOVE, ANGER,


Jill forgets to ask me about

my safe place. I’m glad

because once I start talking about Dad,

I might never stop.


When Jill runs out of words,

she closes her eyes, snores.

I lay awake with a new ache

next to the one Dad made when

he went away.


It comes from knowing

bullies aren’t born, they’re made.

Can they be unmade?


I think about how having a Dad who’s

missing is the



worst thing for me.


For some kids, like Jill and Cody,

having no dad

might be

the best thing.

  • Begin with a PLACE that has something special about it. Maybe it’s scary, dark, lonely, quiet, unlike any place else. Maybe it’s a place a character DOES NOT want to be, or a FAVORITE place, or a place she misses.


We hide our bikes in the bushes, then

climb to the top branch of our favorite tree,

where we can see anyone who comes close,

but they can’t see us through all the leaves.

For a





time we don’t say anything,

like we forgot how to talk.


I listen to

leaves brushing against

each other and my heart beating like it’s

in my head. A thumping so loud,

everyone must hear it.


Jill breathes fast next to me.

Her hair smells like coconut,

and the freckles on her nose

are darker than I remember.


She pokes me with an elbow and says,

Okay, I’m ready to forget trouble

dressed up like Cody because I want to know

what happened here.


What makes you forget how to talk?

Her eyes are so wide.

Tell me, she says


  • Begin with an INCIDENT or ACTION (strong verbs always move a story forward). Something that happened and sets the story in motion. A conflict or action that creates a problem or tension.

(See PUSH poem below)

  • Write down some IDEAS that come to mind when you see these words. These may not stay in the poem, but are meant to spark things and get more information about what you are trying to say.
  1. Don’t forget about FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE: Using techniques such as ALLITERATION, SIMILE, METAPHOR, ASSONANCE, ONOMATOPOEIA, REPETITON OF WORDS FOR EMPHASIS, as well as incorporating the senses, add richness to the poems.


Things you push:





a wagon, which you can also pull.


Most of the things you push

move, give way a little

loosen up with the pushing.


When one kid tries

to push another with

hands or words,

a kid can


give in

or stand tall

and refuse to take a push as the

final answer.


When Cody tries to push,

I figure the best thing for me to do

is take root, stay put

because sometimes

it takes more than a


to make something or someone,

to make me,



I hope these examples will get you started on brainstorming your own ideas for a novel in verse.

Try a few of your own. Maybe you’ll find something worth pursuing. If you want a story that cuts to the heart of the matter and gets right down to business…try writing it in free verse.


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.

Twitter: @DBeckJacobson

Thank you Darlene for taking the time to share your expertise with us. Good job! I am sure it will make things clearer for those writers who are toying with the idea of writing in verse.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Great explanations and examples. Thanks so much for sharing! I can definitely feel the emotions and situations when I read your poems.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Kathy for this opportunity to share a bit about my verse novel and some of my techniques for writing in this form.


  3. These two posts are so great!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post is so helpful! Thank you for sharing! Also, congrats on your book! It looks wonderful. I definitely want to read it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words Marci. I’m pleased that you find it helpful.


  5. This is a really helpful post. Thanks for this. I will be looking for this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a little late seeing this post. But I think I’ll copy your helpful info and maybe give it a try in the future. Thanks.


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