Writing a novel in verse

I recently took part in an online writing workshop through the Highlights Foundation: Limitations and Liberations of Writing Verse Novels, taught by author Cordelia Jensen. It was excellent! I adore poetry and have been reading lots of novels in verse (scroll down for recommendations). I thought I might try my hand at writing one…with a little support from the pros.

Why novels in verse?

  • the voice feels intimate
  • room to explore language visually
  • lots of white space on the page (for reluctant readers especially)
  • drama moves quickly, like a play
  • sense of in-betweenness can heighten book’s themes

Over five weeks, about twenty of us met online once a week to discuss assigned texts, listen to common strategies and tribulations that verse novelists encounter, write to prompts, and share our work. We also participated in an active private channel where we posted works in progress, commented on one another’s work, and shared questions and discussions related to writing and reading verse novels.

I was so impressed with the amount of information that Cordelia shared, from building voice to exploring secondary characters to experimenting with structure at the level of the line to the overall story. My fellow writers went deep in our discussions, asking great questions and sharing insights. My pen and notebook could barely keep up with all the information I wanted to revisit later! (Luckily everything was recorded so we could go back and watch it again.)

The final class was dedicated to a “celebratory workshop” of 8-10 poems from each student, in which we were asked to offer feedback only about what we thought was working well. Authors could ask questions about their own work, too, if they had specific concerns. I really liked the feel of a workshop in which the emphasis was on supporting one another.

My own novel-in-verse is brand-spanking-new so I was shy to share it, but my classmates’ enthusiasm for my concept has buoyed me to keep going. I hope that I was able to provide some support along those lines for them, as well. There’s some really amazing work being developed! I can’t wait to read everyone’s finished works someday.

If you’re interested in writing novels in verse, I highly recommend looking into the courses at Highlights. Cordelia said she’s teaching other verse-novel courses in the fall and this particular one again next spring. Scholarships and financial aid are available!

And if you want to read verse novels, check out these! I found them all to be excellent. And I have a long list more to read…