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Novels in Verse – Part I

August 18, 2013 by Suzi

Have you ever read a novel in verse? I’ve read several, all contemporary YA issue stories, and I’ve loved every one. When I saw Amy Sonnichsen mention a while back she was working on a middle grade verse novel, I wanted to find out how she did it, because I know nothing about writing in verse. So I sent her a few (okay, a ton) of questions and today I’m sharing her answers.

But before we get to that, I’m excited to share that Amy’s novel will be published by Simon & Shuster in 2015. So congratulations, Amy, and welcome to my blog.

Can you tell us about your novel?

RED BUTTERFLY is a middle grade verse novel about a Chinese girl raised in solitude by her American mother, who must navigate China’s strict adoption system when she is torn away from the only family she has ever known. It’s scheduled to be released by Simon & Schuster BFYR in February, 2015.

For those that don’t know, Amy grew up in Hong Kong and has lived in China, so she’s very familiar with the countries and cultures. I think the premise and characters are the things that make her story so interesting and unique. It’ll be fun to learn more about the Chinese culture, and since she spent a lot of time there, we know it will be authentic.

Novels in verse are not very common, so how did you get your inspiration to write RED BUTTERFLY?

I started reading Caroline Starr Rose’s blog. I participated in her verse novel challenge and read five or six verse novels. I was hooked! Through that challenge, I won an ARC of her middle grade verse novel, MAY B., which was wonderful! /font>

RED BUTTERFLY is my first verse novel, so please don’t be fooled into thinking I’m an expert! (If you want excellent guidance on verse novels, check out Caroline’s blog.) But I’m happy to share what I’ve learned through the process.

Was writing a novel in verse difficult compared to a regular novel?

It was easier in some ways and harder in others. (How’s that for an answer?) I found I could write quickly, but I had to go back and edit and move poems around. I’ve heard the analogy that writing a verse novel is like piecing a patchwork quilt. Cutting out individual squares might be quick, but fitting them together in a cohesive pattern is challenging. (Of course, some “squares” were more difficult to write than others, too!)

My biggest challenge is world building, believe it or not. The novel is set mostly in China and my character’s circumstances are very complex. I had to maintain the light, verse-novel touch throughout without confusing my readers. This was something I’d dealt with before in my multicultural YA novels, but it seemed harder in verse because brevity is so foundational.

One of the things I’ve learned about writing is how important it is to tighten your writing, and I guess with a novel in verse, that’s even more important.

So what are some of your favorite verse books?

MAY B. by Caroline Starr Rose, OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse, HOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine Applegate, INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai.

I have not read any of those (I don’t read much middle grade), but will have to check them out. Here are some of my favorites, which are YA: CRANK by Ellen Hopkins, BECAUSE I AM FURNITURE by Thalia Chaltas, GLIMPSE by Carol Lynch Wlliams and EXPOSED by Kimberly Marcus.

Since I had so many questions for Amy, I had to break this up into two posts. So come back next week to learn more about the technical aspects of writing in verse.

Thank you to Amy, and we’ll see you here next week for Part II.


10 Comments »

  1. ilima says:

    Congrats to Amy! GLIMPSE is the only novel I’ve read in verse, and I liked it.

  2. I don’t get it. What’s a “novel in verse”? You mean a story told in poems? Like Homer and Edmund Spenser (for old-school examples, which would be the only kind I know)?

  3. Carrie-Anne says:

    I’ve really enjoyed novels in verse when they’re well-written and there’s a reason a story might work better that way than in traditional prose. My favorites that I’ve read recently were Allan Wolf’s The Watch That Ends the Night (about Titanic) and Jen Bryant’s Kaleidoscope Eyes, a contemporary historical set during the summer of 1968.

  4. Wow, that sounds so cool to a have a novel written in verse. The book sounds very awesome. I’ll have to check it out.

  5. First, congratulations to Amy!

    I have never heard of novel in verse before! I’ll definitely need to look into them, since I love poetry, too. :)

  6. Thank you for having me, Suzi! I just got back from a weekend away and was so excited to see the post went up today. Eek!

    M Pepper: That’s a great question. You’re right – a novel in verse is a story told entirely in poems. I hope you have time to check out some of the modern examples Suzi and I gave because it really is a fun genre to read. :)

    Thank you for all the congratulations, everyone. <3

  7. I can’t wait to read Amy’s book. I love novels in verse.

  8. Rachel Schieffelbein says:

    I love novels in verse! (A few of my students have used them for speech.) Out of the Dust is a favorite of mine, too.
    This was very interesting. I would thing writing a novel in verse would be very difficult. Of course, I stink at poetry, so for me it would be impossible. ;)

  9. I love learning about the process! Amy’s writing is so beautiful it almost makes me want to write a novel in verse, too. Almost. ;)

  10. I am so incredibly thrilled for Amy. Her book is beautiful!

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