Novels In Verse – Part II

Last week I had Amy Sonnichsen here to tell us about RED BUTTERFLY, her debut middle grade novel written in verse, which will be coming out in 2015. This week I’ve got her back to talk more about her writing process.
So are you a plotter or pantster?
For regular novels, I’m a pantser. I like to figure out what my character is going to do as I go along. This novel was a bit different because I’d already written it twice in prose. It wasn’t working, so I tried it in verse. The plot did turn out to be very different in this version, mostly because my character’s age changed from 16 to 12, and I had to consider my middle grade audience.
How do you determine the style/layout of the page?
Determining style and layout is tough and time consuming. I read a ton of verse novels and realized there were no strict rules—anything goes! Of course, you have to be consistent to whatever style and rules you devise. For instance, in the middle section of my book, the main character, Kara, feels lost and emotionally ruined. All her poems in that section are written entirely in lower case. That’s just one example of the fun you can have with a verse novel’s style.
Some of my poems are longer than others and do use several pages. Other poems are only a few lines. Each poem should be able to stand alone, so I guess they could be the equivalent of chapters or scenes. My book is also divided into three sections.
Is there any order to the layouts or do you follow a certain pattern?
It is random. For instance, at one point I wanted a back and forth conversation, so I left justified one line and right justified the next. Poetry is so visual, it comes down to what is best for each poem. I know some verse novelists actually make pictures out of some of their poems (which is a very cool affect), but I’m not that talented!

Does it take you longer than writing a regular novel?
It depends on your perspective. It took me about the same amount of time to write this verse novel as one of the contemporary YAs I normally write, but verse novels are considerably shorter. So, yes, it took longer if we’re looking at number of words per hour. Then again, it was my first time writing a novel in verse. Next time might be quicker (or not).
Even though novels in verse have many pages, they read so much faster since there’s less words per page. How do your word counts compare to regular middle grade novels?
When I started querying RED BUTTERFLY, it was at 17,000 words. When I signed with my agent, Kate Testerman, she recommended expanding the ending, so now it’s up to 20,000 words. My editor, Christian Trimmer, is requesting that I expand it even more. I’ve heard that most middle grade novels top out at about 40,000 words, but I doubt it will be that long.
I’m sure everybody’s process is different, but it was fun to see how you do it. And although you make it sound fairly easy, I don’t think I’m ready to try it.  Thanks for answering all my questions.

Thank you for having me, Suzi! This was a lot of fun!

5 Responses

  1. I really love reading about the process. Amy is amazing though, so I’m not surprised she did so well with an entirely new form for her.

    Thanks for this fun interview!

  2. Oh whoops, I wrote “cool affect” instead of “cool effect.” Duh! Need an editor! 😀

    Thanks again for having me, Suzi. It was fun thinking through this process and putting it in words. 🙂


  3. I had never even heard of a verse novel (yes, I have won the Uncouth award of the year – three years running:) and poetry is a mystery to me, so what I am trying to say is that I am in awe of Amy writing this and getting it published by S&S.

    Well done, you – and much success 🙂

    (Thanks, Suzi, for having Amy come on down – again 🙂

  4. Rachel Schieffelbein

    Thanks for doing this interview! This was very interesting. I love novels in verse, and I imagine it would be a very different writing process. Thanks for sharing yours!

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