We’d like to thank Kathy Erskine for this blog post! Kathy has joined us as faculty for many workshops. You might also like to see her list of recommended novel in verse titles, Verse Novel a Day for Poetry Month.
I didn’t intend to write a novel in verse. It just happened. Well, it eventually happened, but only after many attempts.
I’ve come to realize that the vehicle for delivering a story is critical. Even a joke packs more punch if you get the timing right. Some stories crave the picture book format. Some require a novel. With this particular story I tried both of those forms, multiple times, before realizing that while it’s a great story (I can say that because it’s based on someone’s extraordinary life), it needed a different delivery vehicle to make it feel real. A picture book was too abbreviated. Every novel I wrote ended up dull and missing something – and sounding too much like the biography series I read in fourth grade, too many decades ago.
There are events in my story that are shocking. Sometimes, less is more. In a verse novel, so much is suggested by what isn’t said. So much is felt between the lines. Using the verse form enabled me to focus on emotions. I could use a variety of characters and viewpoints, so the reader could see and evaluate the big picture. I could string the scenes and people together with an invisible thread from one person’s consciousness to another’s, weaving the story from their different voices.
The verse novel is an incredibly powerful art form when done well. It is not the vehicle to use because you can’t think of much to say or because you want to write something quickly or because you want to jump on the bandwagon or because it’s easier (it’s not!). It’s a beautiful vehicle for the right story, which often means powerful emotion and extraordinary characters – and it always means attention to detail word by word, line by line, line break by line break, with a healthy dose of individuality, creativity, and readability.
Your verse novel can be all those things!
Kathy spent fifteen years as a lawyer before turning to her first love: writing. She was lucky to work with Patricia Gauch and her debut novel, Quaking, was one of YALSA’s Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Her novel Mockingbird won the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and her other novels include The Absolute Value of Mike, a Crystal Kite winner, Seeing Red, a Jane Addams Award honor book, and The Badger Knight which published in fall 2014. Kathy has lived all over the world, from The Netherlands—where she was born—to Israel, South Africa, Scotland, Canada, and the United States. Her life has been filled with rich experiences, from a Hogwarts-like boarding school (minus the magic) to the African bush (complete with lions) to an ice-filled harbor. Read more about Kathy at www.kathrynerskine.com.
Posted on: April 28, 2016