What are the special challenges of the YA verse novel? I believe a writer is wise to remember that a verse novel is about the poetic form and is not just a storytelling device that uses fewer words. The danger is that in a moment of weakness (What happens next?) a writer may want to fall back on using prose with line breaks, giving the impression but not the power of poetry. I confess, I did do this, but I tried to be aware of it and at least suffuse the poem with strong imagery and descriptive or playful language.
How to begin a verse novel? Here is the first line that I wrote in a journal over four years ago: India was as noisy as a hundred black crows screaming/screeching/wailing like a hundred pinched babies. I liked the line. I was curious as to what might come after it. And so, Jiva clung to the sound. And then I just kept on going. Being curious. What else did Jiva cling to? I kept on writing. Short bursts. Fifteen minutes. Half an hour. I just kept putting words down and allowing the images to fill the page – sounds, colours, texture, smells, emotions. And I kept asking, Who is this girl? Other questions that might drive a novel –
Why did it happen?
I remember that day.
Things could have been different if only.
It was his/her fault.
I don’t understand. Am I the stupid one?
By the way, those first lines I wrote never made it into the book.
Final thoughts. Karma was indeed edited by Penguin editors but only for narrative arc and character. They never touched a word, line, or image. It was a remarkable experience: to have one’s writing accepted so wholeheartedly. I’d like to wish good luck to any writer desiring to experience the verse novel. I highly recommend the exercise; its gifts are enormous.
Thank you so much, Cathy! Karma sounds fabulous!
Cathy Ostlere holds a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of Manitoba. Her first book, Lost: A Memoir (2008), began as a series of poems but grew into creative non-fiction essays. Essays excerpted from Lost have been short-listed for the National Magazine Awards, Western Magazine Awards, and the CBC Literary Awards. Lost: A Memoir was a finalist for the 2009 Edna Staebler Creative Non-fiction Award. In 2010, she co-wrote the play, Lost: A Memoir, presented by Theatre Calgary. The production will tour Canada over the next two years. Her first novel, Karma, a verse novel written for young adults, was released in March 2011 by Penguin Group Canada/USA. She lives in Calgary, Canada.
Go buy yourself some good Karma. (Ok, I couldn't resist the pun.)
Check out Cathy's webite!