To Verse, Or Not To Verse?

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 © Emma Cameron

I am often asked why I chose to write Cinnamon Rain (Walker Books Australia) in verse. My answer may seem odd, as I did not make a conscious decision to write it in verse from the outset. Nor did I begin in prose and switch to verse. From the start the first character to present himself, Luke, spoke this way. His voice came across in a performance style monologue and I allowed his story to unfold.

I was never certain it would continue to emerge in that style the whole way through. But it did. Once I had Luke’s story complete, I consulted Peter Bishop of Varuna, The Writers’ House, with my major concern being that I was unsure if my verse writing was any good. He assured me it was and I continued. I set off again, first through Casey and then David, all the while uncertain if I could sustain the verse form for a complete novel.

Thankfully, I was able to immerse myself into their characters well enough to reach the end of the entire tale. Each time I had completed the next character’s portion of the story I presented it to Peter. Each time he reassured me that it was meant to be told in verse. Once I had all three parts complete I reached a point of confidence with the style, where I finally believed him and believed in myself. I felt I would be capable of working thorough the editing process successfully while sticking to the verse form.

Verse is an interesting form of writing as it plays with so many elements of word choice and use. While prose must also be tightly written and succinct, verse can be pared down to the barest number of words. What I found interesting with verse writing for a novel was that, unlike writing a verse as a stand-alone piece, I always had to be mindful of its place in the whole work. As well as maintaining each character’s voice, every verse had to keep the whole story flowing.

Verse narrative is a style that has evolved in such a way that following many of the ‘rules’ and patterns that existed previously is not essential. What is still a must, though, is maintaining an economy of words while exercising the utmost care in word choice to maximise the impact the writing has on the reader. I aim to quickly draw readers into the space the character is in, immersing them into their head, heart and mood, without having to wade through vast amounts of detail. The detail comes with careful word choice and placement, and I use line breaks to maintain the voice and pace out how readers absorb the information. Conscious, careful attention to these gives verses rhythmic, regular patterns, creating a melody that alters as the scene unfolds while adding to the feel of what plays out within it that scene.

Reading my work out aloud through the writing process is imperative. It is also important that others are able to read it aloud without faltering. If they stumble, it’s likely that the piece needs reworking. I feel my verses are working when I can hear them as performance. Not necessarily performance that is dramatic or extreme in any way. Simply one that would draw listeners into the tale, just as reading it would.

I doubt whether writing verse for a full novel is something I could chose to do unless I heard my character speak to me in this way before I began. It is not enough to think that I can write it, simply because I like the form and playing with words. There is so much to be considered that I would, again, be uncertain about whether the verse form is right for a particular work until I have completed a sound first draft, with feedback from other writers.

Cinnamon Rain, Emma Cameron’s first novel, was published by Walker Books Australia and listed as a Notable Book in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards before being published in the USA by Candlewick Press under the title Out of This Place.



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