SFF in verse?

I recently critiqued the beginning of a YA fantasy novel in verse that is set on another world. At first I thought, wow, cool idea. I haven’t seen verse fantasy, other than in Lisa Schroeder’s books with ghosts — but you could do some great stuff with imagery and sparse verse not only about the “is it there or is it not there” nature of ghosts, but about the sparse nature of space itself, for instance, or a mysterious technology where the blank space — what you didn’t know — was as interesting and important as what you could know.

Still, Lisa’s books are squarely set in a world we already know, and as I read a bit farther into that fantasy manuscript, I had some doubts about the use of verse. That was not because the author didn’t do a bang-up job of what was there, but simply because I wanted to know more than was on the page about almost everything.

To me it seems hard enough to write sparsely but evocatively about a world we know. And I think good verse depends even more than prose on what the reader brings to the words, images, and allusions on the page. So it might be tough to depict a place, society, social conflicts, survival hazards, dress, transportation, food, etc., we don’t know in a way that will allow readers are to really see, feel, and experience it. Maybe for SFF, the reader typically wouldn’t have enough foundation, unless you’re writing about something that’s pretty well-trodden ground (e.g., dragons or wizards).

Then again, maybe there’s a balance between enough verse to accomplish that while keeping an appropriate pace. I suppose if prose can find that balance, verse should be able to, right?

I think it’s a tough but interesting challenge, and I hope to have the author share a bit more information about her background and approach here — stay tuned, I hope!

In the meantime, are there fantasies or sci-fi in verse that I’m not aware of? Would you try it? What could help it work?

— Joni, who thinks writing in verse would be cool, but tends to fall on the much wordier end of the spectrum

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2 responses to “SFF in verse?

  1. You make a very good point about the challenge of world-building in verse form. For me, writing in verse has to make sense for the subject matter (e.g., I try to evoke a sense of dance movement or what it feels like to get into character as an actress through the verse because I feel as if I can make a special connection to this material by using poetic forms). So, I guess I’d consider trying writing fantasy/sci-fi in verse if I felt I could make an argument that verse was the best way to describe the world I was building. Thanks for the post–very interesting topic!

  2. I appreciate your topic since I’m currently writing a YA novel in verse. The subject matter really does have a lot to do with the choice of writing a verse novel. I think it works best with contemporary realism since poetry allows for a more personal voice in the writing. My novel does have some fantasy (the ancient Aztec world merges with contemporary characters) but it deals with serious subject matter as well. I would definitely read a science fiction or fantasy verse novel because I do agree poetic forms would enhance the frontier aspect or dystopian landscapes of alien worlds or parallel realms, etc. It’d be cool to see what ‘s going on and to see how what’s going on is going on. I’m intriuged! But the best thing I can say is that if you start writing a verse novel and the writing feels good to you and it’s giving you what you intended and more, then keep going!

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