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Verse Week Guest Post: Gabrielle Prendergast on Backstory & Writing in Verse

We're halfway through our annual Novel in Verse Week celebration here on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves and today we have verse novelist Gabrielle Prendergast who shares an inside glimpse on the challenges of creating backstory with the verse format. Enjoy! ~Sarah

One of the challenges for any author, particularly one who writes contemporary novels for teens, is the task of revealing backstory. Because I started out as a screenwriter, backstory, as it is frequently revealed in contemporary young adult books, does not come naturally. I tend to still see my stories as screenwriters do, as a series of scenes in a mostly linear narrative, so diversions into reminiscence feel awkward to write.

But backstory is critical, and in contemporary first person narrated young adult novels, it plays a huge role in getting to know the main character through their past actions and experiences. “Show don’t tell” is the mantra. Delving into the past allows us to see how the characters became who they are rather than them having to tell us.

Writing in verse, while it shares the conciseness and imagery of screenwriting, nevertheless is antithetical to screenwriting when it comes to inner life. In screenwriting it is a never ending struggle to reveal a character’s inner life, never mind their past, without resorting to flashback or voiceover. In verse novels techniques that are analogous to flashback and voiceover are essential. 

Verse author Gabrielle Prendergast left the most awesome comment in the (not-so-long) history of Clear Eyes, Full Shelves, 

This post
Like lemonade popsicles
I search for them
In freezers
and dingaling ringing ice cream trucks
At the water park on hot summer days
But only ever find them
Dripping sweet white
Icy cold summer
On my fingers

Gabrielle Prendergast

So, naturally, when she inquired about getting involved in our little celebration of novels in verse, we jumped on the chance to chat with her about why she loves the format and, um, Tim Riggins…

Gabrielle is the author of the middle grade novel Hildegarde (Harper Collins Australia), which was also made into a feature film, starring Richard E Grant. Her middle grade sports novel Wicket Season was published by Lorimer Publishers in March 2012. She lives in Vancouver, Canada with her husband and daughter.

Why do you write in verse?