The Raw Emotion that Comes with Fewer Words…  {Or,}  Why I Felt Naked after Writing A Verse Novel by Stefanie Lyons

The Raw Emotion that Comes with Fewer Words… {Or,} Why I Felt Naked after Writing A Verse Novel by Stefanie Lyons

First, the caveat: 

I’m not saying prose novels can’t deepen emotion, of course they can—and do. I’m just saying this was my experience in the verse novel writing process.

Okay, I feel better getting that off my chest. Now, let’s talk about exposure. Say, for instance, you wrote a verse novel. One that started out more prose-like. Perhaps it had a particular voice that you explored while getting your masters in creative writing, if you will. And let’s imagine that as you combed through the scenes and fine-tuned the story, you pared back the language—just playing around during your time in Higher Education. It could happen. And, maybe as you dabbled in voice and tone, words fell away. A sparseness happened. What’s that all about? You thought, while typing away in your writer cave. What just happened to my story?

The Nakedness. That’s what.

Because language can be like clothing. Its words can cover the heart of your scene. Or peel away and expose it.

For me, this revelation came in what I thought was a throwaway scene. One I had early on that seemed to be telling the story and not getting into the visceral emotions of it. Here’s what I started with:

Arriving at Leo’s, I scoot into one side of the booth.
X smiles and scoots in next to me. We bump hips. Like an atom bomb flattening countries, my skin jumps, and lands in a mushy clump of happily ever after.
“You’re gonna love this place,” he says. 
Another waiter and an order later, I’m stuffed full of grilled cheese and lentil soup.
X takes his paper napkin and folds it into a bird. He hands it to me.
“Your first gift,” he says.
“First?” I say. Will there be others? 
I don’t have the guts to ask. It’s just wishful thinking.

So that was nice. It was good and safe. Kept me writing with all my clothes on. But then I started taking away words. Leaving gaps. I began turning the prose-like thing into verse-like stuff. Here’s that same scene:

Leo’s Lunchroom
One gentle scoot 
into the booth
side by side
smile        blush        bump
two hips collide.
Like atom bombs
flatten countries, 
my skin collides
with his kinetic energy
and lands 
in a mushy clump of 
happily        ever        after.
Take that, Antoine Lavoisier!
Another waiter 
and an order later, 
fed and full
soda        soup        sandwich
X holds his napkin 
folds a beautiful bird
hands it to me.
X:    Your first gift.
Me:     First? 
Will there be others? 
One gentle scoot
into the root 
of my 
head        hands        heart.

Now, technically there are only fourteen fewer words. But the feeling conveyed in those words changed dramatically for me when I started to remove some of the logic flow of prose. Scene by scene, I felt my story coming alive. I was digging deeper into the emotions. As I stripped away the fat, I was able to express the lovesick ache of my main character through a stand-alone verb. I dove headfirst into her heartbreaking choices with broken sentences. I immersed myself in her feelings by allowing for air. 

The liberation of not having to bind words together in a cohesive sentence structure created something threadbare. In this state, I felt I had no rules. So I disrobed and ran around in the text. And for me, what resulted was something much more pure.

Now, for the record, I am not a nudist. But this exposure, this au naturel state of writing, gave my story something it was lacking before—freedom to mine for emotion.

About Stefanie


Stefanie Lyons holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she’s organizing her locker or crushing on boys. In her head, that is. Because her teen years were great. Her debut YA novel, DATING DOWN, (Flux 2015) is told in verse and takes place in Chicago where she resides. 

Twitter: @sllplatform


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