Saturday, February 10, 2018

Roses are red, Violets are blue, my novel's in sonnets, what should I do?

I am currently writing a novel in verse. Specifically, in Pushkin sonnets. I shall be done in a few months, and so I wonder: How do you put such a thing in standard manuscript format? It's not quite a novel and it isn't poetry, and I can't seem to find guidelines for the middle ground anywhere.

Well, it is a novel, and it is poetry, and it's called a novel in verse, or verse novel.
There are a bunch of them, and they are all pretty interesting to read, and not just for subject matter but how they use form to convey content.

Kelly Jensen wrote a piece for BookRiot listing her top 100 must read YA books in verse.  You should be passing familiar with all of those books before you start to query. I don't mean buy all of them (but if you've got the cash for that, go for it!) but you can get them at your library, and even do a look inside via Amazon.

As to your question, you query this like you would a novel and the pages you include are the first however many pages of the book the agent asks for.  Don't break a sonnet under any circumstances, not a chapter either if you can help it.

And each sonnet is a paragraph.

And yes, I had to look up Pushkin sonnets. 

Further clarification: the single/double spacing rule of manuscript pages does NOT apply here.

Here's why: manuscript pages are double spaced for easier reading. Double spacing the lines of a sonnet don't make it easier to read. Knowing WHY you double space allows you to see why in this case, the format follows content:

Thus your page would be like this in an email:

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.


Donnaeve said...

Yep, me too. Had to look it up. Plus, I was also confusing this with Pusheen.

As in: Pusheen Not Pushkin!


I am, yet again, amazed at what I learn out here. I've also spent time catching up on a couple posts, and really got into reading the commentary on "authenticity" where, as was expected, Julie Weathers cracked me up.

But on that note of authenticity...I am going to be part of an author chat on Farmgirl Book Club (via FB) on Feb 22, and given some of the questions being asked by readers of BITTERSWEET, I've just spent the morning copying/pasting hyperlinks of my research about "savant syndrome" and "autistic savants."

I imagine for some readers suspension of belief might be hard if impacted personally by a particular aspect of a story. For instance, I have an autistic savant - what used to be known as idiot savant in the time frame I write, in THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET. While the story carries true, historical facts of a flood, and life during those times, it's still fiction. Can what happened to my autistic savant happen? In my story, yes. In real life? Possibly. Can it be proven? Possibly. Does it really matter? Not to me. It's fiction, and most important of all, hopefully a good story so no one would really care. :)

Julie Weathers said...

I have nothing to offer the OP except the mere thought of that makes my head hurt. Yay, you.

However, this makes my soul happy:

"You should be passing familiar"

Unknown said...

Oh my gosh! Pushkin sonnets (yes, I looked it up too). Hats off to you OP. If I had to write a novel that way, I'd throw in the towel. But, I'm going to the library to get one. It looks like great fun to read. And, it would be a killer flash fiction contest.

Unknown said...

PS: The wikipedia people will be scratching their heads today. "Why are so many people looking up Pushkin sonnets??"

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have Julie’s headache. Good luck, OP. I off to read some of these sonnets. Huh?

Theresa said...

OP, that sounds like a way cool form for a novel.

Karen McCoy said...

Huh, I'd heard of Shakespearean, and Petrarchan, but not Onegin, as this is also called. Fascinating.

And yeah, OP, if that's how the story wants to be told, go for it. There is a market for this. On the list of novels in verse, Ellen Hopkins is a must. Start with Crank and go from there. Freak Boy by Kristin Clark is also excellent, and deals with transgender issues.

Colin Smith said...

Janet's advice, once again, is excelling
A novel in verse could indeed be compelling
If written such that we forget it's in verse
And the story becomes our entire universe.

The title of this, if I may be bold to speak,
For me takes the crown as Blog Title of the Week. :)

Karen McCoy said...

I agree, Colin! And I love your sonnet.

CED said...

I'm wondering about the standard manuscript format part of the question. Is there anything special involved in formatting verse? Should the directions be followed to the letter anyway?

Also, is the list of 100 must reads still must read if the OP's novel isn't YA?

Sherry Howard said...

I bow to anyone who can do this! I know people who have such an ear for meter that they don't even need to think about it. For most of us, getting meter perfect is a major job. So, adding that to getting all of the other elements perfect is huge! Congratulations to anybody who can achieve that!

Steve Stubbs said...

Julie Weathers said...
"When I sent what I thought was the opening chapter of Rain Crow off to Free Lance Editor Edna (FLEE), I got dinged on a lot of things that were inaccurate."
2/9/18, 10:15 AM

I think what all these readers are saying is, for some reason you are not compelling them to suspend disbelief. It is not the facts or the lack thereof.

SALEM'S LOT has probably the most preposterous premise imaginable. Yet the author had crusty me believing in vampires for so many hundreds of pages. When I got to the end I was astonished and awestruck that anybody could be that good. If there is any justice in the world at all, King should be a wealthy bestselling author. Let up hope.

It reminds me of a book critic who was assigned to review a King book. He out and said he was a literary snob who was convinced King could not write. When he finished the book he was still an unreconstructed King disrespecter. So why, he wondered in print, did he stay up all night helplessly turning pages instead of sleeping?

Probably because King is a master storyteller.

If you want to get people to suspend disbelief, go ye to the master, study his ways, and be wise.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Pushkin Sonnet sounds like Russian headwear.

BJ Muntain said...

Re: manuscript format:

Poetry follows most of the basics - 1" margins all around, 12-pt font like TNR or Courier.

With line-spacing, though, I think it comes down to how you see the story. Will you have each line ending at the end of the poetic line, not necessarily the end of the sentence? Or are you going to have the sentences flow together like prose, with only the meter and rhyme showing the reader that this is poetry?

If the latter, it's just like a novel. If the former... well,definitely double-space between stanzas or at paragraph breaks... But I believe that, in poetic format, you don't doublespace. At least, that's what I've seen for poetry submissions to magazines/contests. But for an entire novel to be mostly single-spaced... that may be difficult reading...

BJ Muntain said...

I did come across this link: re: Can I Bend Submission Rules for My Novel in Verse?

Basically, yeah, you can fiddle around with some 'rules' for manuscript format for such circumstances. Whatever feels right/looks right, do it. I don't think you'd be judged on the format in a case like this.

Colin Smith said...

To BJ's point, which I thought was most cogent,
If your novel-in-verse gets the love of an agent,
She'll be happy to work on your book's presentation
for the chance to be offering representation.

ARGGHHH!! Curse you Sharky!!! Look what you've done!!
I'll be like this all day now, and that won't be fun... 8-\

Unknown said...

To Colin's lament
I can only say, "Gent,
Get out of your head,
Read a good book instead."

Don't tempt the queen shark
With your own wordly snark.
If you dislike rhyme
She'll write it all the time.

The Sleepy One said...

OP, check out Claudia Rankine's CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC. To quote the New Yorker, it's a book-length poem about race and imagination. It's maybe less novel in verse than very long poem, but it just came out last year.

The Sleepy One said...

Oh, and SHARP TEETH by Toby Barlow isn't YA, but is a novel in verse that received excellent reviews and was nominated for an award or two when it came out.

AJ Blythe said...

Like others, my head hurts at the thought of writing a novel in poetry form (of any sort!). I have nothing to add, OP, except to say good luck when you query.

And Colin and Kathy, shhh, no more please. I struggle to write FF that is even passably worthy of being seen by Reider eyes as it is, but if it had to rhyme as well...

Beth Carpenter said...

I do love that poem.

Craig F said...

I can barely, on good days, write lyric poetry or narrative poetry. I can only salute those who can think in quatrains or 3/4 times.

I would have to say that if you are going to attempt to query a novel in sonnets, you should write your query as such. Explaining poetry does not work, it must be experienced.

As far as Frost endings go, this one has meant more to me.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.