Monday, August 8, 2011

My Experience at the Ellen Hopkins Writers Intensive: Writing Novels In Verse

Every one of Ellen Hopkins' seven young adult novels in verse have hit the New York Times Bestseller lists, and there's a reason - they're powerful, compelling, and masterful. Every word seems perfectly chosen. Every poem is laid out on the page in a way that draws you in and then beyond the words. Every character is bared through their mind's lens.

And you can't stop reading because you have to know what happens next.

I didn't enter Ellen's intensive thinking 'I want to write a novel in verse,' but Ellen achieves intensely powerful emotions and her stories grab you and don't let go - and she does it with such economy and artistry. I had to see what I could learn, and then apply, to my own writing.

With worksheets and examples from her own work, she guided us through exercises that pulled out of us things about our characters that we'd never before considered. A few attendees read their poems out loud after the writing, and the level of accomplishment across the room was inspiring.

For one of the exercises, I re-worked the opening scene of my current MG work in progress, taking it from prose to verse. It was magical. Excess detail and repetition fell away, and character motivations leapt forward. The scene had so much more emotion and impact this way.

I raised my hand to share. As I read, the words felt so right. Spare, and still funny. Filled with emotion and conflict. So much more what I was hoping for. I was heartened by the laughter (in all the right places) and the kind encouragement from Ellen and my fellow workshop participants.

Now, I'm inspired to dive into my rewrite with this new way of telling my characters' story. Will it become a novel in verse? I'm not sure, but I do know that for me, this workshop was a huge creative breakthrough.

Thank you, Ellen. And thanks SCBWI for giving me - and the rest of the class - this incredible opportunity!


  1. "Ellen achieves intensely powerful emotions and her stories grab you and don't let go - and she does it with such economy and artistry."

    Beautifully said Lee and so true, she always has something amazing up her sleeve to teach each and every one of us!

  2. Sounds absolutely magical. I feel privileged to have read Lee's results from that class! Amazing!!