Using Verse for “Adult” Content, by Gabrielle Prendergast (Guest Post)

Using Verse for “Adult” Content, by Gabrielle Prendergast (Guest Post)

Anyone who writes in verse gets used to answering this question: “Why do you write in verse?” There are a lot of reasons of course, but one that I often talk about concerns the depiction of edgier material in books aimed at young readers.

Like it or not, our kids take drugs, self-harm, think about suicide, get abused, suffer from mental illness, are victims and perpetrators of violence, and lose friends. All of these dark topics are suitable for young readers, but may need to be presented in subtler ways than in adult literature. Verse is a way of achieving that. Its reliance on metaphor, sparse language, and contained form allow these issues to be explored without overwhelming the readers with heaviness.

Take sex for example. Not a dark theme (it’s fun and healthy!) but one that frequently raises eyebrows in relation to books for young readers. But again, like it or not, young people, teenagers, even pre-teens have sex drives and sex lives. Many YA books have a “fade to black” policy when it comes to sex. Characters might have sex, but rarely are the scenes depicted in any detail.

But verse can be sneaky. Because scenes are executed with minimal words and light figurative brushstrokes, verse narratives can get away with some pretty cheeky stuff. Here’s an example from my latest book, CAPRICIOUS, wherein the protagonist and one of her boyfriends text each other while…uh…enjoying a little “self-love”.

DARKNESS: PART TWO

I’m thinking of u,
Samir texts.

At this time of night
This is cheeky code
For something
Rather crude
And according to his beliefs
Forbidden.

Me 2,
I text back.
Not quite true
But close enough.

It’s a scene that is as explicit as the reader chooses to make it. Some younger readers might not even get what is going on. Whereas others will understand perfectly (as an aside  - do you know how rare it is for female characters in YA to masturbate? YA boys seem to do it all the time. What’s up with that?). The verse form is subtle and suggestive, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks as much or a little they are comfortable.

Verse excels at involving the reader in building the narrative along with the writer. For edgy material such as sex or violence, verse can let the reader proceed at a content advisory level that suits their preferences. There are even delicate ways of using profanity. Here’s a poem from AUDACIOUS, the prequel to CAPRICIOUS:

IN THE ROOM ABOVE THE GARAGE

No one must
C
Me take this photograph

This is for
U
Samir

For
U
Freckle and Puffy

For
U
Mom and Dad and Kayli

Because I’m done
PreteNding

I strip
And stand
Legs slightly open
Facing the camera
On a timer
I can’t help smiling
Though my face won’t show.

FLASH!

Then I dress
And go downstairs
To make a cup of
T

Profanity is a part of teen and pre-teen life too, so it follows that books needn’t shy away. But writers and readers (not to mention, teachers, parents and librarians) might not always want said profanity shoved into their faces. Verse is a way of using it lightly, cleverly.

There are many reasons to write (and read) in verse. For me, since my stories tend towards edgier material, it’s a way to broach that material without seeming incongruous with my teen audience. It’s also a way for readers to warm up to edgier material as they mature. Satisfying both the young readers’ desire for mature themes and the adults’ preference for PG13 ratings, verse can be a win for both.

Find Audacious & Capricious on Amazon | Goodreads


Gabrielle Prendergast is a UK-born Canadian/Australian who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband and daughter. She is the author of the verse novel AUDACIOUS, CAPRICIOUS and the forthcoming THE FRAIL DAYS in the Orca Limelights series. Gabrielle blogs and rants at Angelhorn.com and VerseNovels.com.

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