In last week’s Tuesday Writing Tip I talked about how I had changed my young adult novel from verse to prose. This attracted a lot of comment from blog readers in defence of the verse novel so I thought I’d devote this post to choosing the right format for your writing.

I want to start by saying I love verse novels. I love the works of Ellen Hopkins, Sally Murphy, Sherryl Clark, Steven Herrick, Margaret Wild and so many other great writers.

But for me, the decision to change format was not just about the fact that my publisher didn’t want to publish my book as a verse novel. The MAIN thing that swayed me was the opinions of teen boys who were the intended readers of my book.

Street Racer is about a boy who loses control of his car when street racing and hits a girl, seriously injuring her and changing both their lives forever.

Street Racer is a book that I WANT teen boys to read. But I spoke to a number of them and the responses were unanimous. They found the subject matter interesting but they said they would not read a verse novel. I was disappointed with this response – but in Australia at least, that’s the reality.

So this is where I came to my first conclusion. I believe that whatever format you decide on, it must suit your readership. There’s no point in writing a great book for teen boys that they won’t read.

Format is important and it’s something I’m not afraid to play with. Letters to Leonardo was a combination of letters and narrative. In this case, the letters written to Leonardo da Vinci were a great device for allowing readers to become more intimate with the main character.

In a series I’m working on called The Chat Room, the format is a mixture of narrative, blog posts, chat room excerpts and diary entries. I have chosen these formats because they are relevant to the subject matter , and they are formats that my intended readers will be familiar with.

I’m also currently working on a non-fiction project for teens that I’m starting to think might suit the graphic format. So format is something I love to work with, but I think you need to ask yourself these questions before deciding which one to choose:

  1. What is the subject matter of the work?
  2. Who are the intended readers for the work?
  3. Will the intended readers be familiar with/be able to relate to the format?
  4. Can you use a combination of formats so the reader has time to adapt to a format they wouldn’t normally choose?

It has been hard for me to let go of the verse novel format for Street Racer and the truth is that I’m not quite there yet – in fact I would really like to retain at least one of the character’s POVs in verse.

Not everyone will think I’ve done the right thing – but ultimately, I think Street Racer will be an important book for teen boys to read so I’m prepared to make compromises to ensure that happens.

When it comes to format, the decision has to be a considered choice by the writer. Format needs to be chosen not on a whim, but for its relevance to the topic and the readership.

Good luck with your format dilemmas.

Happy writing.