Crafting the Poetry Novel for Young Adults

with Kelly Bingham


March 27, 2024
8 Weeks


Learn all you need to write a novel in verse for young adult readers.

Imagine writing an entire novel of spare, emotionally rich free verse.

The poetry novel captures the heart of your reader in an intimate, gripping way, drawing your protagonist close and evoking rich emotion. Poetry novels (also known as “novels-in-verse”) are popular among teens and tweens, with many poetry novels going on to win major awards, hit the New York Times bestsellers list, and become timeless classics. Examples include Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Newbery Winner), Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (A Prinz Honor, Newbery Honor, and Coretta Scott King Honor), and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson (National Book Award Winner).

If you’re interested in writing a poetry novel, join us in this eight-week workshop! We’ll explore the fundamentals of story structure, character development, tension, and earned endings. We’ll also look at what makes the poetic form different than prose, and how to maximize poetry to strike a connection between your reader and your protagonist. We’ll go over the elements that make verse rewarding, including word choice, imagery, and the arrangement of text upon the page.

We’ll cover a lot of ground, writing, reading and workshopping your novel-in-progress, so expect a brisk pace, with weekly assignments and readings. This eight-week program is the perfect way to explore the form and make some serious progress on a draft of your own novel-in-verse.

Kelly will provide detailed feedback every step of the way. You will also have a virtual classroom with other writers, where you can ask questions and share resources.

This course is open to writers of all levels of experience, with projects intended for young-adult readers or the middle-grade reader. If your project falls outside those age ranges, you’re welcome to contact me.

Kelly is so obviously an expert in her area. I loved her personable and positive approach to critique and feedback. I really feel that I gained a lot of insight and skill during this time.
—Heather Woodward

Learning and Writing Goals

Learning Goals

In this course, you will:

  • Explore the unique elements of a poetry novel, and what separates it from a novel in prose.
  • Learn both novel writing and how to craft poems that tell a story and move a scene forward, incorporating elements such as imagery, metaphor, and the use of white space and text arrangement.
  • Leave with your story structure figured out and your novel well underway.

Writing Goals

In this course, you will write:

  • A brief outline and solid story structure for your novel.
  • 20-30 poems for your novel-in-progress.

Young Adult Poetry Novel Course Outline

Each week, there will be a lecture to read, a writing assignment, and (optional, but encouraged) a poetry novel to read.

Each week, you will receive detailed feedback from Kelly on the pages you share through homework.  These assignments are designed to help you begin crafting your novel from the ground up, and make significant progress over eight weeks.

In addition, you’ll have access to a chat area in the classroom. You can use this space to ask questions of the group, share book recommendations, and connect with your classmates.

Week One: Introduction

Overview: What is a poetry novel? What makes it different than a prose novel? Why write in the poetry form? Does your subject matter lend itself to poetry? We’ll examine the unique qualities of the poetry novel, and begin our exploration of the benefits of this form of storytelling, using a template given to you in class

Assignment: Read two poetry novels, to be discussed in closer detail next week. Browse poetry novels of your choice and bring your favorite opening poem to class to share.

Week Two: Key Elements for Writing Your Novel in Verse

We will take a look at story structure this week, dissecting all of the critical components needed for a successful novel.

Now it’s time to give thought to the summary/synopsis of your book or idea. What does your character want? What stands in their way?

Assignment:  Break down your story into a few pieces, utilizing the template we received in Week One. Then: craft an opening poem—with a 500-word maximum word count. (This can be your opening page, or it can be a poem from anywhere in your story—wherever you feel comfortable beginning.) Time to dive in!

Week Three: Emotional Stakes

This week, we will take a look at Emotional Stakes. What are they, exactly? Simply put, they are the heart of your book—the thing that drives your character internally—and the thing that keeps your reader invested in your protagonist’s journey. Emotional Stakes also go hand-in-hand with creating tension—something that keeps us turning pages. We’ll discuss emotional stakes, then look at poetry novels for examples of how these are used for the best storytelling possible.

Assignment: Identify the emotional stakes for your character. And: Start drafting! Write two poems (maximum word count: 800 words) from anywhere in your story.

Week Four: Complications for Your Protagonist & Creating Tension

Tension is the thing that keeps us turning pages. Without tension, we can understand a protagonist’s story, but not especially care. How do we make a book that our reader can’t put down?

This week, we examine ways to make your reader care about what your protagonist wants—and whether or not they get it. We will also discover the use of complications—and how that keeps your protagonist evolving.

Assignment:  Draft three to five poems from anywhere in your story (maximum word count: 1,500 words.)

Week Five: Using Free Verse: Metaphors, Imagery, and Perspective

It can be challenging to describe characters, settings, and feelings in any form, including free verse. This week, we look at ways to do exactly that, and to utilize the poetry form to its fullest.

We’ll look at the emotions of fear and grief, as well as the best ways to describe people, objects, and emotions through poetry, all by utilizing the many benefits of free verse, including imagery and metaphors.

Assignment: Draft three poems from anywhere in your story, focusing on the use of imagery, senses, and metaphors. (Maximum word count: 1,500.)

Week Six: Character Development in the Poetry Novel

What makes a character grow? In your story, does your main character rise to the occasion? (Do they need to?) Even failing miserably can connect us to your characters—and that’s important. What’s the best choice for developing your protagonist and drawing us closer to their hearts?

This week, we look for those connections that make us see ourselves in your protagonist.

Assignment: Write three to four poems from anywhere in your novel. Focus on character growth. (Maximum: 1,500 words.)

Week Seven: White Space and Text Arrangement–Get Creative!

One of the most creative tools of writing in verse is the ability to use text upon the white page for silent emphasis. How you arrange text upon the page, as well as the choice in size and font, can all add unspoken emotional depth, as well as storytelling. This week, we’ll learn from poems where the text and white space have been artfully arranged. Why did the author make the creative choices they did? How can you best utilize these elements for your story?

Assignment: Craft three to five poems from anywhere in your story, incorporating the use of text arrangement, white space, or font choices for emphasis. (Maximum word count: 1,500.)

Week Eight: Crafting Satisfying (and earned) Endings

Time to think about the ending to your novel—is it one that will send shivers down the spine of your reader? Evoke tears? Triumph?

How do we craft an ending that makes the journey worthwhile? Simply put: The ending must be ‘earned.’  We’ll talk about “earned” endings and what makes a character memorable. Is it how they dealt with their obstacles? How they’ve grown? What they’ve shown us? We’ll look at some endings from some of the books we’ve read and discuss, and think about how to apply these ideas to your own work.

Assignment: Craft three to five poems (maximum word count: 1,500) from anywhere in our story. Answer two simple questions, designed to help you plan the ending for your novel that will most resonate with your reader.

Why Take a Poetry Novel Writing Course with

  • We welcome writers of all backgrounds and experience levels, and we are here for one reason: to support you on your writing journey.
  • Small groups keep our online writing classes lively and intimate.
  • Work through your weekly written lectures, course materials, and writing assignments at your own pace.
  • Share and discuss your work with classmates in a supportive class environment.
  • Award-winning instructor Kelly Bingham will offer you direct, personal feedback and suggestions on every assignment you submit.

Want to hear more from Kelly on the young adult poetry novel? See her interview.

Learn how to write a verse novel for young adults. Reserve your spot today!


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Student Feedback for Kelly Bingham:

Kelly Bingham is the best teacher I have worked with. She is specific in her critiques. She is kind and patient. Young writers will learn a tremendous amount from Kelly. I feel very blessed to have found her. Wendy Carbo

This course FAR exceeded my expectations. It was my first time taking a writing class and the content of the course helped me to move forward on a project that has been sitting in the back of my mind for years. Kelly was quite simply PHENOMENAL—she was open, responsive, encouraging, and peppered her lively sense of humor through the critiques and lessons. Gwendolyn Robles

This course exceeded my expectations! I'm so glad I found it. Kelly was very generous with her feedback, offering many thoughtful suggestions and comments. Over 6 weeks, I completely restructured my manuscript with Kelly's help, and it is now a much stronger story. I've taken other picture book writing courses, but this course was by far the most helpful. Heather OConnor

I truly appreciated Kelly as a teacher. Her comments and suggestions were extremely helpful. The lessons were very informative and helpful as well. I am so glad I took this course. Ksenia Winnicki

This course was a great step-by-step instruction for someone like me who has never written a book. Kelly was great to work with, very knowledgeable and helpful. Jodi Tormey

Kelly is an excellent teacher. She is encouraging, thoughtful and so inspirational. I felt that she really worked with me on a close personal level, and her feedback was very helpful. The tutorials were very good, with lots of examples and clear key points. Joining this course with Kelly has given me much more confidence as a writer. Kathleen de Mengel

The teacher was very good. Kelly is patient and gave many excellent suggestions. She was also very responsive and thorough. Tobias Vogelstein

The course was well laid out and challenging. Kelly's lecture were well-crafted and packed with useful information. I had a great experience! Michele Noble

Really positive experience. Kelly was a wonderful teacher, with lots of guidance and positivity. Paula McEvenue

Kelly Bingham gave great editing advice, her lessons were chock full of information, and she was very pleasant and encouraging. I know my story is so much better because of this class and Kelly! Joan Jensen

An interesting class. Exceptionally organized. Lots of information and a caring knowledgeable teacher. Kelly ran a class that offered a wealth of knowledge, and was always supportive and willing to offer insights. I enjoyed the class immensely. Ariela Zucker

Kelly Bingham is very encouraging and positive. My writing improved and I received great comments, insight, and feel more confident about my story. Genevieve Bardwell

Great course, great experience–and all for a great price. Highly recommended. Meg Eden

Kelly was terrific as a teacher. Available, open, honest and also caring with her comments and feedback. Kelly was extremely helpful and willing and open to discuss her comments and lessons as well as the books on the reading list. The lessons were presented on time and her feedback by email and in the forums was terrific and timely. The course material was well-organized with many wonderful examples provided for each lesson. And a great reading list. Suzanne Purvis

Kelly is an excellent teacher. Her lectures were fabulous, and her approach was both professional and generous. I felt encouraged and challenged every week, and I have a much better understanding of this genre because of her guidance. Barbara Santucci

Kelly is so obviously an expert in her area. I loved her personable and positive approach to critique and feedback. This is a rigorous writing class. However, that’s what I wanted. I really feel that I gained a lot of insight and skill during this time. I already have recommended these classes to friends. : ) Heather Woodward

March 27, 2024
8 Weeks



Kelly Bingham is the author of two award-winning poetry novels: Shark Girl and Formerly Shark Girl, both published by Candlewick Press. Kelly is also the author of two award-winning picture books: Z Is For Moose and the sequel, Circle, Square, Moose, published by HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Both are illustrated by Caldecott Award-winning artist Paul O. Zelinsky.

Kelly’s YA poetry novel, Shark Girl, was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club for Kids, and was nominated by the American Library Association for Best Book for Young Adults. It won the Iowa Teen Choice Award, and was nominated for the Truman Award, The Schneider Family Book Award, and the Rebecca Caudill Award.

Shark Girl was also nominated for the Golden Sower Award, the Black-Eyed Susan Award, the South Dakota Teen Book Award, and the Florida Book Award. Shark Girl was chosen by School Library Journal as a “quick pick for reluctant readers.”

Formerly Shark Girl, the sequel to Shark Girl, was published in 2013, after years of requests by readers for more of Jane’s story. It earned a starred review in Kirkus and was chosen for Bank Street’s Best Book for Children.

Both of Kelly’s “Moose” picture books have been featured in the New York Times. Z Is For Moose received six starred reviews, was the winner of the Delaware Blue Hen Award, an ALA Notable Book, a Booklist Editor’s Choice for Best Books, winner of a special award from The Horn Book, a Best Book by Shelf Awareness, and winner of the Oppenheim Award. Circle, Square, Moose was named a Best Book by Kirkus, a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, and was nominated for the UKLA Award in Australia.

Kelly holds a master’s degree in writing for children from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Before becoming an author, she spent twelve years as a storyboard artist in the story department at Walt Disney Feature Animation, working on films that include Hercules, Atlantis, The Emperor’s New Groove, Gnomeo and Juliet, and Tarzan.  She lives in Georgia.