Setting and plot/character in poetry

Writing question of the day: Is setting in poetry, especially YA poetry, as important as setting in either fiction or non-fiction?

Just as setting in non-fiction and fiction, setting in poetry has a purpose and importance. However, the difference, especially in YA poetry or novels in verse, is the focus on the main character’s thoughts and feelings and less so on the setting surrounding them. The setting plays a part, of course, but it is not an equal to the part of the thoughts and feelings and needs of the main character. This leads to a greater emphasis on plot and character.

I recommend reading Far From You by Lisa Schroeder as an example of YA poetry setting. There was plenty of setting shared, but the words used to describe it were carefully chosen. Yet you felt as strongly to the car and woods they were stuck in, the stepmother’s parent’s house, and the record store where boyfriend Blaze worked and hotel they went to that they did not feel any less important. It’s not pages and pages of prose, but it’s letting you into the character’s mind to show how they felt about the setting to make it stronger with less words.

But what there was more of in Far From You was plot (a very strong plot) and character development. The plot, which focused on a teenage girl dealing with a new stepmother and stepsister after the death of her mother, was very strong. Yes, this book had the dead mother syndrome. But it added with the impending crisis of being stuck in the woods.

The same goes for character development. There was a strong main character whose voice was heard throughout. I felt her pain and her denial and her acting out as it happened. Main character Alice had her own wants, needs, and issues she needed to work through during the story.

There were also very strong supporting characters – her best friend, her boyfriend, her stepmother. However, although her father was a very important figure in her life, as a character I felt he was extremely underdeveloped. Perhaps this was purposeful.

I most equate YA poetry with YA fiction. You need to have a strong character and a strong plot to really pull the manuscript along. You probably even need your MC to have a stronger voice than usual, especially if they are the narrator of their lyrical poem.

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