Saturday, October 29, 2011

RHYMING RUMBLE - How to write rhyme and meter that doesn't suck!

Okay, Mates, I'm on a Rumble 
Rhyme and Meter

Why are so many people convinced they can write wonderful rhyming stories?


A bunch of the manuscripts that land on my critique desk are picture books written in rhyme and meter.  I'm afraid many of them fail the "3" test.  These are the three basic ingredients for a delightfully rhyming picture book:

            A great story, smooth meter, and
            rhyming words that REALLY fit the story.

I write rhyming picture books myself  - 10 of them actually. Yet I really can't take credit for my rhyming talent.  You see, when the rhyme and meter gene was being handed out,  I suspect I slipped in for a second helping.  And over the years, I discovered that writing in rhyme and meter is similar to singing in key.  You either hit the high notes with ease, or you slide around them - hit or miss. 

 So if you can write awesome stories in plain text, why get an ulcer, or tear out your hair, trying to master the elusive art of words that rhyme and meter that flows.   Trust me - there are less angst ridden ways to torture yourself!

Editors do not hate stories written in rhyme.

They simply hate all those rhyming manuscripts,
with really lousy rhyme and meter,
that hit their desks.

SO . . .
You still long to join the Rhyming Rumble - gene spliced or not?

Then for those masochists determined to bleed or go bald,
here are my tips for hopefully creating
rhyming stories that don't suck!

* The first thing to remember is that you need a great story.  Cool
   rhyme and meter only win accolades when they blend into a terrific
   story.  The story also needs to HOOK a child’s interest, and be
   easily understood.

* Counting the syllables in each line helps you write smooth and even
Every first line should have close to the same syllable count –
   no more than one difference
- either way.

* Note where the stress words fall as you read the lines out loud. 
  They should fall in the
same places as those on the corresponding
   line in your first verse.

* Keep the mufti-syllable words in roughly the same place in every
   line of each verse.

* The rhyming words must fit the story and move it on to the next

* When you or someone else reads it out loud, wherever you stumble
   suspect a meter problem.

* Choose a verse that has perfect meter, print it out, and make it your
   "blueprint."  Compare the meter in each new verse you write with
    that in the blueprint -  line for line.

And finally, visit the mistress of rhyme - 
Dori Chaconas

If Dori's two simple discourses on Writing Rhyme don't turn you
into a Shelley or a Keats,  quit while you still have 
a few drops of blood left and some
stray hairs on your head.

And, just for a giggle, my ODE to rhyme and meter:

    Rhyme and Meter Rumble. . .

    There are people who think rhyme is easy to churn.
    They know all the answers - they don't want to learn.
    They think rhyming stories are done in a flash.
    No need for a rewrite: "How dare you say trash!"

    The brash and unruly don't search for strong verbs,
    Their tired old adjectives pop up in herds.
    But editors know that a rhyme flies on wings
    That lifts up the reader with meter that sings.

    Their syllable count is way off -- for the birds!
    Why bother to count, or weed the dumb words.
   Yet when tart rejection slips paper their walls,
   It begins to sink in -- meter's not found at malls.

    But to weave a great story with meter and plot,
    Interesting characters, setting, the lot,
    Takes talent and patience, and three things quite rare -
    A dash of sheer brilliance, hard work, and care.

    The plot and the characters live in your head,
    And problems galore get you out of your bed.
    If you keep the poor meter that doesn't quite fit,
    Will you get a rejection instead of a hit?

    The words that rhyme easy, but don't help the plot,
    Make editors crazy -- they see this a lot.
    Rhyme needs to blend in, so a story can glide:
    Cool fun and action, on a rhyme/meter tide

    There'll be nit-picking nights, thesaurus in hand.
    Daytime dilemmas -- will it rhyme like you planned?
    And, who stole the words that fit your last line?
    You tear out your hair, and chug down some wine

    Like honey that flows from a summer-warmed hive,
    Story and meter must be golden to thrive.
    The characters perfect, the rhyme must fit well.
    All blended together -- a pleasure to tell.

    Yes, rhyme for a quick note IS done in a flash,
    But if you crave editors offering cash,
    Please, put in the time, and the sweat, and the tears.
    And you could be published in oh . . .  say ten years!






  1. Margot, fun post. The only rhyming story I've written was one where I imitated the meter of Old King Cole.

  2. I love this, you are a natural at rhyming and meter. Those interested need to study from you.

  3. Lots of good advice here, Margot. I've had a few rhymes published. One of my favorites was based on a poem in Shakespeare's Loves Labour's Lost. I think you're right about learning from the masters.

  4. Thanks so much ladies. If it comes naturally writing rhyming books is FUN. But if not, well. . . it can be hard and frustrating work.

    * Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques
    * Virtual School Visits

  5. Excellent advise on writing in rhyme. I have dabbled, but was never really sure on technique, other than just listening, reading it aloud, etc.
    Thanks for the helpful tips.

  6. One problem you don't mention is that people with various accents and dialects may pronounce words with different numbers of syllables or put the emphasis on different ones. That means meter that works for one reader may be off for another. It's not easy to take that into account.

  7. I love this. I am finishing up an alphabet book manuscript that is written in rhyme. It has been evolving for ten years or more. Fortunately I have had these concepts pretty firmly instilled into me my my English teacher dad and several others who have critiqued and encouraged me along the way. We'll see what happens when I send it out. I hope it doesn't take another ten years at my age.

  8. Fun, fun post! Thanks for the many tips - in rhyme, no less!

  9. Thanks for your comments Donna, Janice, Janet and Suzanne. Much appreciated, mates.

    *Good luck with your alphabet book Janice.

    * Janet, what you mention about regional accents can also affect the rhyming words. Writers of rhyme and meter can not cater to every dialect in a country. They must write using the accepted traditional pronunciation for that place - not the various sub dialects that occur.

    * Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  10. What a fun post! I absolutely love your Rhyme and Meter Rumble. . .

    What a great talent you have for Rhyme and meter and putting a smile on my face! Thanks for the chuckle.

  11. Allyn, thanks a bunch, mate. I think kids retain information that is set in rhyme faster than that in straight text. I am sure I would have done far better in math if the tables had been set in rhyming verses!!

    Margot's Magic Carpet