I write poems. I write picture books, too. But it's not often that I bring them together to produce a picture book completely in rhyme.
Why not? Here's a little poem of explanation.
Picture book writers are told: "Publishers don't like rhyme." But judging by the number of rhyming picture books in the market, that statement cannot be factual. I think the truth behind the statement may be summarized by one editor's admission. "It's not that I don't like rhyme," she said. "It's just that I don't know how to fix rhyme." With sentiment stacked against rhymers, I usually begin my picture book stories in prose.
But once in awhile, a story comes along that wants to rhyme. That demands to rhyme. Stomps its foot (in pounding iambic pentameter) until I finally give in.
|Photo by Julian King|
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Now, I know the basic rules of writing a picture book in rhyme:
1) Perfect the meter.
2) Avoid near or contrived rhymes.
3) Don't twist syntax to make a rhyme fit.
4) Make sure the story comes first.
But there's more to it than that. Since my latest manuscript is a rhyme-demander, I've been doing my homework to figure out what makes a masterful rhyming picture book. Here's my process.
Step 1 -- Gather Books
Step 2 -- Read and Sort
The manuscript I'm working on is story-driven, so I weed out the books that are more concept-based. The concept books are wonderful, but I need to see how story and rhyme come together. Some of the authors that end up in my "story" pile are Julia Donaldson, Karma Wilson, Lisa Wheeler, Jill Esbaum and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.
Step 3 -- Study
I re-read the remaining books, both silently and aloud. I ask my kids to read them to me. I type out several of them. I revel in brilliant rhythm and rhyme, but I also study other things:
Step 4 -- Discover!
Here's what I've discovered so far:
• Many texts are longer than I thought they'd be -- over 700 words, 36 or even 40 pages long.
• The most common stanza structure is the quatrain.
• The most common rhyme scheme is ABCB.
• Clever page turns help move story forward. One effective method is to end a page with the penultimate word of a stanza. The reader wants to complete the rhyme and hurries to turn the page.
• I like when authors shake things up a bit. Some use a refrain that has a shorter or longer structure. Some vary stanza length (e.g. one written in couplets throws in a tercet every so often). Some use action words, noises or dialogue to interrupt the flow.
"But isn't that spoiling the rhythm?" you might ask. Well, too steady of a rhythm can lull a reader to sleep. That's great for a bedtime book, but not so great for lively stories.
• In the best books, every line works to move the story forward. (No gratuitous lines in order to complete a rhyme!)
I know the information I'm learning will guide me in writing a rhyming picture book. Do you have a story that demands rhyme, too? Go for it! But make it behave the way you want it to.
I spent several years writing bad rhyming picture book manuscripts and reverse engineering critique partners' responses to figure out how to do good rhyme. It's taken years of studying and practice, but it *can* be done.ReplyDelete
Good luck to you, Miss Patricia!
Thank you! It does take a lot of work, but it's enjoyable work. Good luck with your rhymers, too. :)Delete
I have a couple of picture book manuscripts that demand to be rhymed. I keep working on them. One of these days they will get to where they need to be. Thanks for a great post.ReplyDelete
Glad you liked it, Rosi. Keep at it! We can make those rhyming texts work!Delete
Patty, Your method of studying the type of rhyming book you want to read is very doable. Actually getting rhyme right is harder. I agree there ARE stories that just come out in rhyme. I have one right now that'a a board book. After RhyPiBoMo, I thought I knew enough not to attempt a rhyming book until I had the "basics" mastered, but yet, this thing demands it and I am actually having fun w/it.ReplyDelete
Glad you're having fun with it, Kathy. It's a challenge to work in rhyme, but a fun one!Delete
Great blog, Patricia :) I am not a rhymer and when I think a story calls for it (and I try to rhyme) I always fail miserably. I will give your advice a go-thank you :)ReplyDelete
Hello, my LA friend! Rhyme can be tricky, but practice and study can help, I think. Hope all is well with you and your writing.ReplyDelete
I have a picture book that rhymes. It is ABCB. When you get to the crux of the story the quatrains in a few stanzas become one line longer. Critique groups have been harsh that it all has to be quatrains. As you point out, occasionally it is good to mix it up. I have done that with purpose to move the story along, and, as each character speaks, they get a new line. Quatrains at the crux of the story just does not work!ReplyDelete
JB, check out Karma Wilson's books. BEAR SNORES ON and SAKES ALIVE! A CATTLE DRIVE are just two that have changes in rhythm. Good luck with the picture book!Delete
Rhyme makes little sense to me, but I enjoy reading wonderful rhyme. I dislike forced rhyme. An editor, an agent and an author (at three different workshops at a recent conference) mentioned that rhyme is difficult, because it can't be sold to foreign markets...This was the first year, I've heard the "reason to reject rhyme" put in those terms.ReplyDelete
That's true and a very good point, Stacy. It's rare when a rhyming text is translated into another language, but it can be done -- I've seen Julia Donaldson's GRUFFALO in rhymed German, and it's terrific. I admit that I'm thankful I can rhyme in the English language because the market is a pretty big one.Delete
Patty: As an educator I always taught my little ones how to read using word families [words with the same vowel sound]. So, I thought I could write in rhyme. Well . . . I have much to learn. I appreciate the steps you have shared and look forward to giving your suggestions a try. Kids love to hear the music in poetry as it seems to sing. They delight in the anticipation of the rhyming words. Research shows that children who listen to poetry become better readers. ~SuzyReplyDelete
"...children who listen to poetry become better readers." Love that, Suzy!Delete
Great pointers, Patty! And timely for me -- I have one PB that's waffling on whether it wants to rhyme or not, and another that insists it needs to rhyme. Both can use help from your post! Thank you!ReplyDelete
Those PBs that want to rhyme can really nag you, can't they Christy? Good luck with both books!ReplyDelete
Great observations of already-written rhyming books. Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
This visit on the topic of rhyme.
Luv it Patty. Appreciations!
Good post. From someone who likes to write in rhyme...sometimes.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Tina, Jan and Evelyn. Rhyme on!ReplyDelete
This is a master course in rhyming picture books. What a gift you've given to us as GROGGERS and to our GROG readers. Thank you! I am printing out your post and putting it in my writing journal so that when I am brave enough to attempt a picture book in rhyme I will have your outstanding tips.
What a spot-on post you've provided for beginner and still-working-on-it PB rhymers. Especially loved the part about changing up rhythm to avoid a blasé text, since I've experienced the same feed-back about "keep the beats the same" rule. Thanks!ReplyDelete