I’m excited to have a guest blogger today to share some tips on writing rhyme for kids. Tiffany Strelitz is a children’s writer and critiquer who has always had a passion for the art of rhyme.
Rhyme is a beautiful thing. Except when it’s not.
Stringing together rhyming sentences is only the tip of the iceberg. Great rhyming picture books result from the seamless integration of story telling, perfect meter, bouncy rhythm, and last but not least, the rhyming words.
Below you will find a mix of tips, tricks, and tests that should help you not only gauge where you may stand as a rhyming picture book author, but also elevate your work to the next level. Here we go!
1) Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.
Aka: THE most important rule of all
Like a figure skater gliding across the ice, executing leaps, spins, and perfect landings, the words of a rhyming PB should flow effortlessly from the reader’s mouth—never forcing him or her to stumble, reread, or create awkward pronunciations to fit the rhythm.
Test: Here’s a simple test you can run to check on the accuracy of your word stresses: Pick a line in your story. Any line. Put it alone on a page and read it out loud. What syllables do you stress? Capitalize them so you don’t forget. Now put the line back into the context of your story, and read it out loud again. Are you still stressing the same syllables? If so…awesome! If not, rewrite that line. Period.
Additional test: Read through your entire story out loud while tapping your toe like a metronome. You should be able to bounce right along through the whole thing with no stumbling. Is it working? Good! Not so much? Go back to the first test:
MON-sters are a SPOO-ky bunch
a SCAR-y, hairy GROUP.
They RUN in packs, leave GI-ant tracks
and DINE on eyeball SOUP.
Do you hear the consistency of the meter in the stanza above? Can you tap your toe right through it? Do you hear how every stress is completely natural? Note that each couplet has the same number of stressed beats as well. If we mix up a few words, we can see the stanza completely fall out of rhythm (as well as the consistency of the number of stresses that occur):
Monsters are spooky as can be
A scary group.
They run in packs, leave tracks
and dine on bone soup.
Do you hear how many unnatural stresses the reader is forced to insert in order to get through the stanza?
MON-sters are SPOO-ky AS can BE
a SCAR-y group.
They RUN in packs, LEAVE tracks
and dine on BONE soup.
That’s the way I would be forced to pronounce the words. Unnatural stresses are everywhere: AS, LEAVE, BONE…. You wouldn’t naturally stress any of those if you were saying the same sentences one by one. (Try it!) And as a result of the awkward reading, it’s tough (I’d argue impossible) to get lost in the story.
Tip: These tests are even more helpful if you have an objective party read your manuscript FOR you while you listen and take notes on where they stumble, etc.
2) Step right up and pick a meter….any meter….
Did you choose the right meter in the first place? Different meters definitely lend themselves better to different stories. Try starting your story with a few meters before you commit to one.
Tip: The right rhythm will make your whole book fall together beautifully. Experiment and see the difference! (PS: I cannot lie. This is HARD.)
3) Syllables are your friends!
Scan through your manuscript. Does every rhyming word contain exactly one syllable? Play, day, say, hay, may? No way!
Trick: Sprinkle some two- and three-syllable rhymes throughout your story to make for a more enjoyable read AND expose children to a broader vocabulary!
4) Story first. Rhyme second. Period.
This is critical. When you write a rhyming picture book, your number-one priority should not be to make it rhyme. Your number-one priority should be to write the most beautiful, humorous, silly, lovely, heartwarming (insert adjective of your choice here) story you can…that just so happens to rhyme.
In other words: rhyme shmime. Without a solid, well-paced storyline, believable character development, real conflict/resolution and a strong open and close, who really cares if it rhymes?
Test: Be honest with yourself. Take any (or perhaps every) line in your manuscript. Would you have written those words if your story didn’t have to rhyme? Would your main character have said that, done that, felt that if your story didn’t have to rhyme? Make sure your answer is YES 100% of the time. If it’s not…scrap the line immediately and rewrite.
Little Molly took her dolly
out to drink some tea.
She tripped and fell and dropped her doll,
and then she said, “oh gee!”
I can’t tell you how many times I come across verses like this when I do critiques. The verse is completely unnecessary to the story (or at the least the final two lines are), which causes the rhyme to feel forced. I guarantee, it is nothing they would have ever written if they weren’t searching for a rhyme.
We can replace the last line with: “beneath the chestnut tree.”
This adds purpose to the verse (description of where the doll landed), which saves the rhyme from sounding forced. Can you feel the difference?
Well, there you have it. A light smattering of tips, tricks, and tests to help gauge the level of your rhyming manuscript. I hope you’ve found these useful, and remember: Rhyme is a tricky but wonderful thing. When it’s bad, it’s a mess; when it’s right, it will sing. Happy writing!!
Tiffany’s obsession with rhyme began at the age of 3, when a nursery school admissions scout asked her, “What is a flower that rhymes with nose?” and she proudly shouted: “Rose!” Twenty-five years later (give or take), now married with two sons and coming off of a long career in finance, she has reconnected with her love of words and rhyme as a writer.
To learn more about Tiffany, visit her website at www.itsrhymetime.com or visit her on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/tshauthor. And, if you write rhyme and need that objective third party to review your work, contact her for a critique quote. She can help you fine tune and find your rhythm!