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But heck, I like it, because your smile will be wider after you visit RhymeWeaver…
Many kidlit writers hear “don’t rhyme” from picture book editors. It’s not that editors hate rhyme (well, maybe SOME do), it’s just that they see badly-executed rhyme so often in the slush, it’s easier to discourage it. Common rhymes like “me, see” and “you, two” and other one-syllable predictability can kill the joy of a story.
Remember “Celebrity Apprentice” when the men’s team gleefully authored “I know my A, B, C’s and my 1, 2, 3’s” as if it hadn’t been regurgitated in a googolplex of board books? They thought it was a rhyme worthy of victory and publication. Well, they did win the challenge, but the book Trump promised to publish was released by a vanity press, not a traditional publisher. No publisher was gonna touch it, ten foot pole or not.
Editors also see a lot of rhyme with flawed meter. Meter is a tricky thing. There’s stressed and unstressed syllables, plus the lilt of natural speech patterns that can render your meter more choppy than Zoanette Johnson’s drumming. If you read your own rhyme aloud, you might not even hear how off it is, because you are forcing yourself to follow the pattern [you think] you created.
Then there’s the near-rhyme mistake, when the words don’t really rhyme at all, unless you twist your tongue or alter your accent. Like “hat” and “what” or “hat” and “back”. Once or twice and you can maybe get away with it. More than that and the editor may assume you need the WaxVac.
Moreover, writers can find their story dictated by rhyme, getting trapped in nonsensical situations simply because “dishwasher” rhymes with “impostor” (almost). It’s obvious when a plot decision has been forced based upon one word.
For these reasons, editors will advise, “don’t rhyme”.
For these reasons, author Lane Fredrickson created RhymeWeaver.com.
Lane is the author of WATCH YOUR TONGUE, CECILY BEASLEY, a rhyming picture book with a joyfully jaunty rhyme. Remember as a child when you stuck out your tongue and a parent warned, “It will get stuck that way!” Well, Cecily finds herself in that very predicament. Hilarity ensues when a bird takes up residence on Cecily’s perfect pink perch. What’s Cecily to do?
Knowing the difficulty of rhyme for picture book writers, Lane created RhymeWeaver.com to teach the bard-challenged the complexities of rhyming well.
Lane, your rhyme is perfection! How did you get to be so good at it?
Ha. Thank you, Tara.
The short answer would be: a gnawing question and a genetic glitch.
But there is also the long answer. When I first joined SCBWI, everybody seemed to be telling everyone else NOT to write in rhyme, like there was a disease associated with it. You know, literary sarcoma or writer’s blockjaw. You almost didn’t want to admit you were a rhymer lest they sit in some quarantined section and slap a scarlet R on your forehead. The other thing I kept hearing was that a person’s rhyme had to be PERFECT. I wanted to write PERFECT rhyme, but I could never get a really good answer as to what PERFECT rhyme was. This is the kind of scenario that drives a slightly obsessive-compulsive person to behaving obsessively compulsive. So I googled around and studied my Seuss and found a website that offered critiques for $50. The critique, although well-intentioned, was just plain bad advice involving “counting syllables.” And don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely given bad advice (but I’m pretty sure it was free when I did it). I totally get that sometimes bad advice seems good because it comes from multiple sources, but “counting syllables” is not the way to perfect meter and I had (being slightly obsessive compulsive) already figured that out. So I went back to school thinking I’d take a poetry class and clear up the PERFECT meter issue. But the thing about college is they don’t tell you what you want to know, they tell you whatever they want to tell you. So it took a BA in English and healthy stab at an MA in British Lit to figure it out that meter is a lot of things, but PERFECT is rarely one of them (I only stabbed at the MA, I haven’ t killed it yet).
What inspired you to put all your rhyming knowledge into a website?
I watched a lot of people go through exactly what I went through: trying to figure out the rules, trying to decide if writing in rhyme was worth the stigma, trying to find complete resources that explained everything. I have a degree in psychology, where I focused on cognition and development (which is the opposite of those people who ask you to talk about your problems). Cognitive and developmental psychologists look at how people think and how they grow, mature, and learn. I knew that I could show meter in a way that’s visual and image-based. I knew that I could break it down into constituent parts in a way that I had never seen done. I knew that I could make it easier to grasp. But I wanted it to be free because I’m trying to improve the status of rhyme in the literary world and the more people who rhyme well, the less it looks like I have a disease.
Lane’s website has already helped this ruined rhymer who can’t hear meter even if I got whacked upside the head with it. So I encourage you to pay RhymeWeaver.com a visit, Pin it, share it, study it, LIVE IT. Children deserve better rhyming picture books like CECILY BEASLEY.
And hey, you can WIN CECILY! Just leave a comment telling me about the most interesting thing you learned at RhymeWeaver.com. A winner will be picked randomly in a week (or knowing me and prize distribution, two weeks).
So don’t hesitate, get out there and rhyme, oh Kate! (Sorry if your name isn’t Kate. I had to end on a rhyme.)
One of the most frequently asked questions by new kidlit writers is “why do editors say not to write in rhyme?” There’s plenty of picture books written in rhyme, right? They get published somehow!
Well, the answer is a bit complicated. It’s not that editors don’t necessarily LIKE rhyme. It’s just that it is very difficult to do well. Here’s why:
- Rhyme scheme can dictate story–but shouldn’t. Tales should unfold organically, not be forced into the confines of the rhyme. Often it’s suggested to write in prose first—so you don’t get locked into a plot that doesn’t work—then translate it to rhyme.
- Common rhyme schemes can be stale. Editors see them again and again. Avoid overly simple, one-syllable rhyme schemes like go/show/know, to/you, me/be/she/he/see, run/fun/sun, day/may/way/say. If your reader can guess the word at the end of the line before they get there, your rhyme scheme may be too common. Editors want to read rhyme that surprises them.
- Forced rhyme or near-rhyme can ruin a story. This is when words don’t exactly rhyme unless you mispronounce them. Once in a while this is acceptable, but more than a few times in a manuscript and it distracts.
- The meter (or beat) must be spot-on. That doesn’t just mean the number of syllables in each line, but the emphasis on those syllables. Meter shouldn’t be so sing-songy and constant that it lulls the reader to sleep (unless maybe it’s a bedtime book) or so rough that it tongue-ties the reader and forces them to speak unnaturally. Some good rhyming books offer a break in the rhyme scheme for variety—not unlike a bridge in a song.
- Rhyming books are difficult to translate into other languages. An editor may not want to lose out on foreign book sales, so they’ll pass on a rhyming project.
However, if your heart is set on rhyme and if you have a talent for it, you should go for it. At first, Karma Wilson listened to the “don’t rhyme” advice.
“When I first started submitting some 15 years ago all the guidelines said, ‘No rhyme and no talking animals!’ For THREE years I avoided rhyme and talking animals. But guess what my first book sale was? BEAR SNORES ON! And guess what the guidelines said for McElderry books? NO RHYME AND NO TALKING ANIMALS! My passion is rhyme, and talking animals are great as long as they have something interesting to say.”
Yes, you can break the rules like Karma. But get your rhyme critiqued and know whether or not you can nail it.
Me, I’m terrible at rhyme and I know it. I cannot “hear” meter. I’ve tried and failed. My friends have coached me, but I still don’t get the right beat. I can’t dance to it. (I can’t dance anyway. Think Elaine from Seinfeld. Sweet fancy Moses!)
So what is successful rhyme? I’m glad you asked! I’ve got a few examples for you.
In HUSH, LITTLE DRAGON, Boni Ashburn spoofs the lullaby “Hush, Little Baby”. Instead of buying her baby a mockingbird, the mama dragon in the story brings her darling son various villagers to eat. It’s delightfully tongue-in-cheek. Some of the best lines:
Here she comes with a fresh magician.
Don’t mind the taste—he’s good nutrition.
…and later on…
If Mama finds a mean old queen,
Honey, you are lucky—that’s good cuisine!
Notice how these rhymes are out of the ordinary. They’re surprising and fun, plus the words have multiple syllables. She also rhymes “flee” with “fiery” and “bolt” with “revolt”. I challenge you to find these rhymes in another book! You won’t—and that is what makes this story so special.
Jean Reidy’s LIGHT UP THE NIGHT is an example of rhyme that elicits glorious illustrations. Remember that in picture books the art tells half the tale, and these lines create an expansive view of our world (click on image for larger version)…
This is my country, with highlands and plains,
with farmlands and cities and highways and trains…
Notice how there is a break in the rhyme scheme at the end of the stanza—and that line is set apart in the illustration for emphasis. Coincidentally, Jean blogged today about her decision to write in rhyme. Go check it out!
She then gave a swift demonstration
With backflips and butterfly kicks
The wolf looked quite shaken
but hollered, “Yo, Bacon!
I’m not at all scared of your tricks.”
There’s more great piggish laughs (like my favorite “pork-chop” line) but you’ll just have to wait until it’s released in September!
So I hope I’ve provided you with some background on why rhyming picture book manuscripts are a hard sell…but that if they’re done well, they can be spectacular.
What are some of your favorite rhyming picture books? Please share in the comments!