I’ve gone on and on, in the past, about lining up loads of fresh readers for your rhyming picture books in order to make sure your verse rolls right off the tongue and that no rhyme or rhythm trips your reader out of your story.
But I haven’t spoken much about when to rhyme.
I’ve used vague parameters like:
Does the story have to rhyme?
Is it somehow made better because of the rhyme?
I recently critiqued a funny, funny picture book manuscript in which the rhythm and rhyme scheme were nearly perfect. This author was obviously comfortable with poetry and had a great ear for it. The premise was absolutely darling and the illustration potential rich. And while the text was perhaps one verse too long, I didn’t see the common rhyming PB manuscript problem of adding hundreds of words for the sake of the rhyme.
But something was bugging me. Hmmmmm …
So I had to wonder if in this very funny story, the perfect rhyme was making it feel almost too … um … perfect. I wondered if, as it flowed out like a song, it was losing the clever quirkiness that the premise inspired. In other words, while the rhyme was perfect, was the rhyme fitting the story?
Then just last week I revisited a manuscript that has aroused some interest from one of my editors. I’ve refrained from submitting it because it wasn’t feeling quite right. My main character’s one-sided conversation was falling flat. And while the premise and possible pictures were working, the text lacked the energy that matched the story.
The opening line/title that caught my editors attention had a certain punch and rhythm. The scenes had a cause and effect thread that lent well to a bit of repetition. That’s when I decided, this story needed to rhyme.
But I worried that in the perfection of the rhyme, I’d lose that clever quirkiness that the premise inspired. Sound familiar?
That’s when it becomes about voice and word choice. Whether you write in poetry or prose, your tone must match your story. So as I built verse after verse around my narrative, I was careful to choose snappy, cropped kid words that reflect my MC. My goal – that the story rolls along, scene after scene, antic after antic in a completely readable romp and the rhyme disappears.
Because after all, it’s not about being a brilliant poet right? It’s about a kid loving a book and sometimes not even being aware of all the many reasons why.
For more today on rhyming PBs, check out Tara Lazar’s blog.
Great post, Jean! I totally agree – not all stories should be told in rhyme – no matter how perfect the rhyme and meter. It's funny how, sometimes rhyme can make it easier to tell your story and to be funny and surprising and sometimes it's like writing while wearing a straightjacket!
Great analogy, Lori. Straightjacket indeed.