It scares some writers.
Others can't write without it.
If it's good, it's brilliant.
Anything less than perfect, the whole story's shot.
What is it?
I edit and critique a lot of rhyming stories and picture books as a freelancer and a judge at Rate Your Story (which aren't always the greatest). BUT...as a mom and rhyme-lover I read a lot of excellent rhyming books, too.
I've worked on the craft of rhyming for years, and thus wanted to share with you a Perfect Picture Book written in rhyme and some of the most common weaknesses I see when freelance editing rhyme.
1) The rhyming words are too simple and/or uncreative, or too predictable.
Stop rhyming me and bee. Rhyme trout and stout, or pickle and fickle.
2) The second line (or fourth line) of a stanza is just a means to get a rhyme and doesn't add to the story.
Stop forcing your rhyme. If you can't find a good rhyme, "kill your darling" and write a new first line that ends with a different word. Put the tough-to-rhyme words in the middle if you have to.
3) The syntax is inverted to force a rhyme.
See above. What writers could publish 50 years ago probably won't land you a contract today. Which brings me to number #4.
4) The author doesn't read many recently-published rhyming picture books.
Pick up a book by Karma Wilson, Jill Esbaum, Marsha Wilson Chall, Lisa Wheeler, Lori Degman, or ask your librarian to recommend some great books in rhyme published in the last 5-10 years.
5) The author doesn't know how to scan their own poetry.
Do you know what meter is? A foot? An iamb? (I could go on). A stanza where the first line is 21 syllables and the second is 8, the third is 17 and the last is 11 won't work (this is an actual example of something I once edited).
6) In their head, the rhythm is perfect. But no one else has read it ALOUD.
Have others read it aloud to you. Don't interrupt. Don't read it to them first. Don't let them read it on paper before the read-aloud. Repeat process many times with many readers.
7) The author doesn't listen to the reason of their critique group/editor/etc. regarding rhyme.
Critique group members may seem too nit-picky sometimes. So can editors (trust me, I'm my own pickiest editor). But remember - they're all trying to help you! They're on your side. Whether free or hired, they're trying to hold you back from submitting or self-publishing rhymes that are not brilliant. You want brilliant.
Now, on to Perfect Picture Book Friday.
You've guessed it...a rhyming picture book!
Title: Animal Strike at the Zoo (It's True!)
Author: Karma Wilson
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2006
Illustrator: Margaret Spengler
Genre: Fiction, Rhyme
Themes: Labor, Strike, Animals, Humor, Zoo, Duty
First Page (though every page gets better): There’s an animal strike at the zoo, it’s true! / The headlines are telling it all. / The animals quit, “That’s it! We’re through.” / Say all critters from biggest to small.
Why I chose it: The rhyme is perfect, the story is funny and thoughtful and it actually introduces a topic that a teacher or mother can use as a segue to nonfiction (labor strikes have been a big issue in my home state of Wisconsin for the past year).
Resources: Karma Wilson's Webpage about this book, Karma's "Write Your Own Silly Poem" activity, free zoo coloring pages for kids, Labor Union resources for teachers
What is Perfect Picture Book Friday? Read more at Susanna Hill's Blog.
Comments Welcome: Are you a rhyme-writer? A rhyme-reader? Did you love this book? Got rhyming tips to share? Comments are open below.