RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 21
Sherri Duskey Rinker
Today’s guest blogger is a New York Times Best Selling author who has, I’m sure, more award winning picture books up her sleeve! I absolutely love her books and the rhyme in them is…perfection! GOODNIGHT GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE has been mentioned multiple times this month, by multiple authors, as one to read and study as a mentor text.
I am please
Sherri Duskey Rinker.
Picture Book: Read It Out Loud!
As I child, I loved it when people read to me, and I ESPECIALLY loved rhyming books. There was a song-quality in the meter; a special kind of rhythm that allowed the child-me to often predict the final word in the sentence, or to be able to “sing” along with a refrain. There was comfort and great fun in that. So perhaps that’s why, in part at least, I’m particularly attracted to WRITING the read-aloud rhythm that a rhyming book creates.
Many (but not all) of my soon-to-be-picture-books manuscripts are written in verse, at least partially. Why? I’m not completely sure, but to (badly) quote my friend and brilliant fellow author, Andrea Beaty: “That’s just the way a particular story comes to me.” Andrea and I are in agreement here: It’s nearly impossible to turn a verse book into prose. Just like those TV commercial jingles or the refrains of Taylor Swift songs, once it’s in my head, I’m stuck with it. The rhythm has tangled itself into my brain; I can’t unwrap it. But, I can finesse it…
As I’ve written more (and more), I’ve learned a few things along the way, thanks to the insights and assistance of a few spectacular editors. The learning curve has been painful — even excruciating — at times, and I’ve spent countless hours fighting for (and admittedly sometimes boo-hooing over) syllables that an editor assures me must go: sometimes for the sake of the meter, sometimes for the sake of structure. But, with painful experience has come some knowledge, and, for whatever it’s worth, I’d love to share some insights…
First, the easiest and most straightforward tip for creating solid picture book verse is to simply count out the meter:
He came into the house. (6 syllables)
And then he saw a mouse. (6 syllables)
This is a VERY simple example, but it illustrates a good starting point. It’s not a fail-proof system, (and, arguably, it can be a little stale) but it’s a solid place from which to begin. Just keep in mind that rhyming lines can be a syllable or two (or sometimes more) off, and still work, especially if the lines are longer. That’s simply because our typical speech pattern pushes compound words together or speeds though several small one-syllable words, etc. BUT, if you look closely at a book like Anna Dewdney’s Llama, Llama Red Pajama you’ll see that the verse is almost totally mathematical. With almost no exception, there are exactly the same number of syllables in rhyming lines, making it almost impossible to not hit the meter correctly — and making it just one of the reasons that it’s an approachable, enjoyable read-aloud and a great early reader choice.
And now, I come to the title of this post: Since picture books are often read out loud, it seems logical that that’s what we, the writers, need to do. Actually, let me rephrase that: IT’S IMPERATIVE. And, it’s certainly what I do, constantly. And, not only do I read my manuscripts-in-progress aloud ALONE (like some kind of crazy woman constantly speaking to her computer screen as if it’s a small child), I capture everyone I can find and force them to endure bits-and-pieces as I work through the manuscript.
Sample of actual dialog:
Me: I need to read this to you.
Kid: (insert eye roll and huff): Ok.
Me: Bla, bla, bla…
Kid: You read that to me yesterday.
Me: It’s not the same, I revised it.
Kid: Mom, can’t you read it to (other kid) then? You read it to me yesterday.
Me: It’ll just take a second.
Kid: (insert eye roll and huff): Fine.
Me: Bla, bla, bla… Ok, wait, that’s off. Here, ok (scribble note on page) … Let me start over…
Kid: Mom, are we out of Wheat Thins?
Here’s my point: You’ve read it out loud twenty times, but something changes when you read it to someone else. You are trying to get the CONTENT to come across and CREATE INTEREST WITH INFLECTION and, in doing that, you notice issues with the meter. Trying to make your point that the dog is SO FILTHY can throw off the pace of the entire couplet — and it needs to be fixed. (My other point is that my children don’t appreciate me, but that’s a story for another blog post.)
And then, once you’ve annoyed and alienated every person in your inner circle and a few strangers on the street, the next step is: Give it to someone who has never read it, and ask them to read it out loud to you. THIS is where your text is made or broken. THIS is where you discover stops and stumbles that you so smoothly are able to breeze over because it’s so familiar to you. THIS is where you find that you can quickly push together the syllables in “Unappreciated,” while it causes others to read it in such a way that makes the meter of the entire line two beats off. THIS is where you discover that your sister in North Carolina says “tired” as two syllables… (Again, probably a subject for another post…).
My editors tell me that they’ve passed the manuscript and, later, the layout around the office for read-alouds, even in the early/rough layout stages. There’s huge value in that step. My first request with every editor on each new project is this: “Once it is edited and the text is inserted into the layout, I’d like to have someone who has never seen or read it before read it aloud to both of us, on a conference call.” Every editor has been completely open to this step, and it offers both of us the assurance that it will read smoothly for every parent, teacher and librarian who picks it up to read. Sometimes, I request that a syllable be added or removed (take off the word, “then” on that line, or change “big” to “giant.”) Sometimes, we find problems with how the text is set in with the illustration (i.e. The reader didn’t see the word “flea” behind the dog’s ear.). We’ve both seen it so many times that it never occurred to us. But, thankfully, this final step is final peace-of-mind. (And, I’m not sleep-deprived with worry for the next year while it’s being printed and shipped from China.)
My final suggestion is tricky, because editors like their manuscripts formatted a certain way before they send them to copy-editing or off to agents for illustrator look-sees. But, writer-to-writer, I think it’s important that, if you want a certain word/phrase emphasized (bigger, bolder, hand-drawn, etc) or whispered (smaller, lighter, italicized, etc.) for the sake of meter (or content), include that note in your original manuscript and make sure to comment on it occasionally throughout the process. Most illustrators will likely do something special with the word, “EARTHQUAKE!!!” anyway — but it can’t hurt to make your thoughts known.
And so, to simply review: Count it out (literally), read it aloud (to yourself and anyone that will stand still), have someone new read it aloud — in manuscript AND in layout form, make suggestions for the illustrator or typesetter so that the final pages are read correctly.
As completely obvious as this all might seem (and, reading through it, I keep thinking that I’m incredibly dense that it took me so long to figure some of it out!), it’s reflective of a tremendous amount of frustration and trial-and-error. But I can happily report that, as of today, I have ten picture books in various stages of production, so, hopefully, there might be a small fleck of wisdom here that the next writer can find helpful.
Happy writing, happy rhyming!
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Sherri is the author of two #1 bestselling picture books, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train. Cumulatively, these two books have spent over four years on the NYT Bestseller List.
Additionally, Sherri has numerous other projects in production, including Since There Was You, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell (spring 2016) and a sequel to Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site (spring 2017).
Sherri is passionate about children’s literacy and has had a life-long love of books. Her exciting school presentation, “Books Are Magic!” is designed to encourage and support students on the wondrous journey of reading and writing.
RhyPiBoMo 2015 Optional Writing Prompt: 21
This is NOT part of the pledge. It is an option for a writing exercise for those interested. You will not publically share this as part of RhyPiBoMo but may keep a journal of your writing this month for your own review.
Today’s writing prompt is to choose your favorite rhyming picture book manuscript and read it out loud 20 times.
Next, find 5 people to read it out loud to you while you mark where they stumble or trip and on the words.
Revise and repeat until it is flawless!
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Hmmm…I wonder what it is? Hee Hee!
Congratulations to Week 4 Prize Winners
Monday Manuscript Critique by Kristy Dempsey(Under 500 words)
Winner – Stephanie Salkin
Tuesday Copy of BLUE ON BLUE Donated by Dianne White
Winner – Charlotte Dixon
Wednesday Copy of A POETRY HANDBOOK Donated by Dianne White
Winner – Carrie Charley Brown
Thursday Manuscript Critique by Lori Mortensen (under 1000 words)
Winner – Al Lane
Friday Copy of The 20th CENTURY CHILDREN’S POETRY TREASURE Donated by Dianne White
Winner – Sherri Jones Rivers
Winners, PLEASE message me your information on Facebook
or email it to Angiekarcherrpbm@gmail.com
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Do you enjoy writing rhyming picture books?
Do you find rhyme challenging?
Do you want to pep up your prose with poetic techniques?
Then this is the class for you!
Writing in Rhyme to WOW! is a 4 week course,
M-F with daily lessons, writing prompts, rhyme journaling, creating tools you will use, group poetry readings, webinars and critique groups, and a one-on-one webinar critique with Angie.
Each class begins on the first Monday of the month and the weekly group webinars are on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, (Chicago Time) or at a time that best suits the group due to time zones of those involved.
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If you register now for June or July, I will give you the $99.00 price!
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Thank you Tanja Bauerle for these gorgeous images!!!
61 thoughts on “RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 21 Sherri Duskey Rinker”
Comment from Cynthia Cheng: Thank you for your post. I especially liked that you gave us a very basic step to being with, for us new poets.
Btw, Good Night, Good Night, Construction Sight was one of my Friday faves during RhyPiBoMo. =)
Wonderfully helpful post, Thank you Sherri. Now to put it into practice.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Sherri. It’s quite helpful for those of us who are trying to figure poetry out 🙂
Very interesting. I read this post a few times to make sure it sunk in. Thanks!
Thanks for the post. I am always reading my stories out loud. But I know that I can make anything work, so I have to get others to read it too. Katie Gast
Thanks Sherri. I read out loud so much that now I hear-
Kid: Mom you should write a book about this (whatever they are doing at the moment)
I’m in their heads!
Oh, Sherri, I love the dialogue you shared with your child when you needed a listening ear for a read aloud! Having others read my story aloud to me is always helpful, also.
Ellen Izenson – Thank you, Sherri! Great post! I especially loved your imagined dialogue with your child.
Such a great post. Filing this away for future reference. I make my kids and sister read my manuscripts as well. Poor souls. — Annie Bailey
Thanks for some great advice. I hope to one day ask an editor to have someone read my manuscript out loud over a conference call. Can’t wait!
Thank you Sherri, as an ex primary school teacher I have spent hours reading out loud. You can always tell when the children are bored as you hear the rustle of the fidgeting