If you’ve ever delved into rhyme, you know rhyming can be a complicated business. Not only is there a boatload of elements to consider such as true rhymes, near rhymes, forced rhymes, end rhymes, and internal rhymes, but there’s also a slew of specific rhyming patterns with names like iamb, trochee, anapest, dactyl, and spondee. (If you know these terms, you definitely deserve some extra rhyming brownie points!)
The good news is–you don’t have to know these terms to write fun, frolicking stories in rhyme.
For me, writing in rhyme is all about the rhythm. As a former dance major, I’m drawn to the rhythm of the words and the beat they create when they’re spoken aloud. When I first began writing in rhyme, I thought it was all about creating patterns based on the number of syllabic beats in a line, as if each syllable received the same weight.
But I was mistaken.
Instead, I discovered that each word has its own rhythm depending on which syllables are stressed. Writing a line creates a certain rhythm that ultimately shapes the rhythm of the stanza.
Picture books contain a variety of rhythms. For example, in the first stanza of She Did It! by Jennifer Ericsson, the rhythm feels like a march that matches the energetic quality of the characters she’s writing about.
Four sisters, different sizes.
Four sisters, early risers.
However, in Judy Sierra’s book Wild About Books, the rhythm of the text feels steady and lyrical as if the reader is chugging along with the librarian as she drives the bookmobile to the zoo.
It started the summer of 2002,
When the Springfield librarian, Molly McGrew,
By mistake drove her bookmobile into the zoo.
As the examples also demonstrated, the rhythm you choose should enhance the story you want to tell. In my picture book Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, I wrote lines with a rhythm that moseys along just like Cowpoke Clyde.
Cowpoke Clyde poked at an ad.
“Looky, Dawg, at this here fad.
It says that when my chores are done,
I’m s’posed to ride a bike fer fun.”
Once I established the rhythmic pattern, the bigger challenge became finding fresh rhymes that supported the story. One of my favorite rhyming tools is an online rhyming dictionary. Whenever I need to find a rhyme, I plug in a word and bingo! All the rhyming options appear on the screen. As I study the options, unexpected combinations of rhymes can enrich the story in new and surprising ways as it did in this stanza:
The more Clyde thunk, the more he smiled
at ridin’ something not so wild.
It wouldn’t eat. It wouldn’t stray.
It wouldn’t buck or bite or neigh!
Smiled and wild? Stray and neigh? I hadn’t planned on writing that, but when I made those rhyming connections, the stanza fell neatly into place.
Sometimes rhymes don’t work because good rhyming options simply don’t exist. When that happens, I have to take a step back and find a word with better rhyming choices. It can be a time consuming process, but with patience and a bit of serendipitous luck, I eventually fit the words together like pieces of a puzzle.
The ultimate test for a rhyming manuscript is to read it aloud. Once you know the rhythm, you’ll hear if a line is missing a beat, if there are too many beats, or places where a reader stumbles. When you’ve written the text successfully, anyone should be able to read it without a blip or a hiccup.
Rhyming can be a complicated business. But it’s a lot easier if you approach it with rhythm and rhyme in mind.
When award-winning author, Lori Mortensen, is not letting her cat in, or out, or in–she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. All that tapping has resulted in the publication of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent releases include Chicken Lily (Henry Holt 2016), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury, 2016) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. Visit her website at http://www.lorimortensen.com for more information about teacher guides, book trailers, reviews, and more.
Chicken Lily, Henry Holt
“Nice addition to story times . . . and good for anyone who’s a little chicken.”–Kirkus Reviews
Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, Clarion
“Another doggone funny cowboy caper, chock full of chuckles.”–Starred Kirkus Reviews
Mousequerade Ball, Bloomsbury
“A surefire storytime selection.”—School Library Journal
Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, Clarion
“Plumb funny fer sure.”—Starred Kirkus Review
Cindy Moo, HarperCollins
“Mo(ooo)ve aside your other cow tales, because this lovable bovine really does take off.”—Booklist
If Wendell Had a Walrus, illustrated by Matt Phelan, Henry Holt, Winter, 2018
Away With Words – The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, Peachtree, 2018