Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 2 ~ Jill Esbaum ~ Is Your Rhymer Ready?

Red Stars

Teeny Tiny Toady

by Jill Esbaum

Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi

2016 Best in Rhyme Award Top 10

Congratulations Jill!


See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016


One blue star


Is Your Rhymer Ready?

7 Troubleshooting Tips

by Jill Esbaum

Writing a character-driven rhyming story isn’t for the weak of heart. Rhyming stories must have perfect rhyme, consistent rhythm, and a story that not only makes sense, but connects with readers emotionally. Oh, and they should be FUN! Of those three things––rhyme, rhythm, and story––the toughest to get right, at least for me, is STORY.

Gleaned from many years of critiquing and writing, here’s a checklist you might use to determine whether or not your story is ready for editorial eyes, along with troubleshooting tips.

  1. Have I introduced the conflict quickly? Is my main character’s (MC) problem/goal clear to

readers on the first or second page?

If you worry you may be easing into the story, you probably are. How might you cut text to jump into the action quicker? Is every bit of information you’ve included absolutely necessary to the story problem?

  1. Is my entire story focused on how the MC goes about trying to solve his problem or achieve his goal?

If you think your story might be meandering, write a one-sentence synopsis. I often have to do this midway through a story, when I’ve been so consumed with rhythm and rhyme that my story has jumped the tracks. Oops.

  1. Does the MC’s problem get worse? Does every stanza reflect that escalation?

If you aren’t sure the problem is getting worse, try jotting a phrase beside each stanza that encapsulates its reason for being there. It’s like writing a 50-word version of your story. Does the problem get worse? Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end? Using the same trick, make sure no two stanzas are performing the same task. If they are, combine them into one stronger (and detail-rich) stanza.

  1. Have I shown the story, or am I doing too much telling?

If your story feels lifeless, and you suspect you’re doing too much telling, think about your story as a stage play. How can you tweak to allow readers to feel that they’re onstage, living the story through your MC, rather than sitting out in the audience, watching from afar? A simple trick, whether writing in first person point of view or third, is to filter everything through your MC’s senses/thoughts/emotions. And if your story has no dialogue, add some! Nobody wants to watch a play in which the only one talking is the narrator.

  1. Does my story show clear cause and effect, or is it a series of unrelated events that “just happen?”

Nothing in a story should happen without a reason. Ideally, it’s the MC’s choices, good or bad, that drive the story forward, cause “the next thing” to happen. Sounds simple. But it’s not.

  1. Does my story have any do-nothing words that are included solely as filler?

If so, brainstorm other, more concise, ways to say things. There’s ALWAYS another way. I have to remind myself of this with every manuscript I write. Look for do-nothing lines, too. Weed out words/lines that don’t add anything new to the story. It’s crucial that every word of every line reveal character or move the story forward. Otherwise, snip-snip!

  1. Have I given readers a satisfying conclusion or unexpected ending twist? Has my MC grown or changed?

If you suspect that your ending is ho-hum, brainstorm five different ways your story might end.

Yes, five. Look back through your story. How might your ending reflect your beginning?

Have fun, and your reader will, too. Rhyming and Wacky go together like the Three Stooges and finger boinks.

When it comes to crafting rhyming stories, practice really does make perfect. Besides tinkering with your own stories, examine a variety of published rhyming picture books. To get a feel for meter, type them out and read them aloud. Study their plot structure. Learn to recognize problem areas in your own work. Embrace revision.

And before you know it, you’ll be on the fast (okay, slow) track to publication. Good luck!

One blue star


 Jill Esbaum is the author of 11 picture books, many written in rhyme. Recent titles include If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Teeny Tiny Toady (starred review, Kirkus), and Elwood Bigfoot – Wanted:  Birdie Friends. Several of her books have been nominated for state awards, and her I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! won SCBWI’s Crystal Kite award. Coming this fall:  Frankenbunny. Jill is also the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for National Geographic.

Jill created a group blog of fellow picture book writers and illustrators called Picture Book Builders(www.picturebookbuilders.com), teaches and speaks at conferences around the country, and co-hosts the Whispering Woods Picture Book Writing Workshop each summer. She is on Twitter @JEsbaum. Find more information at her website, www.jillesbaum.com


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88 thoughts on “Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 2 ~ Jill Esbaum ~ Is Your Rhymer Ready?

  1. EMBRACE REVISION! Love your post, Jill. I do so enjoy writing in rhyme, but I fall prey to so many of the problems you pointed out. I need to embrace your post…and let it sink in. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom…I am in awe of your rhyme!

  2. I’m delighted to see such helpful step-by-step information about developing the rhyme, the rhythm, and especially the story into perfection. What a helpful guide about being disciplined and critical about each specific word. It’s just the motivational pick-me-up needed, so thanks for sharing!

  3. A BIG THANK YOU goes to Jill! I won a critique by her on my rhyming picture book ‘ Silly Trunk’ which she completed with such professionalism. It’s good to read this post and tick all the boxes as it goes for publication. It’s also nice to be able to offer it to Angie ‘ hot off the pess’ for the silent auction and give something back.

  4. WOW, what a resourceful post! As I was reading this post, I literally had my WIP out, going through it and marking areas I need to address. This post, because it stresses the point that we must have a story first, applies to all writing. Man, this is so good. Bookmarking this. Whenever I sit down to write I need to be able to have this as a tab. Thank you so much for this.

  5. Jill, I loved getting these reminders about story. It’s so easy to get carried away by rhyme and lose track of story. This is a “file it with important stuff” post for people writing in rhyme!

  6. Jill, your post is wonderful! You make it sound so logical and so easy–which we know isn’t so. Those wonderful picture books, especially in rhyme, are beautiful creations and only those writers who create these stories understand all the hard work that’s put into that production. Your suggestions are much appreciated.!

  7. Great advice whether you’re writing in rhyme or not. Those questions span any type of writing. Love the reference to the Three Stooges. Finger blinks to all unnecessary words or phrases!! Thanks for the posts!

  8. As other’s have said, this post is a MUST PRINT. For me the most important item on that checklist is number 5. I finally realized that I’ve been having too many things that “just happen” in my stories instead of having cause and effect. Number 5 will be printed in bold. Thanks, Jill!

  9. Great post and great advice, for even non-rhyming stories. I am definitely going to reread it and let the information sink in.

  10. Time to pull out my manuscript, dust it off, and (hopefully) breathe in some new life. Your post gives me much to consider while I edit my picture book manuscript. I’m going to look for unnecessary words to cut out and try some different endings. Thanks for this great post, Jill.

  11. Jill,
    Embrace revision is my goal this month and you’ve given me some great areas to work on.Your seven tips are spot on and I will definitely apply them.
    You’ve also helped me to see which MS i”ll be bringing to this summer’s workshop. so excited to attend. I’m in Ankeny, IA this morning on my way home and anticipating my return!

  12. What a fabulous list. I need to print this off and tape it to my forehead. Ok, that might make it tough to write, but seriously, this was perfect. I will use it over and over for every story. Rhyme or prose. Thanks, Jill

  13. Jill, I LOVE writing in rhyme, but with so many things to remember, it certainly is a process that requires many “second looks.” Your post is a terrific checklist to use in the drafting process, from version 1, right up through version 27! 🙂

    I think I’ll print this one and use each tip from the beginning, to ensure every snippet that I write moves my work forward! I can’t wait to write today!

  14. Thanks for this great checklist, Jill! I think it will help me with a story that I’ve been stuck on for a while.

  15. Thank you, so very much, Jill! I’ve written down all these pointers so I can take my rhyming manuscripts through each and every test! HOORAY! for specifics on how to fix them! 🙂 Happy Rhyme Revolution Day 2!

  16. Great advice, Jill, and I’m printing it out. I enjoy your books and have them on my library shelf. I can’t wait for FRANKENBUNNY 🙂

  17. Another stellar post full of great advice for crafting stronger rhyming stories! I especially love the part about combining stanzas that are essentially saying the same thing. We rhymers love to hear ourselves talk, and sometimes we say the same things over and over again! LOL! Thanks for that important reminder, Jill!

  18. Thank you Jill! I took so many notes from this post that my hand hurts! Your 7 troubleshooting tips are an excellent resource. Thank you so much for your post!

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