Teeny Tiny Toady
by Jill Esbaum
Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi
2016 Best in Rhyme Award Top 10
See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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