by Miranda Paul
Illustrated by Shane McG
2016 Best in Rhyme Award Top 20
See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016
Spot the Plot! An Exercise for Revising your Rhyming Picture Book
By Miranda Paul
Poetry is oodles of fun. Writing in rhyme takes creative problem solving skills—like puzzles or brain games. Therefore, it’s easy to get engrossed in the process of selecting a perfect pair of like-sounding words or a wacky character description.
When I’m drafting a story in rhyme, I sometimes turn my attention to the words rather than the bigger picture. This misdirected focus can lead to nice details but a fuzzy plot. After days or weeks of crafting clever lines, I must find ways to objectively self-edit or I could end up with six hilarious stanzas describing a single character action or scene. While that scene might be fun to listen to, it might not be right for a picture book that should deliver a full story.
Before I wrote Trainbots, I wrote two other train manuscripts. Both of these fell mostly into the “concept” book category—they focused on informing the reader about parts of a train, through loosely-told stories. Several nice rejections on the first story–a couple of which pointed out the lack of action—led to rewrites. But I wrestled with the same problem as I wrote the second story. By the time I drafted the third train manuscript, which became Trainbots, I had a system in place to spot the plot (and strengthen it).
Trainbots by Miranda Paul illustrated by Shane McG. Published by little bee books, a division of Bonnier Publishing.
Here’s a method to check where your rhyming picture book manuscript is chugging forward or stalling out.
Format your picture book into stanzas. Generally, I break each line at the rhyming word. Depending on your style of poetry, these might be 2-6 lines each.
Print your story, double spaced, with plenty of room on the right side of the page.
Next to each stanza, write one prose sentence that describes only what happens in the text of those lines. (Leave it blank if nothing is happening in terms of action.)
Text for the first ~50 words (4 spreads / 8 pp.) of Trainbots, by Miranda Paul illustrated by Shane McG. Published by little bee books, a division of Bonnier Publishing.
Fold the manuscript so you can only see your prose sentences. Read your story in prose!
Using your prose, draw some sort of visual representation of your plot (e.g. story arc/story mountain or chart/graph).
Reflect on your drawing or graph. Questions to ask: How many stanzas are introduction or exposition, describing character or setting? Where does the conflict or action really begin? Is the conflict only internal, or is there external conflict? How many attempts are there to solve that problem, and how many stanzas do those scenes comprise? Are there new and interesting characters, actions, or settings to illustrate as the story moves along? Does the action rise to a climax? Are some stanzas redundant? Does the story reach a resolution?
Unfold the paper and revise the original! Cut or tighten redundant parts, add lines where there are gaps. Ideally, you’ll want between 12-15 “scenes” or spreads for a 32-page picture book. Don’t be afraid to rewrite an entire stanza and pick an entirely different rhyming word for the end.
This method won’t work with every rhyming picture book, but I hope it helps you learn to see your work with fresh eyes. Finding ways to approach our own work with an outsider lens
Miranda Paul is an award-winning children’s author of One Plastic Bag and Water is Water, both named Junior Library Guild selections. Her titles have received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly and have been named to several award and state reading lists. Her three most recent releases—Whose Hands Are These?, 10 Little Ninjas, and Trainbots—are all written in rhyme. Miranda makes regular appearances at schools, serves as Mentorship chair for We Need Diverse Books™, and is a regional advisor for the SCBWI (Wisconsin). She believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Learn more at www.mirandapaul.com.
89 thoughts on “Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 4 ~Miranda Paul ~ Spot the Plot”
What helpful methods to check the rhyme! Thank you!
Awesome technique! I will definitely try it!
Than you for sharing your writing tools of comparing rhyme and prose.
Great idea, Miranda!
“Next to each stanza, write one prose sentence that describes only what happens in the text of those lines. (Leave it blank if nothing is happening in terms of action.) Fold the manuscript so you can only see your prose sentences. Read your story in prose!” This is the best piece of advice. Thanks, Miranda.
I love, love, love this! You gave me an AH Ha! moment as I’ve been struggling with writing
one of my manuscripts into prose. I just can’t get rid of the rhythm romping though my pea brain!!
As Linda Hofke *and probably LOTS of others have stated ~ didn’t read all the comments…cough, cough* the advice on how to get a rhyming manuscript into prose is exactly what I needed to hear! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Happy Rhyme Revolution Day 4! 🙂
What a insightful way to approach revision for a rhyming PB. Thanks, Miranda.
Thanks for sharing your method. It makes perfect sense. 🙂
A very practical suggestion for checking plot! Thank you so much.
P.S. Your poem with the word cacophony was one of my favorites from Madness! Poetry. Love, love, loved it!
Thank you Miranda – as always- you have wonderful advice!
Great new way to tackle plot. Thank you:) can’t wait to read this book too.
The tip about the prose sentence in the right margin, next to each stanza, is perfect as a tool to assess pacing, structure, strength of each stanza, and the necessity of each set of words. I love this tip and will continue to use it!
Using an “Outsider lense” is a great reminder. I can see how useful it is in prose too! Thank you.
Thanks for sharing your technique with us, Miranda! I will have to try it!
I love the idea of writing a prose sentence next to the stanza. How brilliant is that!
Thank you, Miranda. Got to get my hands on Trainbots.
This is such a great method to help with edits- thanks so much!
Thank you very much for this method! I always get sidetracked by finding the perfect rhyme and then losing the plot. I can’t wait to use this. Thanks, Miranda!!
Thank you for this Miranda! I seem to lose my plots, too.
Thank you Miranda! It was very helpful to see your example from your book!
Trainbot looks great. I bet little boys love this book.
I love this excercise! I’ll definitely be giving it a try. Thank you!!
That is a great idea! Thanks for the strategy to measure our rhymes and plot our stories. Thanks for the great books!!!
Miranda, thanks for the wonderful post. I admire your work. Thank you for the inspiration.
I can’t wait to use this exercise on my stories. Thank you!
Enjoyed the post. Thanks for the chart and info on how to use it effectively.
Thanks for the helpful tips on creating a successful story arc in a rhyming manuscript. I can’t wait to use your method on my WIP!
Can’t wait to try this out. Thanks so much, I’ll let you know how it goes.
Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your process, Miranda!
This is a brilliant way to troubleshoot a rhyming manuscript. I have just the story to try it out on. Thank you, Miranda! (I love your book ONE PLASTIC BAG, and the story of how you came to write it.)
This is a fabulous method for revising and looking at our work with fresh eyes! Thanks, Miranda. Looking forward to reading your new books!
Love this idea! Something I struggle with constantly. Thank you so much for this great tool!
Thanks Miranda. Spot the plot is exactly the advice and tool I needed for current WIP. I’ve had a few critiques come back specifically addressing lack of action/arc. With this method, I can easily re-work the plot and storyboard(s). This post made my day.
Excellent technique. Thank you Miranda!
I love your method for ensuring that your plot is continuing as you build stanzas and not getting stuck. Great idea!
I like your technique, folding the page to compare rhyme with store. Thank you for sharing the tip. 🙂
Thank you, Miranda, for sharing your tips and techniques.
I am crazy about this exercise – so helpful, Miranda. Thank you!