Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 4 ~Miranda Paul ~ Spot the Plot

Red Stars

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by Miranda Paul

Illustrated by Shane McG

2016 Best in Rhyme Award Top 20

Congratulations Miranda!


See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016

One blue star

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).

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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.)

Miranda 3Text 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

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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.

Now Available:
10 Little Ninjas – illus. Nate Wragg – Currently #1 in Children’s Counting Books!
Trainbots – illus. Shane McG
One Plastic Bag – illus. Elizabeth Zunon
Water is Water – illus. Jason Chin
Whose Hands Are These? – illus. Luciana Navarro Powell
Coming in 2017
Blobfish Throws a Party – illus. Maggie Caton
Are We Pears Yet? – illus. Carin Berger

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To participate in Rhyme Revolution:

Read the blog post and comment below

to be eligible for a prize. 

89 thoughts on “Rhyme Revolution 2017 Day 4 ~Miranda Paul ~ Spot the Plot

  1. Miranda…you are AMAZING! I tell people who love to write in rhyme that they should first write the story in prose. But your way of doing it is genius! I’ve got several rhyming picture book manuscripts that I am going to try this with. THANK YOU, DEAR LADY! And I’m so excited for all of your book success!

  2. Thanks for your helpful hints, Miranda. Redundancy is an area I’m delving into at the moment with my rhyme. I like how you’ve set out the example above and will take this into consideration with my story. Good luck with Trainbots.

  3. This is fantastic “how to” advice. As I’m new to rhyming and rhythm in picture books, the suggestion seems ideal for me not only in my initial PB manuscript writing attempts but in future ones as well. Many thanks for sharing!

  4. Great advice! It’s so important to write the story out in prose first and then “puzzle it” together in rhyme. Thanks, Miranda!

  5. Thanks, Miranda. This is a slick method to keep a story moving. I’ve tried writing a rhyme manuscript in prose, but never on the same sheet of paper. Genius move!

  6. Thank you for sharing your approach. It’s different from other advice I’ve received and, I’ll certainly use it. It’s so easy to get caught up in a clever rhyme that I fail to notice that it’s pretty empty plot-wise.

  7. Thanks Miranda, I love the process! I know sometimes we can fall in love with our rhymes and it is hard to let them go. But you set out such a clear path! Much appreciated!

  8. Wonderful and insightful way to work on rhyming manuscripts! Thank you for sharing a technique that’s not only positive but a logical way to approach those rhyming manuscripts! I love all of your books, Miranda, and wish you much success with your newest.

  9. Thank you Miranda for just the approach I needed! I could see my own MS as you explained the description with out action. Your rhyming tool is giving me the courage to pull out an old MS that’s been on hold for years.

  10. Thank you, Miranda, for sharing this awesome revision technique. Like you, I find myself wedded to the words. Your method of stepping back to focus on the action is just what I need. Printing your words out now as a reminder!

  11. What a great exercise that would really work with any PB manuscript. Thanks for sharing this great idea about how to revise or re-vision our manuscripts. Thanks for the post.

  12. Miranda, This is a wonderful suggestion for revision. I’ve put my rhyming on hold for a while because I needed THIS! Now, I feel like I can move forward. You know that feeling:can’t see the forest for the trees? This technique lets you see the trees so the lovely forest will be well-balanced. Love it!

  13. Thanks for sharing this fabulous way of plot checking! I often recommend this in critiques, but it seems the advice is rarely taken, so it’s encouraging to see someone else say it too 🙂 Best, Lynne Marie

  14. This is a very practical method for evaluating the story line. I think it’s fine to get caught up in the excitement, stickiness and just plain cuteness of rhythm and rhyme, as long as we then do a solid evaluation and revision as needed of the actual story.

  15. Thanks, Miranda, for sharing your plot checking technique! I’m looking forward to using it right away. I love your books and can’t wait to read your newest…then I’ll share them with my youngest grandson. All my best to you!

  16. Thank you, Miranda, for this creative method to plot spot in rhyme! I’ve tried the prose first and then the rhyme next, but still flounder. I’m hoping I can use your examples and tips to improve my skills. Looking forward to your two new books! Congrats 🙂

  17. This is such useful information. This really could have been a paid webinar. TRULY. I’ve never heard of engaging with your work with this type of exercise. I love this exercise. This provides you with multiple mss on your topic. How empowering is that? If you were here with me, I’d give you the biggest hug. WONDERFUL JOB. WELL DONE.

  18. Thanks for sharing this behind-the-scenes look at revision for your book. I have a post-it above my desk that reads, “The story is the boss” by Stephen King, for this exact reason. 🙂

  19. I wrote my first rhyming book (my forte is dark fairytales, humorous chick-lit, or the spooky paranormal) using this very tool without having known about it. It just made sense to write that way. I’m happy to have a confirmation, Miranda, that I’ve been on the right track! 🙂 Thank you. Now off to find an agent or a publisher. So excited!

  20. Great advice. It’s doubly tough to write a rhyming picture book because not only do the words have to rhyme, the words also have to tell a story!!

  21. So nice to read your post this morning, Miranda! I love all the generous advice for revising rhyme, and hope to try it soon on one of my manuscripts. Congratulations on all your picture books!

  22. Miranda, thank you for this thoughtful post! It is chocked-full of great suggestions. I can’t wait to edit my picture book and apply your ideas.

  23. MIRANDA: CONGRATS on your MUCH DESERVED AWARD! And THANK YOU for putting SO MUCH effort and time into writing this INSPIRING blog post! I LOVE that you gave a concrete example to show how to approach our writing with fresh eyes and an outsider lens. Your spot the plot diagram will be SO HELPFUL in my own revising work! I am just ITCHING TO GET STARTED!!! THANK YOU!!!

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