A Fairy Friend
by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Claire Keane
2016 Best in Rhyme Award Top 20
See the Top 20 Best in Rhyme Books for 2016
It’s NOT About the Rhyme!
By Sue Fliess
It’s not about the rhyme. It never is. Well, at least, it never should be. But what it always is about is the story. Or at a very basic level, it’s about the idea you’re trying to convey with words. Writers should think of rhyme as a mechanism or tool—just as illustrations, free verse, graphics, photography, or prose are all ways of telling a story.
My readers ask me all the time, why do you like writing in rhyme? or why do you write in rhyme? And what I tell them is that I always first have an idea or concept for a story. I jot down those ideas, characters, or fragments. When I think there is enough to move forward with, only then do I decide on the best way to put that idea on the page. For me, many times it seems that rhyme fits, but other times, rhyme is not the answer. I’ve written many stories in prose that haven’t sold. Twenty out of my twenty-two picture books are written in rhyme. Which may only mean that I’m simply better at writing in rhyme than prose!
One reason this is true is that rhyme forces me to boil the story to its essence more effectively and keeps me from getting too wordy. I like the challenge. It’s like a puzzle and I find it both fun and satisfying. Some find it constraining, and I can certainly vouch for that during revisions! When a critique group member or an editor requests a plot change—I am suddenly a prisoner to my rhyme scheme. Eventually l figure it out, but only because at this point I’m very comfortable writing in rhyme and have grown accustomed to the challenges it poses during revisions.
Another reason I like writing in rhyme is that I’m a very musical person (you may have seen my song parodies about writing), and I think that’s why my brain gravitates towards rhyme. A rhyming picture book is like a song. And just like song lyrics must tell a story in 3 minutes or less, picture book writers must be able to tell their story in as few words as necessary. Rhyme helps me do that.
So, when you are ruminating about a story, figure out all the parts of that story first. If you think it has staying power and you love the idea, pursue it. But I recommend writing it in prose first. Then once you have your story down, ask yourself if rhyme—or another writing mechanism—will serve the story better. If not, stay the course. If you think rhyme will make it more playful or fun or engaging, without giving you a migraine, by all means, give it a shot. You may have to play around a bit with the tools in your toolbox—and I encourage that. You will discover which way is the best way for you. But no matter how you choose to tell it, always keep your eye on the story.
HOW TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN, Sky Pony Press Watch the trailer.
FROM HERE TO THERE, Albert Whitman & Co. Watch the trailer.
Here is a teacher’s guide that may be of interest:
Sue Fliess (“fleece”) is the author of over 20 children’s books including From Here to There, A Fairy Friend, Tons of Trucks, Shoes for Me!, Calling All Cars, and many Little Golden Books. Fliess has also written for The Walt Disney Company. Her background is in copywriting, PR, and marketing, and her articles have appeared in O the Oprah Magazine, Huffington Post, Writer’s Digest, Education.com, and more. Her picture books have received honors from the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, have been used in school curriculums, museum educational programs, and have even been translated into French. She’s a member of SCBWI, Children’s Book Guild of DC, and does book signings, school visits, and speaking engagements. Sue lives with her family and their dog Charlie in No. Virginia. Visit her at www.suefliess.com.