If the Shoe DOESN’T Fit: Thoughts on Rhyming…or Not”

IMG_1753My daughter loves shoes, especially sparkly shoes. “Like Cinderella!” she used to cheer as a toddler. But unlike Cinderella and her lovely glass slipper, my daughter learned early on that the shoe doesn’t always fit. Too big and it’s hard to walk in without wobbling. Too small and squeezing your foot in just plain hurts.

I love rhyme as much as my daughter loves sparkly shoes. It’s my passion and my preferred writing style. I’ve sold rhyming stories and poems to kids’ magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr., Highlights for Children, Spider, and Ladybug. And my first two picture books, GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER, both published by Zonderkidz, most definitely rhyme.

But though I love sparkly rhyming tales, rhyming doesn’t always fit the story. Sometimes rhyming makes the story dreadful and forced, perhaps even un-readable. How is a writer to know whether to rhyme or not? In keeping with Cinderella and her shiny shoes, here are three questions I ask to see if the rhyming “shoe” fits.

Question #1: Can I rhyme well?

Good rhyme is hard to carry off because it must also be paired with perfect meter. To carry that off you need to have a good ear for the rhythm of words. In addition, the rhyming words you choose must be unexpected and fresh. For me, the perfect rhyming story is one that flows so well that the rhyme seems organic to the piece. Accomplishing this takes lots of revision, fine-tuning and patience.

 Question #2: Does rhyming fit the mood of my story?

When I first indulged my passion for rhyme, I wanted to make EVERY story rhyme and did so with disastrous results. My favorite failed example is a rhyming story I drafted about a boy who takes Splash, the class fish, home to watch over vacation. The fish, unfortunately, dies,and the boy must decide whether to replace it with a look-alike or confess the truth. Here’s my dreadful rhyming version of the moment he discovers the fish is dead.

“One morning at the end of break,

Jerome said, “Time to sup!”

But Splash, alas, moved not one bit.

“Look, Mom! He’s belly up!”

Even now, I cringe when I read that. Not only is it distressingly forced, but the mood and the rhyme don’t jive. I now reserve rhyme for light-hearted and humorous pieces. As for Splash, I wisely re-wrote the entire story in prose. The non-rhyming version of my fishy tale appeared in the April 2011 issue of Clubhouse Jr.

Rhyming Question #3:  How old are my readers?

I once wrote a humorous three verse poem with fresh rhymes and impeccable meter.  A perfect sell for the kid’s magazine market, or so I thought.  Turns out, it’s fatal flaw was that it included a couple lines about algebraic expressions. Not something your typical rhyme fan is familiar with. Why? Because, as I’ve learned both as a former teacher and now as a mom and writer, the biggest fans of rhyming are the very young. Toddlers and preschoolers love playing with sounds and pointing out, repeating, and making their own rhymes. So, while I still love writing rhyming poems for the age 8 – 12 crowd, I’ve discovered that the pieces of mine that shine the most are the short and pithy rhyming pieces for youngest readers.

Happy writing (and rhyming) all!

For more thoughts on rhyming, check out these terrific posts:

ReFoReMo Day Four: Sudipta Bardhan Quallan Rocks Rhyme! by Sudipta Bardhan Quallan

“ICING THE CAKE: Writing Stories in Rhythm and Rhyme” by Dori Chaconas

“Why Do Editors Say Not to Write in Rhyme?” by Tara Lazar

“Tips for Writing Picture Books: Don’t Write in Rhyme” by Josh Funk

“Writing Rhyming Picture Books” from the  Children’s Book Insider

Note: A version of this post previously appeared on Anne E. Johnson’s blog.

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8 thoughts on “If the Shoe DOESN’T Fit: Thoughts on Rhyming…or Not”

  1. When I was a wee-one i often wrote “poems,” which means my little ditties rhymed. I had to grow up to realize that was not my strength and I was not a great poet. You, however, most certainly are. I delight in your rhyming tales, Laura, and marvel at how elegant and fluid they are.

  2. Very good advice, Laura, especially about the rhyme fitting the mood of the poem/story. That’s not to say that rhyme can’t work for a darker mood (consider Edgar Allen Poe), but I think it takes even more effort to capture a grim or spooky feeling than it does that lighthearted feel that is so perfect for picture books.

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