Tips for Writing Picture Books: Rhyming Picture Books Are All About Rhythm

Expanding on my last post, today I explain why rhyming is not about rhyming.

Rhyming Picture Books Are All About Rhythm

I could spend all day (every day) talking about my thoughts on rhyming picture books. But rather than one or two or ten blog posts about it, I started a Tumblr called Victimless Rhyme. I plan on posting little quick hits on all aspects of rhyming, usually related to rhyming picture books. Check it out if you’d like.

Victimless Rhyme

But today, it’s rhythm. To re-emphasize a point I made earlier, there are three critical factors that must be addressed when writing a rhyming picture book. In order of importance, they are:

  1. Story (and characters, plot, arc, etc)
  2. Rhythm
  3. Rhyme

Story is most important. Rhyme comes last. But more important than rhyme is Rhythm. You may be able to find the most amazing pair of rhyming words in the world. But if the meter doesn’t work, then the entire picture book will go up in smoke.

What is rhythm (or meter). I’m not going to go into a scientific description of Iambic Pentameter (or Anapestic Heptameter and so on), but on a high level rhythm is the sequence of stressed and unstressed syllables. Think of a famous limerick about Nantucket. Once, Man, and tuck all have the same stressed emphasis on them, while the rest of the syllables aren’t stressed.

Map of Nantucket

But I’m not going to teach you rhythm. That would take more than a blog post (and there are already great resources out there … I personally like Rhyme Weaver if you really want to learn). I am going to stress (pun intended) the importance of rhythm. Just know that getting the meter right is much harder and takes significantly more time and effort than putting together a single pair of words that rhyme.

Although it’s hard to do, I find that the best rhyming picture books force the reader to speak with the correct rhythm. They’re carefully crafted with words that must be pronounced with the correct emphasis and stress. Rhythm can be subjective and the intended meter can easily be misinterpreted. And this is not something writers often think about. When the you write a rhyming picture book, you know which words to emphasize – but when someone else reads it, they won’t. And books are ALWAYS intended to be read by someone else.

I might say the word fire with 2 syllables. You might say it with 1 syllable. Put that fire in the middle of a line in your manuscript, and the whole text might come burning down.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image20761815

There’s no easy road to writing quality rhyming picture books. It takes practice, study, and hard work (and maybe some talent). And not every book should be written in rhyme. I’ve tried and failed with some and next time I’ll share my thoughts on why …

Some Ideas Just Don’t Work

… next time. Whenever that is.

 

See all of Josh Funk’s 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books

Lesson #1: So, You Wrote a Book. Now What?
Lesson #2: Picture Books Are Short
Lesson #3: Every Word Counts
Lesson #4: The Illustrator Is Your Partner
Lesson #5: Show Don’t Tell
Lesson #6: Write with Active Emotion
Lesson #7: Story Arc Components
Lesson #8: Don’t Write In Rhyme
Lesson #9: Rhyming Is All About Rhythm
Lesson #10: Some Ideas Don’t Work
Lesson #11: Keep Learning
Lesson #12: Now You’re Ready! Dive In!

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4 thoughts on “Tips for Writing Picture Books: Rhyming Picture Books Are All About Rhythm

  1. This is an excellent post. The rhythm is so difficult. I’m lucky that my daughter is a songwriter. She goes over my work and can spot the problems much better than almost anyone I know. I had forgotten about Rhyme Weaver. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. Well, Lillian, I wish there were an easy answer to this question. Unfortunately, just by a query letter, an agent won’t know if a rhyming pb is the best or the worst. And because so many aren’t good enough for publication, I’ve always felt that agents often don’t give any rhyming pb’s a chance.

      Some people don’t identify their rhyming texts as rhyming in the query letter (they let the reader find out upon reading the ms) – I never felt comfortable doing that. Other people realize that rhyming picture books continue to be published and send submissions directly to publishers who will accept them. Lots of rhymers submit poetry to magazines to build up a resume and have more to say in query letters and submissions. Lastly (and I can’t do this no matter how hard I try), you could try not writing in rhyme….

      I wish I had better advice. Getting represented and published is hard enough without having an additional obstacle, but rhyming is just that. But if you are confident in your stories, rhythm, and rhyming, don’t give up!

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