It's a brand new year, friends, and many of us might be looking at our writing goals for 2019.
Mine is improving my rhyming skills, with a view to sharpening the humour in my picture book manuscripts.
Before you all gasp in horror, I am aware of the common wisdom that editors are wary of manuscripts written in rhyme. Arguments include:
- Rhyme is hard to do well;
- Rhyming text is difficult to edit;
- It will be harder to gain translation rights for a rhyming text.
When we're thinking of the craft and business of picture book writing, all these points are important for budding writers of verse. I'd venture, however, that only one of the points is in my control as a writer, and it's the first. Rhyme is hard to do well. The other points are best left to the publishing experts.
If rhyme is hard to do well then that lays down a challenge - we can learn the right techniques for writing metre and verse. If all children’s book writers were scared off by the idea of writing in rhyme, then we would never have the great books of Dr Seuss, Julia Donaldson and Australian author, Aaron Blabey, to name but a few.
And if the popularity of any of these authors has taught me anything, it's while editors may not favour rhyme for the reasons listed above, children most certainly do. Many of the all-time favourite picture books are written in rhyme. Rhyme makes kids laugh and rhyming text screams out for being repeated, over and over…
If you’re an author who’s keen to take a rhyming challenge this year, modelling the greats can be a useful way to get you writing and practice your craft.
Some of my favourite examples of rhyme used effectively to convey humour include:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
No one quite matches the ability of this author for long-form rhyming verse. The very fact that numerous feature length films are adapted from his texts, suggests he uses rhyme effectively to drive a fully-fleshed narrative. Perhaps you could say his rhyming technique is a gimmick but it is a skilful gimmick and it is never at the expense of a story and it's moral.
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
How many times have you read Room on the Broom, or watched its animated short film adaptation? If you’re anything like me, your pre-schooler has read and watched it a hundred times and there’s no way you can have escaped its catchy refrains.
Then out of the bushes on thundering paws
There bounded a dog with the hat in his jaws.
He dropped it politely, then eagerly said
(As the witch pulled the hat firmly down on her head),
“I am a dog, as keen as can be.
Is there room on the broom for a dog like me?”
Donaldson, like Seuss delivers fully-formed narratives in verse, with perfect storytelling - a film maker’s dream. Reliable repetition of rhyme becomes a way for the child to engage with the story and know what’s coming at every turn. For a modern day reading audience, Donaldson’s rhymes are less dense and perhaps more readable than Seuss, but both convey a classic sense of whimsy, humour, wonder and a moral core through lyrical manipulation of words.
Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey
It would be remiss of me to leave off this blog without recommending an even more contemporary example of a rhyming star, capturing the hearts and tapping on the funny bones of children all over Australia. With over four million Pig the Pug series picture books in print, Blabey adheres to the time-old formula of Seuss and Donaldson: the delightful mix of a pesky animal (anti)hero, good strong rhyming narrative and lessons that teach, without alienating the young reader.
Pig was a pug
and I’m sorry to say,
he was greedy and selfish
in most every way…
These opening words bring back childhood in an instant. One could almost be reading about a Grinch or a Gruffalo…
“No, they are mine!
Are you nuts? Only mine!
You keep your paws off them,
you sausage-shaped swine!”
You might even be forgiven for hearing the echoes of Roald Dahl in this perfectly formed rhyme… It’s no secret that there is nothing completely new under the sun in literature, and the masters never apologise for modelling the work of the trail blazers who have come before them.
So, I figure if I can model and master rhyme as a mechanism for delivering humour, I can make an editor's job easier. While there is hope to be published, I can't give up on rhyme. The form, if executed well, can be incredibly rewarding for the child reader, and spawn the kind of loyal following won by these best-selling masters of lyricism.
Happy New Year and all the best with all your writing goals for 2019!
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