By Corey Rosen Schwartz
There are a lot of resources on the internet for people who want to write in rhyme. Rhyme Weaver (http://www.rhymeweaver.com) for one, is an extremely comprehensive site where you can find detailed explanations of the different types of meters. But... I’ve never seen a post that steers you toward one type over another. In my opinion, not all meters are created equal. Some are definitely better for picture books than others.
Let’s compare a few.
Mama Bear’s Stanzas
I said, “Sit down,
It’s time to eat.
Please come and try
your cream of wheat.
But Baby said,
We’d better not.
We’ll burn out tongues.
It’s way too hot!”
The problem with this meter is…. The distance between rhyming words is too SHORT.
i SAID sit DOWN. (2)
it’s TIME to EAT (2)
please COME and TRY (2)
your CREAM of WHEAT (2)
There are two stressed beats per line, which means four stressed beats (or 8 syllables) between rhymes
When this goes on for a while, it starts to feel very sing-songy. Also, since you only have eight syllables between rhymes, it tends to lead to forced rhymes. The rhymes are coming too often, which makes it difficult to tell the story you want to tell. The rhymes end up driving the story.
I see this in a LOT of manuscripts.
Papa Bear’s Stanza
Mama Bear made porridge and she called out “Time to eat.”
I yawned and rubbed my eyes and then I got up off the couch
It smelled so good. My favorite kind- delicious cream of wheat
But it was hot. I burned my tongue. I jumped and hollered, “Ouch!”
The problem here is… the distance between the rhymes is too LONG.
MAma BEAR made PORridge AND she CALLED out, “TIME to EAT” (7)
i YAWNED and RUBBED my EYES and THEN i GOT up OFF the COUCH (7)
it SMELLED so GOOD. my FAV’rite KIND- deLICious CREAM of WHEAT (7)
but IT was HOT. i BURNED my TONGUE. i JUMPED and HOLLered, “OUCH!” (7)
There are seven stressed beats per line which means 14 stressed beats (or 28 syllables) between rhymes. The rhymes are so far apart, the reader can completely lose the thread. It kind of defeats the point of writing in rhyme, which is to help kids predict what is coming.
Baby Bear’s Stanza
Mama Bear made cream of wheat
But I am not a fool
I saw the pot was scorching hot
And warned them, “Let it cool!”
Baby Bear’s stanza is just right. It’s neither too short nor too long.
MAma BEAR made CREAM of WHEAT (4)
but I am NOT a FOOL.(3)
i SAW the POT was SCORCHing HOT (4)
and WARNED them, “LET it COOL!” (3)
It also has another feature that I really recommend. It does NOT have the same number of stressed beats in every line! When the meter has the same number of stressed beats in every line, it can start to feel monotonous (Think GREEN EGGS AND HAM)
Remember, when you are writing in rhyme, you want to make the rhyme scheme and meter work FOR you, not AGAINST you. Don’t choose a crazy ABAB rhyme scheme like Papa Bear did. It’s much too difficult and all the extra work it requires doesn’t really provide any pay off to the reader. Did anyone even notice that the first and third lines in Papa’s stanza rhymed? For me, getting in an internal rhyme has a much greater pay off.
Work with a meter like Baby Bear’s and you will have seven stressed beats (or 14 syllables) between rhymes. This gives you ample opportunity to tell your story without being constrained by the rhymes. It will allow your picture book to turn out “Just right!”
Corey is the author of HOP! PLOP! (Walker, 2006), THE THREE NINJA PIGS (Putnam, 2012) GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS (Putnam, 2014) and NINJA RED RIDING HOOD (Putnam, 2014). Corey has no formal ninja training, but she sure can kick butt in Scrabble. She lives with three Knuckleheads in Warren, NJ.