Wednesday, August 28, 2013

WRITERLY WISDOM: Corey Rosen Schwartz






Rhyme and Meter, GOLDI ROCKS Style!
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.


28 comments:

  1. Thanks for having Corey on your blog, Donna. This is a great post; I'm understanding rhyme more and more. Corey you really have a knack for explaining the hard-to-explain thing to perfect rhyme.

    Question: It's easier to find where the un/stress goes in multi-syllabic words and verbs, but how do you know how to stress words with a single syllable? For instance:
    "but I am NOT a FOOL.(3)
    i SAW the POT was SCORCHing HOT (4)"

    "I" and "i" is stressed differently, I would have gotten "but" and "saw" wrong. Is there a trick to getting it right?

    Thanks for your kind help again! :0)
    Donna L Sadd

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    1. HI Donna! I completely agree with you! Corey had a way of explaining meter that makes it even easy for ME to understand...lol...

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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    2. This is a great question, and it's one that is very hard to answer. Let me start with a disclaimer: i wrote these stanzas a little bit on the fly and they may not be perfect. (especially in papa bear's stanza since I have never written such long lines!) It takes hours and hours to get the meter perfect and i just wanted to get it close enough to make the point about length.

      That being said, there are certain generalities you can make. For example, articles (a, an, the) do not get stressed. Linking verbs are generally not stressed (is. are am…) But proper nouns and actions verbs usually do get stressed.

      Pronouns often do not get stressed, but if you look at the example above, the first is followed by an unstressed linking verb (I am) the second is following by an action verb (i SAW). So, with monosyllabic verbs, ti can depend on where they fall in a sentence.

      Rather than try to memorize rules, it is probably better to just read your work aloud and see how it sounds. Also, be sure to ask OTHER people to read it aloud.

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    3. Oops, that should have said monosyllabic words.

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  2. What fun, Donna! Thank you.

    Corey, this is invaluable info, and I'm thrilled that it's all here for free. You're such an expert you should be teaching this stuff. You make rhyme much less of a mystery for me.

    Can't wait to read Goldi Rocks.

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    1. Hi Joanne and welcome to my blog! There have been a number of wonderful authors, agents, and illustrators stopping by on WRITERLY WISDOM...if you get the chance, please check them out and maybe even my Flash Fiction Fridays...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  3. I like the internal rhyme of "I saw the POT was scorching HOT." I hadn't thought of rhyme in terms of length like this before. Thanks for a great post!

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    1. Hi Deborah! I learned a lot from Corey today...I hope you did to!

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  4. More great advice! And I loved how you presented it, Corey, using your 3 bears theme! Thanks for hosting, Donna!

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    1. Thanks, Tina...I try to bring as many informative guest posts to the table as possible...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  5. Love getting insights from Corey! Thanks for having her, Donna!

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    1. Hi Pam and welcome to my blog! There are many other wonderful guest posts in this series. If you have a moment why not check some of the others out?

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  6. Corey -

    Always a delight to listen to you rhyme,
    Your funny explanations are the best!
    Counting beats in every stanza,
    Your advice extravaganza
    Eliminates my poetry distress!

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    1. Ohhh, what a cute poem, Cathy!

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  7. Thanks for the lesson, Corey. Thank you Donna for sharing so many great posts on your blog. Corey, I am like Donna Sadd regarding monosyllable words. You are one of the few that seem to be able to drive meter into my brain, so forgive me for asking for more. I think by now this is a mystery that is driving me crazy. I struggle with understanding when you stress monosyllable words and when you do not. For example, in the "Papa Bear too long" rhyme, one time "AND" is stressed. In the next line "and" is not stressed. Why does this occur?

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    1. Hi Alayne! While a lot of times my writing naturally wants to turn to rhyme, I am by NO STRETCH of the imagination a "black belt" at meter...lol

      I think Corey's post will go a long way to helping me...another other writers...understand the complexity of writing in rhyme versus prose.

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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    2. Hi Alayne,

      Truthfully, i was a little bit off in that first line, but I sort of felt I could get away with it because the "and' fell in a spot that was a secondary stress, not a primary stress. I didn't mention primary and secondary stresses, because it would have just gotten too confusing, but the meter in that line is really more like this:

      mama bear made PORridge and she CALLED out time to EAT. (primary stresses capped)

      Bottom line…. you are really correct that the word 'and" does not get stressed. It was just very difficult to write a line with seven stressed beats, so i cheated a little :)

      Sorry! And good job for catching it!

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    3. Oh, and for a good explanation of primary and secondary stresses, go here: http://www.writingrhymeandmeter.com/?page_id=1845

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    4. Thank you so much Corey. I hope it didn't come across as me pointing out an error. Monosyllable words are a huge stumbling block for me when trying to understanding meter. I was only trying to understand more, with no clue that "and" does not get stressed. It looks like you have lead me to another good topic - "primary and secondary" stresses. I will go to the link right away. Thank you for taking time to answer my question and give me the link. I found your answer to Donna Sadd's question helpful as well. I truly appreciate it.

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  8. Thanks, Corey! I don't get it yet, but I will with practice. You've provided a big 'ole log I can run with to break down that wall! I am truly grateful for the time you take to help me and fellow writers. HUGS! :0)- Donna L Sadd

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  9. Great post from a master rhymer and one of my idols! Thanks, Donna, for spotlighting Corey. Thanks, Corey, for showing us the way.
    Question: I love your Baby Bear rhyme...but the meter in the first line is XxXxXxXxXxXxX, but the second line is xXxXxXxXxXxXxX. And it sounds PERFECT...is that okay as long as you maintain the same pattern throughout the story? I'm thinking of my "Boots of Dylan McGee" which you've seen...and it's been pointed out to me (in a pro critique) that the second line is 'off'. :) But I love it...and will keep working on it.:)

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    1. Hi Vivian! I'm really loving the interaction of this particular post...the more you guys comment, the more I learn...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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  10. Hi Vivian,

    An extra unstressed beat at the beginning of a line is usually considered acceptable. In fact, in this case I consider it preferable because the pattern is

    X x X x X x X (x X x X x X)

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  11. MAma BEAR made CREAM of WHEAT but I am NOT a FOOL.

    Sometimes a hard stop (period) or even a soft stop (comma) at the end of a line fills in for an unstressed beat, but other times it is okay to fill in that unstressed beat by using an unstressed syllable at the beginning of a line.

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  12. Oh my goodness, Corey...this post has so much information I'm going to have to print everything off and re-read multiple times to make sure I'm understanding what you are saying...lol...

    Thanks so much for being a part of this series! I think you have helped a lot of newer writers with this post!

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  13. This was a priceless post...thanks Corey, thanks Donna for hosting it!
    Corey, you're a great teacher. You've pointed some great things out here that will help me tremendously. Thanks again!

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    1. Hi Sevenacresky! I'm glad you found this post useful. I'm going to bookmark this post...even it if IS on my own blog so I can refer to it in the future...;~)

      Thanks for stopping by and come back any time!

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