If you write picture books, you've probably already noticed that rhyming picture books...are tough to sell. Many agents and editors state outright that they simply won't even consider a rhyming text!
The reason isn't because rhyme doesn't work in picture books; it's that it's very difficult to do well.
If you want to write a rhyming text, here's what you need to know:
There needs to be a consistent pattern
of meter (stressed and unstressed word pattern), syllable count, rhyme and stanza length for the read-aloud to feel flawless (not "forced").
I call this building a house!
(I need to do what now?!)
No really! The four walls of meter, syllable, rhyme and stanza work together to support the narrative.
Wall 1: Meter
The stressed and unstressed pattern to your words. Examples (bold is stressed):
IAMBIC (x /) : That time of year thou mayst in me behold
TROCHAIC (/ x): Tell me not in mournful numbers
- every other word is stressed, starting with second
ANAPESTIC (x x /): And the sound of a voice that is still
- every other word stressed, starting with first word
- every third word is stressed
There should be a consistent meter pattern with each line
Wall 2: Syllable
Working together with a consistent syllable count in each line. Examples (number is syllable, line denotes meter pattern):
IAMBIC PENTAMETER (5 iambs, 10 syllables)
That time | of year | thou mayst | in me | behold
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
TROCHAIC TETRAMETER (4 trochees, 8 syllables)
Tell me | not in | mournful | numbers
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
ANAPESTIC TRIMETER (3 anapests, 9 syllables)
And the sound | of a voice | that is still
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Tip: syllable count is the first place I turn to look when a rhyming text feels "off"
Wall 3: Rhyme
The above two pieces create the rhythm
of your text. You don't have to add rhyme but, if you do, each stanza should have paired words that sound alike. Examples:
Trains are humming, coming near (A)Coupled cars from front to rear. (A)Rumbling, grumbling, screech and squeal (B)Rolling, trolling wheels on steel (B)Trains Don't Sleep by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum
Full fathom five thy father lies; (A)Of his bones are coral made; (B)
Those are pearls that were his eyes; (A)
Nothing of him that does fade, (B)
But doth suffer a sea-change (C)
Into something rich and strange. (C)
The Tempest, Shakespeare 1.2.456
The trick here is to pick a word that feels natural and organic to the unfolding narrative, rather than forced in just to rhyme. This often will require changing up your entire sentence rather than just picking a word that rhymes! Don't just try and make a word fit your existing sentence. This is often what results in a "forced" rhyme.
Tip: work backwards. If you know what word/words might fit your rhyme, start writing different sentences that also fit within your syllable count. Meter will often fall into place with syllable count.
Wall 4: Stanza
Finally, keep the number of lines per stanza consistent. The examples in #3 above are stanzas. Trains is a stanza made up of four lines. Tempest would be a stanza made up of six lines (it's not actually written in stanzas, just, you know, for the stake of example). You may have a text with stanzas of four lines each. You may have a text of stanzas of 3 lines, 2 lines, 3 lines, 2 lines.
Note: final text placement may break your stanzas up for page-turn & visuals, but it should be presented consistently!
Roof: the idea and narrative connecting it all together
You don't need to use one of the established patterns given as examples above; your text simply needs to be consistent in whatever pattern you do use.
Exercise for you
- Can you pick out the elements of the house in the examples for #3 above?
- Take a few of your favorite rhyming picture book texts. Can you pick out the elements?
Here are some online resources to help:
: find words that rhyme listed out by syllable count