Saturday, May 16, 2009

And There, Hanging from the Car Door, Was a Bloody, Severed.... Rhyme Scheme

I just found your website, and find it to be very helpful. However, I haven’t been able to find the answer to one particular question I have: exactly how does one format the manuscript for a RHYMING picture book - that is, one with stanzas. Do I format it like a poem (single spaced within a stanza, and double spaced between stanzas), or double spaced with 4 spaces between stanzas. Your answer would be GREATLY appreciated.
It doesn't matter. Leaving a break where you anticipate page breaks might be a good idea, and would make sure you've considered how the manuscript will page out in a standard picture book length.

I would suggest you don't format it in running text, like that's going to make the rhyme scheme more subtle or something. Remember that many editors are very sensitive and skittish around rhymed text, so it's not a good idea to present them with something that doesn't look like it's going to rhyme but surprise! it does. To many editors, it's like finding a spider in a candy box. Shock and horror? Not the response you're going for.

Yes, some editors like spiders. But even so, be sure there's a good reason for the manuscript to be in rhyme. "I like it that way" is not good enough.


Steve Brezenoff said...

My GOD where have you been? Three weeks sans EA=less fun.

No pressure or anything.

Christian H said...

Rhyme without reason does make my back crawl a bit. Some people love it, but it drives me nuts.

Word verification: favorsea

emay said...

I've never really understood the "reason" issue about rhyme. What does it mean, other than that it works that way? What's the "reason" for rhyme in IS YOUR MAMA A LLAMA or WILD ABOUT BOOKS?

ae said...

Me too, Christian.

Me too.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Subject material appropriate to a preK audience is an acceptable "reason".

Editorial Anonymous said...

Which is to say, knowing your audience well is a good reason for a book.

Anonymous said...

Quick, EA, take it back! Surely you didn't mean to give anyone an excuse to insist that their manuscript SHOULD rhyme, just because it's aimed at preschoolers.

Sam said...

One reason many rhyming books shouldn't rhyme: Half the sentences are just filler to set up the next rhyme.

Ex: That buzzing's from a bee,
if you'll just look and see.

Anonymous said...

As to a reason for rhyme--

I'm a picture book author, and I've been in several critique groups with unpublished (like me) authors. Generally, the books that get published have a reason for rhyme, but if you read some of the unpublished ones, you'll start to understand better what they mean by having a reason. Some authors, especially new ones, will have a good idea, but because they are writing children's books they seem to think that they need to rhyme. So they write their story in rhyme.

But often times, there is no good reason for it. It makes the book more awkward because they have to add unneeded sentences or change around sentence structure so that they can fit their rhyme scheme. The story can become a chore to read because it is written in rhyme.

Books that have a reason to rhyme are written in tight rhyme. They often have word play that is more fun because it is in rhyme. They make your tongue dance. They don't make you groan when you start reading them. The rhythm flows effortlessly, although you know it took A LOT of effort to get it that way.

I would say that subject material appropriate for pre K is one reason for writing in rhyme, but it shouldn't be the only reason. If it is the story is generally told better in prose, at least in my opinion. Of course, I'm generally not big on rhyme as it is, so it has to be done really well for me to like it.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I agree with the two anonymouses above-- perhaps the best advice is not to look for a reason to do a manuscript in rhyme, but to look for a reason NOT to. If you can think of a reason not to--any reason-- then chances are you shouldn't write it in rhyme.

Anonymous said...

I've had the same experience at critique groups as Anon 6:01. I don't write picture books or rhyme, though, because like most people, I shouldn't. When it works, it's so much fun to read, but when it doesn't, there's nothing more painful. But when I read a new writer's picture book manuscript at a critique meeting and it has lines like, "Come on children, don't you know? Today to the park we all will go!" I ask, "Have you tried writing the story without rhyming it?"
I'm usually met with a blank stare, as if to say, "What is this 'writing-without-rhyme' that you speak of?" That's when I know they aren't big fans of reading children's books. At least their kids loved it.

Hope Vestergaard said...

With "Is your mama a llama?" -- the initial question has a playful internal rhyme. If the subsequent verses weren't equally fun, the book wouldn't have worked. But since the author found great rhymes, it did. Other reasons: the subject matter is rhythmic; the point of the book is wordplay; a cyclical plot is nicely underscored by a repeating line or stanza.
Sam, I call those throwaway lines cereal fillers. They don't advance the plot. Sometimes they can be improved, but if the writer has to shoehorn in a line to preserve a story in rhyme, it's probably not working. The best rhyming stories are effortless and seamless. The worst ones use the rhyming format to "make up for" (unsuccessfully!) a lack of plot, poor character development, or a dull story.

Bob Schechter said...

I thought I posted a comment here yesterday, but it's not here, so forgive me if two similar comments by me show up.

The original question was how to format a rhyming picture book when you submit it. Yet somehow many of the answers seem to be questioning the decision to have written a rhyming book in the first place and expressing doubt that the person who asked the question has actually written a worthwhile book to justify the effrontery of being in rhyme.

That does not do justice to the question, in my opinion. If someone said that they had written a prose picture book and wanted to know how to format it, would anyone feel the need to caution, "But please make sure you don't use too many empty adverbs. And for goodness sake, be grammatical and tell a good story!"

Yes, I imagine it's true that there are lots of very, very, very bad rhyming manuscripts that get submitted, but since rhyme does get published more frequently than hell freezes over, one may assume that the attempt to publish one's own rhyme is nothing to be criticized per se.

And if the rhyming manuscript does stink, it should at least be formatted nicely, no?

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a thread hijack, Bob. EA answered the question quite tidily. Then people posted follow-up questions relating to rhyme.

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