One of the most common pieces of advice given to new picture book writers is not to write in rhyme. “But why?” they say. “We see published picture books written in rhyme. Obviously these manuscripts sell.”
And that’s true. But to sell, rhyme has got to be spot on and flawless. And that means that it has to work when I read it aloud, when you read it aloud, and when that guy over there reads it aloud. Here are some things to remember:
Make the story work.
First things first, get your story down. Don’t worry about creating spot on rhyme until you’ve created a plot and characters that work. Otherwise the temptation is to put the rhyme first. And really? It doesn’t matter how good the rhyme is if your story stinks.
Don’t play with word order.
Once you started working with the rhyme, be careful not to force your word order. What do I mean by that?
The other day I met a fellow.
He wore a hat that was yellow.
Never mind that the rhythm is wrong. First things first, you would say “he wore a yellow hat.” Don’t goof with the word order just to make your line rhyme.
Avoid near rhyme.
If you are going to write a rhyming text, you have use rhyming words. That seems like an obvious thing to say but a lot of people substitute near rhyme. Sometimes the words look like they should rhyme but they don’t went read aloud. Examples include love and move, rough and plough, or lead (led) and seed.
You don’t have to make a story rhyme for it to be a fun read aloud. I like to play with internal rhyme – green, steam, and trees. I’ll use alliteration, using words that start with the same sound – cat and caught, mountain and meadow, hill and holly.
Admittedly, this is easier with some stories than with others. Some stories are lyrical and sweet to read aloud from the start. Others are clunky and it is a struggle to make them work. But when you do? The struggle was well worth the effort.