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How to Write a Picture Book with Fabulous "R & M"
"Musings" for December 2005

by Margot Finke

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R & M = Rhyme and Meter:

R & M comes naturally to some writers. To others, combining rhyme and meter with a neat story is an exercise in frustration -- however, a great picture book must have all three.

The subject of rhyming picture books often comes up on children's writing lists. Will kids root for your main character? After countless rewrites, and knee-deep forays into your rhyming dictionary, are you happy with the results, or do you scream, "Ahaaaaaaaaaaa!"

A Few R and M Clues:

Meter is akin to singing on key.  Some people have perfect pitch: they sing every note on key.  Others sing flat, and make you grind your teeth.  If smooth meter does not come naturally to you, it can take a whole lot of hard work and hair pulling to make it sound right. Counting the syllables in each line can give some help with good meter. However, if you match the stressed and unstressed beats, plus the natural stresses on each word, your meter has a better chance of flowing like good wine. Watch where you place multi-syllable words: one of these in the wrong place and your meter takes a nosedive. Beware the easy rhyming word. You need to make sure your rhyme fits seamlessly, and moves your story forward. Choosing a word because you are desperate, and it's the only word that rhymes, is a sure way to guarantee a rejection letter. Rework these lines. Turn them upside down and inside out. Find rhyming words that are a perfect fit for your story, and provide an ideal rhyming duo.

A Rhyming Dictionary and Thesaurus are Invaluable Tools:

Click any of the links below for rhyming help.

Rhyme Zone

Write Express

Word Central-Rhyming Dictionary

The Story Counts Too!

The story you tell is just as important as your rhyme and meter. The same story writing rules apply in rhyme as in plain text -- fun, interesting characters, and a plot that grabs reader interest with its first few lines. Keep the plot simple and the writing tight -- as far below 1,000 words as possible. Kids have short attention spans: hook them early. Start with a name, a place, and an idea. Move to the middle with a conflict or puzzle to be solved. Wrap it up with an ending that resolves the conflict or puzzle, and ties up the loose ends. Have your child protagonist solve his or her own problems. Keep adult input at a minimum.

Kids love to hear a favorite story over and over. Great picture books soon become dog-eared.

Below are a variety of excellent resources that will help you unravel the mystery of writing rhyme and meter. Craft rhyming picture books that become dog-eared with love.

"To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme" by Dori Chaconas. Read this amazing article. Dori nails the subject. Clear, precise information, and the many instructive examples make it seem easy. If you long to write great rhyme, this is one article you don't want to miss.

Anastasia Suen: Take her picture book class if you want to study rhyme & meter. Her book, Picture Writing, is a must, if you plan to write in rhyme.

Beginners Site For Rhyme: Follow links to more advanced sections.

Poetry4kids: See how Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, Patricia Hubbell and others do it. Plus other poetry resources. Try Poetry Lessons first.

Writing Picture Books by Marisa Montes is a general introduction to writing picture books. You PB needs to have everything mentioned on this website, PLUS great rhyme and meter.

Verla Kay's "Writing Picture Books" -- (Scroll down to "Writing Picture Books" and click.) Verla offers wonderful advice, plus help on how to write rhyme and meter, as well as a great picture book story.

Understanding and Explicating Poetry (no author noted).  Laura Purdie Salas sent me this great article. She noted that #7 was most helpful.

Hope Vestergaard has a great article on her website titled, "Rhymes and Misdemeanors." Her article originally appeared on Jan Field's website. This is definitely a ‘must read' if you plan to write in rhyme.

Margot's Critique Service: I offer a critique service that specializes in rhyming picture books, with personal guidance and reasonable fees. Read my archived "Musings" columns for more articles on writing picture books.

My lighthearted rhyme below offers hints, clues, and the chance of a giggle. Can you see yourself in these verses?

Rhyme and Meter -- Ahaaaaaa!
There are people who think rhyme is easy to churn.
They know all the answers - they don't want to learn.
They think rhyming stories are done in a flash.
No need for a rewrite: "How dare you say trash!"
The brash and unruly don't search for strong verbs,
Their tired old adjectives pop up in herds.
But editors know that a rhyme flies on wings
That lifts up the reader with meter that sings.
Their syllable count is way off -- for the birds!
Why bother to count, or weed the dumb words.
Yet when tart rejection slips paper their walls,
It begins to sink in -- meter's not found at malls.
But to weave a great story with meter and plot,
Interesting characters, setting, the lot,
Takes talent and patience, and three things quite rare -
A dash of sheer brilliance, hard work, and care.
The plot and the characters live in your head,
And problems galore get you out of your bed.
If you keep the poor meter that doesn't quite fit,
Will you get a rejection instead of a hit?
The words that rhyme easy, but don't help the plot,
Make editors crazy -- they see this a lot.
Rhyme needs to blend in, so a story can glide:
Cool fun and action, on a rhyme/meter tide.
There'll be nit-picking nights, thesaurus in hand.
Daytime dilemmas -- will it rhyme like you planned?
And, who stole the words that fit your last line?
You tear out your hair, and chug down some wine.
Like honey that flows from a summer-warmed hive,
Story and meter must be golden to thrive.
The characters perfect, the rhyme must fit well.
All blended together -- a pleasure to tell.
Yes, rhyme for a quick note IS done in a flash,
But if you crave editors offering cash,
Please, put in the time, and the sweat, and the tears.
And you could be published in. . . Oh, say, ten years!


Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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