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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Laura Sassi: Rhyming Stories as Shiny Shoes

I love having guests whose skills are different from mine. Laura Sassi writes rhyming stories, something I have little experience with, so I had a lot to learn from her guest post. Do you have a story you think would work well in rhyme? It might, and it might not. Read this, and give it some more thought.

(And congrats to Laura on her new book deal!)

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If the Shoe DOESN’T Fit: Thoughts on Rhyming...or Not
by
Laura Sassi

            My daughter loves shoes, especially sparkly shoes. “Like Cinderella!” she cheered as a toddler. But unlike Cinderella and her lovely glass slipper, my daughter learned early on that the shoe doesn’t always fit. Too big and it’s hard to walk in without wobbling. Too small and squeezing your foot in just plain hurts.
            I love rhyme as much as my daughter loves sparkly shoes. It’s my passion and my preferred writing style. I’ve sold several rhyming stories and poems to kids’ magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr., Highlights for Children, Spider, and Ladybug. And I’m thrilled to announce that Zonderkidz will publish my debut picture book, GOODNIGHT, ARK, a rollicking rhymer about bedtime on Noah’s ark.
            But though I love sparkly rhyming tales, rhyming doesn’t always fit the story. Sometimes rhyming makes the story dreadful and forced, perhaps even un-readable. How is a writer to know whether to rhyme or not? In keeping with Cinderella and her shiny shoes, here are three questions I ask to see if the rhyming “shoe” fits.

Question #1: Can I rhyme well?
Good rhyme is hard to carry off because it must also be paired with perfect meter. To carry that off you need to have a good ear for the rhythm of words. In addition, the rhyming words you choose must be unexpected and fresh. For me, the perfect rhyming story is one that flows so well that the rhyme seems organic to the piece. Accomplishing this takes lots of revision, fine-tuning and patience.

 Question #2: Does rhyming fit the mood of my story?
When I first indulged my passion for rhyme, I wanted to make EVERY story rhyme and did so with disastrous results. My favorite failed example is a rhyming story I drafted about a boy who takes Splash, the class fish, home to watch over vacation. The fish, unfortunately, dies,and the boy must decide whether to replace it with a look-alike or confess the truth. Here’s my dreadful rhyming version of the moment he discovers the fish is dead.
            “One morning at the end of break, 
            Jerome said, “Time to sup!”  
            But Splash, alas, moved not one bit. 
            “Look, Mom! He’s belly up!”
Even now, I cringe when I read that. Not only is it distressingly forced, but the mood and the rhyme don’t jive. I now reserve rhyme for light-hearted and humorous pieces. As for Splash, I wisely re-wrote the entire story in prose. The non-rhyming version of my fishy tale appeared in the April 2011 issue of Clubhouse Jr.

Rhyming Question #3:  How old are my readers?
I once wrote a humorous three verse poem with fresh rhymes and impeccable meter.  A perfect sell for the kid’s magazine market, or so I thought.  Turns out, it’s fatal flaw was that it included a couple lines about algebraic expressions. Not something your typical rhyme fan is familiar with. Why? Because, as I’ve learned both as a former teacher and now as a mom and writer, the biggest fans of rhyming are the very young. Toddlers and preschoolers love playing with sounds and pointing out, repeating, and making their own rhymes. So, while I still love writing rhyming poems for the age 8 - 12 crowd, I’ve discovered that the pieces of mine that shine the most are the short and pithy rhyming pieces for youngest readers.

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To learn more about Laura Sassi and her passion for rhyme, visit her at www.laurasassitales.wordpress.com or on Twitter @laurasassitales 

[If you leave a comment (and please do!), don't be alarmed when it doesn't show up right away. Evil spammers have forced me to moderate and approve each comment before I post it. -AEJ]

16 comments:

  1. Great Laura! I love straightforward rules, that of course each writer can decide whether to break. But in the breaking the writer makes a conscious decision to do so.

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  2. You said it, Laura! (and very nicely, I might add :-) There is nothing worse than forced, uneven rhyme. You are right that it takes a good ear and many revisions. Sometimes our first drafts sound fine to us, for we poets can easily fool ourselves, but closer inspection will often reveal spots of uneven meter, and those need to be fixed.

    I can't wait to read Goodnight, Ark. It sounds wonderful!

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  3. So true Laura - sometimes as cute as those sparkly shoes appear, they are all wrong for the outfit!

    The Ark always seemed liked it would be a wild ride - can't wait to read how you envision forty nights of bedtime!

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  4. Great post, Laura! And I'm glad to hear you rewrote Splash in prose and found a home for it. It's nice to be flexible and think about each piece individually.

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  5. Thanks, Anne, for hosting Laura. And thanks Laura for these guidelines. I have a few old rhyming PB stories in a drawer somewhere. I'm not sure if they're good or bad. Maybe I'll take them out and ask myself these questions.

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  6. It's been so much fun being a guest on your blog, Anne. Thanks for letting me talk about shiny shoes and rhyming tales. Happy writing all - rhyming or not!

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  7. Thanks, Anne & Laura. Keep clicking those dancing shoes!

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  8. Yay! It's up now and I found it! Great post, Laura, and very good points about when to know if rhyming is right. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Thanks for sharing your rhyming wisdom, Laura! And my son and I enjoyed that story about Splash the fish! Thanks for hosting, Anne.

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  10. That's a great post, Laura, thanks. So many good points which I'll now consider - one of my children's storeis is in rhyme and I'll go back and see if it still works!

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  11. Thanks for sharing this. A lot of great advice in one lovely post. Thanks so much. :-)

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  12. Wow! I'm enjoying all the comments. Glad something I said could be helpful. =) Hope everyone finds just the right kind of shoes for their stories. And thanks, again, Anne, for having me.

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  13. My pleasure, Laura. Thanks for providing such great food for thought.

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  14. Thanks for hosting Laura, Anne! Stories that rhyme are so fun to read, yet so tough to write ... Laura's Q&A here is terrific. Answer 2 in particular is very, very helpful.

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  15. Boy can I relate to what your saying here, Laura. I've written a couple of rhyming stores but never been brave enough to send them out. I did send one to a critique group, which I thought was really great, but was told it would probably be better in prose. You made it a bit clearer here as to why they are probably correct. Thanks for the tips!

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  16. As usual, spot-on advice, accompanied by a perfect and creative analogy. Keep up the great work, Laura! Really looking forward to seeing your debut picture book, too! :)

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