Most young children (and a lot of adults too) love listening to rhyming picture books. The lyrical storylines with near perfect rhyme, rhythm, and meter capture a reader’s imagination and creates worlds full of page turning adventure or whimsical silliness. But even though some people think this genre may be easy to write, a GREAT rhyming picture book contains certain key elements.
When Story Catcher Publishing opens for submissions in the fall, we will be looking for rhyming picture books which have these key elements as well as a strong storyline…
CHOOSE YOUR RHYTHM
Rhyming picture books are known for their lovely lyrical sentence structure. Nowhere is the word choice and placement of those words as important as in a rhyming picture book. Select your rhythm or pattern and STICK TO IT! Whether you choose couplets, A/B Alternate rhymes, simple four-line rhymes, etc. be sure to remain consistent to the pattern you have chosen. Once your story is read out loud, any deviation from that chosen pattern will jump right out to declare you amateurish attempt at writing a rhyming picture book.
WHAT ABOUT METER?
Once you have your rhythm chosen for your story, you have to pay attention to your meter or syllable beats for each line. You can’t jump around like a cat on a hot tin roof. Be consistent! Let’s say your first two line have a 10 syllable beat to it. Then your third and fourth line drop down to a 6 beat pattern. That means lines five and six would typically repeat the 10 syllable beat. Lines seven and eight would then follow with a 6 beat pattern. This way a writer stays true to the rhythm they’ve chosen AND conformed to the meter they’ve selected.
MAKE THOSE WORDS COUNT
I’ve mentioned before the industry “sweet spot” for picture book word count runs 300-500. Add to that the challenge of sticking to a patterned rhyme and now there is added pressure to make those words count! This is where some writers make the creative decision to switch to prose instead of rhyme.
DON’T SACRIFICE YOUR STORY
Once you’ve picked your rhyme, rhythm, meter, and words, you have to then make sure you still have a story to tell. The end result must still have a beginning, middle, and end. The main character still has a problem to solve, adventure to go on, a mission to accomplish, etc. and the reader can find a satisfactory ending to the story where the main character has grown in some way from a subtle lesson learned.
Here are some ways to help writers improve their rhyming picture book skills:
READ IN YOUR GENRE
It can’t be emphasized enough about reading as many books as you can in the genre you want to write about. Study the classics but embrace current industry favorites (released within the past five years) so you can be fully aware of what is out there…what is winning awards and capturing the attention of those readers you want to read your own book!
READ OUT LOUD
Once you have completed your manuscript…paying attention to rhyme, rhythm, meter, etc. then read your story out loud. Better yet, have someone who isn’t familiar with your story at all read it out loud. If there is hesitation or sudden stops in the flow of your words, then make notes of where you have to focus your editing efforts before submitting your story to an agent or publisher.
DON’T TALK LIKE YODA
Writing, or speaking, in a forced rhyme only works for a certain Star Wars character. Here’s an example:
“Whenever we go for a walk,
with you, I like to talk.”
No one but Yoda could get away with talking like that and you certainly don’t want to see it in a rhyming picture book. Be very careful to not put “forced rhymes” in your manuscript. It screams your lack of skill writing that type of picture book. It is the main reason some agents and publishers won’t even accept rhyming picture books as part of their submissions, so pay close attention to your sentence structure!
Writing rhyming picture books can be a huge challenge for some writers, but that’s not to say it’s completely impossible to have a strong rhyming story. Everyone knows Dr. Seuss’ lovely rhyming picture books, but here is a small list of other authors just as skillful so check them out!
Just to name a few…;-)
Hybrid published author, Donna L Martin, has been writing since she was eight years old. She is a 4th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo by day and a ‘ninja’ writer of flash fiction, children’s picture books, chapter books, young adult novels and inspirational essays by night. Donna offers occasional BOOK NOOK REVIEWS of great children’s books and offers WRITERLY WISDOM to new and established writers. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Alliance of Independent Authors, and Children’s Book Insider. Donna loves dark chocolate, going to the beach and adding to her growing book collection.
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c/o Story Catcher Publishing
P O Box 27788
Knoxville, Tn 37927