To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

My stack of childhood books - is it any wonder I love rhyme?
My stack of childhood books – is it any wonder I love rhyme?

I have a confession to make. I love to rhyme. And I mean it. (“Anybody want a peanut?”*)

Having grown up on Dr. Seuss books, there’s a part of my brain convinced picture books should rhyme. All the time. (See what I did there? Okay, I’ll stop now.)

But rhyming books are hard to write. (Correction: hard to write well.)

As a reader, I wince at bad rhymes and near rhymes, sometimes coming up with new lines for my kids’ most headdesk-inducing books. Then there are the books where I have to change my usual pronunciation of a word to make the rhyme work (most notable example is the “vase/place” rhyme in one of my kids’ books — I’d be more likely to rhyme “vase” with “jaws” in my own work.)

As a writer, I know agents and editors are tired of these, too. That’s why so many have “No Rhyme” edicts. Plus, there’s also the translation issue to contend with – rhyming books are much harder (if not impossible) to translate, cutting off potential income/sales for a book.

For a rhyming book to sell these days, it has to be special: strong rhymes, preferably unusual ones (sat/cat/hat/mat just doesn’t cut it anymore), with impeccable rhythm, all about a unique idea. And if your story can’t hit those high standards, well, then, it’s better off in prose.

And, so far, my rhyme doesn’t cut it. But still, I keep coming back to it, like some kind of rhyme junkie.

I’ve tried playing with some new forms lately, including a more staccato, almost rap-like story, but nothing strong enough to show to crit partners.

However, of the 4 1/2 PBs I wrote for my mini challenge, only the half-book was written in rhyme. And, to be honest, I think that’s a large part of why I didn’t finish it. The rhymes just didn’t want to come, and no matter how I rearranged my sentences, I just couldn’t make them work. The rhyme stumped me. So, for the other four books, I didn’t even think about rhyming. And those books were definitely stronger for that choice.

Is rhyme dead? I don’t think so. There have been some great rhyming books lately: Josh Funk’s Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, Corey Rosen Schwartz’s Ninja Red Riding Hood, and Paul Czajak’s Monster Needs a Party, to name just a few.

In the end, I think it comes down to the age old (but too good to be clichéd) adage, “write what you love.” If a story calls out to be written in rhyme, write it in rhyme. But it doesn’t hurt to try your story out in prose as well – that way you can discover for yourself whether the rhyme is really necessary, or just there because you think it should be.

What about you? Would you, should you write in rhyme? Do you do it all the time? Is sing-song rhythm in your head? Or do you write in prose instead? Tell me about it in the comments.

*Bonus points if you caught my Princess Bride reference.


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