My good friend, Rob Sanders, recently posted a wonderful essay on his blog about overusing literary devices (July 27, 2012). He compared literary devices in picture books (onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc.) to the sprinkles on a cupcake, a compelling and vivd image – as well as excellent advice. After all, while sprinkles are fabulous (and I really adore the British name, hundreds and thousands), who wants to eat a giant pile of them? What you want to eat is the sweet treat beneath the sprinkles.
However, I must disagree with Rob about one point. It happens very rarely that I disagree with him on writing; after all, he is a great writing teacher and published picture book author and one whose writing I’ve admired since the moment I laid eyes on it. BUT. . .
Rob makes the claim that, unless you possess natural rhyming ability and talent, lay off. Leave the rhyming to those despicable, rotten – ahem, I mean, gifted, brilliant – folks who are naturally adroit and adept at rhyme. I must disagree.
While he does make an exception for those folks who wish to return to school for advanced education in rhyme and meter, I can’t help but bemoan his unusually shortsighted advice about laying off rhyme. Rhyme and meter are difficult. Wickedly difficult, if you have no sense of rhythm to begin with. (Kind of like dance or music.) BUT. . .
That is no reason to forgo rhyme completely. Practicing rhyme and meter, playing with rhyme and meter, enjoying rhyme and meter are the only ways you can improve. Plus, by playing around with rhyme, I would argue that you improve your natural writing rhythms. Just as wordplay and word games can sharpen your vocabulary and images, rhyme can improve your ear for the natural ebb and flow of sentences. You may never be the next Dr. Seuss (and thank goodness for that!), but there’s no reason why you can’t explore and practice rhyme in your writing.
One caveat: Rob is entirely correct when he notes that too many writers insist on using rhyme when it doesn’t serve the story. Rhyme gets a bad rap not only because too often it’s done poorly but because the underlying story is weak. A great piece of advice about rhyme is to write the piece both in prose and in rhyme.
Plenty of resources exist for those who wish to learn more about rhyme, but a new one is the witty – and useful – blog started by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Tiffany Strelitz Haber, The Meter Maids. They do expect you to know the basics, but their advice is spot on, and fun, to boot. So, go ahead – have a little fun and give rhyme a whirl!
P.S. As we slip from July into August, I am reaching my goal of 500 words per day, six days per week and a weekly blog post. Here’s hoping the dog days of August don’t slow me down!