Many first-time picture authors believe stories should be told in rhyme. Not so. It’s so easy to trip up and make mistakes. The first and most glaring mistake is to use unnatural phrasing to make your lines rhyme. Would your phrases make sense if you wrote them out in prose without the rhyme? Convoluted sentences that lack flow drive editors crazy.
Newbie authors almost always twist word order. The cat on a fence sat is not normal sentence order. If you want an editor to consider your story, be sure it reads the way people speak. For a wonderful example of natural word order, read Alice Shertle’s poems. Here’s an excerpt from one of her poems:
I Am the Cat
I am the cat in the easy chair–
velvet arm, and a cushion where
I scratch my claws and groom my hair–
Mine, alone, is the easy chair.
I am the cat in a puddle of sun–
isn’t a sun puddle wonderful fun?
Doesn’t the light make my dark coat shine?
Isn’t it right that the sun is mine?
Read more samples of her work at the Miss Rumphius Effect blog, or better yet, pick up some of her 40 books. You’ll be glad you did. And if you have the opportunity to take a workshop with Ms. Shertle, do so. I had the privilege of attending a conference breakout session with her, and it was phenomenal. You’ll never look at a poem the same way again. Guaranteed.
So back to editors’ peeves… Another major flaw is choosing words because they rhyme. Often the words make little sense or are unrelated to the story. (And, yes, rhyming picture books do have to tell a story.) Having your giraffe drink from a carafe may fit the rhyme scheme, but not the storyline.
Near-rhyme is another annoyance. Is your turtle wearing a girdle? Close but not quite there. As Deborah Diesen says on the 12×12 blog, “it’s not enough that the words end with the same final syllable sound. Instead, the last stressed syllable and everything that comes after the last stressed syllable must rhyme.” She gives the example of bunny and chickadee. Both end with the same long e sound, but they don’t rhyme.
After all this advice against it, if you still think you want to write a rhyming picture book, then I recommend hopping over to Diesen’s post for a long list of fabulous tips on editing your poetry. If you follow all her steps, then an editor may just be thrilled to pick up your submission.