The Wretched Curse of Rhyming Verse

The curse will give you ugly spots,
The curse will give you twitches,
The curse will make you quite confused
And give you heaving glitches.

Your words will come out backwards
And you’ll maybe lose the plot.
By then of course it’s much too late,
Diagnosis: Published? Not!

Symptom #1: Ugly spots. Imperfect rhymes are a pox on a rhyming text.

A good rhyming dictionary will help you find the best, most meaningful rhyme, and here’s an excellent online resource. There may be no rhyme for what you want to say, so try saying it differently. Or say something different.

Symptom #2: Twitches: irregular and jerky meter makes one dizzy.

There is perhaps no clearer evidence to an editor that you have the Curse than an irregular, changing and awkward meter. Try reading your text aloud into a recording device. Have someone else read it to you. This will help you define where the problems lie.

Symptom #3: Confusion: Um, are you talking to me?

Many authors who write verse find they have an issue with changing POV (Point of View), feeling compelled to suddenly and inexplicably address the audience directly or change narrators in order to make their lines rhyme. Just as quickly the urge retreats and the author returns to the initial POV, but by then the damage has been done.

Symptom #4: Heaving Glitches: You won’t know whether you’re coming or going.

Structural changes are an enormous problem for the rhymers: for example, changing from rhyming every second line to rhyming every line. Or every third line. And often within the same stanza. Structural changes should be carried out with intent. They should be repeated. They should say something about the narrative, pace, or emotional changes occurring within the story. More on rhyme schemes here. 

Symptom #5: Speaking backward: Sayeth to me, what art thou trying to?

Rhymers also must be wary of using words and phrases with either inappropriate or obscure meanings… or back-to-front phrasing… or archaic speech patterns… simply because they rhyme.

Symptom #6: Completely losing the plot: What were you trying to say again? At this point you know that the curse is in an advanced and possibly incurable state.

Diagnosis: Spurned, returned and possibly burned.

But look at it like this. Editors are people, too. They receive many texts. Many of them are in poorly-written verse. They are familiar with the Curse of Verse, well-‘versed’ in its symptoms. And they do not have the time, money, or inclination to affect a cure. And even if yours is good, the editor may simply have had too much exposure to the bug. They may have become immune to anything that even resembles Rhyming Verse.

Prevention and Cure: First, take a deep breath. Don’t be dismayed. You’re not alone. The curse is prevalent and catching, but it is absolutely curable.

You do have something worthwhile to say. You know that a story needs a beginning, middle and end. It is really difficult to write rhyming texts that are consistent in meter, rhyme, style, and that still portray what the writer wants them to portray.

And maybe there’s no reason to write your text in verse. Rhyme lends itself to texts that are humorous or light-hearted in nature or that are designed primarily to entertain. Prose might suit your story better. You may consider re-writing your text in a combination of prose and verse with a rhyming ‘refrain/chorus’ repeated with minor variations. This may free your writing style, allow you to avoid all the other symptoms and retain your character and narrative development.

The best picture books work like a poem (whether they rhyme or not).Owl Moon by Jane Yolen is a great example. Martin Waddle’s Little Bear books show a different, equally successful approach for a younger audience. These each have a certain metre, cadence and lyrical quality and even some rhyming elements through the text. Bursts of rhyme can be used with intent, as does Maurice Sendak inWhere the Wild things Are.

Pick up your pen and just begin again. Just start writing in prose, and don’t stop, you’ll be free.

Recovery: is usually speedy. You’ll feel better. And so will your audience.