Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WRITING ADVICE FROM DOWN UNDER: Bumbled Verse, Nothing's Worse!

I've reached across the globe to Australia to introduce you to my long-time cyber crit friend Jackie Hosking. She's always proved a great help with rhyme, rhythm and meter when members of our little group needed it. I'm pleased to  share her fun and helpful advice here today.

“Rhyme & Meter; nothing’s sweeter
Bumbled Verse; nothing’s worse.”
by Jackie Hosking

As a children’s writer and editor of rhyming stories and poetry I spend much of my time de-bumbling verse. If you think of your readers as passengers you’ll find that most feel comfortable when they can trust that their journey will be a smooth one. So the question is what are the factors that make for a bumpy ride?

Dori Chaconas, in an early post, told us about the importance of story, rhythm and rhyme (in that order) so I won’t go into that so much here. Instead I would like to expand on what it is we mean by the word ‘rhythm’.

Rhythm or meter, is the smoothinator. It takes the speed humps and the pot holes off the road. Novice rhymers, in my experience, tend to focus on the end rhymes and rush over the rhythm often forcing words into spaces where they do not fit. When reread, by the writer, we can liken it to a driver who is driving along a very familiar piece of road, they can pretty much do it with their eyes closed. When a new reader is put into the driver’s seat, they will not know to dodge the hidden pot holes and will inevitably fall into them. So how do we avoid this? Well like all good drivers, we must follow the rules.

My 12 page booklet, ‘How to Write in Rhyme Like the Experts’ illustrates the rules in a very simple fashion. It takes you back to basics explaining the role of syllables, stressed and non-stressed, the common types of meter used in the English language, the iamb, the trochee, the spondee, the anapest and the dactyl and what it is we mean by the word ‘foot’.

Dr Seuss, for example was a keen user of the anapest. An anapest is a type of meter. It is made up of three syllables, two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. Each group of these 3 syllables is called a foot and Dr Seuss liked to have 4 feet per line.

From ‘Horton Hears a Who’...

|On the fif|teenth of May| in the Jun|gle of Nool|

        1                  2                3              4

|In the heat| of the day| in the cool| of the pool|

        1                  2                3               4

As you can see each |foot| is made up of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable and there are four |feet| to each line. You’ll note that there are also 4 stressed syllables. The story then, is written in anapaestic tetrameter, where tetrameter = four. Monometer = one, Dimeter = two, Trimeter = three etc.

Seuss is a brilliant metrical poet and I would recommend that you read as much of him as you can.

To finish up I would like to highlight what I’ve been talking about by bumbling Seuss’s verse.

On the twelfth of May deep in the Jungle of Nool

In the sweltering heat of the day inside the cool of the pool

Sorry Dr Seuss...

So what’s gone wrong? When I bold the stressed syllables you’ll see that the pattern of stressed to non-stressed syllables is no longer consistent. The meter is muddled, the verse is varied, the beat is bumbled and it just doesn’t make for a smooth ride.

On the twelfth of May deep in the Jungle of Nool

In the sweltering heat of the day inside the cool of the pool

If you write in rhyme and you are interested in learning a bit more about meter then you might like to get a hold of a copy of my booklet. For more information please visit my blog at

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