Thursday, February 19, 2015

Carrie Clickard: Step Two– MAKE IT STICK

Beware of rhyming criminals in pigtails!

Fortunately, Carrie Clickard's on the case.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tick, click, make your meter stick!

Are you plagued by shuffling shambling igor-meter?

Does your gorgeous waltzing verse feel more like this …

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Time to join the Rhyme Crime investigators.  We’re on a mission to pick a meter and make it stick!

This post we’ll be identifying and incarcerating a serious offender:

In the last Rhyme Crime post we talked about choosing the perfect meter for your rhyming story. If you missed it, you can sneak back and review that post HERE.  Now we’re ready to tackle some of the criminals who may be lurking inside your otherwise outstanding verse.

She may look innocent, but “Nearly Nellie” is one of the most prolific rhyme crime offenders. She pops up in everything from picture books to Broadway lyrics.  Her dastardly deeds fall under a lot of aliases: near rhyme, close rhyme, slant rhyme, imperfect rhyme, or oblique rhyme.  (Oblique, really?)

The one thing all those aliases have in common is the word ‘rhyme’, which is a bit of a misnomer. Sure we sing them along with Pharell or Meghan Trainor. And we skim right over them on Hallmark cards.  But for those of us writing in rhyme, especially for younger children, the standard is this: if your first grade teacher would mark you down for saying two words rhyme, then so will an editor.  

In other words, near rhymes aren’t rhymes at all.

Let’s look at a few examples:
"Buy me a Rose" by Kenny Rogers

Buy me a rose, call me from work
Open a door for me, what would it hurt 
Yes, indeed they both have a similar vowel sound 'ur'.  But –ORK and –URT don’t rhyme.  Remember those rhyming worksheets your teacher used to hand out? This is like rhyming FORK with SHIRT – and would earn you a big red X.

"Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler/Kenny Rogers

You've been content to let me shine
You always walked a step behind
Again, we’ve got a similar vowel sound “eyen” in the IN – but the properly pronounced D in "behind" disqualifies this as a rhyme.

Let’s see if you can spot this one yourself:
"The Keeper Of The Stars" by Tracy Byrd

I tip my hat... to the keeper of the stars  
He sure knew what he was doin' when he joined these two hearts
Got it?  Good!

Now just for fun, let’s do one that will cause some disagreement.
“Africa” by Toto.  

The wild dogs cry out in the night,
As they grow restless, longing for some solitary company.
I know that I must do what's right,
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.
Now half of the critics out there will be happy with this pair. They both end with “EEE” as the last sound.  And they reason we rhyme lots of words based on that, like bee and see and tree, etc.

But in the opinion of others (like my own poetry professors), company and Serengeti do NOT rhyme.   They take the last two syllables as a “double-rhyme”, so thus:  kum-PAN-EE and sair-en-GET-EE

Near rhyme or not?  Can’t we all just get along and sing? 

Okay, back to business.  A lot of you are looking at the examples above and thinking: “Hang on, my favorite writer (insert famous name here) does that – look right here, there’s a close rhyme, in his/her latest published book!”

To which I will answer: Yep, it happens.  Sometimes the writer breaks the rules to keep the story working.  Sometimes they break the rules because there is no other perfect rhyme.  And sometimes they get to break the rules because they are (insert famous name here) and they’ve got a dozen bestselling picture books.

And here’s the real world truth: until you get several successful books under your belt, you’re going to be held to stricter standards.  An editor viewing your work for the first time won’t know if you’re using a close rhyme because it’s the best rhyme possible, or if it’s because you don’t know any better.  There’s no need to risk that bad connotation when, with some hard work, you can fix it.

Yes, I do mean hard work. In my first picture book, the main character’s last name started out as Higgins.  I meant that to rhyme with riggings like you find on a boat (since she was a pirate). But there were two problems right from the start – first of all rigging is plural without an s.  So when using the word in a grammatically correct way, I would have to rhyme Higgins with rigging.  INS doesn’t rhyme with ING.  FAIL. Worse yet, even if I dropped the s from Higgins, I would be rhyming Higgin with rigging.  IN  and ING don’t rhyme either.  I had myself two close rhymes packed into the same couplet.  So after toying with around thirty other last names, I landed on Barrett which rhymed with parrot.  Phew.  Hard work?  Let me tell you.

If you’ve got a rhyming piece you’re working on, do a quick scan of the stanzas.  Any Nearly Nellies lurking?  Take the time to fix them now, before they sink your next opportunity. 

How?  See if one of these options can come to your rescue:

Search for your word’s “better half”
In each pair of rhyming words there’s usually one that’s the “star.” This is the word that your plot or your imagery can’t do without.  Toss the weaker word out and go consult a good rhyming dictionary.  Maybe you’ve missed a workable pair, something you never thought of.  Can you compare your derrière to a Frigidaire … oh wait, that’s my poetry mirror I’m looking in. (grin)
Try a “close cousin” word
Maybe your star word has a synonym you can replace it with: trade boat for ship, mug for cup, bonnet for nightcap.   Yes, this will require a rewrite of both lines, but in the end you’ll have strengthened your rhyme.
Turn it inside out
Move that star word to the inside of the phrase instead of the end of your line.   For example if your current line is “Would could use a silver lining?”  try morphing it into “Need a lining – make it silver!”  or “Silver linings – come and get one …”  or a dozen better phrases I’m sure you’ve already thought of. 
The "Ask a Friend" lifeline
There are times that the answer is right there, under your nose, but you’re too close to see it.  Ask a trusted writer friend how they would fix the problem. A fresh pair of eyes, and a fresh mind, can sometimes point out an easy fix if we’re smart enough to just ask. 
Take a deep breath and toss it
Sometimes, if it can’t be fixed, you’re faced with chucking it and rewriting the couplet or stanza from scratch.  It can be frustrating and painful, especially if the phrases in question are key to your plot/image.  This is where you need to be an honest judge of what can and can’t be fixed.  Don’t be lazy.  Your poetry will suffer if you consistently settle for second best.
And on the other hand…
At some point you reach the point that a story/poem will only suffer if you tinker with it.  Your heart tells you it’s time to leave it be.   Trust yourself.  You’ve done the hard work.  Now let the verse speak for itself.

Phew.  Time for a pat on the back.  Chasing down Nearly Nellie is tough work, but your reward will be stronger verse set to impress any editor.

Thanks for joining us for another Rhyme Crime investigation.

And thank YOU, Carrie, for continuing to bring your 
rhyming expertise to Today's Little Ditty!

Carrie Clickard is an internationally published author and poet whose career also spans graphic design, illustration and film.  Her first picture book, VICTRICIA MALICIA, debuted in 2012 from Flashlight Press.  Forthcoming books are MAGIC FOR SALE (Holiday House, 2016) and THOMAS JEFFERSON & THE MAMMOTH HUNT (Simon and Schuster, 2017).  Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals including Spider, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Clubhouse, Spellbound, Penumbra, Haiku of the Dead, Underneath the Juniper Tree, Inchoate Echoes, and The Brisling Tide.  

To find out what other rhyming criminals are lurking, be sure to check out the first two posts in Carrie's Rhyme Crime series – Carrie Clickard: Rhyme Crime Investigator and Step One– PICK A BEAT.

Would you believe there's only ONE WEEK LEFT to submit your letter poem for David Elliott's DMC challenge? My mailbox and I eagerly await your contributions! This week I featured poems by Michelle Kogan and Jan Gars.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is being hosted by the generous and talented Linda Baie. You can find her shining her light over at TeacherDance.


  1. **hangs head** I'm guilty as charged, but I'll do my best to repent...until I'm famous!

    1. You should see my own "rap sheet" on this particular crime. (grin) Here's to when we're all "famous enough"!

  2. I know about this "Nearly Nellie" & now you've given me some other ideas for catching. Thanks, Carrie!

    1. Sneaky, isn't she? Just when I think I've rousted her, she's back again. Glad you found the article helpful.

  3. Thanks, Carrie, for a lot of great information and suggestions. I don't write much poetry, but in the future, when I do, I will try to avoid Nearly Nellies. And thanks, Michelle, for hosting Carrie.

    1. Thank you, Barbara! It's nice to see a familiar face!

  4. Enjoy your lively writing style, Carrie. Thanks for the good advice about Nearly Nellie. :)

    1. Thanks, Jama! It's great fun to have a corner here and connect with such interesting writers and readers.

  5. My kids and I joke that Adam Levine (of Maroon 5) can make any words "rhyme" by the way he pronounces them. He wouldn't be very helpful for the "ask a friend" lifeline. :-) Thanks for the tips!

    1. Adam's too cute to throw behind bars, but we could have a good time giving him a very harsh warning. (grin)

  6. (still giggling over Tabatha's comment - but, hey, he's purty to look at!)
    - Great post! Thanks for sharing, Carrie and Michelle. "Don’t be lazy" - I think that's what separates the almost-serious poets from the serious ones, even if they write humor!

    1. I agree Robyn. One of my dad's favorite actors, Peter Ustinov, once said, "Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious." It takes just as much serious focus on your craft to be funny.

  7. This is an excellent post! Not only did Carrie give great examples, but I really appreciate the fact that she included strategies to fix the problem!

    1. Thanks, Kristi! You hit on one of my pet peeves from writing classes - when the instructor told you what was wrong and gave you no idea how to fix it. Glad you found it useful!

  8. Thanks for this post, Carrie - I'm not much a poet, but you've given me some ideas to try out.

    1. My granny used to say, every life is a poem, but some of us don't have time to write them down. That's the view I like to keep: we are all poets, written or not.

  9. Great information and examples. Very helpful!

  10. Ha! Great tips.

    Perfectly worded -
    Words must be herded
    Meter and measure
    Rhythmical pleasure
    Rhyming so nicely
    Sounds used precisely
    No major hiccups,
    Unless you’re famous.
    ..NO, wait...
    Use the right letter -
    This would be better:
    Or clumsy slip-ups!
    ...Too late...
    Because of your crime
    Your license to rhyme
    Is pulled for a time.

    Sorry. Had to do it.

    1. LOVE this! Sorry I missed it on the day. I've got it tagged up on my bulletin board for future chuckles. Thanks!

  11. (Ha ha, Donna - "No major hiccups,/Unless you're famous" - too funny.)

  12. What a fun post! And great info, too.

  13. Another post to read and re-read and try to apply to my writing. Thank you Michelle and Carrie! =)

    1. I do the same, Bridget -- I have a bulletin board full of reminders to keep me on track. That's what I love about Michelle's blog. I'm always finding something new to inspire and inform me.

  14. Great post! Thanks for sharing all these helpful tips!