Poetry · Writing

Some general rules when writing in rhyme

  • Use sparkly words (thesaurus)

sing = warble

walk = flip, flop

jump = bounce

  • Story is key.
  • Rhythm should be predictable and so established right from the start. This allows the reader to relax – it’s a bit like jogging. Once the rhythm is established you can jog for miles! Without this predictable rhythm the reader will trip up which will pull them out of the story while they try to adjust to the new rhythm.
  • Verse patterns should be predictable (eg alternating or internal rhymes).
  • Rhyme is incidental/accidental even, a bonus. It should never drive the story.
  • Write as you would speak. Don’t invert sentences to make them fit.
  • Delete unnecessary words.
  • Be wary of near rhymes (trees – seeds), not that they should be avoided completely; sometimes they can work quite well.
  • Get different people to read it aloud. They will read the words with their natural stresses which you may have manipulated to fit your rhythm.
  • Be consistent with your grammar.

11 thoughts on “Some general rules when writing in rhyme

  1. Hi Jackie

    What’s your opinion on punctuation in rhyme – esp for kids. Should we use or avoid it. I have a client at present who has 4 line rhyming stanzas with no punctution except caps at the start of each line, the occ questions mark and caps for names. There is nothing at the end of each line. i think it works, looks nice and tidy and the stanzas speak for themselves. This week a few people have commented to her that she is missing punctuation so he is now considering it. If it were mine i would stand my ground and give my reasons for not using it. I fail to see how you can end one line with a comma and then begin the next with a capital anyway – how can this be correct? Would njot using punctuation turn teachers off buying or using a poetry book. Prose would be different, of course. But we are talking poetry here.
    Anyway – there’s little on the net or praps i am looking in the wrong place. What’s your opinion – and what do others think? Any links that people have to articles or discussions on this topic?

    thanks in advance
    fee sievers

  2. Hi Fee,

    Thanks for your question. I think the rule is that it doesn’t really matter so long as the writer/editor is consistent throughout the piece. I’ve just looked up some of my poems that have been published in The School Mag and note that sometimes punctuation is used and sometimes it isn’t. For example in my poem ‘Birds of a Feather’, the first verse looks like this…

    There’s a paddling of ducklings in my lake
    And a purr of pussy cats half awake

    And this is consistent throughout. A full stop only appears after the very last line.

    In ‘If I Were a Giant’, the first verse looks like this…

    If I were a giant I wonder if I
    could stand on my tiptoes and paint the sky.

    This too is consistent throughout the poem.

    In ‘A Pig Tale’…

    Once upon a summer’s day
    Piglet One was heard to say,
    “I will build my house with hay
    And still be left with time to play.”

    And in verse three there is an example of what you said – a capital letter following a comma…

    Piglet Two, a joyful pig,
    Simply smiled and danced a jig.

    I guess ultimately, the editor will decide how they want the poem to appear on the page, so I would suggest to your client that less is more. Punctuation is easy enough to add later.

  3. Dear Jackie

    How timely was that??? Goodness me, many thanks. I found some info on the web but it just confirmed and reiterated what you advised – it’s rather a muddied area these days.

    You do a most wonderful job and I am always telling people I meet, about you!

    Pat yourself on the back.
    From a greatful subscriber!

  4. Dear Jackie

    What I need to ask again please, is, in a book of poems, does each poem have to be in the SAME style or can each poem have its own unique format?


  5. Hi Moira – firstly thanks so much for your, wonderful feedback, always very welcome and very much appreciated.

    In answer to your question – I think it’s about consistency within the one poem. I don’t think you need to follow the same patterns for every poem so long as each poem is consistent.

  6. Hi Jackie

    I was wondering. I read a lot of things that judges in competitions say and editors about rhyming poetry and mostly – they hate it!! >??? Dont understand why but they make fun of it sometimes too or belittle it. All my poetry rhymes – my childrens fantasy poems, my medieval love poetry, my midwestern farmers poetry etc – they all rhyme and I love them that way – but Im wondering if I should even bother submitting poems to competitions (or to anyone) if the general feeling is that its not worth consideration a lot of the time. It got me down to be honest. Hope you can help me on this one.


    1. Hi Cathy – I know what you mean. Publishers do find it difficult to accept rhyming poetry or stories in verse for a number of reasons, not because they hate it but because it it difficult to sell things that rhyme to o’seas’ publishers. Often the rhyme/meter just doesn’t translate, even to English speaking countries like the USA. Take the word ‘paprika’ (the spice). In Australia we pronounce it PAprika with the stress falling on the first syllable. In the US it is pronounced paPRIka with the stress on the middle syllable. This also highlights that just because the end words in a poem rhyme doesn’t mean that you’ve got the meter right which is what a lot of publishers/editors see when reading rhyming poetry. As I said in a previous post, the meter/rhythm is equally if not more important than the rhyme. The rhyme should be incidental, a bonus. Good rhyme does not necessarily mean good rhythm and without the rhythm, the rhyme won’t work. Watch for my next post on meter where I will try to explain exactly what I mean by good rhythm.

  7. Hi Jackie

    While consistency is of course desireable – do we ‘dumb’ down grammar simply because it is expected that kids won’t understand it or use ‘real’ grammar because it is what is right?

    Even for adults, many ‘bend’ the rules for their own purposes – but who is the audience? In an interview on the ABC aired tonight, Don Watson (I missed the start, but presumably of ‘weasel words’ fame) noted that many people were using controlling or similar language.

    Surely it would be better to use real grammar – with simpler language (as appropriate) if targetted at younger readers?


    1. Hi Mark,

      I don’t think we need to ‘dumb’ down grammar or do anything but use it correctly but it is important, I think, that the one poem follow the same treatment. Traditionally rhyming poems, especially for children, start each new line with a capital letter. I tend to follow this tradition for my rhyming poems. Stories in verse, however, I might treat differently and only use capitals at the beginning of a new thought (sentence) even though it might be spread over two or more lines. Free verse has very different rules of course and I find the unstructured form very difficult to do and so tend to stick with rhyme which suits children very well. Ultimately though, especially in the education market, it is the editor who will decide how the poem sits on the page so I tend not to stress too much about the grammar side of things as it is likely to be edited anyway.

      Thanks Mark for you comment.

      1. Thanks for this. I mostly submit rhymed poetry to publishers for children–easy rhymes but whole language as well. I think most contests, etc say they don’t like rhymed, metered poetry because many poets don’t do it well enough to market. I always tell students at the schools where I help teachers introduce poetry units, that writing rhymed poetry is like making pie crust: as little handling as possible and neither pie crust or poem can be forced into form. I have a book of rhymed poems coming out for children this year. -Lollie

  8. Hi Jackie,

    Congratulations. Although I don’t write poetry I really enjoyed your blog and do not think that it is boring at all. You are a very interviewer too.

    From a fellow CBer

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