Writing in Rhyme Tip 3 – Meter

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Today’s tip looks at METER.

Meter is the the pattern created by the ordering of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of verse.

Here is what some Australian publishers of Children’s books had to say when asked the question…

What are the most common difficulties that writers in rhyme encounter?

They haven’t got a sense of timing – rhythm or flow.

Metre metre, metre! So few submissions have pleasing, easy metre. Read your poem aloud. Do you have to work hard to fit your words into your metre? Do you adjust the stress on ANY of thewords (i.e. do you say them differently to the way you say them in natural speech)? Rewrite those lines!! I cannot emphasise enough how important metre is to poetry.

They think the rhyme excuses a whole lot of other flaws, including poor rhymes. Rhyming is a subtle and complex art that deserves years of study and then you have to make it work for children and then in a picture book format. You need a great story first and one that works for children, which has a proper beginning, middle and end.

Bad rhythm and forced rhyme. There should be no extra words to get the rhythm to work ‘such as the lion did say” instead of ‘said’ or reversals of words to get the rhyme, ie  ‘lion blue’ to rhyme with ‘you’ instead of blue lion. In other words the rhyme has to be very natural. The other thing to bear in mind is that many people don’t have a natural sense of rhythm anyway, and read rhyme and the emphasis on the words differently. The rhyme has to be very consistent to avoid such differences. The other thing I find is that the necessity to rhyme often means that the story goes in different directions when inexperienced writers attempt to write rhyme, so there can be dead spots in the story or extraneous material (if that makes sense). It is very difficult to get good succinct rhyme which keeps to the storyline. Rhyme that works better is when writers are not trying to write rhyming couplets, but stick to a simple repetitive couplet such as ‘I went walking. What did you see. I saw a red cow looking at me.’  Or ‘Let’s go visiting what do you say. Two black kittens are ready to play.’

Rhythms and rhymes that are “not quite there”.

To help us understand what exactly this thing called METER is I am going to engage the help of two very famous children’s authors, Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss.

In front of me I have two books, one by Roald Dahl called Dirty Beasts.

The other by Dr. Seuss called Dr. Seuss’s Book of Bedtime Stories. Both are collections of stories written in rhyme and both, quite frankly, are brilliant!

I’m going to begin with Roald Dahl’s book, Dirty Beasts to help explain a type of meter known as the IAMB.

Dirty Beasts

The very first story, in the book is called The Pig and here are the first four lines..

.

In England once there lived a big

And wonderfully clever pig.

To everybody it was plain

That Piggy had a massive brain

.

When we insert this verse into a “syllables grid” and we bold the stressed syllables, this is the pattern that emerges…

In Eng land once there lived a big
And won der fu lly cle ver pig
To eve ry bo dy it was plain
That Pi ggy had a ma ssive brain

Iambic meter then, is the the rhythm created by alternating one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable –

|da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | da DUM | with each da DUM chunk being called a FOOT.

Each of Dahl’s lines contain 4 iambic feet so the verse above is written in iambic tetrameter.

Now every one of Dahl’s stories and there are nine in this collection, is written in iambic tetrameter so if this is a meter that you enjoy I would encourage you to read every one of them.

I will leave you with the first four lines of the final story in the collection called The Tummy Beast

.

Once afternoon I said to mummy,

“Who is this person in my tummy?

“He must be small and very thin

Or how could he have gotten in?”

.

Next time we will explore the meter known as the ANAPAEST, a favourite of Dr. Seuss.

Until then, happy rhyming 🙂

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