Writing in terse rhyme is a great way to energize your picture book manuscript!
beneath the sea…
Why try terse rhyme?
If you’ve been working on a picture book manuscript that seem text heavy and lacking energy, consider rewriting it in terse rhyme. Terse rhyme forces writers to distill their stories to the most important elements. What are the essential nouns, verbs, and adjectives? Short, crisp lines create an upbeat cadence. With the focus on verbs, terse rhyme lends itself especially well to topics that involve many actions… like an island forming… or...
a walrus surviving in the Arctic!
WALRUS SONG by Janet Lawler, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering,(Candlewick Press, 2021) is an excellent mentor text for terse rhyme. In WALRUS SONG, Lawler explores the wonders of this cumbersome sea mammal.
Let’s look at how Lawler constructs the lines in WALRUS SONG. Here’s an excerpt from the middle of the book:
(Notice the vibrant, specific verbs. This focus on verbs really showcases the fascinating (and often funny) behaviors of walruses.)
Lawler also uses short lines infuse the text with energy and motion.
With terse rhyme, since there are fewer words on the page, it’s even more important that every word count. In the previous lines, notice how Lawler uses alliteration ("blubbered, bashing"; "clashing, crashing) and assonance ("walrus, blubber, tusks"; “fight, might “clashing, crashing, bashing.") Lawler chooses words whose sounds echo the intensity of male walruses sparring. Every word is percussive and engaging.
Besides the masterful use of terse rhyme, other elements make WALRUS SONG a great mentor text. Lawler provides engaging nonfiction back matter to support each spread. Also, the story begins with a question “Where is walrus?” and ends with a question “What will his tomorrow be?” This is a great example of “bookending” a story.
Sink your tusks into WALRUS SONG and get a feel for terse rhyme. Then try it out on your own picture book manuscript. It may provide just the vibe your story needs!
-Rhyme Doctor Michelle Schaub