Rhyme and Reason

I've been working on a rhyming picture book, and that has me thinking about rhyme. A couple of things that are hard for me when working in rhyme are using complex rhymes and not using awkward sentence structure to force my rhyming word to the end of the sentence.

By complex rhymes, I mean rhymes with multiple syllables or even multiple words. Rhyming hill with fill is easy. Rhyming rhinoceros with preposterous is more difficult. But so much more fun.

Some of my favorite rhymes incorporate more than one word. One of my very favorite complex rhymes is from VeggieTales geniuses, Mike Nawrocki & Phil Vischer, in their song, “Oh No!” In the song, two wisemen are discussing what to with Daniel, who is gaining the kings favor:

“We could use him as a footstool or a table to play Scrabble on, then tie him up and beat him up and throw him out of Babylon!”

I love the rhyme of Scrabble on and Babylon. It’s an unexpected, perfect rhyme. It’s difficult to come up with rhymes that use unusual words, multiple syllables or even multiple words, but if you can make them work, they will bring your rhyming story to the next level.

You need to be careful, not to force those rhyme to make them work. Forcing a rhyme is the act of rearranging your sentence structure to force the rhyming word into the correct place.

As an example, here’s one that I had to throw out recently:

. . .Now that creakin’ branch is cracked.

Strength for holding treehouse up

Is genuinely lacked.

I loved that I had come up with an unusual word, lacked, to rhyme with cracked. But the sentence reads awkwardly and it’s difficult to figure out exactly what it means. Strength is lacked. What kind of sentence is that!? I’ve used present and past tense in the same sentence and weakened my verb by using is!

I was so enamored with my cleverness that I left the line in when I sent it to my critique groups. Every Single Reader commented that it didn’t work. I thought I could slip it in, but fortunately, I have great critique partners who let me know that it needed to go.

Sometimes we are so close to our work that we can’t (or don’t want to) see the problems. Having good readers is a big help here. If you want to try to weed out your forced rhymes before sending it to your critique group, pretend you are in a conversation with someone. Would you word the phrase the way you’ve written it? If not, you’ve probably used an awkward structure to force your rhyme. In real speech, the line above would read, “That branch is cracked. It lacks the strength to hold up the treehouse.” The rhyme is forced. Throw it out.