Thursday, June 2, 2011

Evolution of a Rhyming Picture Book

I just finished the manuscript for the picture book I'm working on with my amazing friend Lisa Amowitz, so I thought I'd share how I go about doing one of these babies.

First off, almost all of my picture books start out rhyming. I don't know why. I just like them that way LOL They don't always stay rhyming, but if they do, this is how I swing things.

1. I need an idea. I get most of these from watching my kids. But other things inspire me too. For this particular project, Lisa had the outline and a couple pictures and she asked me to write the manuscript. I was thrilled to agree :D

2. I sit down and write. Sometimes by hand, sometimes by key :D I'm not very structured when it comes to picture books. But for this one, since Lisa already had the outline, I tried to be very organized. I numbered all of the images we discussed and tried to write a line or two for each. I had a very difficult time. I finally just read through the outline, sat down, and wrote, referring back to it every now and then when needed. And I was able to finish. Lesson learned. When it comes to picture books I am anti-organized :D

3. Revision time. I go through and clean up the rhymes, the repeats, and anything else that needs to go (or get added). I send it to my sister and another crit partner or two and I read it to my kids and get their input.

4. Once I have a fairly clean manuscript, the real work begins. It's time to clean up the rhythm and meter. Rhyming picture books are a hard sell. They have to be as perfect as possible. So...I print it out and mark it up. I count the syllables in each stanza and line. It looks like this:

Then I mark the stressed and unstressed syllables. And then I change words and lines so it matches up as perfectly as possible with the meter I want to use. I do try to stick to the form I've chosen as closely as possible while writing, but I make mistakes, and sometimes I just use a filler word or two so I can move on. When revision time rolls around, I take a notebook and keep track of the syllable stress patterns while I read/rewrite. It ends up looking like this:

 And when I'm done, I have a rhyming picture book with a nice flowing rhythm and meter as perfect as I can get it. :D

Does anyone else out there write rhyming books or poetry? What is your process?


Eric said...

LOL, you are way more prepared and organized than I could ever be. Whenever I sit down to write a rhyme or poetry, I just wing it. It takes me longer perhaps, but sometimes I get some good stuff that way :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I LOVE that you analyze it to this depth. I care a lot about the rhythm of a sentence, even when I write prose. No, you can't get away with iambic pentameter in a novel, but you can pay attention to the flow of sentences, and the beat.

Good for you Michelle!

Stephanie McGee said...

That's awesome that you go to such lengths to make sure it's spot on. I write poetry. (Or at least I attempt to.) But it was pounded into my head over and over in grad school that rhymed poetry is passe and poems shouldn't rhyme and all that jazz so I really have a rough time with rhyming.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's intense! Nice work. ;)

Stacy Coles said...

You're doing great! I write children's picture books, too, most of which rhyme. That's just how my brain works I guess. Nice to know there are other "poets" out there.

Stacy Coles said...

It looks like you're doing great. If this method works for you, keep it up. I write children's picture books, too ~ most of which rhyme. My method is I watch as everyone around me rolls their eyes as I make (almost) everything I write rhyme. So what...that's how my brain works, I guess. For ideas, ask your kids. I know mine always have great story ideas that I love to make come to life through writing.