August 24, 2013

Rhythm and Rhyme

As few weeks ago, I “attended” this year’s Writeoncon conference.  One of the speakers was picture book author, Deborah Diesen.  She gave a short vlog on rhyme and rhythm and offered good pointers for crafting poetry for children. 

Deborah began by giving a definition:  the basic unit of rhythm is a metrical foot.  Then she presented four examples:

Iamb—an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, like the word, away
Trochee—a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, like the word, happy
Dactyl—a stressed syllable followed by 2 unstressed syllables, like the word, joyfully
Anapest—2 unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, like the word, seventeen

The kind of foot and the number of feet per line makes up the meter or the rhythm of a poem. Deborah reminds us to stay true to that rhythm.

She also pointed out that a poem is more than matching the last syllable—a rhyme has to rhyme rhythmically.  Deborah said, "Rhyme the last stressed syllable from the vowel sound on and everything that comes after the last stressed syllable."  The word “today” rhymes with “away.”  But “chickadee” and “playfully” don’t rhyme perfectly, even though they end in “e.” 

It takes practice writing poetry for children.  There are plenty of rules to follow.  And some editors insist that authors strictly adhere to those rules.  Deborah suggests buying a rhyming dictionary.  In addition, you can study rhythm and rhyme in her book: The Pout-Pout Fish, a New York Times bestseller, or check out other rhyming books such as Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown , Wild about Books by Judy Sierra, or and Time for Bed by Mem Fox.    

August 18, 2013

Deliver a Powerful Punch

Recently, I received a promising story for the Kid's Imagination Train magazine.  The author kicked off the piece with conflict:  the main character tells a friend that a monster lurks in their neighborhood. Great!  The story was off to a good start. Throughout the piece, the tension was successfully created.  But unfortunately, the ending was a letdown. Quite frankly, the monster was not all that scary.

This ending might have worked better if the monster was:
* large in size, that is, something a kid can’t squish with his foot or,
* something amazingly detestable for a kid to encounter or,
* a believable, yet unexpected surprise

When you write a scary story, close it with a strong ending—something that is icky or would give kids the goose bumps.  That’s what you’re aiming for.  Resist the urge to slip in a scientific fact to clarify the ending. It will come across as being too didactic.  The last thing children want to read at the end of a suspenseful story is an explanation (even if it’s one sentence).  An explanation may slow the action and weigh the ending down.   

When you spend time developing characters, creating conflict, and building suspense, you should make the ending as worthy of the tension that has been set-up.  Think of it this way:  you have gained the trust of your readers by promising them something big is going to happen; therefore, don’t disappoint.  They’re invested in your story.  If you’re writing a piece that intends to frighten, be sure the ending delivers a powerful punch.

August 12, 2013


KIT receives more fiction than nonfiction.  I guessing authors believe it’s easier to write and to get published.  But that’s not necessarily true.  If authors fail to incorporate believable conflict in their fiction, they will probably have a harder time finding a market for their work.  

In a recent fiction submission, conflict was present, but misplaced.  The main character, a young boy, didn’t face a problem.  Instead, he learns of a tragedy through his parents.  After listening to his folk’s plan to help the victims, he too, decides to assist.  The young boy acts nobly, which sends a terrific message to readers.  But since true conflict is missing, the ending becomes predictable.

For fiction, conflict must touch the main character in a meaningful way.  Consequently, the stakes are raised and we care about the main character.  In this story, the author could have placed the child closer to the tragedy and had him personally affected.  This would have helped readers become more emotionally connected to the young boy as he learns to tackle the problem.  

Whether the story is for children or adults, all fiction must contain conflict.  Below is a conflict check list when writing for kids:

Present the conflict early in the story to hook your readers.
Create a meaningful conflict which directly affects the main character. 
Choose a conflict that kids can relate to.  
Build on conflict to create tension and suspense.
Have main characters solve the conflict themselves without any help from adults.

When you have provided a deeply personal conflict for the main character, then you have hit on advancing the plot and creating an emotional connection to your story.  Editors are keenly aware of the necessity and the prospects of good conflict.  When it is properly crafted, they won’t reach for a rejection slip.  They’ll be eager to keep on reading.  

August 5, 2013


As editor of the Kid's Imagination Train, I receive a good amount of stories, but very few poems.  So when a poetry submission awaited in the inbox, I was thrilled.  This piece might make a nice addition to KIT. 

But after reading the poem, I found that it wasn't quite right for KIT.  This writer failed to do her homework.  Homework is easy and consists of the following three "assignments."

1.  Study the magazine.  Get a feel for the kind of pieces that are published.  KIT leans to whimsical, funny, or sweet poems that tell a story and have the potential for illustration. 

2.  Edit your work.  Read it out loud.  Poetry must have perfect rhyme and spot-on meter or beats—not just matching the number of syllables in each line, but having the correct emphasis on those syllables. 

3.  Read the writer's guidelines.  Learn how submissions should be formatted in terms of font and spacing.  Discover what is expected in the subject of your email.

Most editors will tell you that these three homework assignments are expected to be completed before submitting.  This includes nonfiction as well as writers of fiction and poetry.  However, when writers fail to do their homework, they are not only wasting their time, they are wasting the time of an editor.  

When writers read the guidelines, study the magazine, and edit their pieces, they show editors that they care about their work.  They want their submissions to be seriously considered. And because of their efforts, they'll have a better chance of seeing their work in print. Editors know these writers have done their homework well.