Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Curse of the Opening Verse

Ok, so it's 9:18 pm...my older son (almost 5) is fast asleep on the floor in the living room with a spoon in his hand. (Don't ask.) My youngest son (3 and a half) is right next to me drawing...um...some sort of world of...heart monitor readings and skyscrapers? I'm drinking half a cup of old coffee and working on a work-in-progress that is raging forward with the fantastic pace of a stopped hamster wheel.

Put it all together, and you guessed it!! It's BLOG POST TIME!! YEEHAW!!

This one is all about the opener.

Your first stanza becomes the template for all subsequent stanzas. It establishes the rhythm and meter for your entire story and if you don't nail it right out of the gate...you may as well forfeit the race.

That's all I'm gonna say right now. Well...that and- send us your first stanzas. The opening verses of the rhyming PBs you are working on, and lets make sure they are a 10. Because if you can rock the opener, you're WAY ahead of the game. But if it falls flat...or even worse...totally rocky...the editor is probably never going to see verse 2.

Don't be shy! Send em in, and let's shape em up! (all fines waived) :-)

Tiffany & Corey


  1. Thank you for offering to critique our first stanzas. Here is the beginning of my poem titled: FELIZ! THIS IS MY DAY.

    Clap for Mia's three!

    Shout and dance with me!

    Sing, "Feliz, feliz."

    Share a hug and kiss.

    [Go ahead, hit me with your best shot. :)]

    1. Hi Brenda,

      I like this! Although it is referencing a 3 year old, it feels very young to me...almost board book style. I like the fact that the "Feliz" causes the read to say the word "kiss" with a Spanish accent. Does this bilingual twist continue throughout the book? I hope so! Looking good and thanks for sharing!


    2. I'm so glad you like it. Yes, this bilingual twist continues through the poem. Thanks so much for the thumbs up. :)

  2. Okaaaaayyyy....You asked for it! So, this is my only rhyming ms, and it is imperfect rhyme, or Near rhyme. My question is, how far can I take it? What works, what doesn't? HELP!!! :)

    There are all kinds of dudes.
    Big dudes, little dudes,
    Cool-hair dudes, no-hair dudes.
    Dudes in boots, dudes in suits,
    Dudes who read, dudes who lead,
    Dudes who share, all dudes care.

    Ta da! May the force be with you! Thanks so much ladies!

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      When I read this, I actually don't feel as though it is a rhyming picture book. It feels more like a book in prose, with some rhyming words woven in. (dudes in boots/dudes in suits) This is totally cool, and can make for a fun read...but I would like to see the next stanza to get a better understanding of where you were trying to go in terms of meter and rhythm. Thanks!



    2. Tiffany! Thanks for your comment. I have pasted the second stanza. This just shows what I don't know or understand about about rhyme! I guess I was just wondering if the rhyme I did have was on, or if the varying kinds of rhyme messed up the flow of it all. Here is that second stanza. I would love to know what you think.

      There are all kinds of dudes...
      Singin' dudes, blingin' dudes,
      Astro dudes, Dino dudes,
      Dudes in kilts, dudes on stilts,
      Dudes on bikes, dudes with spikes,
      Dudes who are shy, all dudes cry.

    3. Hi Elizabeth,

      Hmmm...so as it turns out...I still feel the same way! This feels like a picture book written in prose- that has some rhyming words sprinkled in to jazz it up! Was that the intention?


    4. I don't know WHAT I was intending. :) Well, I guess I feel pretty happy about it! Now I am not so worried about meter and beats and everything else I have trouble hearing! Thanks so much and when I do feel brave enough to use all rhyme, I know just who to come to! Thanks again!

  3. "Our ship is sinking quickly!" cried the captain in dismay.
    "Batten down the hatches, swim for shore and don't delay!"
    Would I have time to find my love, the Lady Pampelmousse?
    I'll try my best to save her and her puppy, Dr. Seuss.

    - Cathy

    PS This is not from an actual WIP!

    1. Hi Cathy,

      Before I respond...what do you mean it's not from an actual WIP? I got confused! lol!


    2. I mean...I started sketching out some ideas and thought "Mmm, not kid-centric enough" and abandoned further story developement. So not a work-in-progress WIP but a work-in-drawer WID

  4. I don't have any WIPs that are rhyme at the moment, but I'm enjoying reading everyone else's!

  5. Along the beach
    what will we see?
    Let’s take a walk
    just you and me.

    This is a beach counting book I wrote a few years ago. Subsequent verses could use help!

    1. Ok, so right off the bat, I found myself stumbling. My inclination is to stress it like this: aLONG the BEACH/WHAT will we SEE? let's TAKE a WALK/JUST you and ME.

      That places an unnatural stress on TAKE. The stress should fall on LET'S.

      It's extremely difficult (impossble?) to write a rhyming PB where every single line has the same rhythm/meter. This one has 2 stressed and 2 unstressed in every single line. It ends up feeling sing songy and monotonous. It also creates some awkward stresses. Let's try mixing it up a bit more:

      A walk along the beach.
      I wonder what we'll see?
      Shells and sand, the waves, the land.
      Let's go- just you and me!

      In this example- the third line breaks up the monotony of the meter in line 1,2 and 4. Hope this helps!


    2. Okay, I see this a little differently. I think it's very natural to emphasize "take".

      I do agree, though, that it is hard to sustain this rhyme scheme without it becoming sing-songy.

    3. Thanks so much Tiffany and Corey! Adding a variety to the meter helps. Can I send in 1 more verse to a DIFFERENT wip?

  6. This is lovely...thank you so much, Tiffany and Corey!
    I have a number of rhyming pb drafts that I'd love to run by you...I'll be back tomorrow morning when I decide which one it should be. :)

  7. This is perfect timing as I'm currently working on a rhyming WIP and could use your expert eyes.

    Piggle Poggle, the baby puggle,
    liked to hug and liked to cuddle.
    (There’s nothing quite so warm and snug
    as curling up inside a hug.)

    I know I've used near rhyme right away, I'm hoping having hug and cuddle in that line make it less noticeable. Ideally I would have used snuggle if not for the fact I use snug in the next line.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi,

      Personally, I would prefer to use "snuggle" for the perfect rhyme, but I can see why you don't want to lose those last two lines. "Curling up inside a hug" is such a lovely image. Can you use that couplet in a later stanza?

      Okay for now, I will leave the rhyme, and just focus on meter. You seem to want to use the following meter:

      1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
      1 and 2 and 3 and 4 (and)

      But you have an extra unaccented beat in a couple of spots.

      To correct it, I would just cut the two extra syllables.

      PIGgle POGgle, BAby PUGgle,
      LIKED to HUG and LIKED to CUDdle.
      (NOTHing's QUITE so WARM and SNUG
      as CURLing UP inSIDE a HUG.

    2. Hi!

      I totally agree with Corey. The meter is much smoother that way.

      I would rewrite the first two lines to remove the "near rhyme" though.

      Maybe something like this?:

      Piggle Poggle, Puggle Pup
      loved to hug and snuggle up.
      Nothing's quite so warm and snug
      as curling up inside a hug.

      I'm a little unsure about using the word "hug" twice so quickly though. Maybe swap the first "hug" for "lick"?? Just a thought.


    3. Thank you both! It's funny, because I originally didn't have 'the' in the first line, but put it in because I felt the line was fragmented without it. Over my rewrites it's been taken out and put back in numerous times. You've given me the decisive push to leave it back out for good.

      I'm going to have to deconstruct and play around with those lines to get rid of the near rhyme AND any double up words. (PS I forgot to note that a puggle is a baby echidna.)

    4. Okay, I'll be brave for the sake of learning. I know the meter on this is bad. I've been using this tummy monster story as a rhyming exercise for myself. I'd like to see how you can fix this. I like the first line but does that mean I have to keep a 4-3-3-3 throughout my story? And do I need to start off with a stress all throughout? How do I know when it's okay to start a line with an unstressed word?
      Here it is:
      There’s a monster in my tummy.
      He's causing such a stir
      that you can hear him growling.
      Gurgle. Rumble. Grrrr...

    5. Hi Romelle,

      This is very cute! Meter is a bit tricky to explain, especially for people like Tiffany who just naturally "feel" it and don't actually count out beats.

      But let me give this a shot. Sometimes a rest at the end of a line serves as a beat

      THERE'S a MONster IN my TUMmy (beat) he's CAUSing SUCH a STIR

      That beat can be filled in with a word if you choose, but you don't have to. For example:

      THERE'S a MONster IN my TUMmy WHO is CAUSing SUCH a STIR

      So... in the first half of the stanza you actually have EIGHT beats. The problem is... in the next half of the stanza, you only have SIX.

      that YOU can HEAR him GROWLing
      GURgle RUMble GRR.

      You need increase the number of beats in this half. I'd try something like this:

      There's a monster in my tummy
      He's causing quite a stir.
      You can hear his grouchy growling
      Gurgle, rumble, grumble, grr.

      Tiff, you agree?

    6. I agree!

      The only other thing I might do, is swap "You can hear" for "You'll hear". To me it sounds more consistent to have just one (instead of two) unstressed beat to start the line.


    7. I can see part of my problem. I hear stresses differently than some people. For example, "You can hear his grouchy growling." I hear the stress in YOU can HEAR his...as oppose to the two "unstressed beats" that Tiffany mentioned. Also, I see the importance of the first stanza establishing the beats for the rest of the story. Now I have a problem. The rest of my story is really a 3-3-3-3 beat measure. My next stanza, for example, reads:

      I can't ignore this monster-
      this feeling in my gut.
      The monster in my tummy
      has got me in a rut.

      So either I should revise my first stanza to fit the rest of my 3-3-3-3 pattern or revise the rest of my story to fit the first stanza. But keeping it 3-3-3-3 may sound "songy & monotonous" as you mentioned in response to tinamcho's entry. *sigh*

      Thank you for this lesson. I can't wait for your next post!

  8. So I decided to go with "The Boots of Dylan McGee" as that is the one I am anxious to polish for submission "somewhere". :) We have a young boy who refuses to take off his boots for anyone or anything. When his boots start to hurt his feet because his feet have grown, he is unable to get them off...what will he do?

    Dylan McGee was a cowboy-in-training.
    Boots were his garb, whether sunshine or raining.
    "It's time to go nighty-night", Momma would say.
    But take off his boots? Nada, nix, no and nay!

    Thank you, ladies of rhyming. :)

    1. Hi Vivian,

      I like the first two lines a lot. The meter is spot on and the word choice is nice! For me, the last line in the verse feels forced. I appreciate the alliteration, but I think I would prefer something a bit more straight forward...

      "It's time to go nighty-night", Momma would say.
      But take off his cowboy boots? Never. No way.

      Not a fabulous fix...but to me it sounds more natural than the original. The funny thing is...in The Monster Who Lost His Mean, I have a verse where The Onster is looking for his "M" and can't find it. He says:

      "Nothing. Nada. Not a trace."
      He hangs his hairy head.
      Without my M I'm not myself,
      I'm someone else instead.

      Sometimes it's just a gut feeling. For me, the phrase itself is cute...but just come across as forced when used as a rhyme at the end of the otherwise very natural verse. Does that make any sense??


    2. Funny, I was going to say the same thing about "no way!" Also, having had the advantage of seeing the whole manuscript, I suggest you end the story with "Okay!" instead of "yea!" It sounds more natural.

    3. Dear ladies of rhyming, I'm loving this fix
      I'm happy to leave out the nada and nix!
      I also had thought of him saying "no way"
      And Dylan would love to be shouting, "OK"!

      Thank you both! Your input is so much appreciated...and VERY helpful. Your suggestions are going to make this a much stronger picture book...and hopefully, more appealing to editors. :) :)

      I got home from work at 6pm...checked my emails right away...thank you, Corey, for giving me the heads-up that the comments were here already. :) I used to not mind so much that I had to work...but now I wish I had more time for writing and revising. :)

  9. I've just recently became a follower of your blog.
    Here are the first 4 lines of my 20 line picture book for small children.

    We will snip the long stems of the lilacs in bloom.
    We will bring them inside and smell their perfume.
    We will lie on a quilt and read a good book.
    We will fish in the lake if you bait my sharp hook.

    thanks for your input. Janet

    1. Hi Janet,

      You definitely demonstrate a good grasp of meter. My suggestions are very minor. (1) I'd prefer to see "we will" written as a contraction because it sounds more natural.(2) I'd try to eliminate the modifier "sharp' because it sort of feels like it wants equal weight with the noun hook, and you really want the emphasis to be totally on hook.

      We'll snip the long stems of the lilacs in bloom.
      We'll bring them inside and smell their perfume.
      We'll lie on a quilt and read some good books.
      We'll fish in the lake if you bait all the hooks.

    2. Thanks, Corey. Someone else told me to use We'll instead of we will. I also like what you did with the last line.

  10. I'm working on a new pb about a boy playing at the brook. I'd love to know if this meter works! You two are awesome. Thanks so much!

    The bubbling brook invites me to play.
    What creatures will I capture today?
    Dipping, splashing, wading knee-deep
    climbing rocks, a little too steep

  11. Hi Tina,

    This is very cute. Your emphasis seems to be on every third beat. But you are missing unaccented syllables in some places. I'd try something like this:

    The bubbling brook invites me to play
    What kind of crabs will I capture today?
    Dipping and splashing, wading knee-deep
    Climbing up rocks, a little too steep

    1. What she said. LOL! (I totally agree.) Nice visuals too, Tina!

  12. Thanks Corey and Tiffany! You guys are soooo helpful!

  13. Mmmmm…
    Look at that plump, purple peaberry pie
    so oozy and juicy, just bursting with pride
    that sits for an hour while Fox sings in the shower
    (by then it will almost be time to devour).

    1. Okay, so ... first off, we'd recommend you find a perfect rhyme for the first couplet. (pie/pride)

      As for meter, you seem to going for

      1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4

      LOOK at that PLUMP purple PEAberry PIE
      so OOzy and JUIcy,just BURSTing with PRIDE

      You're okay, until the third line.

      that SITS for an HO-ur while fox SINGS in the SHO-wer

      HOUR is a very tricky word. The dicitonary says it can be one syllable or two. I say it ow-er, a perfect rhyme with shower. So you have an extra beat there for me. And in addition, I want to emphasize Fox. You could try replacing with "he"? But you would still have that extra syllable from hour.

      Maybe something like this?

      that SITS for an HO-ur, while FOX takes a SHO-wer
      by THEN it will ALmost be TIME to de VO-ur

    2. Thank you thank you for your help!

  14. This thread is now closed to submissions. We will open again soon!

  15. Hi Tiffany and Corey!

    I hopped over here from WriteOnCon where you lovely ladies gave me a critique on my opening stanza for BARNYARD CHRISTMAS where I was using abarn/farm rhyme. Thank you so much for your input as it gave me a much better understanding of how to work the meter. I am now a faithful follower. Here is another opening stanza of my PB "It's Raining Dogs and Cats!":

    It's raining dogs and cats
    One bright and sunny day.
    So what would you do?
    And what would you say?

    Donna L Martin

  16. I do apologize for commenting after this was closed...my computer was stuck on SEND mode and it looked like it posted after Corey's comment...

    Donna L Martin

    1. Hi Donna,

      No worries!! In the stanza you just sent...the meter changes midway through.

      Also...I'm not quite sure I know what tense you are speaking in. "it's raining cats and dogs" is in the present tense... but then you ask "what would you do?" which shifts the perspective? Did you mean something more along the lines of- "IF it was raining cats and dogs...what would you do?" SOrry...don't want to tackle the meter until I understand the context. Let us know! Thanks!

    2. Hi Tiffany!

      A lot of my stories seem to come to me in rhyme but I still struggle with the meter. I write it out, I sound it out and it sometimes still eludes me...*sigh*...;~)

      After meter comes grammar and "tense" is where I sometimes falter...I changed it to make more sense...my apologies:

      If it rains dogs and cats
      One bright and sunny day.
      Just what would you do?
      And what would you say?

  17. So true! When you read the next stanza and it doesn't flow with the first, you're like "what?" Then your attention seems to slip with every stanza...

  18. The comments are full of great lessons. You certainly earn your Meter Maids name with these amazing revisions.