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All of the content of Write Up My life, and all new posts, are now available at http://www.juliehedlund.com/julies-blog. Please be sure to follow me there and update your RSS feeds.

See you over there!

BIG Blog News!

I’ve finally gotten my brand new website up and running!  Please come visit me at http://www.juliehedlund.com.

I’m a little sad to leave Write Up My Life behind, but it was time for a new look and a new URL.  Not to worry about all the blog content though.  It has ALL been transfered over to my new blog — http://www.juliehedlund.com/julies-blog/.  I am installing a redirect that should, post by post, redirect users to the exact same content on the new blog.  I will, however, need some time for testing so there may be some broken links for a day or so.  If I have any problems correcting them, I will re-post here so you’ll know.

IF YOU HAVE ME IN YOUR BLOGROLL or you know you have a link to the 12 x 12 challenge via your participant badge, it would be best for you to update the links to the new site.  For the blogroll, use http://www.juliehedlund.com/julies-blog/.  For the 12 x 12 challenge, use http://www.juliehedlund.com/12-x-12/.

FOLLOWERS: I don’t want to lose any of you! Please read below to see how you can keep following me at my new site.

  • If you follow my blog because you signed up to receive posts by email, I’m told that you will continue to receive new posts from the new blog URL.  If you find that is not happening, there is an email signup form for the blog on the right sidebar of the new website.
  • If you follow me in a reader, you should update the feed to the new blog so you continue to receive each post.
  • If you follow me via Networked Blogs, I will update the link and the feed, so you SHOULD continue to receive posts. If not, you can re-follow using the Networked Blogs widget on the right sidebar of the new website.
  • If you followed me via WordPress, I’m not sure whether those follows transfer or not. Once I know for sure, I can update these instructions.

PLEASE COME BY AND FOLLOW ME AT MY NEW WEB HOME!🙂

I am so excited to welcome our May 12 x 12 featured author, Debbie Diesen! Two of her books, The Pout-Pout Fish and its companion, The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big Big Dark, are two of my kids’ all-time favorite picture books. My son asks me to read one or the other of them (if not both) at least once a week. Furthermore, Debbie is one of my rhyming heroes. She can wield that meter like nobody’s business. So you can imagine how excited I was when she offered to do a post on the nitty-gritty of rhyming! I’m here to tell you that this will be one of the best blog tutorials EVER on the art of writing in rhyme. And last, but not least, she hails from Michigan – my home state. What more could you want in an author? A critique from her, you say? Well, one lucky 12 x 12 participant is going to win just that! See the end of this post for instructions on entering. Now, please welcome Debbie!

The Beat Goes On — Or, How To Be A Meter Reader: Identifying Rhythm Troublespots In Your Rhyming Picture Book Story

I love to write in rhyme.  Who doesn’t?  Writing in rhyme combines the joy of story, the fun of words, and the delight of music, all in one.

But writing in rhyme can be exceedingly frustrating.  Frustration usually crops up early in the writing process, because it’s challenging to carry through a story idea in a rhyming format without resorting to sentence structure gymnastics and/or Lame Rhymes.  But often the bigger load of frustration arrives just when you think you’re done:  when you discover that, despite your countless hours of work, the word song you hear in your head hasn’t translated to the page.

Maybe your critique group tells you, “something’s wrong in the second stanza” or “that refrain doesn’t sound right to me.”  What?  I thought it was perfect!  Or maybe an editor tells you, “this doesn’t quite scan.”  Yet try as you might, you can’t pinpoint what it is they’re not getting.  To your ear, it flows effortlessly!  Why does it sound so different when someone else reads it?

If you’re in this situation (and we’ve all been there; in fact, that’s pretty much where I live…), what you will need to do is detach for a while from your storyline, and focus instead on the mechanics of your story’s rhythm.  To do this, you’ll need a baton (and, optionally, a drum corps shako), a pen, a highlighter, and a colored pencil.

Let’s get down to work, shall we?

1.  Find your inner band leader 

To get started identifying problems with your rhyming story’s meter, grab your baton, step back from your story for a moment, and think about the rhythm that defines it.  Go ahead and use the baton.  If you don’t know what to do with it, just flail it around a little.  Snap your fingers.  Tap your toes.  Sing.  Hum.  Whatever works for you.

Your story may have more than one defining rhythm (for instance, one rhythm for the verses, and one for the refrain), but generally speaking, you’ll have one main identifiable rhythm structure.  As you wield your baton, ask yourself:  How many accented beats do I have in a phrase?  How many nonstressed syllables do I have between accented beats?  Do my phrases start on an accented beat, or on an unaccented syllable?

Maybe your rhythm (numbers showing the accented beats) is…

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

Or perhaps it’s…

1 and-a 2 and-a 3 and-a 4 and-a

Or it could be…

1 ee-and-a 2 ee-and-a 3 ee-and-a 4 ee-and-a

Or maybe…

and-a-1 and-a-2 and-a-3 and-a-4

Or, instead of 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s, you might have just 1s and 2s.  Or maybe 1s and 2s and 3s.  Or maybe you have regular variation between –ands and –ee-and-as.  When you look at all the variations, the possibilities are nearly endless.  But you don’t have to contemplate every possible rhythm!  You simply need to identify your story’s rhythm, so that you can commit to it.

Another aspect of your commitment is knowing how your beat loops from line to line.  Is it steady throughout each line of the stanza?  Or do you have a rest beat at the end of your rhyming lines, and/or at the end of the stanza?

For instance, your stanza might sound like:

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

But it could well sound like:

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3. [rest]

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

1 and 2 and 3. [rest]

You may be able to analyze your defining rhythm in a snap, or you may need to invest some time, especially if it’s more complicated than just 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.  But once you’re ready (and/or if you grow tired of wearing your old band uniform) it’s time to…

  1. 2.  Put down your baton and grab a pen.

Once you’re confident of understanding your story’s intended rhythm structure, read your story aloud.  As you go, mark on the page how your ears hear the cadence of the lines you’ve written.

When I do this with my own manuscripts, I use a box around accented beats and an underline under unaccented syllables.  After marking up a line, it might look like this.

[ ]  __    __  [ ]  __    __  [ ]  __    __  [ ]  __    __

(Note:  I haven’t figured out how to make a box symbol in WordPress, so squint a little at each bracket pair to magically transform it into a box.)

When you’re finished marking up your whole story, go back to the beginning.  Ignore the words, and just focus on the boxes and lines.  Read those out loud (using your own choice of sound effects for the two kinds of markings.  I recommend a big booming bass drum sound for the accented beats, while sitting next to an open window; because if you haven’t scared the neighbors yet with your quirky writer habits, isn’t it about time?).

As you “read” your rhythm out loud, how does it sound without the words?  Think about the rhythm that you identified as being the defining rhythm of your story (in Step 1).  Are you actually carrying out the rhythm you had in mind?  Are there slight inconsistencies?  Big inconsistencies?  Are there places you fall into a different rhythm entirely?  As you identify spots where your story’s beat doesn’t carry through exactly as you meant it to, you may have found places in need of revision.

However, a word of caution:  Some rhythms allow for – to my mind, even demand — a bit of wiggle room in terms of unaccented syllables.  Small variations that don’t interfere with the overall rhythm but do tweak it a bit to highlight and elongate certain spots in the text can sometimes actually benefit your story.  To explain what I mean, let’s look at the first stanza of my story The Pout-Pout Fish.  It reads as follows:

Deep in the water

Where the fish hang out

Lives a glum, gloomy swimmer

With an ever-present pout.

The meter of this stanza is not flawless.   Though my defining beat structure centers around a [ ]  __    __   __  rhythm, in fact, there are  also  [ ]  __    __   beats and even a  [ ]  __   beat.  To keep to the [ ]  __    __   __    perfectly, I’d need something along the lines of:

Deep down in the water where the ocean fish hang out, there lives a glum and gloomy swimmer with an everpresent pout.

Does that revision scan better?  Arguably, Yes.  A computer voice could read it and not miss a beat.  But for a human, is it as fun to say?  For me, the answer is No.  In its unrelenting adherence to regular meter, it sounds annoyingly sing-songy.  Plus it takes away the fun of popping out and holding certain words, like “deep” and “fish.”

So, as in all things, you as the writer must be the best judge of what works for your story.

But while you’re contemplating that, it’s time to:

3.  Put down your pen and find a highlighter.

Go back to the beginning of your manuscript.  Use the same copy that you marked up with the boxes and lines, but ignore them for now.  Instead, focus on the words that are more than one syllable.  With your highlighter, highlight each multisyllabic word’s accented syllable.  (In a few cases, you may have a word with two accented syllables.)  Do not highlight any of the single syllable words.

Put your highlighter down.  (It’s OK to still be wearing your shako.)  Now go page by page, and look at each highlighted segment.

Do the highlighted spots all have boxes around them from the previous step?  That is, do the natural stresses in the multisyllabic words you’ve used in your story correspond in fact to the way your ear desires the beat of the story to fall?

If you have places in your story where you have highlighting without a box, these are areas you need to scrutinize.  They might be trouble.  You may be asking the impossible of your reader:  to ignore a word’s stressed syllable, perhaps in order to put the beat on the word’s unstressed syllable.  Definitely not recommended.

But again, this problem-identification method comes with a cautionary note:  Though these spots may well be problem spots for your story, don’t assume in all cases that you’ve got a clunker!  For instance, in my stanza above, the phrase “glum, gloomy swimmer”, which my ear hears as  [ ]  __    __   [ ]  __,   would show highlighting not only in the “swim-” box but also on the underlined, unaccented “gloo-.”  Potential problem for my rhythm, right?  I don’t want an accented beat on “gloo-.”  But in the actual context of the stanza, most readers do not give any particular stress to “gloo-” when reading aloud.  To my knowledge, it hasn’t tripped anybody up.

So you don’t necessarily need to change all, or even any, of the highlighted-but-not-boxed spots you find.  That said, you should scrutinize them very carefully.  Depending on what your basic rhythm structure is, these places have the potential to derail your cadence entirely.

Finished with that?  Now go back through again.  This time, look at all the boxed spots that don’t have highlighting.  Boxed spots without highlighting are places where you’re expecting your reader to put the beat – but the words themselves don’t demand it.  In many cases, your reader will have no trouble putting the beat in the right spot, especially if the words are in the latter half of a line or in a later part of the story, after your rhythm has been very clearly established.  But if you’ve got a long string of single syllable words at the beginning of your story or at the beginning of a line, your reader may flounder to find your drum beat.  Worse yet, left to his or her own devices, your reader might put stress in a place that you didn’t expect, which will throw off the rhythm of the entire line, perhaps even the whole stanza.   So go through all of these areas carefully.  They are potential danger zones that may need more cueing (through use of multisyllabic words that provide ready-made stress spots) for your reader.

At this point, you’re nearly done – but you still have one more sweep to do.

4.  Last but absolutely not least…

In a rhyming story, your rhymes must pass rhythm muster!  Go back through your story one last time, this time with your colored pencil, and circle all your end rhymes.  Scrutinize each rhyming set, keeping in mind that to rhyme rhythmically, it’s not enough that the words end with the same final syllable sound.  Instead, the last stressed syllable and everything that comes after the last stressed syllable must rhyme.

For instance, though the word “bunny”  has an -ee sound at the end, it’s not enough to have a rhyme for just the –ee sound.  Bunny does not rhyme with chickadee, even though they both end with an –ee sound.  Your rhyme must include the UN- sound (which has the stress) and the –ee.  Think funny, sunny, money, etc.

A good rhyming dictionary, such as The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary by Sue Young, can guide you through finding fun and rhythmically appropriate rhymes to use in your story.

Final Thoughts

 I hope these tips may be of some help to you in pinpointing potential rhythm troublespots in your rhyming story.  But remember that they aren’t offered prescriptively.  These are not rules you must adhere to.  Instead they are simply tools to add your toolbelt and use as needed.

Further, I’m quite sure that if you look you’ll be able to find much better explanations of scansion techniques, written by folks with much more knowledge of the ins and outs of poetic meter than I have.  These you should seek out and add to your toolbelt as well.

Because the more you know, the more confidently you can hold your baton.

And the better you keep the beat, the more gloriously your story will sing!

Debbie Diesen lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. She is the author of three rhyming picture books — The Pout-Pout FishThe Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark), and The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered, Baby Brigade. You can find Debbie at her website, her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Participants – to enter to win a critique from Debbie, you must be an official challenger and leave a comment on this post (INCLUDING YOUR FIRST AND LAST NAME) any time during the month of May for one point.  On May 31st, l’ll put a check-in post on the blog.  If you completed a picture book draft in May, you can let us know in the comments of that post for another point.  I will draw a winner using Random.org and announce on June 2nd.

Important note: Due to a recent family emergency, I will not be drawing April winners until later this week, and possibly next week. Once I know when winners will be drawn, I will post that information here on the blog.The monthly check-in procedure AND the deadlines (commenting by midnight ET May 1) are the same.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Whew what a month! I can’t say I’m sorry to see this one go.  It’s now time for 12 x 12 in 2012 participants to check in.  Did you complete a picture book draft for April?

For the first time, I must admit I did not complete a draft.  What can I say? Life happened.  However, I am participating in National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee) starting tomorrow, so I hope to make some good ground there.

Many thanks, once again, to our four featured authors for April-Palooza – Jennifer WardLinda Ravin LoddingSandy Asher, Susanna Leonard Hill!!!  If you left a comment on their April 1st post, you are automatically entered to win a critique from Jennifer, Linda or Susanna or a copy of Sandy’s book WRITING IT RIGHT: How Successful Children’s Authors Perfect and Sell Their Stories, regardless of whether you completed a PB draft this month.

If you did complete a draft in April, let us know in the comments and that will get you another entry.  YOU MUST LEAVE YOUR NAME (FIRST AND LAST) IN YOUR COMMENT IF YOU WANT IT TO BE COUNTED AS AN ENTRY.   You have until midnight EST May 1st to leave a comment on this post and/or the April 1st post to be eligible for the drawing.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to meet our May authorl!!

Today’s PPBF selection is from one of our April Author-Palooza authors and Perfect Picture Book Friday’s very own host – Susanna Hill!

 Not Yet Rose

Written by Susanna Leonard Hill, Illustrated by Nicole Rutton

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, September, 2009

Suitable for: Ages 3+

Themes/Topics: New Baby, Siblings, Family, Big Sister, Love

Opening/Synopsis: From School Library Journal: Every morning, a young hamster races into her parents’ bedroom and asks, “Is the baby here yet?” and each time they answer, “Not yet.” Rose can’t decide whether she wants a sister or a brother, and at one point she decides that she doesn’t want a baby at all, but her mother brings her around to the idea that she’ll probably like being a big sister. Dad describes the nurturing that babies require and reminds his daughter that she was once an infant who needed and received loving care, too… Hill presents adults who encourage their daughter to process her feelings and come to her own conclusions. The narrative’s pacing and structure are ideal, with the story and life lessons beginning on Monday and ending on Friday.

Activities: Susanna Hill has wonderful resources for Not Yet, Rose and all of her books on her website, including a teacher’s guide, coloring pages, a word search and a maze. This book is obviously also a great jumping-off point for preparing young children for a new sibling and opening discussion of their feelings. Another great way to further the discussion is showing children their own baby pictures and talking about what they were like as infants and asking questions about what kind of big sister or brother they want to be.

Why I Like This Book: I so love the ending of this book, but I don’t want to rob you of the joy of discovering it for yourself. I also love the fact that when my daughter read this book she sighed and said, “I love this book.” Then we shared lots of memories of what it was like when we brought her baby brother home. Of all the “new sibling” books I’ve read, this one is my very favorite.

For more fantastic picture books and resources please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books.

Book Spine Poems

The other day, when I was procrastinating taking a much-deserved break from working so hard, I realized I hadn’t done anything to celebrate Poetry Month. I’ve of course seen the many book spine poems that have circulated over the past couple of years and decided to try my hand. But I made it more challenging by limiting my choices to only those on my desk – my writing books. I got two that way. Then I realized I hadn’t seen anyone build a book spine poem with picture books, so I tried a couple of those. Here are the results.

Beware lest you try this at home. Once you start, it becomes impossible to walk by your bookshelves without seeing potential spine poems. It’s quite addictive!🙂

What if –

The creative dreamer,

Writing from the heart, faces

Mortification?

Funny you should ask.

Writers dreaming have

Second sight,

Writing magic.

Take Joy!

Bird by bird

Escaping into the open, to

Incognito Street.

Save the Cat!

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot,

The Mixed-Up Chameleon,

And Me … Jane

Journey to the Haunted Planet

Swirl by Swirl.

Can you hear it?

Chasing Degas,

Belinda begins ballet

One winter’s day.

Today’s Tuesday 12 x 12 author, Julie Rowan-Zoch is practically a neighbor – a fellow Coloradan! I was glad to read this post because I realized (the horror!) that I wasn’t following her blog. I’ve certainly rectified that and encourage you all to follow it too. She’s only been blogging since March and is practically a poster-child for launching a blog well. Please welcome Julie!

My Classroom: the 12x12in’12 Challenge

“Are you really serious about writing that picture book?”

“Yes!”

A friend was learning to be a creativity coach and needed a guinea pig. She helped me to create an overview of what it would take and a plan of execution – and kicked my butt! But uncontrollable tragic events shook things up in 2011, and slowed me down. My friend helped me give myself permission to let go of the creative process and put things away for a while. I continued developing skills, mostly through reading, which pulled me up and kept me going.

When she saw I was in need of more to focus on she packed up art supplies, drove me to a local garden and said, “Paint.” I have since been enamored with watercolors and continue to learn on my own.

My ‘coach’ talked me into joining SCBWI and I found an illustration contest to participate in. Viewing other entries through Diandra Mae’s Unofficial Gallery of the Tomie dePaola Award (http://scbwicontest.blogspot.com/), led me to fellow participant websites where I kept seeing sidebar badges over and over, and the cute illustration on the 12x12in’12 badge intrigued me most. As soon as I read through the guidelines I signed up. I thought it was crazy, but hey, just a rough draft? I can DO that!

Participating really got the juices flowing! And daily contact on the facebook page has had an enormous effect on my self-discipline. I am now reminded of how much more I can learn in a classroom than alone from a book. The 12x12in’12 Challenge has become the classroom I needed. The solidarity, the sharing of ups and downs, tips and warnings, and above all joy – all these things have become a lifeline.

Back in (pre-computer dark ages) art school (FIT in New York and Hochschule fuer bildende Kuenste in Braunschweig, Germany) one of the strongest
influences on the betterment of my own work was learning to critique my classmate’s artwork and learning to accept and work with the criticism I received. This is no different and equally necessary in my writing.

Despite great effort within my local SCBWI Schmooze group I couldn’t get a PB critique group going (though I am now on the verge!), so I literally had no one to bounce my thoughts off of. Through 12×12 I also have 4 ‘VIPs’ – Hi Kirsten, Jen, Jodi and Rena! – to do that with! I also love the stories shared from all over: Andi’s tornado warnings, Joanna’s aperitifs, Miranda’s African trek, Erik (the kid himself is amazing!), walking with Diane in Aotearoa…and all the new baby pics!

In March I completed my first PB dummy and entered it for the SCBWI Don Freeman WIP Grant, and thanks to Susanna Hill and Punxsutawney Phyllis’
World Tour, I started a blog, which I am unexpectedly getting a big kick out of!

So why stop there? I recently decided to raise the ante of my illustration efforts by posting weekly on http://www.illustrationfriday.com, much like Rena Traxel’s A-Z: 26 Poems in April, using a given word for inspiration.

I still feel as energized now as I did starting 12x12in’12 four months ago! When I go to the local Schmooze meetings I feel informed and up-to-date, and able to contribute – which is huge considering I only started attending a few months before starting the challenge!

The images I have included are digital (AI): the profile pic really does look like me, and the squirrel is part of a series I am trying to launch in Café Press – stay tuned!

At this point, and forever more, I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Julie Hedlund and all my fellow Challenge-mates!

Julie Rowan-Zoch is a graphic designer morphed by motherhood into super-volunteer, spun into a pre-pubbie cocoon, soon to spread wings as a writer and Illustrator of children’s books. Designer is only one of many jobs she has held: caterer, bartender, art teacher, pre-school teacher, cheese wrapper, gardener, house cleaner, and co-creator a local-biz coupon book! Raised on Long Island, NY, matured in Germany, unfolding in Colorado. Find her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Artist-Julie-Rowan-Zoch and her blog: http://julierowanzoch.wordpress.com.

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