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Archive for the ‘Rhyming’ Category

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.

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Today’s PPBF selection is from one of our April Author-Palooza authors – Sandy Asher.

 Too Many Frogs

Written by Sandy Asher, Illustrated by Keith Graves

Philomel, February, 2005

Suitable for: Ages 3+

Themes/Topics: Friendship, Habits, Animals, Bedtime, Reading, Books, Manners

Opening/Synopsis: From Booklist: Rabbit settles in his cozy wing chair by the fire and starts to read a book until he is interrupted by Froggie, who invites himself in and asks to hear the story. On successive nights, Froggie shows up again, makes himself snacks, and plunks down on a pile of pillows to listen to more reading aloud. Then Froggie brings his huge family to the evening storytime, and Rabbit has had enough: “Too many frogs! Too much fuss!” He tells the Frog clan to leave, but guilt catches up with him, and he invites the family back. The humorous, repetitive text is well matched by the funny, expressive illustrations.

Activities: I found this great activity sheet for the book which includes extension activities and discussion topics. Here is another website that lists more than 50 activities for frog-themed picture books, including TOO MANY FROGS! I think this could be very funny as a drama exercise, even with just two kids – one being rabbit and one the first frog. In fact, I think I might just try that with my kids this weekend…

Why I Like This Book: I am a lot like Rabbit in this story. When I cozy up with a good book, I just want to be left alone… most of the time. In fact, I can be quite a curmudgeon about it. But since my kids were born I have come to appreciate group reading time and sharing stories together. Reading them their bedtime stories is easily my favorite part of the day. My kids love the silliness of the frog and the fact that he is oblivious to Rabbit’s feelings. As a writer, I have to say I love the few rhyming parts in the story. This book is an excellent example of how to stir a little rhyme into your prose.

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

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Today’s PPBF selection is from another one of our April Author-Palooza authors – Jennifer Ward. If you like this book, I suggest you read others in this series. Set to the tune of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, they are great fun!

There Was an Odd Princess Who Swallowed a Pea

Written by Jennifer Ward, Illustrated by Lee Calderon

Marshall Cavendish Children, September, 2011

Suitable for: Ages 4+

Themes/Topics: Princesses, Rhyming, Silliness, Fractured Fairy Tale, Humor

Opening/Synopsis: From KirkusThe exuberant princess in this tale begins her day by swallowing the titular pea, which had been under her mattress. From there, the things she ingests get more farcical and less foodlike (as well as a lot bigger)… Observant readers will pick out items and characters that belong in other fairy tales—Cinderella’s glass slipper, the Frog Prince and a prince who could be from Rapunzel’s tale. Spot-on rhymes and rhythms keep the pages turning.

Activities: Jennifer’s website includes a Lesson plan for another book in this series – There Was an Old Monkey who Swallowed a Frog. Many of the activity ideas in that plan could also be applied to There Was an Odd Princess. For example, comparing Ward’s tale to the original. Jennifer’s website indicates that a lesson plan specifically for this title is coming soon, so check back. Another activity my daughter enjoyed was finding all the references to traditional princess tales. There is also a scroll at the bottom of each page revealing the previous items the princess has eaten, so kids can “read” along and chime in as the story unfolds.

Why I Like This Book: This book is just plain fun to read out loud. Even though it’s a spinoff of the popular song, it is unexpected and fresh in its approach. When a book spoofs two well-known stories, you don’t expect to be surprised, but I was! The illustrations go right along with the hilarity of the text. My daughter belly-laughed when I read it to her. Now we want to get the other books Jennifer has written in this series and compare them all to see which one is our favorite.

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

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At last the moment has arrived to announce the winners of Tamson’s pitch contest.  I, of course, have read through her post and I can’t believe how much information she provided on what makes a good pitch, what trips them up and why she selected the ones she did.  She even gave us a few honorable mentions.  Thanks so much Tamson!  I am very envious of the winner, because after reading this post, I know you are going to get a phenomenal critique.  And don’t forget – even if you didn’t win, Tamson is a freelance editor and you can hire her to help you with your manuscripts.  

One last thing.  In this post, Tamson talks about titles, and I feel terrible because I think the reason some of you didn’t submit with a title is because I didn’t specify that you could.  I said to submit your pitch and the first line.  Of course that didn’t mean you couldn’t submit titles, but I wasn’t clear. Mi dispiace (Italian for “my apologies”). Live and learn for the next contest!  Now, onto Tamson!

Congratulations, Pitch Winners!

It’s been a lot of fun working on this contest and seeing all the cool stuff that’s gestating in all of your fertile brains. It’s got me thinking a lot more about what makes a good pitch and what doesn’t, how important the pitch is in terms of introducing your manuscripts, and whether or not a bad pitch can be overcome by a fantastic idea. I’d like to share a few insights here as a prelude to the big announcement.

Titles: Many of you did not submit titles with your entries! Presumably, you have them, and just didn’t think they were a necessary part of the contest. And I didn’t end up holding it against you…much. Seriously though, you should be using every tool at your disposal and a title is one of those tools. You might not think you are good at coming up with titles, but you should try, even if it means soliciting help. In all honesty, you may end up having to change it before it’s published, but you should definitely try to find a title that will grab your readers’ attention.

Length:  Many of the pitches should have been shorter. Try to keep it to one sentence. If the sentences are pretty short, you may be able to get away with two. But don’t make it longer than that. Picture books are short! It drives me crazy when I see flap copy that is half the length of the accompanying book, and I feel the same way about a lengthy pitch.  Fear not! None of you were that far off the mark, but there was some excess verbiage floating around.  One way to help you keep it short is to rewrite your pitch about 20 times until it’s pared down to its essentials, while still retaining a personality.

Questions: What role should questions play in your pitch? Usually none. Here’s why: There’s a tendency that we sometimes have to make our pitch sound like aggressive marketing copy, a la infomercial: Do you like Flies? Do you like soup? Well this picture book is for you! Either that, or it sounds like you’re being coy or are playing out a joke or riddle all by yourself: What’s a fly doing in this man’s soup? Why, the backstroke, of course!  When you could just get to the point: A man is enjoying a delicious bowl of soup when he notices something in it that wasn’t on the menu.

Rhyme:  Rhyming manuscripts, much to my chagrin, are taking a bit of a hit these days. Some agents and editors won’t even look at them. For example, see this post by Mary Kole [link to: http://kidlit.com/2009/09/05/rhyming-picturebooks-a-rhyme-with-reason/] (which, admittedly, is just one agent’s perspective). You have to make sure those first lines really shine. That means, ideally, you show the agent that you are the master of your craft [link to this post: http://tamsonweston.com/blog/rhyming-picture-books-arent-so-scary/]. But at the very least, you should show her that you are a confident and capable versifier. That means that none of those four lines should feel like they’ve been put there merely to accommodate the rhyme scheme. They should flow out eloquently and organically.

Personality: The pitch is a tool to get people to want to read your manuscript and there are guidelines to help your pitch do its job. It helps, though, if there’s a little spark to it as well. Is your character’s voice really engaging? Is your manuscript funny? Is your language lyrical? Then, ideally, your pitch should reflect that. You can, then, bend the “rules” a bit to make this happen. Don’t overwork it though. If you are having trouble getting personality in there without making the pitch very long, then just get to the point. This is a picture book, after all. It’s short. Agents are just going to want to dispense with the introductions and move on to the manuscript.

The Unexpected: Finally, I have to say that sometimes I was almost won over, in spite of myself, by pitches that weren’t ideally executed, but had a great concept behind them. For example, one of the winning pitches contains a question which I thought helped capture the personality of the character. I considered a couple of others that had questions too. Sometimes the idea just wins out, even when the writer doesn’t follow the guidelines to the letter. The best route to a good pitch is to follow the guidelines as closely as possible while capturing the essence of your manuscript.

Here are a few honorable mentions and a little critique of their execution.

TITLE: MARCUS AND THE FUNTASTIC BROBOT — by Angela Padron

PITCH: Marcus wants a brother. So he builds his own “brobot”, only to find that having a little brother – especially a robotic one – isn’t easy.

FIRST LINE: Marcus wanted a brother to play with, but his mom wouldn’t give him one, and he didn’t have enough money to buy one.

This is just a great idea for a book. The proof is in the pudding, of course, but it’s a good concept. The pitch, however, is unnecessarily wordy. This is pretty easily fixed: “Marcus wants a brother—so he builds one!” I wouldn’t use “Funtastic,” either. It’s feels like too much of a marketing buzz word at this point, much like Spooktacular. Marcus and the Brobot is solid on its own. Brobot is a good, evocative invented noun.

PITCH: Are you ready for a French nickname? To get fluffy? To save a flower? A charming dandelion enlists the your help in NAPOLEON BLOWN APART.  — by Julie Falatko

FIRST LINE: Bonjour. I am Napoleon. Yes, yes, I know, I am very beautiful. My lovely yellow petals shine like the golden sun.

This one cracked me up. Unfortunately, it’s not a great use of questions—this falls into the category of infomercial-type language.  Just the last sentence of the pitch would have been fine, but it probably be shouldn’t be in second person. This can put off some agents. I would also recommend cutting the third sentence in the opening of the manuscript.

TITLE: SECRETS OF THE NOT SO DEEP — by Sue Heavenrich

PITCH: After a week Maya’s mud puddle is teeming with life. What are those fast swimmy things, and how did they get there? Nonfiction/ecology.

FIRST LINE: After yesterday’s rain I am ready for puddle stomping.

Great title. I like playful approaches on nonfiction, so this appealed to me. However, this is a case where the question is not helping the copy. Just the first sentence in the pitch is enough. The  “nonfiction” tag is also not necessary.   The first line of the manuscript is good. Quite solid.

AND THE WINNERS ARE…

Second place, winner of the book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom is…

ABIGAIL RAYNOR!!!

PITCH: Arabella is desperate to keep Penweezle, an ex-witch’s cat, but convincing her family is not easy, especially when the cat tries to help.

FIRST LINE: It was just before teatime when the doorbell rang and Arabella found a cat on the doorstep.

This pitch has a funny deadpan quality to it. It sounds like a conventional pitch, but that clause on the end really gives a little punch. I immediately was imagining the kind of havoc this cat could wreak. The repetition of “door” (in doorbell and doorstep) in the first line is a little unfortunate and easily fixed. It needs a title, of course.

First place, winner of the book, Writing with Pictures, by Uri Schulevitz is…

HEATHER NEWMAN!!! 

PITCH: Esther is a fashionista sheep trying to bring a little style to her flock, but finding the perfect accessories on a ranch isn’t easy at all.

FIRST LINE: Nothing made Esther happier than trying on different outfits.

A really concise, well-worded pitch with a little personality. I would change “fashionista” to “fashionable” however. “Fashionista” is too new a phenomenon. This may be just me. I would also delete “at all” but that’s a pretty minor quibble.

Grand Prize, winner of the manuscript critique is…

MELISSA KELLEY!!! ***confetti toss***

PITCH: Elly is wild to save her favorite endangered zoo animal – but big brother claims there’s no such thing as Unicorns! Then what are those?

FIRST LINE: I am the luckiest girl in the world.

This is a case where the question really worked for me, and it adds a little element of surprise to the pitch, which is nice. I wonder why there’s not a “her” before “big brother,” though, since, presumably, it’s not his name.  The first line of the story is great. Gives us a sense of this exuberant girl right away and you don’t even resort to using an exclamation mark. Amazing. But, no title! (Save the Unicorns! Unicorns at the Zoo!  The Finest Unicorn at the Zoo). Well done. I look forward to reading the rest.

Let’s all give a big thanks to Tamson for hosting this contest for 12 x 12 participants.  Congratulations to all the winners and to everyone who participated.  I learned loads in the process of running the contest, and I hope you all did too.  

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Today is March 2nd and the good Dr.’s birthday, so of course I had to make a Dr. Seuss selection.  Today is also Read Across America Day, and Teaching Authors has a fantastic post about Dr. Seuss and how to celebrate.  Fox in Socks doesn’t seem to get the same kind of love as Seuss’ other books, but it is definitely one of my favorites just because it is SO FUN to read aloud.

Fox in Socks
Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
Random House, 1965
Suitable for:  Ages 3 and up
Themes/Topics:  Tongue twisters, Rhyme, Humor, Silliness
Opening and brief synopsis: “This Fox is a tricky fox. He’ll try to get your tongue in trouble.” Dr. Seuss gives fair warning to anyone brave enough to read along with the Fox in Socks, who likes to play tongue-twisting games with his friend Mr. Knox.
Activities: Just trying to read it out loud without making any mistakes is a great activity! It would pair well with other tongue twister books.  Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Eric Van Raepenbusch’s fantastic post on his blog, Happy Birthday Author, with amazing ideas for celebrating Seuss in general.
Why I Like This Book: Talk about a book that’s fun to read over and over!  That’s because you can seldom read it perfectly, so it becomes a challenge.  And the rhyme is mesmerizing for kids.
Finally, check out this video of a woman speed reading Fox in Socks.  It is unbelievable!

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

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Today is the kick-off for the weekly Tuesday 12 x 12 series, which, each week will feature a pre-published 12 x 12 participating author and/or illustrator.  I hope this series will enable you to get to know these hard-working, talented people a bit better, and that you will discover some fabulous blogs to follow along the way.

I am thrilled to welcome Stacy Jensen today for the inaugural post in this series.  Stacy was one of my first regular blog followers, and she also hosted me on her blog for my very first guest post.  She is generous with her time and talent, and you can find the myriad ways to find and contact her at the end of this post.  Without further adieu, here is Stacy.

Which way to go with your writing? Photo credit: Stacy Jensen

Write Without Rules

Do you ever get confused about what to write? I do.

I read about writing rules on blogs and in books. I hear, “Oh, you can’t do that” in critique groups.  Or, “That’s a tough topic in this market.”

As I’ve been studying the craft of writing picture books, I decided to say “No more” to this chatter when I write. I turn off the rule checklist, stare at a blank piece of paper and go for it.

Last year, I wrote my first intentional picture book manuscript for a Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators’ retreat. As I faced a deadline, I researched the basics of how to write a picture book, but realized I needed to scrap them and just write.

Here’s what I did:

I wrote in rhyme. I’m not very good at it. I should be in rhyming jail, but I did it anyway.

I drew a map of my main character’s neighborhood. I’m not an artist, but the black squiggles helped me visualize where my main character misbehaved in the story.

I studied my ABCs by creating a list of words for my story. It pushed me to not only consider the setting, but also the things, people and places my characters encounter in their world. Plus, I had to find logical items for Q, X, and Z.

I gave myself permission to be a newbie. I signed up for the retreat to learn. I submitted my manuscript to the published author in charge and my small group with no regret.

My drafts are layers in a larger project. Each draft is helping me reach my goal of submitting polished stories to an agent or publisher. I spend non-writing time studying trends, writing tips and word counts. These rules are applied to my story during the revision process.

Just like my son doesn’t like to hear “No” all the time, neither do the stories in my head. They just want to escape and explore the page for a bit before reality reels them in.

So, I’m writing my 12 x 12 in 2012 drafts like there are no rules.

How are rules part of your writing routine?  Can you live without them or do you need them?

Stacy S. Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she mothers a toddler at home, one boy in her picture book manuscripts, and a memoir manuscript. She does this with no rules in mind during the draft stage. You can find Stacy on her blog – http://stacysjensen.blogspot.com, Twitter – http://twitter.com/StacySJensen, and Facebook –  http://www.facebook.com/StacySJensen

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Here is my contribution to author Susanna Hill’s Holiday Contest.  The rules were simple.  Write our own version of Clement C. Moore’s classic, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  Go here to read all the other entries.  They are great!  Thanks to Susanna for hosting another fun challenge!

 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through the night,

We parents were wrapping with all of our might.

The stockings were stuffed but the presents were bare.

“I’ll be more organized next year… I swear!”

 

We prayed that the children would stay in their beds,

Snuggled in tight with the spreads on their heads.

While Daddy with his screwdriver and I with my tape,

Settled in to the task to make Christmas take shape.

 

When all of a sudden the dog began barking.

The reflection of bows on the ceiling were sparkling!

I sprang from the couch and led him away —

Into his crate to await Christmas Day.

 

At last we were ready to load up the tree.

Poor Daddy endured sharp instructions from me.

First this one!  Now that one! Put this one on top.

Be CAREFUL! It’s fragile!  Be sure it won’t drop.

 

And then we collapsed, exhausted and frayed.

“Oh please let the kids sleep ‘til eight,” we both prayed.

One blink of an eye and we heard the kids cheer,

“Come look at the tree, ‘cause Santa’s been here!”

 

We groaned in our beds, our eyes red and puffy.

The kids both looked glowing, while we looked quite scruffy.

I brewed us some coffee and scorching hot tea,

Then readied myself for the festivity.

 

One blink of an eye and the presents were done.

The kids were quite eager to play and have fun.

But as they were cleaning up ribbon and wrapping,

I lay my head down and soon began napping.

 

As I slipped into dreams, I heard a soft voice

Remind me to savor the day and rejoice.

 

And here I exclaim as I blog through the night, Happy Holidays to all and to all a Good Night

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