Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

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Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by glorybee » Sat May 02, 2015 8:24 am

It’s been a while since I addressed a lesson specifically to poets, hasn’t it? Well, wait no more. This week and next, I’ll be talking about two poetic terms: rhyme and rhyme scheme. I might also tackle slant rhyme. In the interest of full disclosure—this is a slightly revised lesson from one I did several years ago. Our population has changed enough from that time that I think most of you won’t have read this one before.

You all know what rhymes are—words that have the same ending sounds. We start teaching rhymes when our children are very young, and for most of us rhyming is a pretty basic concept. Therefore. I’m not going to teach you about bat, fat, cat…you don’t need it.

What I will do is to suggest a few ways of rhyming that might not have occurred to you, and to implore you to re-think some of your current rhyming practices.

Regrettably, many amateur poets rarely get beyond the bat, fat, cat mode of rhyming. I was doing some research for something else, and I came across an interesting bit of information: about 99% of rhymed poetry is rejected by publishers of poetry. This is because a) the current state of literary poetry calls for free verse, and b) most rhymed poetry just isn’t sophisticated enough.

I checked through some back weeks of the Weekly Challenge. It only took me a few minutes to find eight poems that rhymed love and above, a particularly tempting rhyme for Christian poets, but way overdone. And a substantial majority of the other rhymes I encountered were exact, 1-syllable rhymes.

Think about these alternatives to “fat/cat” syndrome:

1. Rhyme a 2-syllable word with two 1-syllable words. For example, you could rhyme diet with try it. For experimenting with this (and for my other tips) RhymeZone.com is a great resource. It will suggest words of 1, 2, 3, or more syllables for the word that you input. Play around with that, and don't always feel that rhymes must be one word-to-one word.

2. Rhyme words of more than one syllable with each other. I once wrote a little limerick for a college class in which the rhyme for lines 3 and 4 was the words gazebo and placebo, and another little poem that used Glasgow, fiasco, and Tabasco.

3. An extension of point #2: rhyme interesting words. In fact, your rhymes should be the most interesting words in each line, to counteract that “predictability” factor. If I’m reading a rhymed poem about a cute little kid, and I come across a line that ends with joy, I’m pretty sure that the next rhyming line is going to end with boy. Won’t I be delighted, then, when instead the line ends with destroy?

4. As much as it kills you, consider an inexact (slant) rhyme.

5. A huge rhyming no-no is the forced rhyme. That’s a rhyme put into a poem solely for the purpose of rhyming a word already there, or a rhyme that only works after a bit of mangling of English syntax. Do any of you remember folk-rock band The Turtles? If you do, you’ll remember their song “Happy Together” from the mid-60s. The refrain (that always bothered me, even when I was just a pre-teen) had this little bit of rhyme:

So happy together
How is the weather?


Now that song was a huge hit, and I loved it, but as a very pedantic kid, I remember thinking that it was a ridiculous lyric. What did the weather have to do with anything? Nothing—it was only there to rhyme with together.

Another common way of forcing a rhyme involves using the helping verbs did or does with another verb, just to make an exact rhyme (and sometimes also to make the meter work). Let me see if I can come up with an example on my own….Here’s a little couplet:

My wanderings took me far from home
Far from my Savior I did roam

No one talks like that—the did is just in there to give the second line of the couplet that needed syllable, and to make the exact rhyme of home and roam. But that’s exactly the sort of thing that publishers of poetry hate. It’s true that the syntax of poetry is often different from that of prose, and that good poets from the past have often altered the syntax of sentences to make a line “work”. It’s certainly allowable—occasionally—but knowing how to do it right is absolutely an advanced poetic skill.

This is something I’ve touched on just about every time I’ve done a class that’s purely poetry-related: when I was wearing my judge’s hat, and I came across a rhymed poem, I looked for far more than just rhymes. I'd look for poetic sophistication, which includes:

~high-quality, unpredictable and unforced rhymes
~consistency of meter, especially in a fresh, original pattern (I’ve done lessons on meter in the past).
~poetic “goodies”: metaphor, imagery, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc.

Homework: write a bit of poetry (or share one you’ve previously written) that contains some great rhyming. A rhymed couplet or a quatrain will be fine.

OR share your favorite rhymed poem, and tell why you think the rhymes in that poem work.

OR respond to something I’ve written about in this class.

OR ask a question about great rhymes.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by itsjoanne » Sat May 02, 2015 10:22 am

GREAT stuff, Jan.

Just want to mention that I just participated (my second year) in a month-long children's writer "event" called Rhyming Picture Book Month (RhyPiBoMo). It IS geared toward books for the little ones, but there are some fabulous tips/lessons (especially from last year - which was its inaugural year) on rhyme, meter, and all that.

One thing I SHOULD mention, though, is that in the world of picture books, slant rhyme is frowned upon, as is not-quite-right meter, because of its target audience. Might want to keep that in mind while perusing the posts, should you choose to do so. Here's a link: https://angiekarcher.wordpress.com/
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by glorybee » Sat May 02, 2015 10:43 am

Thanks, Joanne--

I never think of writing for children, as it's just not on my radar. I really appreciate you adding that valuable advice!

That's why I love these lessons--we all learn from each other.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by dmbowman » Sat May 02, 2015 10:48 am

Just a bit from a poem of mine that, while it placed nowhere in the challenge, was terribly fun to write!

Ah! Gif," said she, "Your avariciousness
Has sorely decreased your integrity,
Wholly removed your generosity,
Deeply ensnared in acquisitiveness,
You've exchanged honor for maliciousness.


I suspect the rhymes are lacking in finesse and the wordiness was entirely too much to take, but it was written by a person who loves learning new words and their definitions. Feel free to critique it to the hilt.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by glorybee » Sat May 02, 2015 11:16 am

dmbowman wrote:Just a bit from a poem of mine that, while it placed nowhere in the challenge, was terribly fun to write!

Ah! Gif," said she, "Your avariciousness
Has sorely decreased your integrity,
Wholly removed your generosity,
Deeply ensnared in acquisitiveness,
You've exchanged honor for maliciousness.


I suspect the rhymes are lacking in finesse and the wordiness was entirely too much to take, but it was written by a person who loves learning new words and their definitions. Feel free to critique it to the hilt.
These are definitely clever!

I'll get back to this again when I cover slant rhyme, as none of them are exact rhymes, and it will be a good illustration for that lesson. Thanks for sharing it--from one word lover to another.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by beff » Sun May 03, 2015 12:23 am

Hey Jan, I'll post something for homework this week. (I usually do read your lessons even if I don't post homework.)

Here's a stanza from a recent entry:

The style then raged throughout Paree.
Unlike the bird, the bonnet flew
Off Paris shelves, then modified —
Why feathers three when ten will do?
. . .With lace-trimmed, wide-brimmed, tres absurd,
. . .Plumes pilfered from the dodo bird.


(please ignore the ellipses, I've only used them here to "tab" over the last two lines of the stanza)

From the things you mentioned I believe I used a bit of metaphor? (and perhaps imagery?) with "the bonnet flew off Paris shelves."
I also attempted a "fresh pattern" over my usual 4-line quatrain.
For rhymes: tres absurd/dodo bird
Internal rhyme: lace-trimmed/wide-brimmed
Alliteration: plumes/pilfered

Question: I did put "three" after "feathers" do make the meter fit in "Why feathers three when ten will do?" If you'd care to comment on that, I'd be interested.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by Milly Born » Sun May 03, 2015 9:09 am

Hi Jan...I'm coming out: I'm one of the recent love-above poets :wink:. Well, actually I wrote only two poems so far, so I wouldn't even dare to call myself a poet. My process is totally rhymezone-dependent, but this also helps me to increase my vocabulary (remember, I'm a non-native speaker).

Recently, I tried a book-of-Job-type of poem, in which I struggled with the meter as well as the rhyme. http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=50871

I used quite a few times near rhyme (or so I like to think), for example limousines and citizens. I'm also aware I added non-functional words for the sake of the meter. Or I left out vowels, replacing them with an apostroph, to squeeze a phrase into the meter.

My first and only other poem was The Broken Vase: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=50498. One of my favorite stanza's is:

"When you hold back, I cannot make you whole.
If you build walls, defensive with dead angles
Where anger broods and bitter roots entangle,
To shield your sin, I cannot mend your soul."

I love the internal rhyme that seems to reinforce the rhythm.

Feel free to use examples from my entries to illustrate and explain what works and what doesn't.

Although it's hard work, writing a poem is also fun...almost like designing and resolving a puzzle at the same time.
Milly Born
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by glorybee » Sun May 03, 2015 6:09 pm

beff wrote:
The style then raged throughout Paree.
Unlike the bird, the bonnet flew
Off Paris shelves, then modified —
Why feathers three when ten will do?
. . .With lace-trimmed, wide-brimmed, tres absurd,
. . .Plumes pilfered from the dodo bird.


Question: I did put "three" after "feathers" do make the meter fit in "Why feathers three when ten will do?" If you'd care to comment on that, I'd be interested.
I was hoping you'd pop in for this lesson!

Putting "three" after feathers doesn't bother me a bit. I can't really define why sometimes altered syntax words an sometimes it doesn't. It's just an instinctive thing, I guess--sometimes it's obvious and forced, and sometimes (as in this example), it just works. If it doesn't make the reader cringe, it's fine. :D
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by glorybee » Sun May 03, 2015 6:16 pm

Milly Born wrote:Hi Jan...I'm coming out: I'm one of the recent love-above poets :wink:.
I wouldn't worry about it. There are some marvelous hymns that use the same rhyme:

Oh, to grace, how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be
Let thy goodness, like a fetter
Bind my wand'ring heart to thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart--Oh, take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above
Milly Born wrote:Recently, I tried a book-of-Job-type of poem, in which I struggled with the meter as well as the rhyme. http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=50871

I used quite a few times near rhyme (or so I like to think), for example limousines and citizens. I'm also aware I added non-functional words for the sake of the meter. Or I left out vowels, replacing them with an apostroph, to squeeze a phrase into the meter.
I'm always amazed to be reminded that English is not your first language. You do outstanding work. I think the near rhyme, non-functional words, and apostrophes work in a poem (like this one) in which the language is somewhat traditional (as opposed to contemporary).
Milly Born wrote:My first and only other poem was The Broken Vase: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=50498. One of my favorite stanza's is:

"When you hold back, I cannot make you whole.
If you build walls, defensive with dead angles
Where anger broods and bitter roots entangle,
To shield your sin, I cannot mend your soul."
I may come back to this little quatrain when I work on next week's lesson on rhyme scheme.

Thanks for sharing these, Milly! (By the way--what's your first language?)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by Milly Born » Mon May 04, 2015 3:54 pm

glorybee wrote:
Thanks for sharing these, Milly! (By the way--what's your first language?)
Jan, my first language is Dutch. I am Dutch and lived in the Netherlands until I was 37. Then we first moved to France, and since 2004 we're in Italy.

English is my second language (when I worked as a technical writer for IBM, I had to write in English--and most of my colleagues were native English speakers).

Italian makes a close third. :)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by itsjoanne » Mon May 04, 2015 7:35 pm

Milly Born wrote: Jan, my first language is Dutch. I am Dutch and lived in the Netherlands until I was 37. Then we first moved to France, and since 2004 we're in Italy.

English is my second language (when I worked as a technical writer for IBM, I had to write in English--and most of my colleagues were native English speakers).

Italian makes a close third. :)
I just want to say that I have SUCH admiration for folks who can speak more than one language, which I know is MUCH more common in Europe. Folks here in the States (in general) are so Ameri-centric. (yes, I made up a word) ;)
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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by Cinnamon Bear » Sun May 17, 2015 2:38 pm

I’m not going to post one of my poems here. Although, in truth, the recent UK election results inspire me—pergola, cupola, gondola, Nicola…Much better than the lament I posted on this forum in September after the dismal results of the Scottish referendum...All right, I will cease my gloating and emoting about the voting… :lol:

Just a word about the use of simple one-syllable word rhymes. Three considerations come to mind.

1) It can be difficult to fit a three-syllable word—never mind a four or five-syllable word--into a meter scheme anywhere in the line, let alone at the end of the line.

2) Using rhyming words of three or more syllables can have a comical sound---effective for humorous poems, perhaps less so for serious poems.

3) Regarding serious poems, sometimes the simplest rhyming words can have the greatest impact. For example, almost exactly one hundred years ago, John McCrae wrote:

“In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row.”

Cinnamon Bear

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Re: Be a Better Writer--IMPROVE YOUR RHYMING SKILLS

Post by glorybee » Sun May 17, 2015 2:48 pm

You're absolutely right--some marvelously lovely and famous poems do have simple rhymes. The difference, I think, is the craftsmanship of the master poet.

The intent of my lesson was to encourage people to try new things, and not to be stuck in the rut of always writing only simple rhymes. In fact, some beginning writers may not have even considered that rhymes of more than one syllable were possible.

But of course, we should never call attention to ourselves with fancy anything when we're writing. I read a quote recently that I won't get perfectly, but the intent of it was this:

Q: When do I know when it's time to re-write?

A: When it sounds like writing.
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