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Archives for April, 2009

Axe Your Rhyming Verse

One of the most embarrassing writing problems afflicting the Internet is that of rhyming verse. Most skilled content-creators are bad at writing verse that rhymes, and too many of them seem to want to prove it to the world.

Please, people: We don’t need another poem following the rhyme and meter of The Night Before Christmas or Casey At The Bat. These truly great poems have achieved legendary status. Any story you clothe in their garments is going to leave a stain. Your story won’t become a classic just because you labor to make it resemble one.

How Good is Your Verse? Really?

Judging the quality of your own rhyming verse may be as challenging as it is to judge the quality of your own singing. Watch early auditions for the TV show American Idol to understand what I’m saying: Even when judged poorly, contestants of American Idol vow that their singing talents will take them to the top.

Very few people write good verse, and of those who write verse at all, most don’t seem to realize they do it badly. When you publish your own rhyming verse on the Internet, you’re probably suffering from the same delusion.

How to Rhyme Badly

When you write with rhyme and meter, you impose harsh rules. It can be very challenging to make rhyming words fall at the ends of lines. Equally challenging is to write lines that say what you want using exactly the right number of beats.

Good rhyming verse achieves both objectives without apparent effort. When you read great verse, every line is conversationally natural, and you relax comfortably into the rhythm. Here’s what makes most rhyming verse bad:

Inverted Syntax

Syntax seems not to matter to a hack writer wanting to make a rhyme. Rather than write a line as a normal human would say it, the hack writer twists things around so a specific rhyming word falls at the end of the line:

Poems about horses,
In books they abound,
If this were a song,
It could be a round.

Did you spot the problem? In 1,000 hours of TV talk show interviews, you’ll never hear someone say, In books they abound (unless someone reads this stanza out loud). As soon as you invert the syntax of just one line of your verse to make a rhyme, you’ve achieved bad. Share it with friends and family, if you like, but please don’t publish it on the Internet.

Uncommon Words

A writer desperate to make a rhyme may resort to using an uncommon word. The preceding example highlights such an error: How often do you hear the word abound in conversation?

Rhyming dictionaries help find perfect words to rhyme with lines you’ve already written. But before you commit to a word, consider how often you hear it in conversation. Is abound a good choice? Come on!

Filler Words

Rhyming isn’t the only challenge in creating verse; meter also throws the hack poet. One crisis of meter arises when you’ve devised a nearly perfect stanza, but just one line is off by half a beat. What do you do? You add filler:

Sally Anne Wilcox’s aunt felt the same,
When she spotted the sheep so green she became.

Yes, the verse contains more, painfully-inverted syntax. It also contains the phrase, so green she became. The author meant, she became jealous. To accommodate the verse’s meter, the author wrote, she became so jealous, which may imply greater jealousy than Sally Anne Wilcox actually felt.

This example seems like a minor transgression, but such verse-filling devices are prevalent. Use them, and you associate your poem with all the other bad verse on the Internet. Here’s another example:

Squirrels and bears come running to our car,
For yummy snacks, they’ll travel very far,

Half of the second line of this stanza is filler; the point is that squirrels and bears come to the car for yummy snacks. Mentioning how far they travel serves only to make a rhyme; it’s awkward and a bit silly.

Forcing the Rhythm

Sometimes a sentence you have in mind won’t fit into the meter you’ve selected for your rhyming verse. Still, with a little tweaking, you manage to make it work. Never mind that the line has six more syllables than any other line in the stanza. When you read it, it sounds right.

What you don’t realize is that someone else reading the poem will stumble over those syllables. They’ll read the line once awkwardly and then reread it, adjusting where they place emphasis until they discover why you thought the line belonged in the stanza:

Poems about horses,
In books they abound,
If this were a song,
You might just sing it as a round.

Can You Fix Such Writing Problems?

Most rhymed verse is bad because people who write it get lazy. It’s a lot of work to stick to a rhyme scheme and meter without giving in to temptations that result in lousy verse. The reason some rhymed verse achieves legendary status is because its authors edited and re-edited and edited again until each stanza flowed naturally. If you’re not willing to do that much work, stick to prose. Don’t inflict bad verse on the Internet.

Here’s a ditty I knocked together to make the point:

Rhymed verse, he knew, to write he shouldn’t,
Because producing good rhymed verse he knew he probably wouldn’t.

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