There's just time for a quick blog between Christmas wrapping!
I remember having a conversation with a lovely friend of mine, who had also written some children's stories and who had also written them in verse (I do hope she gets them published, they're gorgeous). She had been to some sort of writing workshop I think, and she had gleaned the following 'rules', which we both laughed about:
1) You should not write children's stories in rhyme if you want to get them published.
2) You should not write about your own children.
3) You should not write about your own pets.
My friend had broken two of those rules, and I had broken all three (sort of – the cat was a pet, albeit an invisible one).
I'm not entirely sure why the latter two exist. Maybe it is something to do with agents rolling their eyes when they read a cover letter from someone saying: 'I've written this story about my son/hamster because he is so amazing/funny…'
And at first I found it hard to understand the first rule. Why not write in rhyme? Everyone loves a rhyming children's book! And there are loads of them! And, well, The Gruffalo! THE BLOODY GRUFFALO!!
A story written in rhyme gives the adult reading it a structure within which to tell the story – a bit like giving an actor stage directions. It becomes sing-songy. I know my partner Dan would pick up a rhyming book over a prose one any day – he happily admits his voice goes quite monotone with the latter. But with rhyme guiding him, his story telling is livelier.
Children love rhyming stories too, of course – perhaps partly for the same reasons parents do, but also because they can begin to predict the words before they come. And it's SO much fun being right, isn't it?
But the 'rule', and the advice, is there nevertheless and one reason is translation issues. All publishers really need to be able to sell a book they have acquired all over the world. And translating rhyme? Whoa.
But of course, it is doable. The Gruffalo was published worldwide because it was good enough.
The key, I am told, to writing rhyme well is not to hobble meaning in order to achieve a rhyme. It can be tempting to do, but the story must take precedence and the rhyme has to fit around it. A seemingly random addition, inserted to get a rhyme in, would be even more random when translated.
Then there's scansion, of course. Badly scanning rhyme is harder to read than anything. If it trips you up, the magic is broken, you have to read the line all over again (slowly) and it feels icky and wrong.
Agents see a lot of bad rhyme, I think (publishers don't because it doesn't get past the agents) – and this is possibly another source of the advice not to write in verse. But for all the people who don't do it well, there are people who do.
And here is the good news – when publishers see a rhyming story that works on those levels, they love it. I heard this from the mouth of John Appleton, Editorial Director at Hodder Children's. So it must be true.
Publishers are not put off by rhyme, not if it's good. The story/character(s) have to be good too, of course. But translation can and will be done if the story isn't hobbled, and if it ticks the relevant boxes.
I honestly don't know why, when I sat down to turn my Terrible Twos column into a children's story, it came out in rhyme. It just did. I wrote it quickly (I went back to it many, many times of course) and I let it flow out of me.
Having rule No 1 in my head almost from the outset, I did actually re-write my first draft as prose. But it lacked the warmth and I just didn't love it in the same way. In fact, neither did anyone I showed the two versions to.
I'm so pleased I didn't give up on the verse. It was worth all those days when the innards of my mind swam with meter. Really, I couldn't even think to myself about what I was going to cook for dinner without my head making those thoughts rhyme and scan. It drove me half mad.
And so there you have it, the rhyme worked for me
I happily flouted Rules One, Two and Three
Cards on the table, I'll be quite outspoken
Sometimes the 'rules' are just there to be broken!
ps. I hope, on Monday, you'll take 10 minutes to read perhaps the greatest (certainly the most festive!) rhyming story of all time, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas.
Merry Christmas one and all!