Thursday, April 21, 2011

Guidelines for writing poetry

April is National Poetry Month, which I have sorely neglected on my blog. I'll try to add at least one more poetry post before the end of the month, but here is one offering for you.

Often I talk to writers who want to try their hand at writing in verse. Writing in "verse" simply means that your lines are rhymed and metered. A common mistake of aspiring children's book writers is the assumption that if it's for kids, it must be written in verse. Not true. Although many, many children's books are written in verse, many, many others are not. Writers sometimes hear that editors don't "like" verse. What editors don't like is poorly written verse. So here are some quick guidelines which I will try to write more about another time.

1. Consider whether your book should be written in rhyming verse. Rhymed poetry packs a lot of information into one line. Each line is full of information. Rhyming verse is actually quite difficult to do well. It takes many, many revisions to get it right. If you want to write in verse, do it well and take the time to revise thoroughly.

2. Near-rhymes are very rarely okay. You should strive for perfect end-rhymes. Yes, even the best poets have at times broken this rule. But 99.9% of your rhymes should be dead-on perfect.

3. The meter needs to be smooth and easy to read. Avoid "off-beat" syllables.

4. Avoid "reversals." Say the words in ordinary English. Often, writers reverse the normal order of the words in order to accommodate a rhyme. Try to make your lines read as logically and smoothly as you would speak a normal sentence.

5. Try an unusual form, like a tercet (a three-line stanza) as opposed to the very common couplet.

6. Use fresh and original language, and avoid cliches.

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