by Renee M. LaTulippe
Those who write rhyming picture books already know how important poetic techniques are to their stories, but prose writers have just as much to gain from closely examining how poetic techniques can enhance the readability of their manuscripts.
SOUND DEVICES make music of your words, rendering them more fun to read aloud. Listen to how the simple assonance and alliteration — never overdone — enhance the beauty of these lines from COME ON, RAIN! by Karen Hesse:
Mamma lifts a listless vine and sighs.
…fling off their shoes,
skim off their hose,
tossing streamers of stockings over their shoulders.
IMAGERY creates concrete pictures in your readers’ heads. The more specific the image, the more effective it is. Consider the exquisite opening line of BARN by Debby Atwell:
I was raised in coastal fog so thick the crows had to walk to the cornfield that morning.
REPETITION and REFRAINS make your story interactive, giving children the chance to participate and “read” along. They also help escalate the drama, as in CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin:
Farmer brown has a problem.
His cows like to type.
All day long he hears
Click, clack, moo.
Click, clack, moo.
Clickety, clack, moo.
RHYTHM carries your reader from word to word and page to page, giving your prose a forward momentum that makes your book impossible to put down. Consider the rhythm (and the repetition of the color word, gray) in this passage from YESTERDAY I HAD THE BLUES by Jeron Ashford Frame:
Daddy says he got the grays.
The straight shoelaces,
coffee in the car grays.
The lines between his eyes,
lookin’ at his watch grays.
The don’t ask for a new skateboard
till tomorrow grays.
DICTION — the exact right word in the exact right spot — while particularly essential in poetry, is of course important in any type of writing. In prose, diction isn’t just about finding the best verbs; it’s about finding the words that support and enhance your plot, setting, tone, and characters. Consider this excerpt from THIS MOOSE BELONGS TO ME by Oliver Jeffers:
Wilfred was dumbstruck.
This moose was Marcel, not Rodrigo.
The old lady was mistaken and
Wilfred thought it only proper
that he correct her.
The names, adjectives, and verbs in this passage do double duty to underscore the book’s humor and tone, and are authentic to the character of Wilfred, who is no ordinary boy.
Renée is offering a 30-minute Skype consultation/critique on a prose or rhyming picture book or a poetry collection. To be eligible, you must be a fully registered participant, comment on this post, read daily, and keep records of your progress.
Renée M. LaTulippe is a poet and editor who has co-authored nine award-winning leveled readers and a collection of poetry. She has poems published in several anthologies, including the forthcoming National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (ed. J. Patrick Lewis) and One Minute Till Bedtime (ed. Kenn Nesbitt; Little, Brown). Renée teaches the five-week online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and blogs on children’s poetry at No Water River.