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Verse vs. Prose in Children’s Books

Emma Walton Hamilton / Blog  / Verse vs. Prose in Children’s Books
Verse vs. Prose in Children’s Books

Verse vs. Prose in Children’s Books

I’m going to be very frank, since this is a subject that comes up over and over again in my editing practice. Language is a fundamental part of children’s literature. Word play, rhythm, alliteration, parallelism, refrain  – being playful, imaginative, creative with language is at the core of style when it comes to children’s books.  But let’s face it – Dr. Seuss is an anomaly.

cookbookThere are very few people who can write verse as brilliantly as he did, although it is great fun to attempt to do so.  I confess to having written a few stories in “tribute to Dr. Seuss mode” myself.  I also confess to having had a number of those stories rejected by publishers. Verse is widely considered to be difficult to do well, and for this reason, it can be a tough sell. When in doubt, go for prose – but if you must write in verse, then remember this: story first, verse second.

Challenge yourself to write a version of the story in prose, so that you can be sure the story is leading, and that the verse is germane to the story and not just filler for the sake of a rhyme.  In my editing practice, I frequently see stories written in verse taking all kinds of detours because the writer is trapped by the rhythm or rhyme.  They lose momentum, and their central dramatic core.  Drafting a prose version, whether before or after you’ve written the verse version, forces you to review the key issues—character, plot, setting, theme- in order to ensure that you haven’t neglected story structure for the sake of rhyme.  Verse should be the icing, not the cake itself.

Finally, never force the meter, or assume the reader will hit the right emphasis on the right part of the word if it is out of sync with how we normally say something.  Make sure that the rising and falling tone matches, and that the rhyme is true.


Emma Walton Hamilton
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