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Picture Book meter vote

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ladylind

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I am torn between perfect meter and more expressive verbiage.  Give me your vote based on what you think would be best for submitting to a publisher for a picture book.  Feel free to express your most welcome opinions as to why.

Option A

In this here town the tale is sad
cause summer days have all gone bad.
The Red Dog, Pinto and The Chief,
are bored and sleep all day, good grief.

Option B

In this town the tale is tragic.
Summer days have lost their magic.
Red Dog, Pinto and The Chief,
are bored and sleep all day, good grief.

As may have noted Option B is inconsistent with starting on an unaccented beat (as the rest of the story is).  Let me know what you think.

Cheers and Happy Holidays.

LL
#1 - December 19, 2009, 12:52 PM

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In this TOWN the TALE is TRAgic
SUMmer DAYS have LOST their MAgic
RED Dog, PINto and the CHIEF
are BORED and SLEEP all DAY, good grief.


I think this scans fine, although I'm reading it without any previous lines leading into it. The fourth line also begins on an unaccented beat. I really can't get into version A because "In this here town" puts me off, unless you're going for a, I don't know -- hillbilly? -- tone or something. To me, the voices differ, so the choice may also depend on which version matches the voice of the book.
#2 - December 19, 2009, 01:30 PM
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Tragic and magic are much, much better words. Sad and bad are just boring. Substitutions are acceptable, so I think having this start on a stress and not the other stanzas is okay, as long as this is the first stanza. If this is nestled in other ones that are different, then it may sound odd.

When I scan it, I don't come up with what mrh did, although I agree with the hillbilly angle with your vocab in Option A.

However, I'm just working my way through Writing Metrical Poetry by John Baer, so take my opinion lightly.

Joan
#3 - December 19, 2009, 01:42 PM

ladylind

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I am glad to hear you both agree because that was my preference, but I wasn't sure if it needed to be consistent for a children's audience.

This is the first stanza so I was thinking that an exception for emphasis could be made in the beginning, but like near rhyming, I wanted to check with those in the know in case I was way off my rocker.  The voice is not real hill billy either, so that's another vote for B.

Thanks for your response it is much appreciated.

LL :goat
#4 - December 19, 2009, 05:17 PM

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I'm partial to your first version. The voice is stronger. This story (in verse) is told in present but clearly is set in the past....in the Wild West, perhaps?

The word 'hillbilly' might have a negative connotation in some instances but if the diction and dialect fit for your storyteller (narrator) then that might be your best choice. If this is your first stanza, it sets the tone (and rhyme scheme) for everything that follows.

It's hard to comment on vocabulary after just one stanza; it depends on your target audience. "Sad" and "bad" are pefect for the youngest; "tragic" and "magic" work well a bit older or in a stepped situation where you are building vocabulary intentionally.

This might be just me but I'd concentrate first on voice and story and later on the specifics of stress/end rhyme/all that is poetry. Otherwise, it's too hard to let go of a really nice poem that just doesn't do its job (as children's literature). 
 
Hope this helps...I've had enough rejected that I thought I should share.  :grouphug2
#5 - December 19, 2009, 06:09 PM

aniprof

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A *perfect* meter works, IMHO, if and only if it sounds right to the ear. That is, if it sounds as if someone might actually speak that way. Otherwise, it would merely sound contrived.
#6 - December 19, 2009, 06:54 PM

B.J. Lee

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I liked your second version except "good grief" sounds like filler.
#7 - December 19, 2009, 08:08 PM

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I like the second version also .... I think the last line needs a bit of tweeking ... so you have a full beat pause before good grief ... as I see that as a comic moment and a lead in to something else. I know you have a comma there ... but a dash may set that off better. Play with the first part of that line.  The good grief to me is leading into your problem.

I wouldn't get too hung up on meter at this point. These two examples show that you have a good ear for it. Get the story down first. Because any changes in your story are going to wonk the meter out .....

even if you just have to sketch out the story in prose first ... get a good idea of where your story is going .. and then work it in rhyme.

When you write a rhymer .... it's hard to go back and change one little thing without throwing the whole dang thing off.
#8 - December 20, 2009, 06:02 AM
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I like the second version as well, though I also agree that "good grief" sounds like filler.  In a rhyming narrative EVERY word needs to count in moving the story forward.   But, if you are still working on an early draft, I wouldn't worry about it too much yet.  Just keep working till you have the whole story.  Then it is much easier to go back and weed out those phrases, forced rhymes etc.

Laura
#9 - December 20, 2009, 09:35 AM
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Yes, "magic" and "tragic" are more appealing. Hence, I agree w/ others that version B is better. I am not particularly fond of the voice in version A with the phrasing "in this here town." Also, "The Red Dog" sounds awkward to me.

I also think that L4 in both versions is weak. I don't like the use of "good grief." That line, in particular, sounds forced.

Hope my feedback is helpful. Writing PB's in verse is very challenging. It takes much effort to sound effortless and have the words and story roll smoothly off the tongue...  :goodluck
#10 - December 20, 2009, 11:30 AM
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ladylind

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Thanks again for all your feedback.

The story is all written and polished in a meter that is very consistent, except for this first part.  It is geared towards a 3rd grade level.  The setting is present day preceding a trip to Mexico to save a whale.  It starts in Colorado, a bit wild west to this day :)

Your comments are all great and I will put them to action right away. 

THANKS  :thankyou

LL

A *perfect* meter works, IMHO, if and only if it sounds right to the ear. That is, if it sounds as if someone might actually speak that way. Otherwise, it would merely sound contrived.

What is IMHO?
#11 - December 20, 2009, 11:38 AM

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In my humble opinion
#12 - December 20, 2009, 12:10 PM

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I won't comment on which of the stanzas I prefer overall, since your question was just about meter.  Metrically, there's nothing really wrong with either stanza.

What you've done in the first line of the second version is to "clip" the first iamb.  In other words, you have a one-syllable foot consisting of a metrical beat.  The use of "clipped iambs" in the first foot of a line is an extremely common practice that you find countless times in poetry going back for hundreds of years.  In fact, it is so common that many people would hesitate to call it a substitution or a variation.  It's just one of those things you get to do . . .

but with one slight caution.  It's best to use clipped iambs when the initial syllable of the line must obviously take a beat.  For example, if the line begins with a two-syllable word that must be pronounced with a stress on the first syllable.  "Only cowgirls get the blues," for example.  The reader cannot be misled because no one would say onLY and everyone would say ONly.  In your line, though, "In" is a little, one-syllable word that readers may rush over without giving it a beat, and, like mrh, they may treat your first foot as an anapest.

Some people may object to that, I'm sure, but I'm with the general consensus that it doesn't really matter as you've done it.  I didn't feel any metrical bump. 

By the way, there's one spot where I believe mrh's scansion was incorrect.  While the initial anapest is plausible, mrh's scansion misses a beat in the third line.  I'll bolden the syllable that should have been shown to have a beat.  Also, I'll bolden the beat in the fourth line that I think mrh must have just forgotten to indicate:

In this TOWN the TALE is TRAgic
SUMmer DAYS have LOST their MAgic
RED Dog, PINto and the CHIEF
are BORED and SLEEP all DAY, good grief.

The "and" in L3 takes a beat because it is "promoted," i.e., even though it's a "little" word, the ear hears it as a beat because of its position in the line and because it takes relatively more stress than the surrounding syllables.  Another reason it takes a beat is because otherwise there would be three unstressed syllables in a row, and that's not something the ear tends to register.  The ear tends, instead, to "promote" the middle syllable and hear/feel it as a beat.

Anyway, this is a lot of words for saying that I think both stanzas are metrically sound.
#13 - December 21, 2009, 12:02 PM

ladylind

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Wow, I am stunned with your detailed comment, it is exceptional.  Would you recommend a book that teaches this kind of information?

Grateful,

LL
#14 - December 21, 2009, 05:22 PM

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LL,

You can get a copy of "All the Fun's in How you Say a Thing" by Timothy Steele.

Here is an article to get you started (I think it might be the first chapter of the book):

http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/tsteele/TSpage5/meter.html

These were first recommended to me by Bob (rjschechter) and I found the information extremely useful and well presented.
#15 - December 23, 2009, 10:24 AM
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Thank you for posting this, and for all the replies and the link. Very helpful stuff.  One of my picture book mss is actually a dreaded rhymer, which is a bit unusual for me. This story just insisted on rhyming!
#16 - December 23, 2009, 10:54 AM

joypainter

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I do not know anything about poetry... but from a person just reading it for the first time, I thought at first I liked the second version because it read smoothly... but rather quickly.  Then I read the first one again and emphasized certain words and thought the speed (slower) fit the story better.  Overall I thought the rhythm and character of the story were better matched in the first one.
#17 - January 16, 2010, 11:14 AM

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I know next to nothing about writing PBs (e.g., why would a rhymer would be 'dreaded'?), but I find this thread really interesting.
#18 - January 16, 2010, 12:52 PM
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Overall, I guess I prefer the second stanza.  But I really found the "good grief" disconcerting.  Lots of other rhyming words you could use: relief, brief, leaf, thief, beef, belief, etc.  Editors don't like anything that hints of forcing the rhyme.

Sleep all day to get relief.
Boredom? Snoredom brings relief. (O.K. I'm getting silly.)



#19 - January 16, 2010, 02:00 PM
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anlyledo

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I like the second better as well - I think the "here" in L1 of the first feels extra to make the scheme.  But I also agree that the "good grief" throws me off because when I say that phrase I give both syllables a beat as an exclamation, so it feels awkward read the "good" without stress to match the previous line.  I agree that there might be some fussing yet to do with that last line to get it to read well. 
 :goodluck

#20 - January 16, 2010, 03:32 PM

ladylind

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Thanks for the link and all the good tips.  The first stanza has got to be great, so I'll keep working it out.

I apprecaite all of your comments. 

LL
#21 - January 17, 2010, 01:32 PM

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If anyone is "giving" the word "good" a beat, they are reading it wrong.  You don't "give" beats because you feel like it -- syllables have beats because of the way words are pronounced and the nature of the syllables that surround them.

There's simply no reason to insist on saying "good" with a stress and then blaming the text for it.  You can't evaluate whether a syllable takes a beat by asking yourself, in isolation, whether you feel tempted to say it loudly or with emphasis.  Beats are relative -- a beat is a syllable that is said, even if ever so slightly, with more emphasis than an adjacent syllable.  Even if "good" is said with a fair amount of emphasis, what's key is that "grief" is said with slightly more emphasis.  Add to that the fact that there's an unambiguous beat on the previous syllable, DAY, and there's no choice but to hear and read "good" as unstressed as it's sandwiched in between two more emphatic syllables.  Just say the line in a natural, quiet way and don't force it in any way or "perform" it with feeling.  I'm pretty sure you will find yourself naturally saying "good" with less emphasis than the immediately surrounding syllables.  Until you do, there's a good chance that you don't actually understand what meter is and you need to spend a little time getting a handle on it.
#22 - January 21, 2010, 05:13 AM

anlyledo

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If anyone is "giving" the word "good" a beat, they are reading it wrong.  You don't "give" beats because you feel like it -- syllables have beats because of the way words are pronounced and the nature of the syllables that surround them.

Perhaps I wasn't clear in what I meant.  When I read it naturally, the good has emphasis to my ear.  Maybe it's to comma that precedes it, I'm not sure.  Clearly you are more versed in meter than I am.  :smile  I am just adding my experience of reading it and where I stumble for LL's benefit in working out what she want's to do with her first stanza. 

andy
#23 - January 21, 2010, 07:46 AM

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I'm not saying that "good" doesn't have emphasis.  I'm saying that "grief" has more emphasis, however slight the difference may be.  I don't believe anyone would feel obliged to say "GOOD grief" rather than "good GRIEF".  Just listen to the Peanuts characters saying "good grief" to Charlie Brown and you'll hear what I mean.

One thing that most people hear, but very few people think about, is that sometimes there are unstressed syllables that are in fact said with more emphasis than other syllables that take a metrical beat.  This sounds almost crazy the first time you hear it, because we tend to think (very roughly) that all beats are emphasized more than all non-beats.  But here's the key:  beats are only heard or not heard based on the immediately adjoining syllables!  It simply doesn't matter how loudly or softly you say other syllables in the poem (even in the same line).  Beats are defined by their immediate neighbors.  So you can have a syllable that is not a beat even though it takes a lot of emphasis if the syllable happens to find itself next to a syllable that takes even more emphasis. 

Metrical beats, the things you find yourself naturally tapping out when you read, are not the same thing "as any syllable you say emphatically."  Sometimes a beat may fall on a "little" word that you do not say emphatically at all, and sometimes they fall on "important" words that you tend to emphasize for rhetorical purposes. 

One of the reasons this is such a vitally important concept to understand for anyone who would write metrically (or read metrical verse) is that it helps explain why some verse can seem so rich and expressive, while other verse can seem sing-songy and monotonous.  Even if you keep to a strictly regular meter, you can avoid sounding sing-songy if you do not always place the beat on "important" words and the non-beats on "little" or "unimportant" words.  There is often a richness, similar to musical counterpoint, in the tension that exists between the emphasis that the meter "wants" to impose and the emphasis that rhetorical considerations "want" to impose.

 
#24 - January 21, 2010, 08:47 AM

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I find your comments very interesting, rjschechter, because sometimes I've worked hard to get a poem to have perfect meter, and yet in the end, I dislike the poem because it sounds too sing-songy.  I'll have to ponder your explanations the next time I'm working on one of those poems.
#25 - January 21, 2010, 12:26 PM

ladylind

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What are the rules on commas?  Does the comma before good use a beat?  Or is there an instance where a comma would use a beat?


are BORED and SLEEP all DAY, good GRIEF.

LL

#26 - January 21, 2010, 01:27 PM

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There are no metrical rules relating to commas per se. 

Unlike in music, where a beat can consist of a rest (i.e., no sound at all, just a pause), meter for poems in English does not count pauses as beats.  This is because English prosody is "qualitative" and not "quantitative"  -- that is, we are counting syllables and not taking into consideration how long it takes to say them.   

This doesn't mean that commas and punctuation (like mid-line periods) don't have a big effect on the overall flow and rhythm of a poem.  But rhythm and meter are not the same thing, even though some people sometimes blur the distinction.  Rhythm is affected by many factors, including meter (first and foremost).  Punctuation, syntax, and the sounds that you choose to use affect the rhythm and flow of the poem quite a bit.  For purposes of meter, every syllable is either a beat or not a beat.  It's that simple.  And it's important to keep a handle on that.  But some syllables take longer to say than others -- e.g., "strengths" and "the" are both one syllable, and one could write a line in which they are both either beats or non-beats, but a line made up of lots of "the" words would be a lot quicker to say than a line made up of lots of words like "strength."  And you can have two four-beat lines, but one of them can be swiftly said and unimpeded by punctation, while the other may drag a bit because of its sounds and punctuation.  For purposes of meter (in isolation) they may be identical (i.e., they scan the same), but that doesn't mean they give the same impression or music to the reader.  Meter is important, but it isn't everything.   (Just like two pieces of music may sound quite different even if they have the same time signature).

So meter does not account for a lot of things that go on in a poem and is not solely responsible for rhythm, cadence or flow.  A poem's flow and rhythm can be very much affected by commas, definitely, but it's not a question of meter.
#27 - January 23, 2010, 10:05 AM

ladylind

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Thanks again.  Such a fascinating and endlessly ponderable craft. 

LL
#28 - February 04, 2010, 02:33 PM

ladylind

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While I've got you all here, I've got a couple more questions.

Considering Picture Books specifically:

1.  Can you write (or are there examples of) PB's that rhyme, but have no meter?

2.  Or the opposite.  Can you write (or are there examples of) PB's do not rhyme, but are written in loose meter without stanzas.  And if so would it be considered poetry?  Or more aptly asked, Would the agents who do not want poetry submissions recognize it as poetry?

Thanks again!
#29 - February 09, 2010, 03:04 PM

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sharing my opinion: I like version B MUCH better, but the "good grief" throws me off.

I think you can come up with something better that advances the story.

The first version sounded forced or something. I can't put my finger on it. :)
#30 - February 09, 2010, 03:11 PM
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