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Rhyme...all the time!

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Wed Sep 12, 2007 12:21 am
Cade says...



Of all the elements of poetry, rhyme is one of the most difficult, and one of the most essential, for a poet to master. There are some painful mistakes that beginning (and even more advanced) writers make. Fortunately, these are easy to diagnose and easy to fix. Here's just a quick look at some basics of rhyme.

#1. Are you actually rhyming?
Sometimes, writers can get confused about what actually makes two words or phrases rhyme. It's easy when you're rhyming two one-syllable words, such as:

keep and sleep
bright and might
sick and kick

You might notice that the words in each set share the same ending; “eep” for keep and sleep, “ight” for bright and might, “ick” for sick and kick. But don't forget that words with different endings can still rhyme:

care and fair
fear and steer
put and soot

And, words with the same endings might not rhyme:

care and are
gasp and wasp

As you can see, it's the sound that matters, not what the word looks like. It helps to say things aloud (or at least pretend to say them aloud in your head).

Another mistake pops up when we get into two-syllable-plus words or phrases. The rhyme has to work from the last stressed syllable.
Example: eating and cheating

Both of these words are stressed on their first syllable: EAT-ing and CHEAT-ing. Basically, eat and cheat rhyme, and “ing” is the same on both; so they rhyme. Some might be tempted to rhyme words like “eating” and “jumping”...they both have the same ending sound, right? Shouldn't the “ing” on the end be enough? Say them aloud. Do they really rhyme? Nope.

Another common “but-they-have-the-same-ending” problem happens with words ending in -er. SHOOT-er and NEV-er do not rhyme.

Here's another example: My name, Colleen, rhymes with words like:
mean
clean
queen
green
caffeine
Why is this? My name is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable: Col-LEEN. The first four words are straightforward. “Caffeine” also rhymes with my name because the stress is on the second syllable: Caf-FEINE, so they share that annoying whiny “een” sound.
But what if my name were pronounced COL-leen? Then it wouldn't rhyme with any of those words. It would rhyme with...um...a made-up word like HOL-leen, like “holly” with an n on the end.

#2. Are you rhyming two words that are in fact the same?
This doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen.

Example:
knight and night

Yes, these are two different words, when we're talking about meaning and spelling. And they have the same sound, so they rhyme, right? You have to be careful when you're working with two words that are spelled differently but said the same way. Technically, it's not a true rhyme, because in terms of sound (which is what rhyme is all about) they're the same thing.

#3. Is your rhyming forced?
Forced rhyme is one of the worst problems in many beginning writers' poems. You desperately want to rhyme, but, of course, once you put a word down, you've got to rhyme it with something. Too often, you might just look it up in a rhyme dictionary, or run through the alphabet in your head, and pick a nice word. Unfortunately...you've now got to actually use that word. How on earth are you going to work it in?

Forced rhyming happens when you go off topic or mess with your syntax in a really bizarre way or use a word that doesn't flow with the rest of the poem JUST so you can rhyme. And then your poem suffers and gets comments that say, “Your rhyming is really forced. Urgh.”

Example:
One time I had a lovely hat.
It was fuzzy and red.
It didn't look like a bat.
I like to wear it when I eat bread.

Now, doesn't that sound silly?

It takes a lot of practice and study to be able to write decent rhymes; once in a while you'll read a really fantastic poem and be halfway through before you realize it's actually rhyming because the rhyme is so natural it didn't stick out to you. Slant rhyme is also used; slant rhyme involves an imperfect rhyme; the two words don't truly, completely rhyme with each other, but they do sound a lot alike.

Robert Frost's “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a perfect example of how well a writer can work in rhyme to make an enjoyable poem:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
See how the words that rhyme in this selection (know, though, and snow) all fit in very naturally with the rest?

The best way to improve your rhyming (and all other) skills is to read a lot and practice a lot. Good luck!
"My pet, I've been to the devil, and he's a very dull fellow. I won't go there again, even for you..."




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Fri Sep 14, 2007 10:20 am
Rydia says...



Some very good tips here, especially those on which words rhyme and which don't. I attempted some rather ridiculous combinations when I first started writing poetry.
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Sat Sep 15, 2007 4:10 am
Cade says...



Thanks, dear. Yes, my first attempts at poetry went a lot like this:

Birthdays are a happy time.
I don't like it when all the food tastes the same.


Yup.
"My pet, I've been to the devil, and he's a very dull fellow. I won't go there again, even for you..."




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Wed Feb 20, 2008 12:50 pm
casey_kent says...



this helped me a lot since i like writing poetry. thanks a lot!
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Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:50 pm
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darko.demark666 says...



So..you're telling us that words GREAT and NIGHT don't rhyme??
Dreams they come and go...ever shall be so...




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Tue Apr 05, 2011 3:52 am
Fran94 says...



This definitely helped me! Thanks!
"A writer should write with his eyes and a painter paint with his ears." - Gertrude Stein