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Posted September 4, 2011


"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing." Ben Franklin

Well, Ben, that's a pretty rotten rhyming scheme. No wonder agents and editors are sick and tired of rhyme and forced rhyme. It made you ill over two hundred years ago.

And here's a prime example. I once heard a young mother say, "He fell out of bed, hurt his head, and it turned red." My first comical reaction was, "With the right guitar chords and a few good verses, that story could be turned into a country song."

So for today's example of how not to write rhyme, I played around with that child's unfortunate accident:


Two jaybirds Ted and Grace fell in love,

To the tune of a gray mourning dove

They got married in a moon high-tide rising fever

Coo'd their way down South - Paris

Boogied to Rome, remembered to call home

But their folks were busy watching reruns of "Leave it to Beaver"

So they continued bobtailing their tractor trailer truck on loan.

By the time the lovebirds made it north to London

Torrential toad strangling rains created a din

Though windshield wipers beat the way to Backwater Inn

Grace knew the honeymoon was soon to be over

Cause her poor groom named Ted fell out of bed

Hurt his head, it turned red, and all he wan-Ted

To do then was roll in I-65's median clover.

It was the night, they drove old Dixie down

On their way to the hospital ER

Twas the night rolling thunder and bad dreams

Tore Fred up, ripped out his heart, squashed it flat

Did him in - no longer to be a country singing star

Twas the night - starless night - black as tar

But tis a memory dear Grace holds forever

Of Tennessee, Georgia, and old Bluegrass Ken-tuck

And her honeymoon of hailstorms and earthquaking weather

And their Bluetick hound dog who answered to Old Buck

Riding shotgun with Ted, his head red, out of luck

As Grace drove weeping, Hades-bent-for-leather

In howling tornado weather - Old Buck's collar

Sporting one teal Cockatoo feather

As he bayed out the window at quacking rainy day ducks.

Ahem…*Cough, cough* - I don't really think you want to hear that one wafting over the radio waves and into your living rooms. Well, maybe if Brad Paisley was singing it. He can make anything sound funny.

But what's wrong with this rhyme you might ask?

Some will say "Well, Paris, Rome, and London are in Europe."

Check your North American Atlas. There's a Rome, GA. A Paris, TN. And a London, KY. And all three towns are located in what's known as the United States' South. And yes, I-65 runs smack-dab out of Nashville so all is truth here. Which really doesn't matter sometimes in poetry and song lyrics -- you can suspend belief, tell a whopping big lie and get away with it. It's called fiction. Writers get to lie all of the time.

If someone says, "Your song is just not that interesting," they've kicked poor Fred -- I mean Ted -- out of bed and hit him on the head. Again. And who cares if his head turned red unless you're his wife or mother, he may have just been slightly bruised or embarrassed. Nothing serious. Poor Ted.

However, if you had written this song you might whine and opine, "It's rhyme that'll make you supine - a great ditty divine! Dolly will be dying to sing a ditty-duet with me!"

Dream on.

No. She. Won't.

Not even if you own all of the stock in Maybelline and are CEO of her favorite wig corporation. In fact, Dolly might say that not only did Ted fall out of bed, hurt his head, and it turned red…but now he's gonna be door-knob dead and your face is going to be red! As in beet. Not beat. There's nothing profound about that poem or possible song lyrics and the rhyming scheme is off and the rhythm offbeat. It will definitely put you on your back with your face towards heaven praying for relief. And though you might get away with rhyming home and loan in a song, it's forced rhyme. So doan do it.

"Okay," you say. "I have heard Kim McLean teach a songwriting class and put The Preamble to the United States Constitution to folk music." (How she managed to do this amazed even me.) "And it rhymes hardly at all. She's a pro at what she does and I'm not. So, I get Ben's point. Perhaps I need to fly down to Australia and wrestle with a Great White shark or trek into the outback and box with a few kangaroos after I've dug several wells for the thirsty and helped feed the hungry in Africa, the latter being a good thing.

"And while I'm at it, I need to polish any rhyme that's simply bubbling out of me waiting to be birthed."

Now you've finally "got it" and are dead-right, so kill off some of those little beloveds or maybe write your story in prose. But you don't have to fly to Australia and Africa to find a worthy story. There's plenty to write about by taking a look around. The Waffle House stays open all night and there are plenty of interesting characters who hang out there.

And, if you understand rhyme is not a bad thing -- the bards have been rhyming since times immemorial because, before cave graffiti, steles, clay tablets, and papyrus, it was the easiest way to remember a story -- you'll also understand it takes a lot of work and practice to make it flow. Especially for a picture book or a poem. You can cheat a little on some songs.

And if you plan on writing song lyrics, you really need to make your rhyme do more than shine -- you need to make it ping and sing if you don't want to be a lyricist who falls from grace!

Let me know if you've written a "ringer dinger" in rhyme recently - from a children's story, poem, or a country song. From now until September 15th, 2011, send me your best attempt at your most humorous worst rhyming story and please keep it clean - no bad language or pornographic prose. 400 words or less. The prize is a free copy of the September/October issue of Southern Writers Magazine which includes an article about how Kim McClean and Devon O'Day write songs from the heart that are sung by Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood, and other country greats.

Email your poem/lyrics of 400 words or less to....:vmoss@livingwaterfiction.com

First illustration is William Wallace Denslow's illustrations for Mary had a little lamb, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose

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Email to....:vmoss@livingwaterfiction.com