5 Poetry Writing Tips for Children’s Authors

Poetry Writing Tips image: blank paper with pens

What do poetry writing tips have to do with writing for kids? Aside from the way some picture books use elements like rhyme or alliteration, don’t poetry and fiction require different skillsets? Well, the tools of each trade might not be as different as you would expect.

While it’s true that prose and poems each have unique characteristics, the two forms often overlap when it comes to defining good writing. Both genres value original word play, for example, as well as precision of language. Meaningful, universal themes come up in each. When we look at children’s books, the similarities to poetry become even more pronounced.

Children latch on to language filled with strong rhythm and music. They resonate more easily with focused and concise writing, and with images that are real and easy to picture. Learning to write good poetry for any audience will make you a better children’s author, because the music, meaning, and imagery which defines poetry will seep into your prose.

So let’s dive into 5 Poetry Writing Tips for Children’s Authors.

1. Pay attention to the rhythm of your words.

A core element of poetry is the musicality; the way the poem flows and the language dances. This is especially important when writing for kids. Musical language catches their attention and makes them excited. It helps keep them engaged in what they read and listen to. Rhythm can be added to your words in a variety of ways, from the traditional use of steady meter and rhyme schemes, to less defined elements, such as alliteration, intentional repetition, or changes in line lengths. In prose, this rhythm can also come from traits such as varied sentence structures or a good balance of dialogue, description, and narration.

Look for books and poems that you love to read aloud because they’re so much fun to hear and speak. Try to pick out what gives them their musical quality, and then try incorporating some of those traits into your work.

2. Make sure the rhyme serves the poem, rather than the poem serving the rhyme.

When you have a specific rhyme scheme, or a set meter, it can be tempting to shape your lines specifically to fit into that mold. However, if the perfectly flowing words don’t contribute to the meaning of your poem, or if the rhyme starts to control the direction of your picture book, these elements can become more harmful than helpful. Don’t be afraid to cut and rework anything that doesn’t support the overall goal of your poem or story.

3. Have a theme that is clear to you.

Before you can make sure everything in your writing supports the overarching goal, you need to have a clear theme in mind. A main feeling or idea that you want your audience to take away from your words. The meaning can be simple, like expressing the joy of Christmas, or it can be more intricate, like discussing the nature of faith. Whatever your theme may be, having one clear purpose will keep your words concise and unified.

4. Use concrete images more that abstract concepts.

Concrete imagery helps ground a reader in your poem or story by letting the audience visualize ideas for themselves rather than simply being told what think. This technique plays back to the idea of showing vs. telling. In your descriptions, focusing on physical examples is often stronger than using emotional or intellectual adjectives. For example, calling a tree, “the lonely oak” is evocative, but not nearly as strong as “the bare oak still cradling an empty nest”. For kids, concrete language is even more important because often they’ll associate more easily with things than ideas (especially at younger ages). They might not recognize the word “lonely”, but they’ll understand the feelings surrounding an empty nest where they used to see baby birds.

5. Read your work aloud.

Reading your work aloud will help you hear the musicality of your words and to find places the rhythm is lacking. Hearing your story or poem can help you catch sentences that don’t quite fit; lines that don’t add to the whole. It’s an essential tool to writing good poetry, as well as for writing good prose. Parents will be reading your picture books, and even chapter books, to their children. You want that experience to be an enjoyable one. So read your work out loud and tweak it until it’s fun to read.

Final Thoughts:

Whether you’re writing poetry, picture books, or middle grade novels, paying attention to the music, imagery, and meaning of your words will strengthen your writing voice. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new forms or try different tools as you build your works in progress.

(And if you want to try out some of these poetry writing tips but don’t know where to start, consider checking out our 5 poetry prompts we shared for National Writing Month.)

Happy writing!

Karley Conklin

Karley Conklin is a librarian by day, a writer by night, and a bookworm 24/7. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses literature of all sorts, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.

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