Rhyme like Sondheim

“I cannot write with any style or proper etiquette,
I don’t know a participle from a predicate,
I am just a simple cobbler from Connecticut”

1776

When I was first starting to write picture books I wrote a manuscript called THE NEIGHBORHOOD BODEGA. It was a delightful little rhyme about conversations over clicks and all the wonderful whimsy found in a grocery store in the age of Instacart and UberEATS. But when I sent it off for critiques I noticed a lot of emphasis on near-rhymes and imperfect rhymes. So began my journey on finding perfect rhymes and understanding why they are so important even in 2022.

Come down the rhyming rabbit hole with me!

Perfect Rhymes According to Stephen Sondheim

The great lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, wrote perfect rhymes in all of his work. You can find them in “Sweeney Todd”, “Into the Woods”, and of course “West Side Story”. Listen to his reasoning :

“There is nothing ‘wrong’ with near rhymes, two generations of listeners brought up on pop and rock songs have gotten so accustomed to approximate rhyming that they neither care nor notice if the rhymes are perfect. A perfect rhyme can make a mediocre line bright and a good one brilliant. A near rhyme only dampens the impact.”

“Using near rhymes is like juggling clumsily: it can be fun to watch and it is juggling, but it’s nowhere near as much pleasure for an audience as seeing all the balls — or in the case of the best lyricists, knives, lit torches and swords — being kept aloft with grace and precision.”

Stephen Sondheim, The Washington Post

It wasn’t until I read this article and re-listened to “West Side Story” that I truly understood the punch that Sondheim refers to. I want every poem and story to have that punch. And I’m sure if you’re reading this, you want that too.

Good luck fellow writers . . . And p.s. Sondheim used a writing dictionary too.

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