Rhyming Verse is the First-Person Shooter of Children’s Literature

I’m not what you might called “a gamer.” You could count the number of video games I’ve played in my lifetime on two hands. I’m talking about single games—like single plays. Maybe twelve at most. So I’m no expert. But I was doing some research about gaming recently and I came across several articles (like this one) making the case that video games are addictive. There’s even talk—idle talk, thankfully—of making “video game addiction” a mental illness.

This post, however, isn’t about video games. I’m writing because while I was doing this video game research, I received an email about my novel, Zorgamazoo. The email was from a parent, who wrote about how difficult it is “to get my kid to focus on anything,” but that said kid is “veritably addicted” to Zorgamazoo.

What could be better than hearing your book converted a hitherto bibliophobic child? That’s what I love about Zorgamazoo: It doesn’t preach to the converted, and by that I mean to book-lovers who read for pleasure. I like to think it’s the sort of book that can charm even the most ardent web-junkie, nanosecond-attention-span, electro-gamer.

That’s the thing with rhyme. There’s something irresistible and yes, addictive, about it. That’s because it takes two of the best parts of any story—suspense and narrative structure—and condenses them down to the sentence level. As soon as your start reading, your brain begins to expect the rhyme. You try to second-guess it, which gives you a little stab of expectation to pull you forward. Basically, every single line has the set-up and pay-off of a good plot, only shrunk down to just a handful words.

On the flip-side, it’s possible this is why rhyme is something of a pejorative term in publishing, and certainly in poetry: because it’s so addictive. It’s the back alley crack of children’s books. Dr. Seuss knew it. Edward Lear knew it. W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan knew it—perhaps better than anyone (and if you want to read examples of achingly perfect anapaestic tetrameter, look no further than the wordsmith behind The Mikado).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that not all addictions are created equal. Maybe there’s at least one—a child’s addiction to rhyme—which is just what the doctor ordered.

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3 THOUGHTS TO " Rhyming Verse is the First-Person Shooter of Children’s Literature "

  1. Jill Murray says:

    I commented on Facebook, but then I realized if your “page” notifications are as reliable as mine, you might never see the comment…

    I was thinking a better analogy might be a puzzler or strategy game. Parents don’t complain much about Peggle or Civilization, but both of those games operate on a “I’ll just play one more turn” mentality that is as gripping as a page-turner, or perhaps crack. (disclosure: I have no idea what crack is like. ;-))

  2. Robert Paul Weston says:

    A disclosure of my own, I have no idea what Peggle is and, while I’ve heard of Civilization, I’ve never played it. I don’t even know what the box looks like. But yeah, I think you’re right. Board games are a better analogy to verse, but I wasn’t really after a sound analogy. Just musing, really. Still looking forward to the coffee book, by the way.

  3. jill says:

    Oh, I think video games still work in this example. I just wanted to point out that there are non-blow-your-face-off options available, with a little more charm, that might match the in-brain experience of enjoying rhyme more closely.

    In Peggle, you shoot a ball down through a screen full of pegs. It bounces around, eliminating the pegs it hits. Your job is to hit all the red ones before you run out of balls. It’s like a cross between pool, pinball, and that Plinko game they used to play on The Price is Right. It’s satisfying to play in an almost tactile way, and each stage has a comic animal who unleashes a superpower (like extra balls, flippers, visible physics…) that’s activated on hitting a green peg. Every single time you clear a level, there are fireworks and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy plays. Every single time! Glorious. You have to keep going.

    Civilization is a simulation game in which you grow a civilization from the dark ages through the 21st Century, and can win by military, scientific or cultural might. It’s turn-based, so you always feel like you’ll save your game and walk away after just one more turn.

    Ah the coffee book. I’ll get there eventually. Right now I’m writing two other fictions, as well as writing video games full-time.