10 Crucial Lessons for Rhymers… from Monty Python

or, inevitably, WHAT HAVE THE PYTHONS EVER DONE FOR US?

We are all products of our environment. Some wear their influences on their sleeves; others may not even be aware of tapping into their formative influences. I grew up in the 80s with Monty Python, a child of Python-loving parents who mercifully spared me the sketches that didn’t work (there are many), but instead exposed me to the films, the highlights reels, the comedy albums (on vinyl, no less), the Live at the Hollywood Bowl fan-fest. And here I am now trying to write rhyming picture books and other entertainments…

Here are ten lessons that rhymers (perhaps storytellers of any stripe) can take from the songs of Monty Python. Some of the links are NSFW…

1) CHALLENGE EXPECTATIONS
Have your main character do something unusual, that goes against type and challenges expectations. You’ve got a knight called Brave Sir Robin?

“When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled

Yes Brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out…”

Or take a rugged, “manly” lumberjack, and then tell us that he likes to “put on women’s clothing, and hang around in bars.”

Or take the less-travelled perspective:

2) PLAY WITH WORDS
Have fun with the language, whether that’s homophones, (“sail the wide accountancy”)

lists,

or

or non-sequitors for comic effect
“We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spam a-lot

I have to push the pram-a-lot!”

3) GET THE TONE RIGHT
The gentle, plinky start of “Finland” sets the tone perfectly for an homage to a country “where I quite want to be”…

4) ENJOY YOUR RHYMES
Repeating the same end rhyme throughout, and even using it as an internal rhyme, can be fun…
“Half a bee, philosophically,
Must, ipso facto, half not be”

5) DON’T TALK DOWN TO YOUR AUDIENCE
The Galaxy Song, and the Medical Love Song, are examples of introducing a range of language and ideas that go far beyond what might be expected of the “everyman”. If the narrative, and the rhyme, is strong enough, you can introduce unfamiliar names and ideas very quickly.

Don’t talk down to your audience. Raise them up.

“Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power”

(I love the punchline at the end of this song)

6) MAKE YOUR RHYMES UNEXPECTED, OR UNUSUAL
All I know about philosophers, I know from this:

“Heideggar, Heideggar was a boozy beggar…

John Stewart Mill, of his own free will
On half a pint of shanty was particularly ill.”

And what about one of the greatest thinkers in history?

“Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle”

7) REPETITION, repetition….
A good example of repetition, and letting your characters grow, is the theme song from Life of Brian, with “a boy/ teenager/ not a girl/ a man called Brian”

“… his voice dropped down low
And things started to grow…”

8) DIVERSITY IS IMPORTANT
Monty Python made an effort to address diversity, in their own particular fashion, with “I Like Chinese” and “Never Be Rude To An Arab”…

“I like Chinese, I like Chinese,
They only come up to your knees”

It’s vital to reflect the diversity of the world we live in, to keep your characters relevant, and grounded in the reality of the time.

9) BE PREPARED TO MAKE MISTAKES
Viewed through modern eyes, neither of these songs have aged well… but how do you future-proof your material from the differing standards that will inevitably follow? You can’t. Write what’s in your heart, rather than chasing the trends of the day (or anticipated trends of tomorrow). If you never make mistakes, it just means you’re never trying.

Which leads us to our final point.

10) KEEP TRYING
There is only one way to finish this list. A song that has a ridiculously catchy chorus, a perfect balance of repetition/ variation/ progression, fun rhymes, a playful, changing rhyme structure… it’s even got whistling.

So, when the rejection emails start to pile up around you, put the kettle on, grab a slice of cake, and listen to this:
“Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say…”

Just For Fun… (poem)

This poem was written as a bit of fun, to try and use the prompt words “ubiquitous”, “consternation”, and “jackanape”… These being Annette’s favourite words. It’s a bit clunky, but I think you get the idea! Enjoy 🙂

Ubiquitous Bob
Was quick on the job
But a bit of a snob
Nay, a jumped-up jackanape

To wide consternation
He upset the nation
With this affectation
A hat, and crepulent cape

He sported a monocle
For matters canonical
Waxing all lyrical
About the grain and the grape

He then came a cropper
In drink, fell from chopper –
Was caught by a copper
Before he could make his escape

So, Ubiquitous Bob is humbler now
Counting his days in the slammer
But he’ll soon be back out, and bossing about
Rocking that monocle glamour!

If you have a burning desire to see your favourite words mangled and turned into nonsense verse, let me know in the comments!

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flickr.com/photos/ittybittiesforyou/5258762690

April is Three-Challenge Month… (blog)

I am taking part in three different challenges this month. NaPoWriMo – National Poetry Writing Month http://www.napowrimo.net/ – has the aim of writing a poem a day throughout April. The A to Z Challenge – http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/ – is to blog about all 26 letters of the alphabet over the month. I am combining these two, setting myself the quite daunting challenge of writing a poem each day following the alphabet theme… Nothing like a bit of pressure! It would be great if you’d follow my efforts over the month.

Running separate to this is RhyPiBoMo, Rhyming Picture Book Month – https://angiekarcher.wordpress.com/. This has loads of great blog posts and tips on writing rhyming verse for picture books, aiming to help you to write your own story during the month… and there are prizes too! Rhyming picture books are really important to me, as this is where my writing journey began, and where I’m trying to focus my time now. I’ve heard all the warnings about publishers reactions to rhymers, and how they can be a tough/impossible sell. I don’t care. I’ve tried writing non-rhyming picture books, but it just doesn’t feel right … Like something’s missing. It’s just not me. So, for good or ill, I’m going to try my hardest to write a bunch of rhyming stories that I’m proud of, and hopefully that others like too.

As part of RhyPiBoMo, we’re asked to share a rhyming picture book we’ve read and loved this week. For me, one writer stands head and shoulders above the others, in terms of the quality of story, and the personal impact in inspiring me to try and recreate some of that magic in my own style… It’s Julia Donaldson – http://www.juliadonaldson.co.uk/ . I could choose half a dozen different stories of hers, but for me Room on the Broom is pretty-near perfect, complemented by the amazing illustrations of Axel Scheffler. If you ever get a chance to see the animated version, I’d recommend that too – the little touches in that, without adding a word to the text, help to emphasise just how rich the story is. Enjoy 🙂

room

B is for… Bernard the Bellicose Badger (poem)

Bernard the bellicose badger
Beep-beeped the bell on the bus.
His big bushy beard was running amok
And a budgie was causing a fuss!

Poor budgie got tangled up tight
With no way out or escape.
As he started to chew – he knew what to do!
And a plan began to take shape.

The brave budgie bit his way out
Being as bold as he dared.
But Bernard the bellicose badger
Did not like his chin being aired!

The budgie munched a brackish brunch,
Beak turning blue at the taste.
Bernard went ballistic! The bird went on
Swallowing bristles in haste

Bumptious Bernard billowed and bellowed
He bawled as that budgie took flight.
Now you might think that the budgie did right…
But for Bernard…
Things are more black and white!

badger

(Note about Bernard – he is a gruff Anglo-Saxon character, pronounced Bern-erd, rather than a slightly more cultured American take on the name, ie Bern-ARD 🙂 )