Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alliteration: what are your thoughts?

This past Sunday I had the great opportunity to attend a workshop in Princeton, NJ which was sponsored by the NJ Chapter of SCBWI.  The workshop was taught by the extraordinary, Ame Dyckman and was officially titled a PB Word Count SMACKDOWN!  And Ame indeed did provide many awesome tips to keeping that word count low.

Ame Dyckman is a wonderful presenter.  If you ever get the chance to attend a workshop taught by her...run to it!  She is just dynamite in her knowledge and energy.  And is the the perfect person to teach a workshop on word count.  Her own picture books, including the ever-popular BOY + BOT usually weigh in around 300 words or less.  Yet, no one can argue that her stories do not pack a whole lotta heart and punch in those few words.  In fact, my first  encounter with Ame was when I found BOY + BOT on the shelves of my local indie bookstore.  I was compelled right away to write this blog post: BOY + BOT: A lesson in simplicity.

And then I was lucky enough to become FRIENDS with Ame and she graciously appeared on the blog again for the WriWOPi (Writing Without Pictures series).  The post is one of my most popular on the blog to this very day.  You can read it here.

Anyway, you get the picture.  Ame Dyckman knows her stuff when it comes to word count.

So...this workshop not only included listening to Ame and her tips to SMACKDOWN word count, it also gave participants the opportunity to have their "long" manuscripts read aloud and to have Ame weigh in on how to slice 'em up a bit.

Which brings me to the idea of alliteration.

I use alliteration.  Its one of my Picture Book tools like onomatopoeia.  I use it to spice up a manuscript.  It makes the wording "fun".

However, in this workshop it became very clear that reading alliteration aloud can sometimes bog down a story and make it seem longer than it is.

Perhaps alliteration does the exact opposite of what we want it to do.

In a few manuscript examples which were read aloud, alliteration slowed down the reader.

Back in June I had Ame critique one of my manuscripts at conference and she flagged my moments of alliteration with this very thought.  And to be honest, I didn't really listen to her...until Sunday.  It was so obvious that the alliteration seemed forced...too literary in a way. 

I think to the SKIPPYJON JONES books.  They are packed with alliteration and internal-rhyme.  Of course they also weigh in extremely long at over 1000 words.  However, when I read them aloud I get tired, my tongue gets twisted and the kids get a little lost.  It is only when I pop in the cd that comes with the book that I enjoy the story.

So, I wanted to start a dialogue.  What do you think of alliteration?  Do you use it?  What are your experiences? Let's talk...


  1. I think alliteration is like crushed red pepper, delicious in moderation. I've found a few examples in my own ms that I can't bear to part with yet, although I'm betting there's enough for heartburn. :)

    1. Agreed!

      When I speak at conferences about using poetic devices (including alliteration!) this is one of my key lines:

      Sprinkle like pepper; don't pour on like gravy.

  2. I'm a big fan of alliteration. Pairing it up with internal or scattered rhyme can lend a beautiful melody to a manuscript. But like anything else, too much of a good thing can tilt the scales.

    Marci, thanks for posting the link to the WriWOPi(Writing Without Pictures series)blog post with Ame. It was fun to read again!

  3. I like a little alliteration in a PB. I do agree that if there is a lot it gets tongue twisty. And at the end of the day sometimes I'm too tired to read all that twistiness to my littles...

    I'll be curious to see what other peeps say. :) Interesting post Marcie!

  4. I think it depends on the picture book and how alliteration is used. I do love alliteration when it is used well. When done well - I don't think it is difficult to read - I actually think when it's done well the words slide off your tongue.

  5. Say it isn't so! I love alliteration, and one of my rhyming picture book manuscripts has lots of it. I guess I would have to see some examples to be able to tell if it slowed things down. Hmmmm...

  6. I hadn't thought about it before, but I see how alliteration can weigh down a manuscript... Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go edit my current work-in-progress. :)

  7. I'm not sure if alliteration per se would make a text longer. Maybe it's that people who love alliteration also love words in general and tend to write wordier? But the true test has to be (as always) listening to someone else read your MS aloud. If they're stumbling over your words, for whatever reason, it's time to get out the red pen.

  8. Whoa, whoa, whoa - back up a bit! We need to consider how alliteration can slow things down, and when THAT might be a GOOD thing! It might even be something we should think of adding for that very purpose! But you are spot on about the tongue-tying, Marcie. And so we need to break that down and see what parts of those words are not working with us for a fruit-smoothy feel. I'll admit that I have done a lot of skipping around while reading to my own kids if the text was too long, and sometimes because it was too boring! But alliteration itself causing me to skip, well, I can't remember that ever being the case. Ifeel inspired to take your thoughts into consideration and hunt down some tongue trippers. Off the top though it's excessive tagging. I don't need to know who said what when there are only two characters. Those were auto-skips for me. Thanks, Marcie- you got my wheels turning!

  9. Wow, Marcie, I have never considered this. I think too much alliteration can certainly be a bad thing. I also think forced alliteration can be a bad thing. I know I have made sentences unclear by trying to incorporate alliteration instead of using the best, most clear language possible. I will have to ponder this...

  10. What a great post! I have alliteration in one of my most polished WIPs, and now I am going to go back to see if it really works or if it is bogging the story down. I really think it's one or the other with alliteration. It will either be brilliant or seem gimmicky - IMHO. So we have to get the balance right (running off to check now!)

  11. What a great and thought provoking post. While alliteration can certainly be overused, and often in a dreadfully cutesy way, I also think that it's a fun tool to to have in one's writerly tool box. Used judiciously, alliteration is a fun way to play with sound within a text. I think it's especially appealing to littlest readers who are also big fans of rhyme. It's all a matter of balance and style and seeing if it fits in with the content of your story.

  12. I agree with all the comments about spare use. Since I'm still pretty new at writing, I like to take a manuscript and practice a device with it. There's a rhyming one, an alliteration one, an onomatopoeia one, one where I practiced dialogue, one where I practiced action... Practice is important, but sometimes I end up piling on too many devices on one ms! Maybe it's time to do some clean up...