What do you get if you mix up a traditional tale, the instruction to retell it in rhyme and a group of writers who have never met, at a workshop? Well, actually you get a pretty good piece of writing, but not without some serious head scratching along the way.
I recently attended a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators picture books master class where author Pippa Goodhart (she actually writes Winnie the Witch!) set us a workshop challenge. She explained that, in her opinion, the well-loved tale “The Gingerbread Man” is long overdue a makeover. She gave us 3 workshop choices: to retell the story in dialogue and sound only, in narrative or finally, in rhyme (cue groans all around). Now at this point, an opening stanza spontaneously came to me fully formed, so I quickly scribbled it down and in a completely unplanned move, joined the rhyme group.
Generously we initially swapped all the wisdom we had acquired about writing in rhyme. The main rules seem to be: the story needs to work in prose too and don’t do it unless you actually ARE Julia Donaldson or have a background in song writing. Undaunted by these facts, I tentatively shared my initial verse, which was enthusiastically seized upon by the group as a way forward. Rhyming! So far, so easy…
At this point we collectively ground to a complete halt! There were lots of very imaginative “this could happen” suggestions, but as we started to get excitedly carried away with even wilder ideas, someone would bring us all back down to earth with the words, “that sounds great, but how do we say that, in rhyme?”
We began to realise the complexities of the task. As time was tight we took stock rather than ploughing on regardless. Firstly we identified the emerging rhyming scheme based on my original opening and also drew on the recurring rhyme from the traditional story. We then began to unpick the narrative structure of “The Gingerbread Man”. We asked ourselves whether we were only trying to retell the classic tale in rhyme or were we also trying to change the story somehow and do so in rhyme? Finally, using some of the new ideas, we roughed out the story structure we wanted. This included how we saw the main characters appearing visually, such as the fox acting as commentator, using the traditional “run, run as fast as you can” refrain in speech bubbles. As Pippa had so wisely advised us earlier, we started to think “in pictures” as well as in rhyme.
It soon became apparent that within the group we had the ideas people, but we also had the composers, who translated those ideas into couplets and quatrains which fitted the structure. As we neared the end of the task the wordsmiths took over, shaping and polishing the rough draft by suggesting better phrases or words which still worked within our rhyming scheme.
I think we all found the art of collaboration both tricky yet ultimately very creative. As individuals we were seeking out our own fresh perspective on the story and this tended to dominate our initial thinking. However once we had identified and agreed our overarching structure, we were collectively able to weave these unique ideas into the shared framework. By the end of the relatively short session we had all contributed something to “The Gingerbread Man Rap” and I think we were all rather surprised by and very pleased with the final piece.
Working out how we share the royalties might be a bit trickier though!
©Chez l’abeille 2014