Beat and Syllable Count

The Question is, what is the obsession with Syllable Count in the Publishing World?

I really like this phrase, “Publishing World”. I’m not ready to admit that publishing is an “industry”. I know that’s a little crazy, but I still have an idealized view of the “Publishing World” compared to say, the Music Industry. Or shall I say the music  industry. There. That’s better.

But okay, I found the following at and I was very reassured, but I want to know what you think.

“In general, rhyming poetry tends to be metrical (regulated counts), although it needn’t be because the focus should be on the number of stressed syllables per line.

Metrical with regulated syllable count:
Roses are red (4)
Violets are blue (4) *Note: violets here has two syllables (VI-lets), and not three (VI-o-lets). More on that in a moment
Sugar is sweet (4)
And so are you (4)

Metrical with stressed feet (but not syllable count):
Down by the seashore (2 beats, 5 syllables)
Bess and I (2 beats, 3 syllables)
stood on the sand (2 beats, 4 syllables)
and looked at the sky (2 beats, 5 syllables).
(from Once Upon a Tide by Tony Mitton)

If you clap to the second one, you clap twice per line (down, seashore, Bess, I, stood, sand, looked, sky).

In most cases, one of the above ways of counting and/or clapping should work as you go along. If at any point the clapping part goes awry, there’s a problem, and you should alert the poet.

And there you have it folks, How to Critique Rhyming Children’s Poems by Kelly R. Fineman.”

So why have so many people (writers, editors, agents – well really not so many – about a dozen writers, one agent and one editor) been making such a big deal about the number of syllables per line in one my stories that I have been working on? No, I’m not going to post the story, I’m currently revising it. (-; And I think that this question can easily be answered without reading the story. The story is a favorite and I’d like to get it right, so please, post your answers to this one! Thanks!

4 responses to “Beat and Syllable Count

  1. I love talking meter. The reality is that it all counts. Sorry, I couldn’t help use the pun. Stressed beats and syllables together do make the music of spoken language. Think about reading music. If you have triplets with the accent on the first or third then it changes the feel of those triplets, but if there are four beats with the accent on one and then three unstressed beats it also changes the feel.

  2. Just as Mike said, it all counts. And a lot of editors know to discuss syllable counts because in many (or even most) cases, it’s the applicable rule, although it’s not ALWAYS the case. (Think of iambic tetrameter, for instance, which has four iambic feet per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM – it’s got to have eight syllables, with every second syllable getting the emphasis, at least most of the time. That said, even in iambic tetrameter, you’ll occasionally find a flipped foot or a feminine ending (an extra, unstressed syllable at the end of the line).

  3. Thanks Kelly – nice to hear from you!

    I really have to get my head around this kind of thing. Or maybe my heart? Because I am not loving these strict rules – although there are exceptions as you mention – perhaps all of my stories (that happen to rhyme so I guess they are poems) can be exceptions?! Lol!

    As a songwriter I have been able to “steal time” whenever needed, s t r e t c h i n g syllables to any length. Of course songs have their own rules. . . but with my stories I need to watch my words closely – there is no melody to lean on! Somehow it seems that perhaps I am hearing something different than I am writing.

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