Friday, July 23, 2010

The Persnickety Problems of Prose Picture Book Writing

The Persnickety Problems of Prose Picture Book Writing—Told from the Perspective of a Picture Book Ryhmer.

I’ve been writing picture books for over seven years. I even have one that has sold over 113,000 copies, and it’s a rhymer. The problem, well, my problem, is that rhyme comes easier to me than picture book prose. Probably because I have a naturally older voice. I have no problem writing for older characters in Mg or YA novels. That’s why writing in rhyme for picture books suits me.

When choosing words for a rhyming story the rhyme limits you. You must choose the perfect word, not only for description, but also for meter, scansion, and rhyme. When writing prose I’m so tempted to throw in an extra adjective or a prepositional phrase, just to flavor the manuscript.

I’ve since learned that is a no-no! I’ve joined a really great prose picture book writing group. They’ve helped me tremendously. I’m happy and proud to say I’ve written my first prose picture book that actually tells a story, has lots of action, and solves the problem in less than 665 words. Whew! That’s a record for me. Here’s what I’ve learned thanks to my fellow picture book writers:

  1. No prepositional phrases, or very few
  2. Don’t describe what the illustrator can draw
  3. Skip the extra adjective
  4. Only 4-8 words in a sentence.
  5. Persistence pays off!

Thanks to Lynne and Kellie of “The Prose Garden,” for helping me to “smell the success” of a well-written, persnickety prose picture book. J


  1. Great post! Thank you. I have several rhyming PBs as well.

  2. Rena:

    Glad you like my post. Hope it helps you writing prose picture books, too.

  3. Yeah, picture books are a challenge. I think it's all right to have sentences that vary in length a little, although you don't want to include anything that rambles. I guess it depends on what age group you're writing for. I don't write too many pbs but when I do I usually gear them for second graders, on average. I agree with the other items. It's important to leave room for the illustrator and to keep the number of adjectives to a minimum.

  4. Stella:

    My picture books are for 2nd grade, too. The teacher in me wants something teachable in the story. In fact one of my adult workshops for Day Care and Nursery School providers is "How to Write Curriculum from Picture Books."
    I guess I'll never stop being the teacher. :)


Fall Frenzy Writing Contest 2020

 I entered this last year and it was a great writing experience. This year’s rules: 1. Choose a fall image from Lydia Lukidis’s blog