I recently wrote this article for a friend's blog. But it's worth posting it again.
ARE YOU A PICTURE BOOK WRITER?
What qualifies me to write a picture book? What qualifies you?
If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times. “I can write a picture book. It’s easy.” People hear about my success with “Rock Star Santa” and say I can do that too. I say, “Try it. It’s not as easy as it looks.
The “Big Picture” in picture books is in the author’s head. It’s our job to put that picture into words:
…without talking down to the child.
…keeping adults interested in the story.
…using a unified tone and style.
…and keeping a consistent point of view.
Here are a few helping hints.
- Jump right into the story.
- First line should set the mood.
- Second line should introduce the main character if he/she/it was not introduced in line 1.
- Problem or conflict should be in line three, if not included in lines 1 or 2.
a. without a conflict, there is no story.
For all those who still think this is easy, have you got that so far? Okay. Now we need the story to unfold.
- Is it organized?
- don’t jump from the zoo to a pirate ship to bedtime.
- Did you limit the description?
- no “silver beams of moonlight shined down upon the green fairy as she flitted through the tall grasses that waved goodbye to the sun in the evening breeze.”
- instead > The fairy flew home at night.” Let the illustrator set the scene. In a picture book, it’s 50% their story.
- Do you have an effective ending?
- are all loose ends tied up?
- is the reader satisfied?
- does the ending relate back to the beginning? (full circle concept)
- Can your story be broken down into 29 pages? Don’t count the end papers and title page as story pages.
- Did you vary the length of your sentences? For young picture books they should be no longer than 8 words. For older picture books, no longer than 12.
- Does your story center around a child’s interest?
- Can children relate to the characters?
a. characters need to be well-rounded, with quirks and personality traits that bring them to life. Create characters that children can relate to, wonder about, and come back to again and again.
- And what about your language? Is it lyrical? That means play with sounds. It does NOT mean you must rhyme.
- Speaking of rhyme, a fellow rhymer, who was a professional singer in her previous life (before becoming a children’s author) offered me this advice years ago.
“If a person can’t sing on key, they can’t rhyme.” Makes sense doesn’t it? I’ve shared that with other children’s writers at conferences and some of them disagree. But think about it… if you can’t keep the beat or find the meter while you’re singing, how can you hear the scansion when you’re writing rhyme? Now, I’m sure there are some exceptions to the rule. There always are, but my advice is:
If you can’t sing it,
don’t try to wing it.
So I propose,
you write in prose.
- Choose effective verbs and nouns.
- Limit adjectives and adverbs.
- MOST IMPORTANT: ALWAYS READ YOUR STORY ALOUD!
Okay, am I qualified to write picture books? Rock Star Santa thinks I am. Are you? Follow this advice and maybe we’ll see your name on a picture book in the library or bookstore. Oh, and I’d join SCBWI and go to conferences. You’ll meet wonderful picture book authors and learn more about writing. Good luck!
Gayle C. Krause
Rock Star Santa