Picture Books Challenge a Writer

I had read picture books for years before I tried to write one. I thought it would be easy. Instead of easy, I encountered a challenge–an ongoing challenge. Here are some of my discoveries as a picture book writer.

Writing a  picture book is like writing poetry—Say what you have to say and STOP.  Too much text is a turn-off for children. Edit down to essential words only—300-500 words for youngest pic books—That’s 4 pages double max. Every word is important.

Text is brief with one main idea or focus. Check your beginning and ending. Ask: Where does the action start? A line or 2 of intro, then jump into the action. Cut out description. Cut out moralizing at the end. Finish with a twist–something that satisfies, brings a smile, a tear, a chuckle of delight. (Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter).

Children love sound.  The ear is engaged when reading a pic book. Part of the fun is the language itself! Try repetition, refrain, wordplay. Pic books have rhythm, motion, a pacing you can hear—often with 3-4 incidents to support the story.  If it’s a story, does it have a beginning, middle, end? A concept book moves forward also. Something has to happen. Is there tension carrying it toward a conclusion? These are things I keep on learning with each picture book project.

As a picture book writer, I must banish all traces of the inner critic and get playful! It’s a joyful thing to play with language and sound. So, have some fun and remember: weird is good!

Karma Wilson

Check out what these writers have done: Karma Wilson, The Cow Loves Cookies; Melinda Long, When Papa Snores; Phyllis Root, Rattle Trap Car; John Coy, Vroom-a-loom-zoom.


About Sandra Brug Children's Author

Children's writer, poet, and children's librarian.
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