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!
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.