So last spring, I thought I'd try a picture book instead in hopes that I could actually finish a manuscript. I thought it would be easier. I know all picture book writers out there are either rolling their eyes or are tempted to throw a brick at my head right now. But yes, I thought that. Wrong! Could not have been more wrong.
The basic conundrum of picture books: How do you get your point across, beautifully, in hardly any words?
This is very different from novel writing, where you can, and should (at some points), describe people and places and give details and you have thousands of words in your word count limit.
In trying to wrap my head around this, I turned to my friends on the Blue Boards at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Here is their advice on writing picture books:
- Picture books are an equal marriage of the text and the illustrations. The art will tell half (or more) of the story. Leave room for the illustrator. This means your text should describe the action but not the visual details. The illustrator will add those the way they 'see' them from your text. You and the illustrator are creative partners - let the illustrator bring something to the story.
- Think more about the art. What words are left out to leave room for the art? What story does the art tell and how does it enhance or expand the story?
- To get your word count down, try writing the book as an outline or just the bones of the story at first. Outline as poetically as possible. Then, take each action in the outline and write that as a line in your book.
- To get your word count down, cut back anything you can picture - descriptions, emotions, even some actions.
- Write in poetry. Not literally, unless you are writing a poetry book. But write the way you would write if you were writing poetry - the techniques that get meaning across beautifully in a few words.
- Think in picture instead of words.
- Have exciting page turns to make the reader want to continue reading.
- Each page needs to show something new that moves the story forward - new action, new character, new emotion.
- Read the story. If it is complete without needing any pictures to tell the story, your manuscript may be better suited as a short story.
- Read your manuscript out loud to yourself. You will catch awkward places that don't roll easily off the tongue this way.
- Make a dummy. There are lots of online sources for picture book story boards. Here's a great one with explanation from Tara Lazar's blog Writing for Kids While Raising Them. When you do this, also think about what illustrations you visualize on each page. You won't be illustrating them (unless you also happen to be a children's illustrator), but this will help ensure that there is a great picture for each page of your manuscript. You can also think about how your pages lay out in book form and think about your page turns this way. Are they exciting or boring?
These golden pieces of advice helped me tremendously on this adventure!
And now I know just how hard writing a picture book is! I'd describe writing my first draft on this first attempt at a picture book kind of like sitting in front of my laptop and bleeding from the eyeballs. Squeezing those words out in blood through my eyeballs! This was just my first attempt - maybe it gets easier?