Picture books are stories with an author’s succinct words; that is, verbs that show action, words that rhyme, and lyrical writing. But that’s half of the book. The wonderful illustrations tell the part of the story that the words don’t.
Before that happens, the story is a draft manuscript. (Maybe you have written one lately.) In the first revision, I’m looking for a great opening sentence – it’s usually about three paragraphs down.
Often, I begin with back story. That’s the information about the setting or the main character’s (MC) description and traits. That’s okay, because I need to know all of this to define the MC, but I don’t need to write it all on the first page. (This is a good way to ease into your writing.)
A picture book is short. While editors used to suggest 1000 words, many advise cutting to 500-600 words before submitting for publication. The reader, an adult reading to a child of 4-8, wants to keep the child’s attention, so a good opening sentence begins in the middle of the action. Then the page must be turned to find out what happens.
I’ve cut lots of words by beginning with the third paragraph. I’ll save that draft. I might need to review my thoughts later. For example, when the MC rushes in the back door and tosses his/her book bag on the kitchen floor, I’m setting the time of day—after school time. If the MC gulps down part of a soon to follow meal, that part of the story won’t be illustrated with orange juice and muffins.
More revisions follow and cut more words. Descriptive words are deleted. It’s the job of the illustrator to decide hair color, princess dress or jeans, and whether the MC is a girl, a bunny, or a dragon, unless the title indicates or a “purple plastic purse” is a character trait and crucial to the story. My verbs should not be passive. Instead of “he was running,” I write “he ran.” I also delete modifiers: quickly, very, sweetly.
If I’ve rambled a bit (much like my blog today), I may have created a funny or cute situation, described a darling little girl’s playhouse. But, if those “darlings” don’t advance my plot, don’t show the result and consequences of the MC’s first attempt (of three) to solve his/her problem, out they must go.
Why don’t I just write into a grid the first time? Would I still need to revise? Yes. Revising improves and polishes my manuscript. It puts things in an expected order and, hopefully, goes a step beyond.
Writing, of course, isn’t just an organization of words. The words that flow from my pen (and yours) create a unique voice. It’s from my heart into the character. It’s creative fiction, but the story rings true. It breathes, and the magic begins.
For fun and inspiration read to a child this week, or the child in yourself. I’m beginning a list of my favorite Picture Books. Watch for the tab, soon.