Is Shorter Easier?
Many new authors jump into writing picture books because they think it’s easy and a fast track to book sales. The stories are cute, the words are few and the pictures are funny. No big deal, right?
Hmm…yes, it’s a big deal. Coming up with a novel story idea is difficult. Debut authors are competing against the likes of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. That said, teachers and librarians are always looking for new and different stories. Parents are, too. You can only read Goodnight Moon so many times before your eyes begin to cross.
As Mother Wilson, I advise picture book authors to know what’s out there. What’s popular and what’s been done to death. The competition for new books is fierce but a new story will break through if it has a relatable character, a clear sequence of events, an internal plot showing how the character(s) transform emotionally.
Now let’s move on. You’ve got a great idea and you know what you want to happen to your loveable (or not) character and how s/he will change emotionally from beginning to end. Write all that in 1,000 words or less. Yes, that’s what I said, ‘ONE THOUSAND WORDS.’ Most modern picture books run 500 – 750 words.
Writers over the age of 40 will protest. ‘But the books I read to my kids when they were little were longer.’
Times have changed. Color printing has gotten progressively more expensive, along with shipping costs. While the length of a picture book remains the same at 32 spreads, the cost to produce it has risen.
Of course, e-books are a quick and easy solution to those costs. But they don’t make very good birthday presents for four-year-olds. Kids still like to have something they can hold in their hands. It should be something unique. Something that looks different from the electronic gadgets. Book covers will draw children in.
But I digress. Selecting the exact words to convey plot, setting and characterization in less than 1,000 words is no easy task. But it’s not an impossible task. With patience and perseverance, you can succeed.
Things to Remember:
Start as far into the story as possible. We don’t need to know that your protagonist got his plant that’s not growing from his grandmother six months ago. The point is the plant’s not growing. Grandmother’s involvement in the story can come later.
Don’t use text to tell the readers anything they’ll be able to see from the art. It’s redundant.
The child should solve the problem, not an adult.
Think like a child. Use words that a kid would use. But don’t dumb it down. Even a pre-schooler will take offense if you treat him like an idiot.
Remember that kids have small problems – tying their shoes, eating broccoli, going to bed.
Don’t give up. Learn the craft and keep writing.
Fear is unpleasant. The racing heart, the dizziness and the unbearable need to pee are miserable. Failure sucks, too. The nausea, the sweat and that loud ringing in your ears are agonizing. Put fear and failure together and you get psychological paralysis. The fear of failure is debilitating, even for the strongest and most capable among us.
Read on for Mother Wilson’s Wise Words on overcoming your fear of failure and finding your personal path to success. This blog is aimed at writers in all genres and at every stage in their careers. However, these techniques can be used in any area of life.
To look closely at your fear of failure, first define, ‘success.’ Rather than spout off a simplistic response like ‘achieving a goal,’ or ‘getting what you want,’ apply this idea to something specific. Make it small, achievable and set a reasonable deadline. You could say something like, “By 5 p.m. today, I will have written three paragraphs.”
Step number two is to accept that those three paragraphs do not have to be perfect. If you have written three paragraphs, whether they’re good or bad, you will have met your goal and succeeded. Most writers I know end up writing a lot more than three paragraphs. The key is to get started.
Next, you’ll need positive reinforcement. You didn’t fail. You succeeded. Reward yourself. It’s easy to use food, but honestly, I don’t recommend that. We authors are a sedentary bunch and it will go right to your hips. (Trust me, I know.) Find something else you like to do. Call a friend, watch a movie, play with your dog.
Thinking positive always helps. However, studies from the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology show that positive thinking needs to be balanced. For it to work, you’ll need to visualize the obstacles between where you are and where you want to be. Then, see yourself moving forward. Plan a step-by-step method of overcoming the obstacles. Visualize yourself succeeding one step at a time. Don’t get snarled up in how far you have to go.
As you move forward, don’t run from your fear. Embrace it as part of being human. Hug your fear and say, “Fear I see you. I know you are there. I can and will live with you through acceptance.”
Write on everybody!
Barbara (Mother) Wilson is a writing coach for aspiring authors. She'll keep you and your book moving toward publication. Don't ever quit!