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.
Barbara (Mother) Wilson is a writing coach for aspiring authors. She'll keep you and your book moving toward publication. Don't ever quit!