Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Review: Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

I was so stoked by all the helpful information I found in Writing Picture Books:  A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication that I couldn't wait to share it with you. But my mind boggled when I started to write this post. I wanted to tell you about this and this and this. Writing Picture Books is 242 pages. My average blog post is (very) approximately 800 words. That's a problem. There's no solution other than urging you to buy this book...

All I can do is scratch the surface. All I can do is tell you what stood out for me...

About the illustrations...

A song is a marriage between lyrics and tune; a picture book is a marriage between text and pictures. Leave room for the illustrator.
The writer wisely trusted the creativity of the handle the description. Description, unless vital to your story, should all be eliminated. That allows you, the writer, to focus on the action and dialogue of your story... You want to write a text that allows the illustrator space for a variety of interesting picture possibilities to keep the listener involved with the book. You can do this in four ways:
1) Write scenes with action
2) Introducing new characters with the story
3) Moving characters into different settings.
4) Changing the emotional intensity of a scene. (p. 9)
Sometimes...information can be found in the illustrations and does not need to be spelled out in the text.  (p. 77)
For example, the setting may be  better revealed in an illustration.

About the characters...
'We want our characters in our picture book stories to be.
1)someone the reader cares about
3)a child, or an adult, or animal who is childlike
4)an imperfect character
5)someone who behaves in ways believable to that character
6)active, not passive
7)able to solve their own problems. (p. 57)
Create well-rounded, not cookie-cutter, characters. (p. 16)
If characters...merely make cameos, they can probably be cut. (p. 113)
Animal characters give your listeners an opportunity to distance themselves from the characters, especially when they are dealing with issues that might be too threatening and scary. (p. 50)
[T]ry to get rid of adults as much as possible. (p. 102)
 Your main character needs to come on first and leave last. (p. 103) 
About the plot...

Beginning:  characters and story problem are introduced. 
Keep in mind a child's short attention span and only address one story question per book.

Middle:  The character takes action to solve his problem. The action taken builds from smaller to larger. Keep in mind the rule of three--the character takes three actions to solve his problem.

Once the problem set out in the beginning of the picture book is solved, the story is over, finished--except perhaps for quickly tying up any loose ends. (p. 87)

About your reader...

Children love repeated phrases but don't give them too many or you'll risk turning off your adult reader.

Picture books are short not only for the child, but also for the adult. (p. 18)
Because, hopefully, the book will be read over and over again.
Dialogue helps your reader. It's easier to put expression into what characters are saying than in sections of narrative description. (p. 17)
Children are wise enough to figure out what a story is about without tacking on a moral. (p. 14)

About the writing...

The concepts of an hour from now, tomorrow, or next week are not clear to young children. For that reason, picture books...usually take place in a few hours, a day, or a night. (p. 12)

Most picture books are told using the third person point-of-view (he/she/it) but that doesn't mean yours has to be. Experiment. Be creative. Use the first person point-of-view (I). Write your story in letter form or as journal entries.  

In conclusion...

I can't stress enough that this is a mere sample of the information that awaits the wise writer who purchases a copy of this fine book. 
Next post (Sunday, March 28th):  Just like a publisher, you can help make a picture book author's career. In my next post, I'll tell you how.

Sharing my author journey...

I continue to work on my novel; I continue to learn how to write. For example, transitions are a lot easier to write when you take the  
time to consider the plot. I ask myself, what has just happened and what is about to happen? How are these two things linked? With this focus, I now have an idea about what transition words to use.