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Writing Picture Books Revised and Expanded Edition: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication
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1 Reddit comment about Writing Picture Books Revised and Expanded Edition: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication:

u/justgoodenough ยท 2 pointsr/PubTips

Telling people on the internet what to do is what I live for!

First of all, you should go to a bookstore (not a library) and read a bunch of picture books they have on display (and then buy a book so you're not just using them for research!). You want to look at books that were recently published and are selling well (which is why the library isn't a good place for this exercise).

The most common thing I encounter when people decide to write picture books is they have no idea what the current market looks like. If the only picture books you can think of are Where The Wild Things Are and The Very Hungry Caterpillar you need to do some homework.

Fiction picture books are short these days. You're aiming for under 500 words.

The key to the low word count is minimal overlap of illustrations and text. There's a great Ted Talk by Chip Kidd and he talks about how you can show a picture of an apple or the word apple, but you never show the picture and the word together (because it's redundant). SAME THING!

So if you look at a modern picture book, they have almost no visual descriptions. They don't describe the character, facial expression, landscapes, anything. They don't describe body language and the description of action is minimal. You would never need to say, "Bobby put on his red shoes" because it will be shown in the illustrations.

Other stuff:

  • Your main character should be a child or child-like. There are some picture books with child-like adult characters, but they're very rare and you probably won't sell a debut with an adult character. Even if you do animal characters, it's a tough sell if they're adult-like.

  • Your main character should deal with problems children KNOW they have. You want children to connect with the story, they need to understand the problem and relate to it.

  • Don't go into it with the intention of teaching a lesson or creating a book parents can use to teach lessons. Those books are BORING and picture books are to entertain children. Yes, they typically have a nice message, but that's incidental. Your books needs to be fun or sweet or touching, not didactic.

  • As the author, you only have ownership over the text. As I said above, the majority of storytelling is actually done through the illustrations so you have to let go at a certain point. There's a lot of talk about "leaving room for the illustrator" which means that you don't try to control both the text and the art. If you envision a scene playing out one way visually, but it's not essential for the story to make sense, then you don't get to decide that. A lot of authors end up with books that are completely different from what they originally imagined and the book is better for it! One great exercise is to take a PB and type out the text and look at exactly what parts of the story are told through text and what parts are told through illustrations.

  • Your character should solve their own problem! You cannot have parents or coincidence save your character. Your character needs agency! They need to make decisions because watching a character make decisions empowers children to make their own decisions.

  • An extremely common PF format: Character has a problem. They try to solve the problem the "wrong way" three times and they fail each time. Something happens to give them an epiphany. They solve their problem the "right way" and everyone is happy. This is the standard for a reason. The rule of three is a really important part of the PB story arc and often a book that has space for the rule of three but doesn't use it, will feel lacking (that being said, not every book has it or needs it! It's just a tool to have in your back pocket).

  • Do not try to write a rhyming picture book.

  • Finally, my personal theory on picture book themes: You want the theme of your story to affirm a truth children already know about themselves or the world. Your goal isn't to teach children something new, but to empower them and affirm the feelings they have, but aren't able to put into words.


    If you read one book on picture book writing, make it this one.

    Kidlit 411- A collection of blog posts and articles on children's books.