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

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

by Ann Whitford Paul

Paperback(Second Edition, Revised)

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Overview


Master the Art of Writing Enthralling Tales for the Youngest pre-and emerging readers!

Fully updated and thoroughly revised, Writing Picture Books Revised and Expanded Edition is the go-to resource for writers crafting stories for children ages two to eight. You'll learn the unique set of skills it takes to bring your story to life by using tightly focused text and leaving room for the illustrator to be creative.

Award-winning author Ann Whitford Paul helps you develop the skills you need by walking you through techniques and exercises specifically for picture book writers. You'll find:
  • Instruction on generating ideas, creating characters, point-of-view, beginnings and endings, plotting, word count, rhyme, and more
  • Unique methods for using poetic techniques to enrich your writing
  • Hands-on revision exercises (get out your scissors, tape, and highlighters) to help identify problems and improve your picture book manuscripts
  • Updated tips for researching the changing picture book market, approaching publishers, working with an agent, and developing a platform
  • All new quizzes and examples from picture books throughout
  • New chapters cover issues such as page turns, agents, and self-publishing

Whether you're just starting out as a picture book writer or have tried unsuccessfully to get your work published, Writing Picture Books Revised and Expanded Edition is just what you need to craft picture books that will appeal to young children and parents, and agents and editors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781440353758
Publisher: F+W Media
Publication date: 11/13/2018
Edition description: Second Edition, Revised
Pages: 266
Sales rank: 184,725
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Becoming a Picture-Book Scholar

"Writing is a craft before it is an art. ..."

— DONALD M. MURRAY

Having your appendix removed doesn't qualify you to then perform an appendectomy, so why should having heard or read picture books qualify you to write one? You wouldn't start creating a software program without first researching computer theory, but some people think they can write a picture book without ever reading or studying contemporary picture books.

Picture books have a unique form and audience. In this chapter, you'll learn what a picture book is and what its audience requires from you the writer. But first I'd like to tell you a true story.

Several years ago, my family was enjoying a pleasant summer supper outside and having an animated discussion about the state of education in this country. With five other eager participants, I couldn't get in a word. Frustrated at being ignored, I pounded my fist on the table: "Listen to me! I have something to say!"

My sixteen-year-old son Alan looked at me incredulously. "Listen to you? Why should we listen to you? You write books for people who can't even read."

We all had a good laugh, and I'm happy to say, they did let me speak my piece. Much later, mulling over his comment, I realized Alan had come up with the perfect way to begin defining a picture book.

A BOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN'T READ

Picture books are usually read by an adult reader to a nonreader. To that end, picture books combine words with pictures that entice the nonreader to listen and help her construct meaning from the words. Picture books traditionally find an audience in young children. Today, some picture books and graphic novels are published for fluent readers, even adults, but this book will focus on those aimed at children ages two through eight.

Such picture books are divided into two categories. The first is books aimed at the nonreader. The second is picture storybooks written for emergent or newly established readers. These have more text and more complicated story lines. Hard- and softcover published picture books are usually thirty-two pages long, but your manuscript, double-spaced with one-inch (25mm) borders, will be considerably fewer pages.

A Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) survey found that picture-book manuscripts range from one-half page to sometimes even fifteen pages. Those at the top range would obviously be for independent readers. The length of the manuscript is determined by the age of the audience and its attention span. Manuscripts for children up to two years old (who tend to have short attention spans) should be between one half and one manuscript page. Usually these are published as board books, where pictures are the most important element. There might be one sentence per page, sometimes just one word. Because pictures are so critical to drawing in the listener, early board books are generally written and illustrated by the same person.

Today publishers are increasingly reformatting popular picture books into board books. Although some feel too advanced for the intended audience, I'm not complaining. My story, If Animals Kissed Good Night, was originally published as a picture book. When it was reissued as a board book, sales skyrocketed.

Children between the ages of two and five can sit still longer, so their picture-book manuscripts are longer — around two to five pages. With roughly 200 words per manuscript page, that means 400 to 900 words total. When this book was first published, if my manuscripts were in the 700-word range, I searched for ways to cut. Now 500 words seems long to me.

Manuscripts between four and fifteen pages are for older children and even adults. The longer the manuscript, the more likely the book pages will increase, always in multiples of eight. One book might be forty pages; another might be forty-eight and so on. A word of caution: Books with higher page counts cost more to produce.

Publishers are wary of spending more money than necessary on an unproven product. And new writers are unproven products. If you've never been published, revise to fit your story into the thirty-two-page format.

Because a picture book is both words and pictures, the writer can limit words to the bare essentials. In Where Do Pants Go? author Rebecca Van Slyke asks where certain items of clothing go. She leaves the look of each item to the illustrator, Chris Robertson, thereby eliminating much text (some pages have as few as three words). An added benefit is that she gives Chris control of color, design, and the overall look of the book.

While we're at it, cutting words: You don't need to describe the house the character lives in, the appearances of his parents, or the breed of his dog. Descriptions, unless vital to your story, should be eliminated. That allows you, the writer, to focus on the action and dialogue of your story.

Picture-book writers, even if they're not illustrators, still must have visual images in their minds, particularly when writing for the very young. Your text should allow the illustrator space for a variety of interesting picture possibilities to keep the listener involved in the book. This may be accomplished through one or all of the following:

1. writing scenes with different actions

2. introducing new characters into the story

3. moving characters to different settings

4. changing the emotional intensity of a scene

In picture books for the two- to five-year-old range, the text requires pictures to tell the story. Writers should strive to leave room in their manuscripts for the illustrator to develop an independent picture story line. For example, read the classic If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff. On one page in the book, Numeroff writes that Mouse painted a picture but gives no indication of what the picture looks like, allowing the illustrator, Felicia Bond, to create an artist-quality portrait of a mouse family in front of their tree-trunk house.

Sometimes, as in If Animals Kissed Good Night illustrated by David Walker, not having all the details in the words allows the illustrator to add his own story. A rabbit never mentioned in the text is frightened by a bear's growl. A little girl in bed, again never mentioned in the text, is illustrated warmly at the beginning and near the end of the book. Good illustrators add their own story so children too young to read can have fun "reading" the pictures. Good writers leave artists the space to do that.

In longer picture storybooks, words can more easily stand on their own. Although they are illustrated, the pictures, while showing aspects of the story, rarely add a new story line. The balance tips from heavy illustration to heavy words; the writer has more room to add details. Often these books have large chunks of text that might take up the entire page. The Great Moon Hoax by Stephen Krensky is nearly 1,500 words and contains many imaginings of life on the moon. The illustrations by Josée Bisaillon echo the action and the imaginings but don't add a second story line.

This is true of many historical-fiction and nonfiction picture books. Noah Webster & His Words by Jeri Chase Ferris is 1,417 words long. The illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch enhance the text but do not add a separate story. Regardless of length, picture-book writers keep the reader wondering what will happen next by creating stories filled with action and little contemplation.

THE UNUSUAL TWO-PART PICTURE-BOOK AUDIENCE

This is subdivided into two separate groups: children too young to read and adult readers.

CHILDREN TWO TO EIGHT YEARS OLD

Bearing in mind this targeted audience, it behooves writers to get to know what matters to children. You will have difficulty writing for them if you don't have a strong memory of your childhood or firsthand experience with children. However, you can educate yourself by spending time with nieces, nephews, and neighbors and by visiting parks, nursery and elementary schools, etc. Here are some characteristics of children to keep in mind while you write.

1. EVERYTHING IS NEW.

Adults have been in cars so often our minds travel elsewhere when we're driving, yet children are fascinated by every tree, house, and shop they see from the backseat window. My two-year-old granddaughter Thea is fascinated by puddles, stamping the water, and studying her reflection. A worm? We step right over it. Children squat to watch it squirm. The world is a wonder to children, but most adults have grown blasé about it. As a children's writer, you must tap back into the excitement of discovery. How do you do that?

Wonder happens automatically when you try something new. Visit a just-opened museum. Walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood. Try a foreign food. Be open to everything around you. In an unfamiliar store, notice the smells from the candy counter. Feel the smooth texture of a satin dress. Listen to the sounds a printer makes as it prints your receipt.

Don't be afraid to be foolish. Put yourself in a child's body. It's not as hard as it sounds. Make yourself small; get down on your hands and knees. (Not in a store. Wait until you return home.) What do you notice at that lower level? Is the floor smooth? Hard? Cool? Does the cat look bigger to you from down here or smaller? Pick up a dust ball. Does it tickle? Outside, touch a snail's trail. Is it sticky? Chase a squirrel. Can you catch it? Dig dirt with your fingers. Is it moist? Dry? Then when you write, put that wonder into your words.

2. CHILDREN HAVE HAD FEW EXPERIENCES.

That explains why they scream when a friend won't share blocks. Or sob when ice cream falls off their cone and plops on the ground. Or insist only a hamburger will satisfy them. Adults have lived through many disappointments. We know there will be other times to share blocks and other cones to lick and that sometimes chicken tastes better than a hamburger.

Children don't know these things yet. They cry when left with a babysitter because they're worried their parents might not return — this is their high drama. As a writer, look for those seemingly small incidents that matter greatly to children.

The Wrong Side of the Bed by Lisa M. Bakos is a litany of disasters that are not earth-shattering to adults but vitally important to children such as missing one slipper, having trouble making the bed, mismatched socks, and too much syrup on pancakes.

3. CHILDREN LIVE IN THE PRESENT.

Anyone traveling with young children knows the question "Are we there yet?" You might answer, "We'll be there in one hour," but ten minutes later, you hear "Are we there yet?" The question gets repeated so often it's like a damaged CD playing the same lyrics over and over again.

• The concepts of an hour from now, tomorrow, or next week are not clear to young children. Therefore, the story lines for this audience usually take place in a few hours, a day, or a night. Books that extend over a longer time are usually for older readers and need a repetitive phrase to help anchor the listener. That phrase can be as mundane as the next day or as poetic as when I dug in the sand with Grandpa.

• A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins uses the phrase What a fine dessert! to signal the end of one period and transition to another.

• In Virginia Loh-Hagan's book PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Year, a fun and fascinating story of preparing for the holiday, whenever the little girl and her PoPo (grandmother) begin a new activity, she signals it with a sound effect related to that activity.

4. CHILDREN HAVE STRONG EMOTIONS.

Anatole Broyard wrote " ... when you're young, everything matters; everything is serious." If your favorite shirt is at the cleaners, you will probably shrug and put on another shirt. A child might throw a tantrum. A child who doesn't want to go to bed may sob frantic tears.

Misplacing something, like one's favorite toy, is traumatic. If you want to see how upsetting this can be, read Caldecott Honor Book Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. Trixie goes with her daddy to the laundromat and accidently puts her stuffed bunny into the washing machine. Her situation is complicated because she doesn't have the words to explain what's happened. Children care deeply. Tap into their strong emotions for your stories.

5. SOMETIMES CHILDHOOD IS NOT HAPPY.

Adults look back on childhood as an idyllic time: Children don't have to work for a living, so they have nothing to do but play with toys and eat food someone else cooked. Children should appreciate how lucky they are to not have to pay bills, shop for groceries, or drive in traffic.

It's true that children don't do those things. However, they do have to deal with bullies at preschool and struggle to shape the letters of their names. A child may be devastated if the friend he always sits next to during story time decides to sit next to someone else.

Tragic things can happen to children: Pets and grandparents die, and parents get divorced.

• In Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, a young girl must deal with a forced move to smaller quarters because of a change in the family's financial circumstances.

• In Sonya's Chickens by Phoebe Wahl, a young girl must come to terms with the death of a pet that is killed by a fox.

Print yourself a sign that says CHILDHOOD IS NOT ALL JOYFUL. Post it near your computer to remind you of the ups and downs that happen to children.

On the other hand, humor helps them deal with problems, so funny books can be beneficial in times of stress and worry. In Mo Willems's Knuffle Bunny, there is humor in the panicked expressions on Trixie's face and in the sounds that come out of her mouth as she tries to get Daddy to understand her.

6. CHILDREN PERCEIVE MORE THAN WE THINK THEY DO.

Sometimes they're smarter than adults. Certainly, children are more intuitive. They read, listen, and observe with their hearts. As much as I tried to hide it, one Mother's Day, my children became extra clingy, sensing my anger at my husband for ignoring the holiday.

It stands to reason then that children are wise enough to figure out what a story is about without an explicitly stated moral. We're in the business of writing engaging stories, not teaching lessons. Leave that to educators.

7. CHILDREN HAVE SHORT ATTENTION SPANS.

Unfortunately, TV and video games haven't encouraged any lengthening of their attention spans. That's why publishing houses are looking for shorter manuscripts. Don't write long and convoluted stories. Your stories must be so focused that you write not about just one thing but one aspect of one thing.

Suppose you want to write about waking up for our young audiences.

• You can write a book like Erica Silverman's Wake Up, City!

• Or you can write about a rooster who doesn't want to wake up, like Mike Twohy did in Wake Up, Rupert!

• Alternatively, you could write a book like Mary Casanova's Wake Up, Island.

• Perhaps you want to write a story in this vein that focuses on newborns; that's what Helen Frost did in Wake Up!

Wake-up books seem so popular, I'm thinking of writing some myself — Wake Up, Aardvark; Wake Up, Whale; Wake Up, Wildebeest.

8. CHILDREN ARE SELF-CENTERED.

We're all self-centered, but most adults hide it better. Children don't want to hear stories about teacher or parent problems. They want to hear stories about their problems. As a woman, I'm more interested in books with a female lead character than a male lead character. If you're writing for children, make your main characters children or childlike animals, like in the charming book Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion. Her main character is a sweet, content pug who is forced to adapt to a new sibling when a pig moves in.

You may rightfully point out that adult main characters appear in picture books, but I would argue that these adults are often children in disguise. The main character in Old Robert and the Sea-Silly Cats by Barbara Joosse is shy and afraid of the dark. What child can't identify with those feelings?

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Writing Picture Books Revised and Expanded Edition"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Ann Whitford Paul.
Excerpted by permission of F+W Media, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

WELCOME TO THIS REVISED AND EXPANDED BOOK,
PROLOGUE,
PART ONE Before You Write Your Story,
1. BECOMING A PICTURE-BOOK SCHOLAR,
PART TWO Early Story Decisions,
2. BUILDING A FRAME FOR YOUR STORY HOUSE,
3. TELLING YOUR STORY Part One,
4. TELLING YOUR STORY Part Two,
5. TELLING YOUR STORY Part Three,
6. DARLINGS, DEMONS, OR A MIXTURE OF BOTH Creating Compelling Characters,
PART THREE The Structure of Your Story,
7. DIVING INTO YOUR STORY,
8. BAITING WITH A SHARP HOOK Creating a Fabulous First Line,
9. BASIC PLOTTING,
10. MORE ON PLOTTING The Three-Act Structure,
11. HOLDING YOUR STORY TOGETHER,
12. DOES YOUR STORY HAVE A SATISFYING ENDING?,
PART FOUR The Language of Your Story,
13. THE TWO Ss OF STRONG WRITING,
14. RHYME TIME,
15. MAKING MUSIC WITH YOUR PROSE,
16. THE IMPORTANCE OF WORD COUNT,
PART FIVE Tying Together Loose Ends,
17. PAGE TURNS,
18. CUT AND PASTE Making a Mock-up Book,
19. GRABBING THE READER WITH A GREAT TITLE,
PART SIX After Your Story Is Done,
20. SHARING YOUR STORY,
21. SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT,
22. THE BUSINESS OF PUBLISHING,
23. SELF-PUBLISHING?,
24. PRIMING YOUR IDEA PUMP,
25. WHEN YOUR DREAMS TURN INTO REALITY A Publisher Makes an Offer,
EPILOGUE,
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,
BIBLIOGRAPHY,

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