I had the pleasure of spending a few days with Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann in Honesdale. They were the instructors for the Highlights Foundation Founders Workshop that focused on picture books. We had lectures, assignments, sharing, manuscript critiques and enjoyed a writing camaraderie that is only found when you spend several days with like minded people. I left inspired with itchy writing muscles and couldn't wait to get home to attack my picture book manuscripts.
Below is a list of the basic dos and don’ts when writing picture books:
1. Your story starts on page 5 of a 32 page picture book.Your beginning tells your ending. Make a book dummy.
2. Does it sing? Do the words have a cadence, a rhythm? Do they flow out of your mouth? If not, revise until it sounds better. Use wonderful, rich language.
3. Read your story out loud. Cut unnecessary words, repetitive phrases or words, clichés and adverbs.
4. Don’t overuse dialogue. Talking heads don’t make exciting pictures, unless your POV is two person conversational.
5. Do your scenes have action? Do they advance the plot? If not, cut or revise them.
6. The character needs to solve the problem. Keep the parents and adults in left field or better yet, leave them at home.
7. No predictable ending. In fact, throw out your first ending. Have a twist or nice surprise for the reader that is also satisfying.
8. Keep the story singularly focused. Write a one line summary to help you stay on point. Remove any loose ideas or tangents.
9. Does your story have a bigger message? What is the take-away? But don’t be preachy.
10. Make the character someone that a child can relate to. Will the child want to listen to your story more than once? Is the story funny? Or does it have a sweet "Awww ending" ?
Of course, your best resource for writing picture books is not a top ten list, but a book on craft. Some of my favorite craft books are Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul and Second Sight by Cheryl B. Klein.