Monday, September 27, 2010

10 Questions to ask before you write your picture book

1. What is your picture book about?  State the idea of your book in one sentence. 
2. What is your character’s problem?  Use only one problem in a picture book.
3. Is the central theme kid-like?
4. Does it have kid-like resolution? If it’s preachy, reconsider.
5. Who will tell the story?  Consider viewpoint. 
6. Is your character unique?  Quiet your editor and listen for his voice. 
7. Will you use present or past tense? 
8. Does each page have illustrator possibilities?
9. Does your story have movement and take place in various settings?
10. Does each page should have “turn-ability”?  Check for pacing and page breaks.  Now read your story aloud.  The text on each page should read like a mini chapter, ending in a cliffhanger or with exciting action that urges the reader to turn the page.  

As you write your picture book, consider this advice from author Marisa Montes:  “use the best words, in the best order, to write the best story.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

Five elements and a Formula

When you begin to write a picture book, keep these five elements in mind. Refer to Eve Bunting’s formula  as well. 

Story:  a character-drive plot by which a character faces a conflict, deals with set-backs and complications, and resolves the conflict by himself, and in doing so, changes or grows.

Setting:  Where the story takes place.

Main Character:  the person who faces a conflict and actively resolves it himself/herself with no help from adults.

Conflict: the problem the main character faces.  Without conflict, there’s no story.  Types of conflict include man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, and man vs. himself.

Want:  the one thing that the main character desires.  Conflict is propelled by want.

A picture book formula by author Eve Bunting: Will the main character be able to (whatever you want him/her to do), despite (conflict), despite (conflict), and despite (conflict) and in so doing, learn a lesson?   Character + conflict + conflict + conflict = growth.

Monday, September 13, 2010

So you want to write a picture book?

Here are 18 tips before you start writing:

Read books on the craft of writing, especially those on picture book writing.

Read many picture books.

Keep words to less than 1000.

Avoid using adverbs.

Use active verbs.

Combine wordplay and lyricism.

Write with a tight simple style.

Rhyming must be spot on.

Give details (example: use poodle, basenji, etc., not just dog).

Avoid writing a story with a message.

Think in terms of 16 pictures.

Do create a page turner.

Don’t worry about illustrations—the publishing house pairs you with an illustrator.

Holiday stories are hard to sell.

Stories about talking animals or inanimate objects that come to life are hard to sell.

Folktales require a natural storyteller and a storyteller’s voice.

Well-written nonfiction and biographies are always in demand.

Humorous books can be read again and again.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Birth of Maggie

Maggie and the Third Grade Blues began as a completely different picture book: The Adventures of Pirate Girl. But that piece never took wing. For the life of me, I found myself copying one of my favorite picture books, Ladybug Girl. As I struggled to create a character-driven book, I followed the outline for writing a picture book: the set-up (who and where), things happen, a series of complications, climax, resolution with a twist and character growth. I played with different themes, characters, and plots. For weeks nothing worked, until one day, Maggie whispered in my ear.
Here’s the book description:

On the first day of school Ms. Madison writes on the board: Welcome to the third grade. Maggie is fine until she reads: What I did on my summer vacation. Due: Tomorrow. Ms. Madison adds, “Bring in something to show.” The fact is: Maggie wants to go back to the second grade. She’s thinking, she wished she had traveled to Australia (she’d bring in a koala) or she had paddled the Amazon River (but there’d hardly be enough room to squeeze in an anaconda). Time is running short and the evening gets complicated when her dog, Trooper runs away during a thunderstorm. Later reunited with her pet, Maggie reminisces how she and her family rescued the injured dog over the summer break. She’s thinking, she could talk to the class about adopting and healing a stray. The fact is: Maggie realizes it’s not where you travel in life, but who travels into your life that matters.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Those of us who write for children know that publishing has become more difficult. We compete with published authors and celebrities. We read that publishers are producing fewer books. We learn that some publishers will only respond to agent represented writers. It takes on the average three months to hear from a publisher. Many only respond if interested. Not particularly encouraging. But despite the odds I will submit my picture book manuscript to 30 publishers, 15 agents, and 5 contests in one year. To meet my goal, I’ll send out two – three submissions to editors each month. I will query one to two agents a month. Contest submissions will be sent out one month prior to deadline. Why not send one batch to all of the editors and another batch to all of the agents? Quite simply, it’s frowned upon and it’s not my style. Read about the responses and results, plus insights as an editor and inspiration for writers as I pursue The Maggie Project.