I am currently in the process of writing my first children's picture book and, since I shared a How to Write Short Stories post a while back, I thought now would be an appropriate time to share some tips on how to write a children's picture book. Today I am not only calling upon my own wisdom as I have roped in my friend and elfin picture book oracle Sarah. to tell us more. Since I'm lousy at introductions, I thought I would let her introduce herself...with a beautiful illustration by me:
'Hello! I'm Sarah. I'm a Picture Book Publicist for Penguin Random House Children's Department. I create and execute PR campaigns, write press copy, arrange and accompany authors at events and tours, host parties, brainstorm ideas around kids trends and pitch ideas / stories to media contacts'.
I didn't refer to her as a picture book oracle for nothing, pals! I do hope this proves to be useful for some of you and, as always, feel free to leave your own advice in the comments below.
1. be clear with your basics
Pick your protagonist, work out their motivation and assess their obstacles. You've got a limited amount of words and pages in a picture book to really nail your basics so if they're clearly outlined at the beginning of the planning stage you'll make life a lot easier for yourself!
2. what's your motivation?
At the start of each writing project, I like to write myself a little mission statement of sorts that clearly outlines what it is I am aiming to do with said project. Do you want to educate children about a particular thing? Are you hoping to evoke a particular feeling? Work alongside your motivation to ensure that you've got a clear idea running throughout.
3. have a hook
Alongside a motivation, you need to have a hook. Sarah says, 'Have a hook and make it as creative as possible. What's in your book that isn't in anyone else's?' . It doesn't necessarily have to be something too complicated either. Simple hooks can often work best!
4. don't be afraid of being different
Sarah says, 'Don't be afraid of being different. Want to make it sad? Go for it. Want to play with taboos? Great. Make your content matter'. Be bold and stand out!
5. kids are intelligent!
Sarah says, 'Kids are a lot more intelligent that they often get credit for. You don't need to dumb anything down, language or ideas'. It can be tempting to keep your language simple through fear of children not knowing particular words. However, children expand their vocabulary through reading. They often have a parent or guardian on hand and children, unlike most adults, are happy to ask questions about things they may not understand.
6. don't just explain the pictures
Sarah says, 'Your words should never just explain the pictures. The pictures should never just illustrate the words. The best picture books are those which give things away without showing them, which tell you things without talking'. Publishers will pair you with an illustrator so try not to get too invested in that side of things as you're writing. Have some vague ideas for different panels, sure, but your job is to create a solid manuscript first and foremost.
7. you don't have to have a message
Sarah says, 'You don't have to have a message or a moral. You can just have a plot. And it can be fun. That's fine!'. I have got a message with mine and I'm currently working out how to place it throughout without it feeling forced or laid on a little thick. Make sure you have a balance.
8. read other books!
Sarah says, 'Read as many picture books as possible. Note what you love about them. Get a feel for the length and pace. Look at what works'. Read them aloud, to yourself and others!
9. nail your ending
Sarah says, 'Absolutely nail your ending! Whether it's humour, grief, shock, or silliness. It must be a crescendo!'. You want to ensure that you've resolved whatever it was that your character was struggling with, be it societal issues or personal or whatever. Children carry ideas around with them so give them something to mull over post-read.
10. read your work aloud!
10. read your work aloud!
Children's picture books are pretty much written to be read aloud so do just that as you go along! Are you going to go with a rhyme or not? The most important thing, regardless of whether you're rhyming or not, is to keep an eye on the rhythm and the cadence of the words you're using because they can make or break a picture book.And those are mine and Sarah's tips on how to write a children's picture book! Let us all go forth and write picture book masterpieces! Do you have any further tips on how to write a children's picture book to add?
Once you've read it, hand it over to other people to read to you aloud. What does it sound like? Do they stumble over anything? Does something not quite work? Sometimes you may have to do a little edit in order to make things translate better from page to speech.
If you'd like to scroll through all of my advice posts then you can do so.