Last week I promised to share some picture book writing tips. Here are a few I hope you will find helpful and be able to incorporate into your next picture book adventure.
1. Repetition–Regardless of the structure of your picture book (See post on Organizing and Structuring Picture Books) or the type of story you’re writing, it will be more appealing to your reader and thus, more effective, if you weave repetition throughout. Repetition can take many forms. One way to use this technique is to repeat vowel or consonant sounds within sentences or lines, or to even have each line begin with the same sound. You can also repeat simple phrases throughout, perhaps altering them slightly as the story progresses–or keeping them exactly the same throughout but then changing the phrase at the very end for that element of surprise. Another form of repetition may be a repeated sound effect (“chugga-chugga” of a train or “splish splash” of the rain, for instance) or a particular expression spoken by a character. Kids love repetition as it helps them to anticipate the story and enables them to participate in it.
2.Don’t parent your reader: Kids love nothing more than to know that they were responsible for solving a problem. So whatever conflict or crisis situation you’ve set up in your picture book, allow the child character to be the one to figure out a solution. It’s OK to have parents in your picture book; this is a normal part of a child’s world, so they’d probably be expecting them. Just make sure the parents aren’t the problem solvers. And, be sure your reader can easily identify with how your character solves the problem–in other words, the child character’s solution to the problem shouldn’t be too “adult-like.”
3. Use all five senses: Every reader wants to feel like he or she is part of the story and not simply watching from a distance. One of the best ways to capture your reader and pull him into your story is through sensory detail. Generously sprinkle moments of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and even tasting into your story. Don’t simply tell your reader there are chocolate chip cookies waiting for him on the table when he comes inside from playing. Make sure he smells them baking and sees the chocolate chips melting into the dough as he tears them apart. As the reader uses his senses to become engaged in your book, he will feel more a part of it and it will become a part of him.
4. Load your book with lots of fun words and sounds: For me, the absolute best part about writing a picture book is all the fun words I get to use. Unlike writing a book for adults, with picture books, I can even make up words–how cool is that? Don’t just randomly add these fun words and sounds anywhere though. Strategically weave them throughout your story. Look for opportunities to create a sense of rhythm with your words and use the sounds to help develop repetition. And, try to create words, phrases, and sounds that will be memorable to your reader. You know you’ve been effective in reaching your readers when they get one of your made-up words or crazy phrases stuck in their heads!
5. Test market your manuscript: Don’t assume your manuscript is complete until you read it aloud to your target-age audience. As you read, pay attention to reactions. Did your attempts at humor get laughs? Were your repetitive phrases catchy enough to illicit anticipation and participation? When you’ve finished reading your manuscript, ask for feedback–kids are brutally honest, which is exactly what you want! Ask about the story, the characters, what they liked best and least. To gain an even more objective opinion, have someone else read to your “focus group” while you observe from a distance!
If you have other picture book tips that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you!