Writing picture books is something akin to writing poetry. With industry standards for word count getting ever shorter, authors must assess the value of every word they write. Each it, and, the or suddenly must be essential, and earn its right to be there. As Francine Prose says, “Put every word on trial for its life!”
We ferret out modifiers, generic or passive language, repetition and redundancy. We focus on action rather than exposition, and avoid writing what the art will show. And because picture books are intended to be read aloud, they should also delight the ear – so we play with language: lyricism, rhythm, refrain, alliteration, onomatopoeia, personification.
Economy in writing is an art, and there’s no better way to learn that art than to study the work of those who have mastered it. The following selections are an excellent start:
2. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and 3. My Teacher is a Monster! by Peter Brown. Deftly balances narrative with dialogue, and minimizes word count with speech bubbles instead of dialogue tags. Both books invite us to discover as we read, rather than relying on set up or exposition.
5. The Dark, by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Snicket ratchets up the tension by utilizing the senses– sights, sounds, textures. Narrative turns to dialogue as the amount of text per page shrinks to mirror the pacing (with the exception of one anomalous, intrusive monologue. I still can’t figure out what Snicket was up to there.)
6. The Adventures of Beekle, by Dan Santat. So much emotion conveyed with a single sentence, accompanied by rich, imaginative artwork. “But his turn never came.” “He did the unimaginable.” “He had a good feeling about this place.” No need to say more when the artwork does all the heavy lifting.
8. Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Is anyone better at word play? “But he just wasn’t like anyone else. Period.” “It was like he broke free from a life-sentence.” “He went off to make his mark.” And a kid-friendly character journey to boot.
9. Shh! We Have a Plan! By Chris Haughton. A fun, circular story told in 102 words, comprised entirely of dialogue and refrain.
10. If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. Alliteration, repetition and refrain delight the ear as the quest unfolds through whimsical illustrations.
Emma is giving away one Editor in a Box revision kit at the conclusion of ReFoReMo! This kit will put your manuscript through a soup-to-nuts revision process that will make it sparkle! Thank you, Emma! To be eligible for this prize, you must be fully registered, comment on every post, read daily, and keep a record of your progress.
Emma’s own book, RAISING BOOKWORMS: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, premiered as a #1 best-seller on Amazon.com in the literacy category and won a Parent’s Choice Gold Medal.
Emma is a faculty member of Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, where she teaches all forms of children’s book writing and serves as Director of the Children’s Literature Fellows program and the Executive Director of the Young Artists and Writers Project (YAWP), an interdisciplinary writing program for middle and high school students.
Emma is also an award-winning freelance children’s book editor, and hosts the Just Write Children’s Books self-paced, home-study courses in writing picture books, chapter books and middle grade and young adult novels. Visit Emma at http://emmawaltonhamilton.com.