One Writer’s Journey

August 9, 2017

Picture Book Writing: How Many Picture Books Have You Read

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:15 am
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How many picture books have you read?   One piece of advice that I’ve heard time and time again is that if you are going to write picture books, you shouldn’t finalize even one manuscript until you have read 100 published picture books.  And these have to be recent picture books.  Recent?  That’s books that have been published in the last two years.

100?  Yes, 100.

That’s a lot, you say?  Yes, it is.  But it is essential.

Something that I’ve noticed is that a lot of would-be authors haven’t read anything since they were kids.  Or maybe since their own children were picture book aged.  They want to write because they remember how much their kids loved Sandra Boynton or Jan Brett.

And that’s great.  Really.  But you need to read recent books as well.  Reading 100 current picture books will be like a self-taught MA program.  Do this and you will learn:

How to keep it lean and mean. Picture books today are a lot shorter than the books that were published when my sister and I were kids.  I know this because we recently found a stack of our old favorites.  As I paged through them, I oohed and ahhed over illustrations that could still pull me into the story.  But I also noticed how long they all seemed.  And complicated.  Much more complicated than today’s picture books.  One main thread.  There are no tangents.  None.  I’d love to say that I always remember that.

How to tell a story in 500 words or less.  Telling a story in so few words is tricky.  And you need to read these kinds of stories to see how authors develop character, have their characters fail and try again, and do it all in so few words.

How page turns work.  No other book form is as reliant on the page turn as is the picture book.  Thing of that turn as the big reveal.  You can hide something behind it and completely change the direction of the story with the turn of a single page.  It is a built-in cliff hanger.

How to use picture book language. Picture books are meant to be read aloud.  Because of that there are language requirements that short stories and early readers may not have.  They have to sound playful and/or poetic when you read them out loud.  Practice this with your 100 books and you’ll learn how a picture book sounds.

Picture books are an art form.  Read and study 100 recent books to learn how this form functions and what is being done today.  And, if you really and truly love picture books, you’ll have a lot of fun doing it.

–SueBE

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