Picture Book Writing: Workshop a Mentor Text

Most of you probably already know that I tend gush about mentor texts.  In picture book writing, they are a great way to study pacing, giving the illustrator space to work and more.

But getting the most out of a mentor text can be tough.  Sitting there, flipping through the pages, I have a tendency to get distracted by the art, that really great page turn, and my favorite funny moments.  There is always something to distract me in a top-notch picture book.

One way to make a mentor text work for you is to “workshop” it.  What do I mean?  There are three steps.

Type out the text.

Once you’ve typed it out in standard manuscript format, here are a few things to study.

  • Just how long is it?  Compare it to your own manuscript.
  • How much of the story is in the text?  What does the author include?
  • What does the author leave out?
  • How did the illustrator expand on the text?

Create a story board.

You probably won’t want to use the actual text to do this.  Instead, describe each spread in just a few words. The story board will help you study pacing.  Take note of the following:

  • How many spreads introduce the main character?
  • On which spread do you learn the story problem?
  • How many attempts are made to solve it?
  • Is there a darkest moment?  On which spread?
  • How many spreads are spent on the anti-climax?

Dummy the picture book.

You can probably do this with a copy of what you typed out but you’ll need the book as published as well.  Once you’ve taped the text into your own dummy be sure to note:

  • How much text is in each spread.
  • How the author makes use of page turns.
  • How each spread differs from the one before and the one following. It might be different characters, action, setting, mood or emotion.
  • The difference between one page spreads and two page spreads.

Workshopping a mentor text will help you see how and why it works.  By comparing it to your own manuscript, you will also see how your work differs and what you still need to improve before sending your work to a potential editor or agent.

Don’t just love the mentor book. Make it work for you!

–SueBE

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