5 Minutes a Day: Picture Book Writing

On Saturday I’ll be attending the KS-MO SCBWI Agent’s Day in Wentzville, Missouri.  In addition to getting feedback on my own manuscript from an agent, I’ll be leading a picture book critique group.  With that in mind, I’ve got picture books on the brain.  Fortunately, this short form lends itself to a wide variety of 5 minute activities.

First things first, you need to familiarize yourself with picture books which means you have to read a lot.  Seriously.  Read at least 50.  No you can’t do that in 5 minutes but here are things you can do:

  • Read one picture book.  Most picture books are super short.  So read one and read it out loud.  Picture books are meant to be shared with pre-readers so they are meant to be read aloud.  Page attention to page turns and pacing.  It’s going to take a while to get 50 in at 5 minutes a day but that’s okay.  Slow education beats no education.
  • Type up the text for a picture book.  This way you can read it without the pictures and see which parts of the story are text only.
  • “Read” one picture book, but only look at the pictures.  You want to see what parts of the story are told by the illustrator.

Now that you’ve got a feel for picture books, its time to see if your manuscript fits the format.

  • Print a copy of your manuscript and mark the spreads.  Do you have at least 14?  A picture book is 32 pages long so you’ll need at least 14 spreads (28 pages).  If you have too few or too little, adjustments need to be made.
  • Each spread needs to be unique.  Take a look at one spread in your story.  Study the actions, characters, setting, emotion and tone.  I always make sure that there are at least two changes from the spread before and the spread after.
  • Pay attention to the details on your spread. Visual details can be left to the illustrator.  Sound, scent, taste and feel are all yours.
  • Is your text tight.  Every word needs to serve a purpose so start cutting.  I try to cut 30%.
  • Read your spread aloud.  Look for fun picture book language.

Fortunately it is fairly easy to work on a picture book in bite sized chunks.  Good luck!