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!