Do you regularly listen to podcasts? I have to admit that I don’t. Most of them are just too long to hold my attention, especially when they ramble on for 5+ minutes about things they want me to buy. I have the attention span of my audience.
The exception to this podcast rule comes from SCBWI. That’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for those of you who aren’t in the know. Members can sign in and listen to a wide variety of interviews. Non-members can sample a trailer. Click here for the podcast page.
A while ago, I listened to an interview with editor Connie Hsu. She said something that really stuck with me. If you want to write picture books, you have to be able to get voice, character and mood into one line.
Really? That seems impossible. But think about it. A spread is roughly equivalent to a chapter. And the first chapter of your novels needs to show voice, your character, and the mood/tone of the story.
I decided to look at some picture books to see how this works.
This is the first spread of I Don’t Want to be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt.
“I want to be a CAT.”
“You can’t be a Cat.”
The first speaker is Frog. The second speaker is Dad.
What can you tell right away? Frog wants what frog wants. Does it make sense? Nope. But it is what Frog wants. He reminded me very much of a typical preschooler. We have the tone, the character and what he wants. Not to be a frog. And we got all of that in eleven words. Can you pull that off? Me? I’d love to say yes but the nonfiction examples below look more like my style.
This is the first spread of Rice from Heaven by Tina Cho, illustrated by Keum Jin Song.
Out in countryside, across a bridge, to an island blanketed with rice fields, Appa and I ride.
We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb.
What do we get from this? We have a first person speaker who is off on some kind of mission or quest. And things are a bit scary – the mountains form a wall that is so high no one has the nerve to climb it. They are someplace beautiful but the situation they are dealing with? Not beautiful. And you get that from 35 words.
Picture book writing is tight. You don’t have words to waste. And your story? You have to launch it on that first spread. If this sound do-able to you, then picture book writing might be right for you.