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Picture Book Secrets
"Musings" - February 2008

by Margot Finke

There is a big myth out there in the ordinary world.  It says writing a picture book is easy – a snap!  We’ve all heard a doting mother exclaim,  “My little Ralph always does the cutest things. I’m going to write a picture book about them.”  And she does: sending it off to languish in a slush pile, waiting for some poor assistant editor to cringe over. 

I know you readers are far smarter than that doting Mom.  You understand that writing a picture book takes special writing know-how: a flair for choosing perfect words, the same way an artist knows how to chooses the perfect colors.  Writing a picture book is all about painting word pictures: a marriage between artwork and writing.  When these two talents come together, they make a delightful book children beg you read to them, again-and-again.

Look below for the secret clues to writing a really wonderful picture book:

Checklist for Writing Picture Books:

A Good Way to Plot a Picture Book:

The 5 "C" rules for writing compelling fiction:

 Prune out those overused words that will not be missed:

Such as: just, that, seemed, suddenly, felt like, some, nice, very (add some of your own to this list). 

Search Out Active and Powerful Verbs and Evocative Adjectives.

Because of the word restrictions (1, 000 or less – preferably a lot less), every word you choose must earn its keep.  Weak or ho-hum verbs will not do.  Use your Word Thesaurus (Shift F7) to find verbs that shout action, reek of power, and paint an active word picture in your reader’s head.  Make sure your verbs fit the actions. Verbs do rule!

Choose adjectives the same way you would choose a valuable gem.  They must resonate with clarity and sparkle.  Forget: nice, happy, good, bad, and other dull and overused adjectives.  Exchange them for:  pleasurable, overjoyed, exceptional, or ghastly.  Make sure the adjectives you choose are the right descriptive words.

Tight Writing Is Mandatory:

“Picture Book” is a two-word description for a reason.  It is a book that is 50% words and 50% illustrations: and it all must fit into 32 pages.  This works extremely well, when the writer leaves a trail of clever word clues on every page.  The artist uses these word clues to expand the story into many delightful illustrations that amplify the clues, and the rest of the story. 

A Summary to Write By:

Writing a really wonderful picture book is one of the hardest, trickiest things a writer can tackle.  However, the satisfaction and pleasure you feel, when it is finally published, is worth every rejection, every rewrite, and all those obsessed hours you spent waiting beside your mailbox. YOU DID IT!

Some of Margot's favorite picture books:
Other Musings on picture books:
Broken Beaks: Nathaniel Lachenmeyer Writing Picture Books: The Basics
The Cat in the Hat: Dr. Seuss
Cork and Fuzz: Short and Tall: Dori Chaconas
Don't Be Silly, Mrs. Millie!: Judy Cox
Goodnight Moon: Margaret Wise Brown
Grandpa for Sale: Dotti Enderle
Guess How Much I Love You: Sam McBratney
Jack of All Tales: Kim Norman Picture (Book) Perfect
Jose! Born to Dance: Susanna Reich
Llama, Llama Red Pajama: Anna Dewdney
Mrs. Biddlebox: Linda Smith
Olivia Forms a Band: Ian Falconer  
Searching for Sasquatch: Nathaniel Lachenmeyer  
There Is a Bird On Your Head! (Elephant and Piggie): Mo Willems  
Where the Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak  
Window Music: Anastasia Suen  


Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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