Review of Picture Writing
by Anastasia Suen
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Picture Writing has the subtitle "a new approach to writing for kids and teens," and this accurately describes what Anastasia Suen, well known as a children's writer and writing teacher, does in her book. She shows writers how to learn the basics of writing in a particular genre systematically, laying the groundwork so that creativity can flourish.
Contents of Picture Writing : Suen introduces the concept of "picture writing" in the first chapter. Essentially, it's a structured approach to the common advice to "use your five senses"--Suen provides exercises that help writers see pictures and then put them into words. She does this because she believes that writers write with both sides of their brain. The creative side will be freed to be creative if the deliberate, reasoning side does the preparatory work needed.
Following that chapter come what she calls "three classes in one book," on writing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; the material is set up to allow the reader to work on all three or just follow the strand that interests them. In the Plot section, for example, the chapter "Seeing Fiction" guides the reader through studying, storyboarding, analyzing in other ways, and responding to the different forms of fiction, from board books to YA novels. The goal is for the reader to learn and understand the essential elements of a particular type of fiction. The chapters on "Seeing Nonfiction" and "Seeing Poetry" provide similar guided study in their subject areas. Sections on characters and setting follow, and again Suen helps the reader study what is done in published books, so as to better grasp what is needed when writing a children's book. As the reader looks at existing works, Suen also guides her to look at her own work.
In "Putting It All Together" Suen provides guidance in applying the techniques the reader used to analyze published books to the reader's own writing. She assumes a completed manuscript, and gives detailed instruction in, for example, storyboarding it and finding the story arc(s), checking the POV, and noting word pictures and action. In the chapter "Other Viewpoints," which closes the main part of the book, Suen considers what happens to a manuscript as it goes out into the world, to be seen by others, from editors and publishing staff to, eventually, children. At the back of the book, "The Appendixes" include lists of books on writing and on book markets, book awards, and review magazines.
Comments Picture Writing is not your typical writing guide. The focus is on fostering your creativity and developing a firmer and more grounded grasp of the area in which you write, and not directly on writing. It could be a great help to someone who needs structure and a guiding hand when writing, and it also provides a self-guided tour of the field or selected parts of it. It's not for everyone; someone who writes fluently and spontaneously and already has an intuitive feel for her chosen genre or genres may find it difficult to get through. It also requires some effort of time and thought, as the reader is asked to do a considerable amount of writing and reading, and if the reader does not, s/he won't get as much out of it.
Who Needs Picture Writing: This is not for complete beginners. If you are just writing your first manuscripts, you may not be ready for it. If you have been writing for some time and want to build your skills, then you may be. As I noted above, more spontaneous types may not feel at home in it, but even the most fluent writer gets stuck now and then--and Picture Writing may help you get unstuck. It's also useful if you want to learn systematically about the type of book you wish to write and how to write it.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book for free from the publisher, as do most reviewers.
For more writing guides, see my Writing How-To's, which I developed as a supplement to The C. I. Guide to Publishing Children's Books.
Where and How to Purchase Picture Writing :
- Buy Picture Writing at Amazon, a major online retailer, which usually sells the book at a 30% discount, though this can vary.
- Buy Picture Writing through IndieBound, a program of the American Booksellers Association. You can have it delivered or pick it up at your local independent bookstore.
- Buy Picture Writing at Amazon Canada, if you live in Canada.
- Buy Picture Writing at Amazon UK, if you live in the UK: the general principles taught in this book don't work just within North America.
You can, of course, also purchase this at any bookstore. If they don't have it in stock, they can order it for you.
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