Friday, November 11, 2011

Picture Book Elements

I've been having a blast writing my picture books ideas. Even purchased myself a brightly-colored notebook, which I entitled - PBs Beyond the Stars. Thanks to Author Tara Lazar and her brilliant PiBoIdMo, I was able to formulate over 40 new PB ideas last year and I'm well into the game this year at 15 new ideas in 9 days.
Now I know some of you are not PB writers. But give what I write next some thought. Writing a picture book forces the author to plot, develop characters, and structure a story in probably the most concise way he/she ever has. Even if you've never given thought to writing a PB, it can be great practice in teaching your brain to filter out the details of your short story, chapter book, or full-length novel, to develop sharp and intense scenes, and maintain a steady pace. Not to mention, borrowing the mindset of a PB author just might help in writing your pitch, query, and synopsis for your longer works.

During this part of my writing adventure, I've had amazing guidance from some pubbed-up and/or highly-talented picture book authors. (Hi!! Jo Hart, Catherine Johnson, Sharon MayhewLaura Chesterson, & Kelly Hashway.)  For the most part, there seems to be collective thoughts among PB authors--essentials in writing picture books.

1. - Repetition. Children learn by simple repeats. And eventually, as the book is read over and over to them, they'll be able to read/sing along.

2. - The Rule of Three. Adding to #1, repetitions in threes flow best and tend to stick with the reader. Children like patterns, and patterns are a simple way to reinforce an idea or concept.

3. - Symmetric in Rhyming. Beats are important. If you do rhyme, which is not my strong point, you probably already know if 9 beats are used in one line and 10 in the next, you want to keep the pattern going. As long as there is continuity in thoughts and rhythm, you're probably okay.

4. - Cause & Effect. Just as in full length novels, something must happen and a result must be shown.

5. - Simple use of language. Choose words wisely and don't be afraid to revise and edit them to find the exact word to communicate your message. In PBs, the words aren't elaborate. Just effective.

6. - Plots down to two characters. More are okay. Just make sure they're not distracting. If their presence isn't necessary, you might want to think about axing them.

7. - Leave most description in the hands of the eventual illustrator. In other words, don't over describe or even use description as you would do in a YA or MG novel. Pictures have a major purpose in playing out and showing the development of a picture book story as well as a little person's mind.

8. - Create a mental picture while writing each line. Ask yourself questions. What could this look like, and who's eyes is it seen through? That last part is so important. Which character (or narrator) sees this story and how will that bee seen from the eyes of the child reading the book?

PLEASE add to my list and/or elaborate on any subject. I'm looking to write up a log and have it permanently linked to the blog to help other writers.

Small side splat: I'll be away next week with the hubs. We'll be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary alone, without the 4 kiddos. Weird. I'll miss you all!! But could you do me one favor? On Monday & Tuesday I'm highlighting Jessica Bell's amazing STRING BRIDGE book. Could you stop by to support her? Maybe tweet for her too? TY!!



  1. I don't write PB, but these are great tips for someone who does.

  2. I didn't know, at least not consciously, the rule of 3, so thank you. Love your list. I might possibly add the use of juicy verbs!

    ENJOY your time alone with the hubs!

  3. Happy anniversary!

    I don't write PBs, but I used to love reading them out loud to my kids.

  4. That's great advice! I've dabbled in picture books and think they're a lot of fun. I love reading a great picture book that has fun language and a great story!

  5. I've never tried writing a picture book, but I love reading them. Thanks for all the tips.

  6. I am very uneducated about writing PBs so this is really enlightening. Thanks!

  7. Oh picture books! So fun! As a homeschool mom, I used these a lot in the early years, and still love them from time to time. I don't think PB Authors get enough credit, they are hard to do! :-) Great advice here!

    (Oh and thanks for stopping by my blog! EEP!)
    Happy Friday!

  8. As a fellow PB author, let me just say I LOVE this post!! Bookmarking. :-)

  9. I don't do books for kids, but that all makes sense. Guess that's why I rely a lot on outlines and character sheets.

  10. Sheri, this is a good checklist to use as I edit my manuscripts...thanks so much!

  11. My kids watch SuperWhy! on PBS and that's where I first recognized the rule of three. I personally think that PBs are harder to write than novels. There's basically no description and every word has to count. I love writing them though!

  12. Of course, Rachel!

    Nicole - that's awesome!

    Vicki - so nice of you to say. :)

  13. Outstanding post, Sheri! You made some outstanding points.

    I have 9 new ideas so far.

    Have a wonderful anniversary. Congratulations on twenty years!

  14. I'm blown away by well-written picture books. Especially those with fun rhymes. Have fun with your hubby, and happy 20th!

  15. Happy Anniversary! Twenty years is a great achievement. My wife and I will celebrate our 14th in December, which is hard to believe--it doesn't seem like it's been that long.

    Ann Carbine Best visits Wrote By Rote on Saturday 11/12/11


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