Writing a picture book is hard. Very hard. The sweet books you read to your children are poured over by their author with scrutiny for every word on the page. When I’m told, “I’ve always wanted to write a picture book – I have so many ideas!” That is fantastic! But here are a few guidelines for picture book creation.

The standard picture book is 32 pages. Usually it is under 1000 words and, most often, under 500 words. This requires an author to choose every word carefully and avoid wasting ANY words.

An example: To write a page in a picture book, concentrate only on the story, and avoid giving stage directions or too many specific details. Such as: “The blonde girl in pigtails walked across the room to pet her sweet puppy.”

For this sentence, the blonde girl in pigtails walked across the room is unnecessary because her movement, appearance, and place can be shown by illustrations. A simple change to cut words and concentrate on the story: She cuddled the puppy.

We want to use less words and pack each word with more action. Instead of pet the puppy– we use: cuddled, stroked, hugged, or snuggled give more of an emotional reaction than pet the sweet puppy.  Here is another example from Josh Funk, author of LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST and HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE. (Great books!). Taken from https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/resources-for-writers:

Most people are surprised to know the illustrator of a picture book rarely knows or contacts the author before creating the images. There are exceptions because author/illustrators can write and illustrate their own books (amazing talent), but many picture books are illustrated by someone other than the author. When a manuscript is accepted by a publisher, they choose an illustrator they think will bring the story to life. The illustrator can interpret the story and add to its meaning through the art.

A story written about twin siblings fighting over soup, might become a family of pigs or squirrels per decision of the illustrator/editor. It also means that the illustrator brings the world into view on the page. An author does not include setting details or describe a character’s appearance (unless pertinent to the story) – the illustrator makes these choices.

In our example above: “The blonde girl in pigtails walked across the room to pet her sweet puppy.” The illustrator can show the character’s spatial relationship to the dog, that the girl is blonde with pigtails, and show us the sweetness of the puppy. We don’t need to spell it all out, the illustrator brings it to life. This means that acknowledging the illustrator on your favorite picture books is also important! They were key to the story.

Another tip when writing picture books is to avoid writing in rhyme. Some agents and editors will actually cringe as if they were eating Sour Patch Kids when they receive a rhyming manuscript. Rhyming attempts and forcing the words takes away from a story. Some authors have mastered the craft! Jill Esbaum has many picture books in rhyme that are done with precision: TEENY TINY TOADY and I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! (to mention a couple.) Rhyming picture books must be in perfect rhythm with a consistent cadence. You cannot use near-rhyme (words that are not exact matches but close) or rearrange words to make the sentence work (Yoda Rhyme below).

Another example taken from Josh Funk Books:

And most importantly is the rhythm. The stress on each syllable needs to be the same in every stanza. For example:

A dog will eat a treat.  The rhythm and syllable stresses are on the second syllable: da-DA da-DA da-DA.

If our next stanza states:

A cat searches for meat.  It rhymes! But it is not a consistent rhythm. The stressed syllables are mixed. The word searches uses a first syllable stress instead of second:  da-DA DA-da da-DA.  

If you want to write picture books – you should absolutely do it! Another great resource to learn more about the craft of picture books is: WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul

Don’t be afraid and dive in. Make each word count and practice! The best writers will tell you the key to learning your craft is to READ, READ, READ.

Happy day! Thanks for visiting Pat’s Chat!

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