In my last lesson, we covered keeping the text short, leaving room for the illustrator, and use (or lack of use) of rhyme in your manuscript. (Feel free to check out the first lesson for more specifics - and don't skip the comments - there were some great questions!).A quick refresher: A picture book is a book – generally for children – in which the illustrations are as important as (or even more important than) the words in telling the story.
This portion of the lesson is more about the structure of the picture book – how it starts, how you keep the reader engaged, and how to finish up, plus a bit about audience.
GRAB THEM FROM THE START: I'm sure you've heard that if you don't grab the reader's attention in the first chapter (or maybe even the first page) of your novel, you likely lost your reader. Well, your chance to hook the reader for a picture book is even shorter. If you don't grab their attention on the first page (which is often a single sentence, or even shorter), there won't BE a second page. The book will either get shut, or the kid will tune out. Remember how short preschoolers' attention spans are. The hook needs to be strong, and it needs to be early.
KEEP PAGE TURNS IN MIND: A page turn in a picture book is like a chapter break in a novel. You need something to encourage the reader to move on to the next section. Picture books are generally 32 pages, which means 16 (or less) page turns (sometimes the copyright and half-title and such are included in that page count). Not only do you need to give your reader a reason to go on to the next page, but you need to be sure that there are enough things going on to illustrate – enough scenes. You don't want every illustration to be of the same thing. One way to visualize this is to do a picture book dummy (see this link for an explanation)
END IT WITH AH, AWW, OR HA: Multi-published Picture Book Author Linda Ashman came up with this easy-to-remember summary of picture book endings, and the vast majority of picture books do fit into one of these categories.
The Ah! ending is the surprise ending. Picture book author Mac Barnett (I recommend ANY of his books to you – they are genius!) is amazing at these. His endings don't come out of left field, but you certainly don't expect them, and they make you want to read again to see if you can find the clues.
Aww is the sweet, mushy ending. God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren and Guess How Much I Love You? By Sam McBratney come to mind, but there are TONS of others. A lot of bedtime books are like this, but it can work for just about any type. These are often parent favorites.
Finally- the Ha! ending. Ending with humor is almost always a winner. Kids love to laugh, and if you can make the humor for both the child AND adult, you're on your way.
Which reminds me of my LAST point:
PICTURE BOOKS AREN'T JUST FOR KIDS
If you have (or had) kids, you likely remember reading the same book over and over and OVER to him or her. Picture books, for the most part, are not read by the intended audience – they are read TO them, and more than once. Have a bit of sympathy for the parent. Try to make the story/pictures/humor enjoyable for parents AND kids. Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio is a great example of this, in my opinion, and there are many others. And because they are generally read aloud, be sure your text is as fun to say as it is to read. You've heard the importance of reading your manuscript aloud – that goes quintuple for picture books. I had one person tell me you should read your picture book aloud to yourself at least ten times in a row – and if you still love it, only then should you consider it “good.”
So, there you go – picture books in two lessons. Of course, there is much more to know, but hopefully this is a good start. And again, be sure to check out Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books and/or Linda Ashman's The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books if you would like to pursue this further. AND - READ PICTURE BOOKS! They aren't long (as we discussed last week) - and reading and studying them (especially current ones) is a great way to see what is selling, and what YOU like. Personally I read at least one a day, every day.
Is there anything I haven't covered you are curious about? Any questions? Comments? Concerns?