For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
Although some advice for authors of children’s stories and books may seem contradictory, the basics are rather unchanged and stable. The following tips can help all of us write and produce more interesting and well accepted picture books. No, I am not including all the information needed for writing a children’s book, just enough to help.
Start with action: As with any story or book, the author should start with action just as quickly as possible. The words and illustrations should catch and keep a child’s attention.
Be sure illustrations match and add to the story: Children enjoy bright colors and interesting illustrations, but the pictures need to coordinate with the story. Also the illustrations should be well done. The artist is as important as the author as far as picture books are concerned.
If you have a good story, then be sure you find a good illustrator. Most publishers prefer to use one of their staff artists, but if you have an excellent artist in your pocket, be sure to send samples of his work with your story.
Write a good story: Often I’ve read stories supposedly for children that are not well-written. Youngsters deserve the best possible stories, with correct grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. Yes, we shouldn’t use long complex sentences, but the ones we use should be right. Since picture books are usually read to children, the vocabulary doesn’t have to be simplistic. Words that a child may be used to hearing but can’t read is fine to use. A few new words are all right, too, especially if the illustrations or context help the child know what the words mean. Also the person reading or supervising can help the child learn new words, unless too many are used.
A story for a child should have action and dialogue, just as any other well developed story. The real difference between a story written for children and one written for adults is the interest level, the focus, the perspective.
Don’t “pad” the story: If a description or narrative doesn’t move the plot along or isn’t necessary, delete it. Extra words that add nothing to the story makes listening boring, just as they make reading boring.
Show, don’t tell: Sound familiar? That phrase has become almost a cliché, but that doesn’t make it less true. Children need to “see” what is happening in a story, and not just in the illustrations. They should “hear” sounds. They need to “feel” what the characters do. Let the story unfold for the child.
Don’t make the story too long: A child’s attention span depends on the child, of course, but most at the age of those who listen or read picture books won’t be interested in a long story. If the story is long, the author should consider breaking it into more than one story.
Alliteration and rhyme should be used well or not at all: Many publishers won’t accept children’s books that use alliteration or rhyme. The reason? Too many authors do not know how to use either well. Alliteration tickles children’s ears, and they like the sounds. However, too much of even a good thing is too much. Forced rhyme is confusing to children (it’s confusing to me, too). So use either or both correctly or not at all.
Hopefully some of the tips will help you improve your writing of children’s picture books.
After teaching composition for twenty-five years and becoming an author on http://www.Writing.Com/ a site for Poetry, Vivian Gilbert Zabel produced Hidden Lies and Other Stores, Walking the Earth:, and The Base Stealers Club, which can be ordered through most book stores and on http://www.Amazon.com