Tuesday, October 5, 2010

56 Picture Book Manuscripts

I have fifty-six undergraduate students this semester. We just finished the picture book section of Writing Children’s Stories 101. Following Ron’s post I can safely say that hardly any of these students decided to dress dangerously. Here are some of things I found myself repeating:

- If you begin a book with a bored character looking for something else to do, chances are your reader will look for something else to do as well.
- Rainy day activities (unless Cat in The Hat) are not fun or funny.
- Eliminate all mothers. They ought never be around to solve problems—it’s just not interesting.
- Aren’t we done with pirates yet? Though I suppose, if done well, everyone loves a pirate.
- No need to over-detail. There will be pictures after all.
- Read rhyme out loud to someone other than a kind friend, and PLEASE ask yourself—WHY MUST IT RHYME? (I totally understand editors’ request never to submit rhyming picture books)
- Make your character suffer more than you think they should.
- Don’t be afraid to exaggerate here and there.
- Do freckles really illuminate? (I did repeat this twice)
- Look for patterns everywhere.
- If there is a talking cricket at the end you might consider alluding to it in the beginning.

But in spite of all this, there is good in every piece—always something that can be taken and made even better. (And all fifty-six get to rewrite their manuscripts!) Now to find that germ of good in my own work, and treat it with nothing close to timidity. Suicidal lemmings anyone?


  1. Pirates are great if P. Root's Lily is chasing them on the high seas.

  2. "Make your characters suffer more than you think they should." Love that line, Lisa. Excellent advice for all writers of fiction.

  3. Riley, Every once in a blue moon I say something useful.

    And yes, there's always room for pirates if you are as brilliant as P. Root!

  4. What kind of patterns?
    Could you elaborate?