Picture books are a popular form of story telling for young children. They can be used to take a child on an amazing journey of self-discovery, laughter, adventure, and fun. Picture books can also deal with tough emotions, obstacles, and life lessons. They may shed an age-appropriate light on a historic figure or event, or introduce a new fantasy world that leaves the reader wishing it were real. These illustrated stories are adored by both children and adults but writing one isn't as easy as it seems. If you're struggling to break into this genre of children's book writing, take a look at this list of ten best practices on how to write an amazing story using less than 1000 words.
1. Start with an outline of what your story will be about. Don't worry too much about structure, word count, or anything else other than freely jotting down ideas. Brainstorming what your story will be about is the fun part so enjoy it.
2. Next, head to your local library and check out as many picture books as you can. Start with 10-20 and go from there. Choose picture books along the same theme or style as your work in progress, or just peruse topics that interest you.
3.. Read each book then sort them into two piles. One pile should be the books you connected with. We'll call this the "YES" category. The other should contain books you didn't enjoy as much. We'll call this the "NO" category.
4. Re-read the "YES" category of books. Take notes about what you liked. Was it the language? The concept? The illustrations? Was it funny? Relevant? Informative in an engaging way? Did you emotionally connect to the story? Are adults present and, if so, in what capacity? Whatever is on your mind, write it down. (Side note: if you loved it, consider leaving a review. Book creators need reviews and you will too one day.)
5. Now go to the "NO" category of books. Why don't you like these? Make a list. Was it the voice? Was the premise unrealistic? Boring? What about the language? Did it seem forced? Unfamiliar and outside of your lived experience? Was it rhyming or non-rhyming? What about the concept? Why didn't it meet your expectations? Whatever you don't like about the book, write that down.
6. Repeat the above steps until you feel like vomiting. I'm kidding of course but you get the picture (pun intended). After several rounds of research, you should feel well versed on what you like and don't like about the picture books you've read. That will help you with structuring your own story.
7. Next, start working on tightening the story for your book. Every word in a picture book should pack a punch. You don't have a lot of words to get your message across so make sure each one counts. Eliminate repeating words and phrases as well as unnecessary words. Check your notes for elements to include in your writing that resonate with you. There is no one right way to do this. Your picture book should be a reflection of you, your thoughts and ideas, written for children. Use language targeted for the age category you are writing for while incorporating the best ideas from your brainstorming session. Be mindful of word counts. Most picture books are under 1000 words.
8. You should now have a first draft of your very own picture book. This is exciting but you're still not done. That is when you will want to bring what you have to a critique group and get feedback. Critiques are an important part of the writing process. If you're not sure how to find and join a critique group, start here.
9. After your manuscript is critiqued, revise according to what notes and advice resonates with you. Remember, this is still your story. You do not have to make any changes that do not feel authentic. Repeat this step as many times as necessary to ensure your manuscript is as close to a final draft as possible. This may seem excessive but, it is not uncommon to revise the same picture book over and over again. And then again...and again.
10. Once you are confident your story is ready to take it's place in your "YES" pile, I want you to do something that may seem counter-intuitive. Set it aside. It's normal to want to jump straight to publication but this is a necessary step in the process. In the meantime, feel free to work on something else. After a few weeks or even months, take another look at your manuscript for possible revision with fresh eyes and, hopefully, renewed energy.
As you can see, there's much more to writing a picture book than many realize. But following these steps should have you well on your way to a manuscript you can be proud of and the world can one day enjoy. Good luck and happy writing!