Picture book writers do not get enough credit. Writing a picture book is HARD work! I am sitting on 7 unpublished, almost-polished picture book manuscripts, yet I still want to learn how to write a picture book better.
And I have found the best trick!
It has always been my favorite way to teach myself to write novels better, but it also works for picture books. All you need are a few recently published picture books and your computer to get started.
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The Best Way to Learn How to Write a Picture Book:
It’s surprising that a 500-word, or less, story is so difficult to write. However, learning how to write a picture book that will sell is a craft! If you haven’t picked up Ann Whitford’s book on how to write picture books, then you should definitely do that!
The best way I have learned about picture book writing is through the published books themselves. What is currently selling or being picked up by publishers is important to know. And it is your best tool to learn from!
There are certain things to look for in current picture books:
1. The Story Type-
Every kind of picture book has a theme–even those without words. We know we need to have comp books to know if our story already exists and to potentially add to a query letter. However, understanding the theme can help you write a picture book better.
Here are the things you should look for when trying to determine the theme:
Is it a…
- Concept Book?
- Journey Book?
- Comparison Book?
Is the conflict with…
- Others in the story?
Read 3-5 newly published picture books and look for their theme. Compare those that have similar themes to your story idea, as well as, read those that are on the bestseller list.
Knowing the kind of book you’re writing versus the published book will give you an idea for how to tell a story in a picture book.
2. The Character Arc-
This is the most important thing to me whenever I’m practicing how to write a picture book. My critique girls always ask for my character to change MORE. Which always has me wondering how can I do that for a specific story idea.
These are some common character traits to look for:
- Does the character change? How?
- Does the Main Character ultimately solve the problem?
Even though this is only a 500-word manuscript, your character needs to undergo a bit of change. Whether that’s simply learning how to share better or learn that one bad thing doesn’t make an entire day bad.
3. Common Writing Techniques-
We’ve all heard of the rule of 3 for picture books. But there are other common writing techniques that occur, as well.
Look for these things when you’re reading:
- Do they use the rule of 3 or 7?
- Is there a repetitive phrase? Is it used as a page turn?
- Is the ending happy or at least hopeful?
Understanding the basic plot structure in picture books is a great way to get started. And if you can find a repetitive phrase or use a rule to your benefit, you will only make your story stronger!
4. The Story Rhythm-
Outside of the common rules, there is also a rhythm that you can find in picture books. Some are easy to spot, like a rhyming book. However, some can be hidden in the tiny details.
It will be easy for you to catch onto if you write poetry. But we can all learn a basic bit of rhythm to add interest to our story.
Here are some basic rhythms to look for:
- Does the story use rhyme?
- When you read, is there a specific beat or rhythm to the word choice?
- Are there any similar sounding words used to add rhythm?
Learning how published authors use these tricks in their picture books will help to strengthen your manuscripts. I especially like to look for a repetition of sounds, like clink, clank, clunk.
Grab 3-5 newly published picture books and look for their use in rhythm. I love to read books by Tammi Sauer to learn a lot about rhythm. Mary had a Little Glam and Wordy Birdy are two of my favorites!
5. Specific Word or Phrase Choices-
There are some powerful phrases you can use in your picture book manuscript that will make it MUCH more enjoyable to read. Plus, it will make it that much more fun to write!
Here are some fun things to incorporate in your story:
Read 3-5 newly published picture books and see if you can find any of the above in them. Then look back at your manuscript and see if you can add any of these to your story.
Now you know what you’re looking for when you write a picture book, it’s time to put it into practice! Download the picture book practice checklist and mark the boxes for each box that corresponds to the book you’re reading.
And for more picture book help, read these articles:
- How to Plot a Picture Book Perfectly
- How to Create Characters Kids Love
- How to Find New Children’s Book Ideas
- The Ultimate Guide to Write a Picture Book
- How to Break Gender Norms like Julian is a Mermaid