Sunday, 3 August 2014

DON'T DO IT! - how NOT to write a picture book by Malachy Doyle



 1. Don’t think it’s easy. You need to have lived. You need to have read (lots and lots).  You need to have something to say. You need to have developed a voice, a style, an ease of telling…

2. Don’t over-write it. Write the story, then cut, cut, cut! Every word needs to need to be there, and the fewer the better (preferably under 500). Prune the beginning, cut to the quick, then chop, rebuild, chop, rebuild, chop, chop, chop till it’s perfect.  


 3. Don’t describe stuff. Just tell the story – the speech and the action. The illustrator will add colour to your world, and depth to your characters and their story. 

5. Don’t illustrate it, unless you’re an illustrator (and a very good one, at that).

 
6. Don’t ask someone else to illustrate it for you, either. The publisher will find the right person.

7. Don’t tell the illustrator how to do their job. You wouldn’t want them telling you how to write it.


 9. Don’t rhyme, unless the story steadfastly refuses to be told any other way. And unless you’re a brilliant rhymester, with perfect scansion.

10. Don’t lose touch with children. You’re writing for the young people of now and of the future. You need to know, understand and very much like them.    

11. Don’t skimp on the reading aloud. Rhythm, and a delightful ease in the telling, are key - and only reading your story aloud many many times will show if it’s perfect.
 


12. Don’t just write a story. Write one that needs to be told, with something real and true of yourself in it. Write with heart, from somewhere deep inside you. Write something that truly affects and enchants the reader / listener - something that matters.

13. Don’t make it too easy for your main character. Get them into trouble. Then more trouble. Then, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse...
 


14. Don’t think it’s easy. (Didn't I say that somewhere before?) Only the best is good enough for children. The best words in the best places, the best characters in the best stories… 

15. Don't expect to make a fortune. Or even a decent living. Do it because you have to.  Do it because you have stories inside you demanding to be told. Write because you're a writer.

16. And don’t send a story out till it’s finished. A picture book may take months, even years, and hundreds of drafts, to get right. Ask it every question, look at it from every angle, till you’re completely satisfied with it. And then…

GOOD LUCK!



(with thanks to James and Celia Catchpole, Martin Waddell, Mem Fox and everyone else along the way…)

Malachy’s latest picture book is called Peek-a-Book, and it’s illustrated by Rowan Martin and published by Parragon Books on August 8.

His storybook Pete and the Five-a-Side Vampires is published by Firefly Press on September 18 - and the most exciting thing about this one, for Malachy, is that it’s illustrated by his daughter Hannah!  Whoopy-doo!  


22 comments:

  1. A lot of sound advice here, Malachy, particularly the point about the importance of reading your work aloud. My family have heard most of my stories numerous times through my office door, long before they see a finished draft.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I read mine aloud at my desk / up in the hut / out in the garden / sitting on the loo. I try to catch those little infelicities by surprise, the wretches.

      Delete
  2. Great stuff, Malachy. You've hit all the things folk usually get (a bit or a lot) wrong. Will be saving the link for future use...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Marie-Louise. Feel free to add any more DONT'S, people.

      Delete
  3. Brilliantly concise and obviously well pruned Malachy... and made me laugh out loud too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you liked it, Dianne. Yep, I got it down to under 500 words (417 to be exact!)

      Delete
  4. Nice post. That's a good list. I hope all would be picture book writers get to see it!
    Us established types can benefit from it too. I'm having a bit of a struggle with number 12 at the moment though. . . All my recent ideas are a bit glib ;-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely, Jonathan. We all need reminding, me included.

      Delete
  5. You're right of course, Liz. It's so so worth it. The smile on the face of a child... Being a part of their developing love of story, their developing love of books... Being a part of how they come to see the world and others in it... Believe in yourself, writer. believe in your stories, and go for it!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, that number 12 is tough when you're writing all day for a living. The well of truth can seem to dry up due to the need to invoice! Thank you for reminding us, Malachy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know. It's a hard ask, Moira. But it's what the best picture books do. So it's what we should aspire to.

      Delete
  7. Love this, Malachy. Especially the part about "write it because you have to." Some stories just grab you by the throat and won't let you go...then you know you just HAVE to write it...whether or not it ever gets published.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Yes, writers just HAVE to write. Some stories DEMAND to be told. All we can do is bring life to them, to the very best of our ability. And then... you never know... maybe somebody'll want to do something with them...

      Delete
  8. Number 12 was a stand out for me. Will print it and tape next to the computer. The startled baby cracked me up--reminding me that though the work we do is very important, it's also important not to take ourselves TOO seriously!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Pat. I keep it next to mine, too. (number 12, not the baby...)

      Delete
  9. Malachy, your'e advice comes from your head and your heart. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to your PB and storybook.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Barbara. But I just realised I can't count - there's no numbers 4 or 8!

      Delete
  10. But I'd LOVE a picture book about that 'horse'!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, so would I, Pippa! People always say they're so hard to draw, but this is perfect!

      Delete
  11. Pippa I'm with you on the story about that horse. I'll be directing my students to this blog. Hopefully hearing this from someone else will mean some of it sinks in.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Turns out that loads of us were most taken by No. 12! I'd even copied it to paste in below. This is a great reminder. Thanks!

    Don’t just write a story. Write one that needs to be told, with something real and true of yourself in it. Write with heart, from somewhere deep inside you.

    ReplyDelete