Friday 15 May 2015

How to Write a Vivid Picture Book: Living in the Moment by Natascha Biebow

Recently, a three year-old came to play at our house. When the time came to wash our hands for tea, she stepped up onto the little stool at the kitchen sink and I passed her a bar of soap. “What’s that?” she asked. “Soap,” I replied and showed her how, if you make it a little wet, you can get lots and lots of bubbles out of it. The delight in her face was a wonder. She had never seen soap in a bar before!

Wow, what else, will our modern children soon not recognize, I wondered. Already, talk of CDs

and chalkboards  

elicits a mystified gaze. 

“Did you have telephones, Mommy?” I am asked. Well, yes, I did. But we had to borrow our neighbour’s and making long-distance calls was a big deal

And I looked stuff up in the Encyclopedia Britannica

dusty volumes, also borrowed from our British neighbour in Rio and pored over the tiny type for various homework assignments. Now, we can search for anything we like with a quick click on Google. And plan on the weather (sort of) at a glance on our phones . . .

Recently, I’ve joined the Non-Fiction Archaelogy course run by Kristen Fulton, and recommended by fellow blogger, J Clare Bell. 
(c) Kristen Fulton
One of the first things I’ve re-discovered, is there are stories everywhere you look. This is also one of the aspects of being a writer that I enjoy the most.

So far, this week, I’ve discovered that:

• Goldie the golden eagle was a true Houdini, on the run from London zoo for 12 whole days in 1965, outwitting most adults who tried to capture him and causing a traffic jam in central London

• Another escape artist was Fu Manchu, the orangutan and late resident of the Omaha Zo, foiled zookeepers by picking the locks on his enclosure with a small piece of metal wiring that he kept hidden under his cheek.

• The average child wears down 720 crayons by their 10th birthday

• Harrods once sold an alligator as a Christmas gift for the Noel Coward

• There is a candy desk in the US Senate 
US Candy Desk as pictured on Wikipedia
And . . .

. . . some children have never seen soap!

One of our first tasks in the course has been to find a topic for a non-fiction picture book. It’s got me thinking about narrating a story that might have happened a long time ago so that it’s relevant to contemporary children.

Not only do writers need to research how things were in the past, they need to imagine themselves there so they can show, not tell. Also, importantly, writers of all picture books must capture the child living in the moment. Stories need to be told in ‘real-time’ and flashbacks are discouraged, because pre-school children can’t yet conceptualize time in the way that adults and older children can. This is because they are egocentric; their concept of time is limited to their immediate world and routine. It's only by having experiences involving familiar sequences and routines that they can gradually conceptualize events in the past and future, expanding their world view.

So, when considering their story, it’s important for writers to look around the world through a child’s eyes, with the same freshness, verve and excitement. What we need to do is really step into the main character’s shoes and live the story in the moment, to take the time to envision and describe each scene as if we were there . . .

. . . discovering the wonder of a bar of soap’s bubbles! 

This is no mean feat if you’re living some 100 or so years after the event you are researching. But capturing these little moments of wonder is the key to writing a truly great picture book story and taking today's child reader with you.

Natascha Biebow
Author, Editor and Mentor

Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission.  Check out my NEW small group coaching courses!

Natascha is also the author of Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Regional Advisor (Chair) of SCBWI British Isles.


Jon Burgess Design said...

Nice post Natascha, ah, the Post Soap Generation ;-) soap is pleasantly rewarding, in that if you put the work in you get the bubbles, I think kids like an easy and fun reward. Gel is just a fait accompli and anyway it slips through your fingers too easily and is off down the plughole before you can use it.
My grandpa had a neat trick that got me into washing my hands properly when I was about 4. He ran the tap ever so slightly, then got me to wash my hands with soap under the trickle of water. The cool thing about it being that you could see the dirt coming off really clearly and got a rewarding sense of achievement. Ah, the smell of Coal Tar soap. . . The charm wore off over the years though. . . ;-)

Natascha Biebow said...

Thanks for sharing that! :)

Moira Butterfield said...

I did a writing workshop this week where we explored points of view. We did various 5/10 minute exercises trying out different points of view - and First Person Present was a great one for discovering a character and situation -- 'I wash my hands. The soap slips through my fingers' - Doing this as your own private notes - an exercise before you write the real thing - might prove a fruitful way to get some inspiration. We did it quickly and that helped to uncover some inspiring idea nuggets.

Jane Clarke said...

Interesting post, makes me want to do that course! I'm currently being inspired by seeing everything freshly through my grand daughters' eyes, so I know just what you mean.

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Thanks, Natascha. It's really interesting what children are surprised at now. I still love that my children thought that it WAS black and white in 'the olden days'...

Unknown said...

Very nice blog post. I absolutely appreciate this website.
Keep it up!

writing help