Monday 13 January 2020

Ten Top Picture Book Writing Tips • Lynne Garner

I don't list the colours in the jumper,
the illustration shows us. 
I look back at my career and ask myself "how did I manage to get published?" I knew nothing about plot construction, creating characters children could relate to, how many pages a picture books contains etc. Yet I managed to become a published author. But if I knew then what I know now my journey would have been a shorter one. So, to reduce the length of your journey here are my top ten tips for writing a story an editor will hopefully want to publish.
Read and learn from picture books. Look at how the story has been constructed, what types of words have been used, what words have been omitted thus allowing the illustrations to also tell the story. 

A picture book writer can learn a lot from studying poetry. I’m not suggesting write an entire book in rhyme but there are elements of poetry you can use to improve your story for example the rhythm of the words you choose use.  
I used long funny words and also repeated
phrases to create a rhythm.
Explore the use of words. Don’t be afraid to make up them up or use words that are long. For example, one of my nephews favourite picture books featured a T-rex. He loved it when it came to his turn to read the word and always shouted REX at the top of his voice, which was then followed by giggling.      

Listen to how children speak, what they talk about, the worries them etc. All of this can be used to fuel your work and ensure you’re writing stories children will enjoy and can relate to.

Break down your story into spreads and think of them as scenes in a play. Ask yourself is there something new happening on every page? Have you given the illustrator enough to work with? Does the new scene move the story forward? If the answer to any of these is no then you need to have a rethink.

Teasel and Brambles tell us how they feel
in their own words and by their actions.
Let your characters tell the story in their own words. Let them show the reader what they are feeling and thinking. 

Everyone loves to laugh, so if appropriate include a little humour. Either use words or provide the illustrator with notes, so the humour can be shown in the illustrations. 

Have a go at using the magic number three in your story. Have you ever read The Gruffalo? When the mouse is explaining what the Gruffalo looks like it’s always in threes. Also, there are three animals chasing the mouse. The snake, the fox and the owl. This isn’t new think about the three bears, the three pigs, the three billy goats. 

As with any story think start, middle and end. If you've never heard of him then watch this video featuring Kurt Vonnegut about the shape of stories. 

Lastly don't be afraid to break the rules. It worked for Pippa Goodhart in her 'You Choose' series of books. These books don't have a story but allow the child to choose from the bounty of options offered by the images in the book created by Nick Sharratt. 

I hope these tips help and good luck with your writing and if you have any other tips please share below or tweet us @picturebookden 


Unknown said...

Love it, just want the missing 7 and 8

Lynne Garner said...

Thanks for highlighting - I'd uploaded an old version. Have now corrected.

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

Oh my - that Kurt Vonnegut is endlessly uplifting! TY for the ten tips Lynne.

David McMullin said...

A great list to think about.

Patti Ranson said...

Kurt Vonnegut's video is just what the doctor dry, real and funny!

Laurie Carmody said...

Love this! Thank you!