Monday 2 August 2021

How to Edit A Picture Book Without Cutting Trees by Chitra Soundar

A long time ago when I started writing picture books, I learnt about making dummies before I heard about storyboarding. Either way, both picture book dummies and storyboarding felt too "arty" for me, because I had no art skills. I can barely doodle, or use any craft supplies. Even today! Almost 10 years from when I started, most of my drawing skills are still basic.

But I'm from a software background and if you worked in the corporate world, you'd know that using a presentation software can make or break your career. I was well-versed in Microsoft Powerpoint even then and even more now and sometimes I stray into Keynote (on Macs) as well.

If you are like me and cannot draw and also find it extremely sad to print two lines on a sheet of paper to fold it in, to make picture book dummies, here is my guide to making them on a computer, definitely more eco-friendly.

Check if your PC has Microsoft PowerPoint. Your Mac will definitely have Keynote. You can also use Google Slides which is free.

A - Create a presentation of your story

Step 1: Start the presentation software and open a blank presentation.

Step 2: The first slide always comes up as a title slide. That’s what you need too. Enter the title of the book and the author name here. There is a huge positive boost to your self-confidence when you actually type in the title and your name as the author. {Protip: This works brilliantly in kids' workshops too}

Step 3: Insert a new slide and choose the simplest layout - a blank one.

Step 4: Repeat 11-14 times. UK picture book stories are usually told in 12 spreads. US publishers often allow up to 15 spreads.

{Protip: Have as many spreads as you want, that's the beauty of using the software. Then you can cut down, move text around to see how it lands. You can copy and save two versions - one with 12 spreads and one with 15 spreads}

{Pro Protip: If your story throughline is too thin or your idea doesn't have sufficient story weight, you won't be able to fill 12 spreads with "things that will happen." So creating 12 blank sides gives you an understanding of the work involved.}

Step 5:  Cut and paste text into each slide from your word document (if you've already typed it up) or from your notebook if you've already written it.

I usually write my first drafts on paper then transfer them into a document. And then if I can't get the story structure to work or unsure of something, I'll create a presentation and cut and paste to see how it all lays out.

{Protip: Don't start in the presentation software. Use it as an editing tool. Tell the story to yourself and then to the reader as many times as possible and then use this tool to help you plan the pacing and structure.}

So now you have a presentation, with a title slide and 12 slides after each representing a spread in your picture book.

[CAUTION! Save your presentation as often as you can!]

Step 6: View the story as a slideshow - click through it or set it on a timer. But watch it unfold.

{Protip: Use transitions that mimic page turns just for fun! }

So in the above six steps, you've created a different perspective into your picture book. It's another way similar to reading aloud.

B - Review your story

As you are clicking through your story, what should you be watching out for?

  1. You will see whether some part of the story is too slow and some of it is rushed, ie, pacing.
  2. This step will also reveal if your page-turns are working. Do you have a surprise before or after a page-turn? Is there enough anticipation before a reveal?
  3. You will see if one spread has more text while others have none. But this is sometimes deliberate while other times, it's a symptom of a pacing issue.
  4. How many clicks does it take to get to the actual story? How much scene setting are you doing?
  5. How quickly did the story end? Was there an Aaah! moment when the page turned?
  6. Now that all the 11-12 spreads have been clicked, can you think of a surprise ending at the last click? Can there be a joke, a twist, an image that will sum up the theme?
After the above things have been checked, you will have an idea of what changes you might have to do.

There are two options now:
a) Go back to your notebook, document and rewrite the story and come back to the presentation to do another edit.

b) Edit the story in the presentation and then of course you can export it later.

C - How to revise a story in your presentation software

How to figure out what to edit and how to edit it?

Descriptions: Often picture book writers put in descriptions that will not be needed when the illustrations are completed. Sometimes the descriptions are required to communicate plot and sometimes it's just a way to translate the story the writer sees in their head.

A good picture book is a marriage of text and pictures and hence it will help to see that working in your drafts as well.


In every spread (slide) you see descriptions that are not required, a blue car, a big house etc, try and add images to the slide.

{Protip:You can cut and paste illustrations from google images and then read to see if you still need the words on the page. }

The story must still work without the adjectives and exposition. The story will finish its circuit in the reader's head. So only write those descriptions that you have to be specific about.

For example, if the car has to be red for plot purposes, then add red in the story. Otherwise just say car and let the reader imagine their own favourite colours. The illustrator can suggest their own visuals to help the reader too.

SetupDo you need an elaborate setup for your story? Go through the presentation again and see how many clicks does it take to get to the "inciting" incident in the story? There is no right or wrong. There is no golden rule. The setup should be as long as necessary for the story.

So keep cycling through the presentation by hiding the exposition slide and see if the story still works. Doesn't work? Sure, unhide your slide. Do you realise you don't need it? Delete that slide (and the text from your story).

ORDER OF EVENTS:  As you click through the presentation, keep thinking if there is a causal effect of one slide to another. This happened and so this happened... If not, think about whether there should be. Again, there is no golden rule, there is no right or wrong. You just have to see if you need to connect the dots for the incidents and make them build upon each other.

Go to slide-sorter in your presentation and see the 30000 feet view.

Now move things around if you need to and if you can. Edit the transition sentences when you move around the slides / spreads.



Page-turns are cliff-hangers in picture book parlance. Young children (often 3-5 years of age), should want to turn the page and see what's on the next page. So often sentences are not fully finished in a spread, they reveal a surprise when you turn the page. See if there is enough anticipation in the text that motivates the reader to ask questions like

a) Who do you think?

b) What's going to happen?

c) What will it be?

Page-turns are also good devices to setup causal effect. This happened and so.... turn the page to see what happened next.

  {Protip: Hide some slides, edit the text, move around slides - see how the flow works each time by clicking through the entire presentation.}


Ideally by clicking through the slides you will be able to check for the following:

        1. How soon do I know who the protagonist is?
        2. How quickly will I find out what they want?
        3. How soon is something fun going to happen?
        4. How much build-up there is to the centre-spread where everything goes BOOM?
        5. How quickly did the ending come? Was it satisfactory or did I need a slow-down page for the young reader to take in what just happened?
        6. Is there a tag or a button at the end - ie, is there a funny twist or an extra aaah moment after I've turned the last spread?

{Protip:Count the slides and the clicks, move things around including text. Build the anticipation using page-turns and make sure the middle spread (say around 6/7th) has a big scene that the illustrator can have fun with. }


After doing all that, you realise you really work better on paper. But you still want to be eco-friendly!
  • You can print out the presentation in handout form - say 2 or 4 to a page, depending on your eyesight or the size of your magnifying glass.
  • Review everything in one go, then go back to the presentation and edit it.
All done?

Then you're ready to export the text back to a document. So you don't have to retype anything you did.

Here are other blog posts on the Picture Book Den that will help you with structure and editing of picture books.

1. A Hero's Journey with Farmer Falgu by Chitra Soundar

2. It's not only the pictures that give picture books their power... by James Catchpole

3. The Clue is in the Name. Editing your PICTURE book manuscript: making every word count by Juliet Clare Bell

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published author of over 50 books for children. Chitra writes picture books and fiction for young readers. Her stories are inspired by folktales from India, Hindu mythology and her travels around the world. Her books have been published in the UK, US, India & Singapore and translated into Chinese, German, French, Japanese and Thai.
Find out more on her website and buy her books here.

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