“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don't understand very much about what they do
-- not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less bullshit."
Stephen King, On Writing
“Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination.”
“The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.”
“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while you make it short.”
Henry David Thoreau
Brevity is one of my most important criteria for a re-readable picture book. Check out the others here.
Layers are created by including various plot devices in your structure. Here are examples of a few plot devices:
Smooth and Refined
It is crucial to remove snags and reduce friction as much as possible. Friction will wear your readers down fast. Minor obstacles feel big when you trip over them again and again. When you read a picture book multiple times, one little snag hurts.
Snags include poor rhythm, rude or gross humor, and predictable plots. Political incorrectness is also dangerous, as well as generalizations or incorrect statements about a race or culture.
A snag could be unattractive characters, muddy colors, or awkward posing from an illustrator's perspective.
When your readers can make a personal connection with the story in one way or another, it is a sure way to keep them reading. If you understand your audience and keep them in mind as your write and illustrate, you are likely to touch their hearts.
There was a time that I was rooting for longer picture book lengths. It was a time before I had kids.
When I had children, I discovered that as a parent, you would re-read the same picture book over and over and over again until you "lose" it on a trip or little fairies come to pick it up.
Friends, I have memorized Goodnight Moon word for word, my children have memorized Goodnight Moon, and that is only one of many.
The primary criterion for picture book re-readability is that it is short and straightforward. There is a point when it does not matter how entertaining or well-written a book was when you first read it; it will not entertain you after you've read it every day for a year.
"Like all sweet dreams, it will be brief, but brevity makes sweetness, doesn't it?" - Stephan King, 11/22/63
The Most Important Criteria for a Re-Readable Picture Book:
Check out mylist of books that you can read over and over again!
Brilliant Picture Books that dare to ask complex questions and evoke questions from readers.
Become inspired by these picture books:
"Deadlines just aren't real to me until I'm staring one in the face." - Rick Riordan
All Things Take Time
Imagine trying to ring water out of a dry cloth. It would help if you were full before you can produce anything, and that takes advanced preparation, study, and resources.
If you burn yourself out on the first deadline, you might set yourself up to miss subsequent deadlines.
For example, you might make a goal to exercise for one hour every day. But if you find yourself only exercising once per week, then you would do better to scale back to 15 minutes a day to avoid burning out and missing your goal.
When things get stressful, it is common to cut corners. As a result, you may sacrifice quality, quantity, or worse, you may plagiarise someone else's work.
Everyone knows that stress is bad for your health. Your body tells you that it is unhealthy by the way you feel during the process.
Relying on deadlines for inspiration and productivity is unsustainable for the reasons listed above, and I can't imagine that you would want to make it a habit. So why not try to break away from it and create positive habits? Practices without as many negative impacts on you and the project?
If you are in a creative rut:
You Don't Need Deadlines to Boost Your Productivity:
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Five picture books that are great for reading out loud to children.
Last week I watched a class on SkillShare by Andy J. Pizza called "Find Your Style: Five Exercises to Unlock Your Creative Identity." Let me share a gem that stuck with me:
"It is not about skill, not about what you can do, but what you can receive. The depth of your receptivity. Your pallet." -Andy J. Pizza
I have heard that you must be at least moderately intelligent to know whether or not you are smart. Similarly, it would be best if you had good taste in art to tell whether or not you've created good art.
Whether they are a writer or illustrator, one goal for every creator should be to fine-tune their reception. Learn to tell the good from the bad.
Make a goal to study one picture book every day. Develop your craft by building upon your creative intelligence.
While you read, you can use my Picture Book Writing Cheat Sheet to help you learn to analyze the text and story critically.
“Variety in our narrative is important. Sometimes we might worry that using a character’s name or even a pronoun over and over again will grow repetitious in readers’ minds. But, frankly, this is not a concern. Character names and pronouns are invisible to readers. They’ll never fault you for overusing them. If you’re struggling with monotonous sentences, the problem is not that you’re using Sienna’s name in every sentence. The problem is that you’re not varying your sentence structures.”
I am going to add that I agree with this statement because the same blogger has also written statements that contradict this one.
Value in Repetition
“Off again! On again! In again! Out again!” -Dr. Suess (The Sneetches and Other Stories)
Picture Books love repetition, and so do readers.
Young readers thrive on predictable sequences because they are easier to read and understand.
It also helps maintain a rhythm and, if done right, can add interest to the otherwise boring text.
LeWhile searching for books to read this month, I ran across an article by Olivia Heinbaugh on Romper that recommended a picture book with no pronouns, What Riley Wore.
It is unique because it substitutes “Riley” for pronouns where you would typically expect them.
Pronouns are not always useful. So, I have tinkered around with the idea of leaving them out altogether. This example gave me the courage to put it to practice.
I did not notice the missing pronouns, at least not in a casual reading.
What Riley Wore succeeded because the author varied sentence structure to avoid monotony and carefully applied repetition where it suited the text.
The repetition did not grate on my ears; it did the opposite. It added interest to the text.
You can omit pronouns from picture books with:
Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity.
Quantity is more important than quality, especially at the beginning of a new goal. Nevertheless, it is uncomfortable to implement.
It means posting online knowing full well that I am not happy with how it turned out.
It means writing page after page, knowing there are errors and inconsistencies in the pages before.
It means taking videos without the best equipment, talking even though I have trouble getting the words out, and showing my face when I have a bad hair day.
It’s not pretty, but it is important.
Why is quantity more important? One of the biggest and most obvious reasons in my opinion is that algorithms favor quantity and consistency over quality. . .until it spills over into spam.
It’s not just algorithms, people favor it too. If the greatest artist in the world disappears for a few weeks you will forget they existed, but if a new photo or video pops up every day on your feed, you will be constantly reminded how great they are.
The second reason is not as obvious. Improvement does not come from creating one perfect thing. It comes from the process of creating over and over again, receiving feedback, and improving over time.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Will Durant
Here are 5 things more important than quality:
These 5 things will appear when you commit to create something every day, and they will show their value through steadily ripening quality.
When you critique your own or another person’s picture book manuscript you can use my Picture Book Cheat Sheet as a guide to probing questions and analysis. Get it here.
Besides this, be a good reader. Your feelings and opinions will go a long way, helping you discover what works and what doesn’t.
Your critique is an argumentative response to probing questions, feelings, and opinions, supported by evidence from the text or visuals.
After you have interrogated the content, develop an argument describing how and why the content does or does not aid the creator’s objectives. Refer directly to related best practices and identify textual or visual evidence to support your argument.
You will have to take notes (they could be mental notes) so you can provide detailed examples.
A good critique focuses on the content.
Straying from the content leads to problems, such as:
Provide a way forward. This does not mean you have to solve your partner’s problems. I become very suspicious of arguments that try too hard to solve my problems because they are prone to personal agendas, subjectivity, and misrepresentation.
Think along the lines of the 10-second rule: “If they can't fix in 10 seconds or less, don’t point it out.” Not really. Revising will always take longer than 10 seconds, but if there is not a clear and simple way to fix the problem, then there is not a path forward and you will leave your partner feeling lost.
Before you deliver your argument, analyze it as well. Be sure you can constructively deliver the argument.
There is no need to mince words. A direct and honest critique is the best way to get to the point and let someone else have the floor.
Start on a positive note, and end on a positive note (a Bad News Sandwich). I don’t like the bad news sandwich personally, because it suggests that critique is a negative thing. A critique is not about listing everything bad; it is about building.
Nevertheless, it is important for a healthy critique group that everyone leaves feeling like the experience was constructive. Because bad news is louder than good news, starting on a positive note and ending on a positive note will emphasize the constructive experience.
Finally, if multiple people support a critique, or say the same thing, there must be something to it. So, if you agree with someone else’s critique, chime in. It will let your partner know to pay attention.
Let me give you an example of a good critique following the points above:
“If your audience is 6 to 8-year-olds, who are reading books on their own, then you likely want to select words that are challenging but simple to understand from context. Words on lines five, ten, and twelve are difficult words to pronounce and understand without assistance.”:
A Good Critique Is:
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Definitely an artist. I dressed up as an artist as an 8-year old when my friend had a "Come as what you want to be when you grow up" birthday party.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Books, tv, and the world.
Do you have any influences?
I love Trina Schart Hyman, PJ Lynch, Joseph Zbvuik, The PreRaphaelites, Jonathan Stroud, and Lloyd Alexander.
Can you describe your process?
Thumbnail, sketch, refined sketch, digital color study, print the sketch on watercolor paper, and paint.
Who is your favorite author/illustrator?
Illustrators: Trina Schart Hyman, Iris Compiet, Pj Lynch,
Authors: Jonathan Stoud, Susanna Clarke, Marissa Mayer, Diana Wynne Jones, Lewis Schcaar,
Do you keep a sketchbook or a writing journal?
Yes. I have so many notebooks and sketchbooks.
Is there any story that you wish you could retell or illustrate?
So many. I love fairy tales. Someday, I'd like to do a retelling of The Three Spinners (A fairy tale kind of like Rumplestiltskin) because I think it's funny.
What do you do when you are not writing or illustrating?
Watch k-dramas, walk, cook, read, and garden.
What do you think makes a good story?
A story needs to have a reason to exist. A purpose in the telling, something that we can learn from and become better people because of it, plus feel emotionally connected to.
What makes a good author or illustrator?
One that works hard with a goal in mind.
What is one thing that others don’t know about you?
I have a flipper tooth. It's a fake tooth connected to a retainer that I can take in and out. Someday I might get an implant but I'm kind of scared of that idea, plus they are pricey. So I just still have the flipper.
Are you working on any projects that you can talk about right now?
I'm working on an illustrated novel called The Magpie Magician. It's getting close to the point where I'll be ready to submit to agents and publishers and I'm excited. There is more info about the story on my website talesfantastic.com
Hi, my name is Cory Shaw. I am an author and illustrator of books and book covers for children.
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