For me, writing children’s books, especially picture books, is a sheer joy and a pleasure. It’s delightful to find the child in myself as I explore the wonder and excitement of being a child. Everything seems so new, so fresh, so amazing. I surprise myself with discoveries the child in me is making, and initially, at least, I feel that I can be as inventive and creative as I like.
Although children’s authors out there will know that writing a children’s book is not effortless. This may surprise you if you only write, for example, adult fiction, but some famous writers have recorded how hard they’ve found it to write a children’s book. Roald Dahl said that he found it particularly difficult: it’s ‘tougher to keep a child interested’ because children lose concentration so quickly. Dr Seuss, in a typically entertaining way, mentioned brevity as a good attribute to nurture when you write a children’s story: “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” And even if you think you have a brilliant plot that will thoroughly entertain children, here are some sobering words from C S Lewis: “A children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story.”
But despite the challenges of writing children’s books, creating a picture book is my favourite genre. I try to make magic, look for the unexpected and fabricate scenes and characters I think my young audience might be able to enjoy and identify with.
I would love to share with other picture book writers out there my typical methods (I am not an author-illustrator; in fact, I am very bad at drawing and would rather leave the illustrating of my books to the experts).
I usually become wildly excited when I think of an idea for a new children’s book. It’s such a joy to me to think of how I will develop the story and how I will flesh it out without losing some of the freshness of the original idea. Sometimes a pressing theme comes to my mind, sometimes, an incident I observe involving children fires my imagination, or sometimes I meet such a delightful child that I can’t wait to explore his/her character through the pages of a picture book.
Creating the structure for my picture book is just as rewarding to me. How will the story begin? What mood/atmosphere will I create? What hook will I use to draw in the reader? What problem will I create for my character? How will the story develop? Where will my climax be, and how will I build to that climax? And the ending? I usually struggle a bit with the end and don’t often use a twist in a picture book. The plot is usually neatly tied up, and the problem is happily resolved.
More often than not, I use a storyboard when I create my picture books. I start with an A4 piece of paper which I rule into blocks, numbering the pages. I’m writing minimal words, remember. Usually, my picture books are approximately 1000 words – in, say, 24 pages, sometimes 32. I do think visually, which I believe is essential for writers of picture books. Not only do I write the words for the story, but I also write a brief description of the illustration I am envisioning. This is the fun part. I so enjoy thinking of pictures in my head, even if I can’t transcribe my ‘pictures’ onto the page.
The initial draft goes quite quickly because I am enjoying myself so much. But I find that I have created so many picture books during the course of my writing career that I change very few words from that original draft.
My book, The Rainbow Game (ThyWord), a lively book with vibrant colours, especially of the rainbow, teaches children about God’s love; at the same time, it is a ‘fun’ story about a family game.
The Biggest Blessing (Austen Macauley, UK – still in production) is a story about the joys and surprises that sharing brings.
I have many more picture books inside of me, waiting to come out, but unfortunately, these books are expensive to produce, so we’ll see what happens to my ideas…..Perhaps I’ll end up using them for another genre.
I’m sure that if you’re reading this blog, you’re just as excited about creating picture books as I am.
Happy picture book writing!