Writing for picture books

Writing picture books may seem easy but by far, it is the most difficult one.

A novel can have more than 10,000 words but picture book may be only 100 words long (can be up to 1000 words but the less the better). Those words must be well chosen. If you read poetry or haiku, you know the difficulty of containing large thoughts in small spaces.

Here are some guides to help you write:

  1. Word count. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for. Some publishers accept 1000 words but it is better to keep it up to 600. The standard text is for 32 pages. The prelim, title page, dedication, takes up several pages. This leaves you with 25-28 pages to tell your story.
  2. Plot. Keep it clear and simple, based on a single situation that involves some action.
  3. Think visually. As you write, imagine the pictures that could accompany it.
  4. Pacing: Think about how you’d like the text to be broken up (page-break). It’s very important in a picture book to have a good rhythm, pace, and contain the drama of the page turn.
  5. Use interesting word. Never look down on the little readers.
  6. Go straight to your story. There’s no time for introduction or prolog.
  7. No need to describe things that can be shown in the illustrations. Example: you can write ‘Jenab found a book’ instead of ‘Jenab found a book lying on a bench in a park’. (Illustration: Jenab looking at a book lying on a bench in a park. To show that it is a park, you can illustrate a pond, some ducks, trees, people walking in the background). You get the idea, right?
  8. Avoid rhyming. Most publishers will remind authors not to rhyme because it will be hard for them to translate it into other languages.
  9. Read over and over again. Adjust and rewrite as you go until you are sure you can’t make it any better. Leave it for few days, and read again. You might have something to add or delete.
  10. Themes. Good children’s picture books need strong, universal themes. Examples: acceptance, tolerance, economic disparity, try something new, adventure, animals, gratitude, admitting mistakes, arts, autism, be yourself, courage, bullying, cause and effect, disabilities, friendship, judgement hope, war/peace, bereavement and much more. Ideally, good picture books have the power to change thinking and offer a new perspective.

Books in photo: Thumbelina( Hans Christian Anderson, retold by Brian Alderson/Bagram Ibatoulline), A Child Of Books (Oliver Jeffers/Sam Winston) and You Belong Here (MH Clark/Isabelle Arnault).

Alternatively, you can find these tips in Bahasa Melayu at TabulaKata. Thanks TabulaKata for the feature!

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