The Secret to Writing a Standout Picture Book

As any children’s picture book author will attest, writing for children is not easier than writing for adults. In fact, it’s probably more difficult, and here’s why:

  • The story must appeal to a child and the adult reading it to her (not to mention editors, agents, and publishers).
  • Picture books are short, and a child’s attention span is shorter. There isn’t a minute to spare in capturing and holding a reader’s interest.
  • The competition for selling picture books is fierce. Only the very best make it out of the slush pile.

The key to crafting a picture book that captivates kids, parents, and editors alike is to give it depth, says Ann Whitford Paul, author of Writing Picture Books. Whether you’re writing for children on the younger (1- to 3-year-old) or older (6- to 8-year-old) end of the picture book spectrum–or somewhere in between–your story should move beyond relating a mere incident to illustrating a truth or lesson that resonates long after it’s read. Be clear about what that truth or lesson is before you start writing.

Paul offers this technique for capturing your picture book story’s truth:

Write a story question (e.g., “What truth does this story convey?”) for your idea, then answer it. Ask a fellow writer or friend to write what she thinks is the story question and answer. If her answer is wildly different from yours, your writing is not clear or perhaps you’re exploring a different question from the one you designated. This will force you to reconsider your question and answer, and make adjustments. Once your question and answer are determined to your satisfaction, go through your story and highlight anything that doesn’t bear directly on them. Then delete. And revise.

Read more from Writing Picture Books here:

Writing Picture Books excerpt

Get more expert advice on writing and selling picture books with these resources from Writer’s Digest:

2nd Draft Picture Book Critique

Picture Book Craft Intensive: Webinar With Agent Mary Kole

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One thought on “The Secret to Writing a Standout Picture Book

  1. rich olson

    I think the best way to craft a well told story is to stay very loose in the beginning stages. Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere – a greeting card, a photograph, tv, radio, movies, a walk in a park etc… If you are openminded, chances are the right story point will reveal itself and the story will come to life. As prolific as Agatha Christie was, she often invested much time spinning her stories and fine tuning them. Telling good story should be a labor of love so be patient and let your story take you on a creative adventure.

    Rich Olson
    SCBWI children’s book illustrator


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