Publish date:

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

From Script

Writing Empowered Superhero’s in CWs Supergirl and Understanding Animation From the Trenches (From Script)

In this week’s round-up In this week’s round up brought to us by Script Magazine, story editor Katiedid “Did” Langrock speaks with Reckless Creatives podcast. Plus, one-on-one interview with CWs Supergirl actress turned scribe Azie Tesfai about her groundbreaking episode and more!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: The Characterless Character

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: The Characterless Character

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so this series helps identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is writing a characterless character.

When Is My Novel Ready to Read: 7 Self-Editing Processes for Writers

When Is My Novel Ready to Read: 7 Self-Editing Processes for Writers

Fiction editor and author Kris Spisak ties together her seven processes for self-editing novels, including editorial road-mapping, character differentiation analysis, reverse editing, and more.

Poetic Forms

Englyn Unold Crwca: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the englyn unold crwca, a Welsh quatrain form.

5 Things for Writers to Keep in Mind When Writing About Spies

5 Things for Writers to Keep in Mind When Writing About Spies

A spy thriller requires more than a compelling story and clever plot twists—the characters need to feel real. Author Stephanie Marie Thornton offers 5 tips for constructing believable spy characters.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Team Up

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Team Up

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's time for a little unexpected team work.

Taylor Anderson: On Creating Realism in the Weird

Taylor Anderson: On Creating Realism in the Weird

New York Times bestselling author Taylor Anderson discusses the process of writing his new science fiction novel, Purgatory's Shore.

6 Books Perfect for Fall Reading

6 Books Perfect for Fall Reading

Whether you're looking for something cozy or a little spooky, these books are perfect for the fall season.

NaNoWriMo: To Prep or Not to Prep?

NaNoWriMo: To Prep or Not to Prep?

When it comes to a 30 day writing challenge like NaNoWriMo, do you need to prep beforehand to achieve success? Well, that might depend on what kind of writer you are.