6 Tips for Revising Picture Books

Marcie Wessels, author of 2015 picture book PIRATE'S LULLABY shares 6 tips for staying on track during the messy process of picture book revision.
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Picture books are deceptively simple. Generally 32 pages long, picture books are perceived as being easy to write because of their length. But any picture book writer will tell you that they wrote numerous drafts to get to the final product.

GIVEAWAY: Marci is excited to give away a free, signed copy of her novel to a random commenter. laundry light has won this giveaway. 

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 Column by Marcie Wesselsauthor of PIRATE'S LULLABY:
MUTINY AT BEDTIME
 (August 2015, Doubleday Books for Young
Readers), illustrated by Tim Bowers. Marcie received a BA in English
and Spanish from John Carroll University, an MA in Spanish from
Bowling Green State University, and a PhD in Latin American
Literature from Tulane University. She has taught Spanish
language and literature at the University of San Diego. Find her on Twitter.

Revision is the key to making a picture book look effortless. But revision can be a messy and confusing process. Here are a few tools for the picture book writer’s tool box to help keep you on track throughout the editing and revising process.

1. Write a one-line summary of your manuscript. On the copyright page of most every picture book, there is a logline, a one line summary of the story. Used by libraries and book dealers to facilitate book processing, this sentence can also be a useful revision tool because it encapsulates the essence of the story. Consider the logline for Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

A naughty little boy, sent to bed without his supper, sails to the land of the wild things where he becomes their king.

It’s easy to get lost in the revision process. Find the core of your story by writing a logline and use the logline to help you stay on track as you disassemble and reassemble your manuscript.

2. Write a pitch. An essential part of any query letter is the pitch. For a picture book, a three line summary is the norm. Writing a pitch can also be an effective way to outline your story. Take, for example, Pat Zietlow Miller’s pitch for Sophie’s Squash.

Sophie’s parents always hoped she’d love vegetables—in salads or side dishes. But they don’t know what to do when Sophie befriends a butternut squash that was slated for supper. Fortunately, Sophie shows that true friendship transcends all obstacles and endures forever.

Pat’s pitch clearly states the problem or the obstacle of the story and she identifies the story’s take-away. Pat’s pitch gives us a good idea of where her story starts and ends. Like the logline, the pitch reveals the core of your story, but it can also help you hone your story’s structure.

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

3. Create a storyboard. Even if you can’t draw, create a storyboard. Stick figures are fine! A storyboard is a useful tool for the picture book writer because it can reveal pacing problems such as having two characters stuck in a room. Think action! There’s no reason for the reader to turn page if there isn��t any movement.

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4. Make a dummy. Like the storyboard, the dummy is a great addition to your toolbox. Take a look at what you see when you mock up your story. Do some pages have more text than others? Is there a reason to turn the page? Try using post-it notes inside the pages of a dummy. You can remove them easily and move them around as you revise.

5. Create a grid. The grid is a new tool that I learned about in an online revision workshop with Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. The five column worksheet can help you develop the plot as well as the story’s emotional arc. At the top of your grid, list the following categories: character, action, dialogue, feeling, and visual. Fill out the grid for each double page spread of a picture book. Try a published picture book first, then make a grid for your own story. Analyze what you see. What response does each spread evoke? Is it the response you expected? If not, revise. Does your character grow and change from the beginning to the end of the story? If not, revise.

(How NOT to start your story. Read advice from agents.)

6. Read your manuscript aloud. A picture book is meant to be read aloud and so is your manuscript. Read it aloud throughout the revision process. Or better yet—have someone else read it to you. When you hear your own words read back to you, you may notice that the reader stumbles or pronounces a word differently. Take note and revise.

Embrace the revision process. Revision is the place where picture book magic happens.

GIVEAWAY: Marci is excited to give away a free, signed copy of her novel to a random commenter. laundry light has won this giveaway. 

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