In Part 2 of this series of posts on writing picture books for children aged about 3-6 years old, I suggested that you note particular properties of recent and acclaimed examples. But I hope that you enjoyed reading each of them, too.
Let’s think about story and what readers and purchasers will want from your book. First and foremost I believe they seek experiences that will grip their heart and mind through emotional connection. As a writer, you have to engage the reader emotionally. They must feel something. Emotions and feelings should be the lifeblood of your story …but not just one emotion. A whole range of emotions. A rollercoaster ride of emotions.
Emotional engagement is the most compelling reason we choose and continue to read any book throughout our life.
The easiest way to encourage a child to connect with a picture book is to make your story about someone—a main character. Give the character a name to help the connection.
As this main character is loved, solves a problem, makes mistakes and errors of judgement, interacts with others, faces disaster and everything turns out alright at the end, the child reader sees themselves as the hero or has empathy with the main character who is ‘just like me’ or ‘could be me’. The main character of a picture book is never an adult. The illustration of the main character will depict them 2 years older than the average reader.
Children are clever. If the story features an animal as a main character, the child understands that it represents a child just like them. If a baby duck wanders from the family and the parent hunts for it, the child reader (who reads the pictures while the story is told) recognises that in the same way they are loved by their own parent who will similarly hunt for them if they get lost.
If a story is only about a child going to grandma’s house or somewhere and having a lovely time, it’s not really a story at all. It’s just a series of events or anecdotes.
We are eager to keep reading and turn each page of a story (any story for any age of reader) to find out what happens next. The story will be a series of actions and reactions and at each point there will be a tension. This tension will be caused by what outcome we hope for vs what we fear may happen …and we read on to discover the consequences, either good or bad.
The simplest definition of a story is probably:
Someone wants something and has a hard time getting it.
This implies that there is trouble. Problems to be overcome. Mem Fox says that ‘Only trouble is interesting’.
Who is your main character?
What do they want? Why? What are consequences if they fail to get what they want?
Why can’t they instantly have what they want? What’s the problem?
What or who will make it difficult for the character to achieve their goal? Really difficult!! If the story was about a duckling getting lost, she wouldn’t just walk in the opposite direction. That would be too easy to find her. Perhaps she would fall down a drain, or get washed over a waterfall…
Keep thinking about your story and note down a range of ideas and possibilities. Stay open minded.
I’ve much more that may help you that I'll post on this blog. We’re only just starting. It takes a lot of time, consideration and multiple re-writes to create publishable stories and I look forward to sharing tips and devices that are used by the best writers in the business.