Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How to Write a Picture Book - Part 5

Maybe I should clarify what a picture book actually is and how it will be used.

There are many kinds of children’s books illustrated with pictures – stories with words; wordless stories; narrative non-fiction (for example, the life-cycle of a particular animal that has been worked into a story); counting, alphabet, time, colour recognition; works of art; graphic novels; non-fiction; board-books; books that link words to pictures to aid spelling and reading skills, and more. They are produced for a full range of ages from babies to young adults.

Picture books (also called picture book stories, picturebooks, picture storybooks or picture story books) are for shared reading, for children who are mainly 7 years old and younger. This means that words can be included that will sound good (which is so so important) when read by an adult and have a meaning which is obvious from their context (like ‘nubble’ – which may not be used in everyday speech), or which could be difficult for a young child to read them self (like ‘luxuriant’, or made up words such as ‘eruptublasted’ or ‘hyperboggulated’). While an adult is reading the text, the child will be reading the pictures.

Today, ‘picture books’ are never stories that can be read on radio and fully understood without reference to the pictures.

Books where the illustrations are included purely to break up the pages of text and give the reader a pleasant experience, are ‘beginner readers’ or ‘illustrated story books’.

The pictures in a ‘picture book’ add to and tell a significant part of the story. Occasionally, they can tell the whole story.

What picture books have you been reading? Have you tried writing the plot of each one in a sentence or two? For example:

The main character is introduced and given instructions, but they are not followed and there’s trouble, but the character returns home and is still loved. (Peter Rabbit)

Life is terrible for the main character, which is a problem. Something happens and life gets better, but the character acts and there’s disaster …but all is well at the end and life is great. (Cinderella)

Here are some other simple plot descriptions – see which books that you’ve read fall into one of these:

All is going well until… there’s a problem. The main character makes a response, but things get worse, then they solve the problem at the third attempt they succeed and life is good.

The main character has a ‘character flaw’ which is obvious by the things they do. Something happens and because of the flaw the situation gets worse, but the main character decides to change and all is good at the end.

There’s a problem right from the beginning and the main character tries to solve it, but things get worse. The problem is solved and life is good.

The main character has a good character feature, but other individuals cause the ‘hero’ to abandon this. There’s suffering for all until the hero (main character) returns to their original nature which is now recognised as beneficial, and the other individuals give up their demands for the hero to change.

There are other plans, but a large number of popular picture books do fit one of these plots!

It may be useful to base your story on one of these models …but don’t try to write all the words yet – just list what ‘events’ happen and how the main character reacts to each one.

Peter Taylor

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