How to Create a Picture Book - Writing a Story

Stage 1 - Let's learn how to write a Picture Book...(Yay!)

In the beginning there was communication. It began with grunts and belches and directional instructive nods and pushing, lots of pushing, and generally early man got by with these strange and mysterious concepts and cues. Now there are a million pages of dialogue and scripts that travel from Bognar to Brazil in a millisecond with information ranging from 'can a fish drown' to interdimensional theories on the space time continuum (you all googled can a fish drown didn't you?).

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that however advance and communication savvy we get, there are always questions that need answers and information that needs to be passed on by those who have experience in such things to those who wish to experience such things.

In this series, I'll talk you through my experiences and help you in anyway I can, but in return, I want you to tell all your friends about it and say how amazing I am, this website is and that if they don't sign up for my brilliant and magical library then they're as foolish as an otter who had breakfast within an hour of taking a dip 'Do otter's feel nausea?'.

Ok, let's get into it.

So, how do I write a story for my picture book, how many words are in a picture book, how should I write it, should it rhyme, what should I write about, should I write for an audience, do I need to place it into a category, what age should I write for, how many pages are in a picture book, do I need a pen name (in no way did I write all that for keywords - cough) - but it's true. Within this simple question, an explosion of broken pieces burst out like a glitter bomb of worry, excitement and intrigue.

Where to start and does one size fit all - Yes, I mean No!

Let's start at the beginning.

What's in a children's picture book:

Words - Pictures - Experiences - Morals - Creativity - Knowledge - Fun - A message - Random Stuff

How long should a picture book be?

Young Kids and toddlers - could be as little as 50 words

Generally 300 words - 1000 words ( not usually more than this)

Good Range for Picture Books for age 3-7 = 400-700 (that's a 'to' not a minus as -300 words would be ridiculous)

How many pages are in a Picture Book?

32 pages is a good general rule and this could include a number of things inside...(see next point).

Anywhere between 24-48 is acceptable but less or more can leave the reader feeling cheated out of pages or overwhelmed respectively (although there really are exceptions such as very early kids books that could have less, and moving into cross over books for slightly older kids could have more)

What's goes into a Picture Book?

Generally (I keep saying generally as being a creative I don't like restrictions and if you've got a great idea of a different way something should look, then do not feel you have to keep to these guidelines), you'll have a front cover for an eBook on its own, a front and back cover combined for a printed book (paperback or hardback), you'll have an inside front cover plus 'fluffy pages' to make it look decorative and funky, you're story pages and selling pages or information pages (this can be links to your website, your other books, dedications or information you want the reader to know e.g. sounds, phonics, tasks etc.) - and you might also include a fun activity for the kids to enjoy (most of this will be created by your illustrator).

What are the very basics?

Essentially you need - Front Cover file or Front and Back Cover (or both) - Inside Front Cover and Internal Pages (I'll go into more details in the format blog, but this will often be discussed by you and your illustrator).

Can anyone write a picture book?

Yes (maybe not fish or maybe they could)

Tom - The Story (hurry up)

You're here because you want to write a story (probably). So let me go off in two routes to begin with, both I have used and sometimes I've intertwined like a woven shoe of craziness, but let's explore both:

To Plan:

Planning can be a really important tool for people, it helps them structure, expand on ideas, change the twist at the end, lead the book to an end point and can save time later when referring to it for ideas and how you want to write.

When you plan there are numerous things you can plan for - Like any story, a children's story should always have a set structure, a beginning, middle and end.

Things you can plan for:

What is my book about - Who, what, where, how?

How long do I want my book to be? Word Count - Pages.

Can I break it into 3 parts or do I need more?

What age do I want my book to be appropriate for?

Do I want it to rhyme or not?

How do I want it to look across the pages? (this is way too time consuming for me)

What's the twist or is there a few?

Planning can be really important and many authors will do this, but it can be time consuming and it can limit you and your direction - although a great plan could do neither of these.

To Not Plan

This works great for some people and not so great for others. Some love seeing where their minds take them and you'd be surprised with the structures being worked subconsciously in our brains, but it can also end up non directional, overly long or not concise enough. Having said that, that's what the edit can be about (see next blog) and some brilliant writers don't have a structure plan - just a direction e.g. I want this Giraffe to Dance and prove people wrong.

What's in a story?

So this is the final part that will implement all that has been spoken before and help you reflect, discover and set those creative juices flowing to make your perfect story for you. So the big secret to writing a great story is...

This is very true - love is the key as it is to so many things, but love won't get that book written so here are a few other things to help you write your story.

  1. Choose a category you have a vested interest in or want to know more about. A reader can tell if it is a subject you have passion about and passion draws passion.

  2. Think about who you want to read this book (your audience) and read plenty of books in your chosen categories to see the competition, but also see helpful tips of what you think works really well and what you think is not needed or doesn't work as well.

  3. Rhyme only if you can rhyme. Rhyming can seem clunky and difficult for a reader if not done well. Books should have a rhythm almost like a beat. Try and be consistent across your rhyme as readers crave structure and consistency as that's how a child develops their view of the world. Try clicking your fingers as you write and try and get the same amount of clicks across each line (or frame). Sometimes you can rhyme backwards by writing the next killer line then rhyming it with the last word of the previous sentence.

  4. Don't add anything too controversial - if you're not targeting a particular group then try and keep away from imparting your views on things like politics, religion and social injustices - that's not to say you can't write a book specifically to help understanding or help people reflect on social issues, just hold a mirror up instead of telling or demanding.

  5. Be creative - Be creative - Be creative. Within a million picture books that blossom across the world, what makes yours stand out from the bunch? Have you found a niche market? Are your books just that good? What ever it is, you need to think outside the box to be successful now more than ever.

  6. Try the story before finding your illustrator. If your book is good enough without pictures, and kids love it, you can guarantee the work will be loved even more when it is finally published with great illustrations (also a good way to market if you can try it on lots of kids first - class, community groups, friendship groups etc.).

  7. Be yourself. The best way to write and tell a story is from the perspective of the person you know best: You! You don't have to narrate your story or sell your ego - it's your story so you should love it and share it in your own unique way that is you.

  8. Kids relate - Animals, humans, aliens. Everything you write should be relatable - you're trying to send children on a journey, an adventure, self discovery, learning and shaping - you can do this using anything, but make sure it holds some meaning and plays by some common rules that they'll understand.

  9. Simple language is not simple - Again, this goes back to the relatable point, but kids need to have a good concept of each word. Some words work well that are a little complex for the age, but only if used right for learning (what does that mean?). To make a book for kids that uses kids language is a skill and can be developed with interaction with kids (teachers/parents) or reading lots of popular kid's books.

  10. Most books are completed in the edit. A tip that you'll see time and time again is just write it. Very few have written a perfect book without changing anything. Don't be afraid to make mistakes as that folks, is how we grow (you can always hire an editor for this).

Well I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. Join me for my next one that will look at editing and finishing your picture book to make it look, feel, sound and taste great (Yum - 'Do people eat book?').

If you've not signed up yet - make sure you sign up now for my magical library with secrets hidden beneath each book.

Thank you for reading.

Tom Story

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