Earlier this year I discovered some great webinars on writing for children. A webinar is a seminar conducted over the internet. The cost of attending varies. Some are free. Some, sponsored by the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI)
regional chapters, are offered at a reduced rate for members. Others cost more. All are easily accessed if you have internet access.
Last month I logged on to the 12 X 12 Webinar--What Makes a Good Picture Book
with Emma Dryden
and Julie Hedlund
. The talk was about what makes a good picture book and how to write one.
Emma Dryden talked about qualities that make an outstanding picture book
. They are—
1—Read-aloud-ability—Read your own text over and over, ten times in a row!
As a freelance editor and consultant, Dryden looks for distinctive main characters, and a main point of view. The reader, who is a child, must be able to relate to the main character. Voice
One way to develop your picture book character is by giving them a distinctive, memorable voice. Ways to do that:
Use a refrain or a tag
Change some of your narrative into dialogue
One example of a book whose main character has a great voice is THAT BOOK WOMAN
. The author Heather Hensen’s
main character has a narrative, Appalachian voice which gives his voice a ‘tone.’ “Why, even critters of the wild will keep a-hid come snow like this. But sakes alive—we hear a tap tap tap upon the window-glass. And there she be—wrapped tip to toe!”
Regarding whether to write your story in 1st person or 3rd person, Dryden said that most picture books are told in 3rd person
, and there is more than preference to consider here. Young readers (ages 3-6) are not emotionally developed enough to understand (or make the connection to) ‘I’ in a story. Making the leap from ‘me’ to ‘I’ is more difficult because the young child can’t put themselves into someone else’s shoes. They ‘get’ the narrator better. She said that it’s often the same with middle grade books and for the same reason. Emotions
A great picture book ‘shows’ emotions well. One example of a picture book that ‘shows’ emotions is LIBRARY LION
by Michelle Knudsen
(illustrated by Kevin Hawkes; Candlewick Press 2000). I checked this book out from the library and it’s become one of my favorites. Here’s one example of ‘showing’ emotion from the book— “Story hour is over,” a little girl told him…. The lion looked at the children. He looked at the story lady. He looked at the closed books. Then he roared very loud. RAAAHHRRRR!"
I think the reader can easily figure out that the lion is not happy that there are no more stories. Show, Don’t Tell
Dryden looks at whether the author can ‘show’ not ‘tell’ the information in the manuscript.
Ways to do that:
Do something with body language
Use dialogue Dialogue
can get dull, and feel flat. What to do?
Have some activity along with your dialogue.
Change it up—think ‘page turns.’ Dummy your picture book to see what page turns can do.
Alternate dialogue and narrative.
And if no one else is around, your characters can talk to themselves. Regarding non-fiction picture books
, the advice was very similar.
Develop your main character.
Create a voice in narrative non-fiction.
A wonderful example of a non-fiction picture book was MOON SHOT
by Brian Floca
(Atheneum 2009). This book is also one of my favorites. Floca uses a poetic (but not rhyming), rhythmic, narrative style: Here below
there are three men…
in heavy gloves,
in large, round helmets.
One quality of a good picture book is ‘musicality.
’ Like music, a picture book text has a beat and has pauses. Is writing lyrically or rhythmically a learnable skill? “Absolutely!” both Dryden and Hedlund agreed. But it takes discipline.
Read a lot of picture books out loud!
Use sound effects to help create a rhythm.
Use the help of a critique group. Keep in mind the top two qualities of an outstanding picture book
Rhythm—even in narrative.
Now it’s your turn to sit down and create an outstanding picture book! Emma Dryden
is a past editor of board books through YA and has edited over 500 books. She currently does freelance editing and consulting. You can find her at: www.drydenbks.com
Dryden books (on facebook) Emma's blog
Check out these upcoming or ongoing webinars and podcasts for children’s writers
: Picture Book Craft Intensive
: Telling Children's Stories in Today's Market
An On-Demand Webinar
Guest Speaker: Mary Kole Chapter Book Craft 101
with Simon & Schuster editor, Amy Cloud
October 20, 2015 from 7:00-8:30 pm
hosted by North Texas SCBWI
very reasonable price with reduced rate for SCBWI members
Keep your eye on this Writers’ Digest link
to up-coming webinars
And take a look at the SCBWI Podcasts
, which are free to members
SCBWI brings our members engaging podcasts with leaders in the children’s book field. Sit in on these conversations to get informed and inspired!
For information on how to become a member of SCBWI, click here
or go to http://www.scbwi.org/about/. Read More