Last week I started an online class for writing children’s picture books. It’s a mentored 5 week class that teaches you how to write, edit and revise your books. Not only does it help you hone your writing skills but it also promises to teach you how to craft a query letter to send to literary agents and publishers.
Originally, I was going to use my existing manuscript for this course, but at the last minute, I decided to use a story that I had started but never finished. It’s tentatively named “Charlie” and is about a little dog who can’t find his pal. So, he ventures out to find him. My goal over the next 5 weeks is not only to create a first draft of this story, but also to revise/edit it to the point where I can submit it to an agent or publisher. It’s a fairly lofty goal considering I’ve spent many months on my 2 other books.
The online class material is presented in several different ways:
- Daily lessons presented on a website in a blog format and/or video format
- Weekly webinars
- Facebook group interactions for questions and critiques
Honestly, it’s a lot of material and incredibly overwhelming to keep up; but in just a 1 week, I’ve already learned some really helpful tips and tricks to make my manuscript better.
Every book should have a hook. It’s something that draws the readers in and makes them want to turn the page and read more. The best books grab you right from the beginning.
When I read fiction books, I’m willing to give a book about 50–100 pages to draw me in. With children’s picture books, you need to hook them within the first 60 words! In those 60 words, you need to let the reader know what the story is about and get him/her to love or be intrigued by your character. It’s an incredibly daunting task!
Editing for brevity
With children’s picture books there is no room for excess words. Every word that you keep in your story must have purpose. Here are a few of the suggestions I found helpful for editing out unnecessary words:
- Get rid of adjectives and adverbs if they don’t enhance or guide the story. Or, find a single word that describes what you want to say. For example, “he ran fast” can be replaced by “he sprinted.”
- Get rid of any redundancy.
- Get rid of unnecessary descriptions.
The last one on the list was the most helpful to me. I’m not an illustrator yet when I write, I envision my characters and the scene that I am writing. I feel compelled to add in the description, when in fact, I should allow an illustrator’s imagination and creativity to describe the scenes. The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” always should be kept in mind.
Types of picture books
Did you know there are different types of picture books? Each type can be associated to age groups.
- Board Books – these books have cardboard pages to withstand wear and tear from little fingers and mouths. Typical age: 0–2 years.
- Concept Books – these books introduce kids to a theme such as the alphabet, counting or shapes. Typical age: 2–8 years.
- Easy Readers – these books use limited vocabulary. The text is larger and the illustrations are essential to the story. Typical age: 4–8 years.
- Non-fiction – introduces subjects in a simple way, for example, books about bugs or the Wild West. Typical age: 3–12 years.
- Wordless – I love these books! A wordless story is told completely through the illustrations of the book. Typical age: 2–12 years.
This online course is presented by the Children’s Book Academy led by Dr. Mira Reisberg. As you can see, in just one short week, we’ve touched on a variety of topics. In addition, there are individual critique groups that allow us to help one another edit our stories, bounce ideas, and give encouragement when needed.
I’m hopeful the next 4 weeks will be as enlightening as the first one. I’ll definitely keep you posted on my progress.
In the meantime, if you are a writer or an illustrator, check out her website for other helpful courses.