“Everyone’s story matters.”– WILLIAM JOYCE
I finished writing and illustrating a picture storybook recently and I wanted to share my experience. Now, I’m not going to say that I’m a expert children’s book author by any means, I want you to get a better idea of what goes into writing a picture storybook.
Picture storybooks are a combination of picture books and story books. Picture books use illustrations to tell a story and story books use words. Picture storybooks lean on both the picture and the words to tell the story. Both are very important and should work together.
Figure out what you want to write about. This might actually be the hardest part of the process. Here are some tips to spark an idea:
- Talk to children. Especially the age range you are targeting. Find out how their day is and what’s on their mind. If they can remember their dreams, even better. That’s a gold mine.
- Read books that interests you or books you want to write about. If you’re not interested in the story, you’re not going to be motivated to finish it.
- Think about stories you’ve heard in the past that still resonate with you until this day. I chose to bring a Lao folktale to life; It brought many memories of the time spent with my father, the storyteller and teacher.
- Go to plays, movies, and most importantly read.
Ideas can come from anywhere, carry a small notebook with you to jot them down. The crazier the idea, the more unique it will be.
Do the research
Once you have your idea, start by doing some research. This might not be the most elegant part of the process but it will help you to narrow your ideas down. A lot of the great fictions are based on reality. The main thing is to make your world believable. Have some frame of reference. The more you research about your subject, the better and grounded your story will be.
This is the most important part of the book. Obviously, without a story, you have no book. There are three types of story structure (classical, minimal and surreal), but the classical structure is the most widely used in fiction. Classical story structure gives audiences the greatest emotional response. It has been proven through thousands of years of literature. Classical stories usually show a change in the character or the character has learned something new.
For children’s books, the main thing to keep in mind is to entertain—don’t preach. Show, don’t tell.
A hero on a “quest” stories are the most basic to write. For example, “hero” wants “something” but “things” get in the way. The “hero” could be anything or anyone you want to be. The “things” are the conflict, problem, or antagonist trying to prevent the “hero” to get what they want which is “something”.
When you understand this basic “hero on a quest” principle, your story will pretty much fall into place.
Structure the story into three parts; The beginning, middle, and ending. The beginning is where you introduce the location and the main character. The middle is where the action or problems occur. The ending is how the problem was resolved. Keep the story simple. Try not to introduce too many elements or move within too many settings. Linear moving stories are easier to follow.
Choose your words wisely. Make every word count. Every sentence should carry the story. Don’t put any word in that you don’t need to move the story forward. Generally, children’s books are about 300-600 words for ages 4-8. Trim and refine often. Make sure it’s understandable for the age range you’re writing for. Most of all, have fun with the story.
My 8 ingredients for great children’s stories:
- Conflict: What is the conflict or problem that needs to be resolved.
- Pacing: Keep the pacing in line with the situation of the story; Faster pace for anxious situation, slower pace for a more relaxed scene.
- Word Play: Use fun sounding words, words with double meaning.
- Location: The setting should also have some personality.
- Twists: Surprise the audience about how the story gets resolved.
- Heart: Show some empathy for the characters.
- Relationship: Make sure the main character or situation is relatable to the audience.
- One Theme: Focus on one problem, setting, or solution. No subplots.
After your story has been written, it’s time to think about the illustrations. Picture storybooks are 32 pages in length. Layout your story and make sure each page makes sense. You might need to tweak the story again.
Remember, the picture carries the story as much as the words do. Try not to repeat what’s going on in the scene. It should be clear what’s going on in the picture without the words and the words should help emphasize the picture.
There’s more to it than what I’ve described of course. If you’re interested to learning more about improving your illustrating skills for children’s books, check out The School of Visual Storytelling.
Where to buy my book “A Sticky Mess”:
Connect with me on twitter @ArtofNor.