This is a follow-up to my previous post about the perception that picture books are easy to write. At one time I thought picture books must be easier to write than other prose and it’s easy to understand why. Picture books tend to have very few words.
As in some have none at all. But those are obviously books created by a visual artist. The books that create more problems for would-like-to-be-writers are the ones that feature a few words – like 10 words, or 80 or 150.
That’s a lot less than a middle grade novel. Any chapter from Harry Potter is 20 times the word count of an entire picture book.
So I understand why word count can make a picture book seem much easier to write.
Another aspect that makes a picture book seem simple is, well, they often are very simple. A journey to the laundromat or a day at the park. A first day or school or a story about feeling crabby.
But this is ‘simple’ like a William Carlos Williams poem is simple. This is ‘simple’ as in finding only what must be there. This is not simple as in easy simple, quick simple, fast simple. Of course the best picture book authors make it look easy. But if you watch any expert craftsmen their results seem to appear painlessly and easily. At least to a casual observer.
Picture books are prose that fit somewhere between poetry and short story. Between sketches and paintings. They are neither but contain elements of both.
Their difficulty doesn’t come from a picture books size (War and Peace they are not) or from the complexity and mechanizations of plots. In fact, if you are writing a picture book and are having issue with your plot, I think it’s safe to say you already have too much plot.
For me writing a picture book seems to involve taking everything I want to ‘say’, writing it all down, drawing a bunch of pictures, then forgetting it, erasing it, tossing it away. And after doing that enough times I finally find what’s worth writing and drawing.