Not Seven Rules for Writing Picture Books

Not Seven Rules for Writing Effective Picture books.

1 – Any animal can be cute – with big enough eyes. Or go the other way and have really small eyes. Either go BIG or just make them ‘dots’. Eye dots are good for deeply meaningful and sensitive portrayals of misunderstood and odd animals. Like my new book about the North American Spiked Water Mole. An ugly creature, but those ‘dot’ eyes – endearing! Usually I go with BIG eyes. But I worry that my characters get headaches because of this.

2 – There are never enough books about cute dogs. Never.

3- Ninjas. Just add Ninjas.

4- It doesn’t hurt to have a surprise ending. In my new book about how Ronnie doesn’t like school – on the last page he simply drops out. Surprise! There are several surefire surprise endings including: being eaten by a tiger, a funeral, falling into a time vortex, growing so small you fall between the spaces in atoms and of course the one Dr. Seuss always relied on – your main character turns out to be just a dream in the mind of a cute dog.

5- You will always be really happy with when you finish a manuscript. This lasts roughly 13 minutes. Use those 13 minutes to get your life back together: see friends and family, laugh, go to lunch, sit in the sun, take a short vacation, read a novel (a short novel), pay bills. OK. Back to revisions.

6 – Don’t ever start a picture book with a funeral. I can’t tell you how many times this has been brought to my attention. Now I leave it for the surprise ending.

7 – Picture books work best when the words and pictures combine to make something that makes no sense. For instance a page might read, “Jack was so angry he fell out of his chair.” But the picture should show a cat sleeping on the couch and a ninja sneaking up on it. If that doesn’t get the old synapses firing, what does?!

This is a companion post to my most famous post on this blog, The Three Keys to Kids’ Lit Success.


About mfearing

This entry was posted in Blatherings, picture books, writing fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Not Seven Rules for Writing Picture Books

  1. jby95 says:

    Now starting rough draft of PB that starts with a funeral. Includes many pictures of big eyed zombie kids. Ninjas cannot defeat them. A real page turner!

  2. Just add those ninjas! Haha

  3. How do you motivate yourself for those revisions? It looks like I like my own stories precisely as long as it takes to write a first draft…

    • mfearing says:

      That’s a good question. And I think the truth is like that Stephen King quote that he loves to write but also loves to pay his bills. Once I started doing this full-time, I needed to produce work that could sell. No choice. And so when I wrote something and my agent or an editor says “You know, this doesn’t quite work.” No mater how frustrating – I find time to sit down and revise it. Or if it really doesn’t work, I start something new. But I put weeks and months into a draft and if another few days of revisions help my agent believe in the manuscript that’s a small price to pay. But it is work.

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